Best student SIM only deals 2019
SIM only contracts are often the cheapest way to run your phone, and networks today are offering more than ever. But which deals are the best? Read on to find out!
In recent years, SIM only plans have surged in popularity – largely because they're flexible and take the cost of the phone itself out of the equation. You only pay for usage (minutes, texts and data). These plans are offered by pretty much every UK mobile network, so we've reviewed the very best deals out there.
Of course, what you want from a SIM only plan depends on what you'll use your phone for. We've gone for the deals that are perfect for students – that means low cost (as little as £3.99 per month!) and, in some cases, unlimited data to use on social networks!
But before we compare the best SIM only deals, we'll quickly consider whether or not a SIM only plan is right for you, and what some of the common terms mean.
Compare SIM only deals
Should you get a SIM only contract?
Before you sign up for a SIM only contract, there are a few things you should consider:
Do you want or need a new phone?
The main question to ask yourself when considering a SIM only deal is, "Do I need or want a new phone?". If the answer is "no", then a SIM only deal is almost certainly the best and cheapest option for your new contract.
However, if the answer is "yes", things are slightly more complicated.
Taking out a SIM only contract and buying a phone outright is often cheaper than a standard pay monthly contract with a phone included – but not always. Occasionally a mobile network will run a deal on a pay monthly contract which will make it cheaper than buying a phone and SIM only contract separately.
So, before you go for a SIM only deal on the basis that it must be the cheapest deal possible, take a look at the best pay monthly contracts.
Once you've found a pay monthly deal that interests you, work out the lifetime cost of the contract (the monthly cost multiplied by the number of months). Then compare it with the lifetime cost of an equivalent SIM only contract, plus the cost of buying a phone separately.
Of course, it helps if you know how to buy a phone outright at a good price...
Can you get a cheap phone?
As we said, getting a SIM only contract and buying a phone separately is often the cheaper option. However, as you'll usually need to have several hundreds of pounds spare to buy the phone up front, you'll need to know how to get one at a decent price.
If you've got a particular phone in mind, we'd recommend heading to Idealo. Here you can search for the phone you're after and it'll show where you where it's selling for the lowest price.
Make a note of the cheapest four or five retailers, and then head over to TopCashback and Quidco to see if you can earn cashback on your purchase at any of the sites selling the phone you want (although note that sometimes the cashback will only be available on certain models, so check the T&Cs!).
Finally, if you want to buy an iPhone, Apple have a little-known service (honestly, it's like they're trying to hide it) that allows you to buy a brand new iPhone and spread the cost across 20 months with 0% interest.
With the exception of some (very) rare flash sales, this is the cheapest way to buy a new iPhone – and you can find out more about the payment plan here.
Is your phone unlocked?
Whether you're planning to buy a new phone or keep your existing one, you'll need to make sure it's unlocked.
Fortunately this is often free, and we've got a super useful guide to unlocking your phone which includes the costs (if any) and the sites and numbers you'll need to use.
How much data and how many minutes and texts do you need?
Unlimited minutes, data and texts all sounds appealing, but the reality is that you'll be paying out of your rear for things that you don't actually need.
With iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat all offering messaging services, the number of actual texts that you send is probably lower than ever. As such, you probably don't need unlimited texts.
As for minutes and data – well, we can't really say how much you need. That said, you should be able to get WiFi at home and at uni (and possibly at work), so in reality you shouldn't need much more than about 4GB of data.
What's more, if you often call people on Skype, FaceTime or any other internet calling service, you shouldn't need many minutes, either. Just make sure you don't make these calls when you're using 4G, as it'll rinse your data!
And if you're still unsure how much you need, you can usually check your data, calls and text usage in the online account you have with your network. Alternatively, billmonitor is a free (and Ofcom-approved) service which analyses your bills and tells you how much you use for you!
SIM only terms defined
Very quickly, before we get into the best SIM only offers, we should clarify the meaning of a couple of terms which we'll be using a lot:
- Piggybacking – Most mobile networks are actually 'virtual networks', meaning they don't operate on their signal. Instead, they 'piggyback' on the signal provided by one of the four 'actual' mobile networks in the UK: EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone. Every other network piggybacks on one of these four, and you can check the coverage of each network in your area using this tool.
- Rolling contract – This is a contract which automatically renews at the end of its term. Most 30 day SIM only contracts are rolling (if not, you can usually opt-in to having it roll), meaning you'll never have to wait longer than 30 days for your contract to expire and to move to a new deal. In some cases you'll pay in advance and can therefore cancel at any time.