I'm from the UK going on a long trip on which I'll be using local SIM cards for my phone. While I won't be using my UK mobile number during this trip, I want it still to be there when I get back, to avoid the inconvenience of memorising a new number, getting all family friends and contacts to store the new number, etc etc.

I've heard that UK mobile phone providers will permanently, irreversibly cancel a UK mobile number if it is not used for "a few" months, and that their policies all vary widely - e.g. some require an actual connected phone call while others allow missed calls or text messages, with some it's three months, others it's vague and undefined, etc.

No phone shop staff seem to know what these policies are other than that they exist, and nor do call centre staff. If they are published on mobile network provider websites, I can't find them.

What can people do when travelling for long periods like this to stop their numbers being turned off?

  • 2
    Did you ask your phone company?
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2015 at 16:21
  • 1
    Yes, of course, they (Vodafone) kill the number after "1 to 3 months" without use, and the guy was really vague about what counted as use. And they know nothing about other company's policies (not surprising since they barely know their own). I've also asked at general phone shops like Carphone Warehouse, and they know nothing, and as stated in the question, even going through every company one by one, I've found it very hard to find any customer service person who knows their policy precisely. Lots of vague "It's about 3 months, innit?" type comments Jul 16, 2015 at 16:24
  • I've found a pan-European variant on this question - similar problem but for many different European sim cards: Long-life SIM cards in Europe - no direct answer but a vague comment recommending Three and GiffGaff as being a little less inflexible than the others, shall investigate Jul 16, 2015 at 16:25
  • 2
    Top up your sim every several months.
    – Him
    Jul 16, 2015 at 16:45
  • I used Lycamobile and i have not either top up or use the sim or several months, and it still works!
    – Him
    Jul 16, 2015 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


If you have a monthly bill, just keep paying the bill. If you have a pay-as-you-go plan, top up your credit every month or three.

Put the UK SIM card in every once in a while and make a 2-second call. Won't you want to check your voice messages every now and then?

Above all, read your service agreement and/or call your mobile provider's service center to find out what their actual policy is.

  • @Willeke indeed, one could even text oneself using one's other SIM card. I would worry that receiving a text might not count as "use" however.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2015 at 16:35
  • Not all companies count receiving texts. This is the problem, they all have different policies and most policies are not clearly defined. Jul 16, 2015 at 16:44
  • @user568458 surely placing a phone call counts as use.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2015 at 16:45
  • @pnuts that is interesting. The pay as you go services I have had, as far as I remember, had specific provisions that a given amount of credit lasted a certain amount of time and would keep the phone number alive. Unfortunately, "as far as I can remember" does not extend to the terms of the service I had a couple of summers ago in the UK.
    – phoog
    Jul 28, 2015 at 14:32

Leave your old sim card with someone at home. Ask him to boot with it once a fortnight, perhaps checking for critical messages. He can also help set up call forwarding for you after you get your travel number.

  • 1
    I like this answer. So simple. Or buy a 20 quid flip phone. Batteries last a week.
    – Belle
    Apr 26, 2016 at 15:59
  • At least on O2 PAYG merely booting up the phone and receiving stuff is NOT enough. An outgoing call IS enough. I'm not 100% sure if text or data use count. May 31, 2019 at 14:55

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