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Mobile Phones

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!

best sim only deals

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.

Should you get a SIM only contract?

Before you sign up for a SIM only contract, there are a few things you should consider:

  1. Do you want or need a new phone?

    do you need a new phone

    Credit: Aaron Yoo - Flickr

    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...

  2. Can you get a cheap phone?

    get a cheap phone with sim only contract

    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.

Remember that you can always buy a second-hand (or first-hand, too!) phone from eBay. Here are our top tips for getting an eBay bargain.
  1. Is your phone unlocked?

    unlock phone sim only

    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.

  2. How much data and how many minutes and texts do you need?

    how much data minutes texts do you need

    Credit: CBC

    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.
Below the table we've reviewed each deal in more detail!

Best SIM only deals

Mobile networkData
(txt/min)
Contract lengthEffective monthly costReview
id mobile
iD Mobile
3GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£9 More »
voxi
VOXI
6GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
three
Three
4GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
12
months
£9 More »
smarty
SMARTY
4GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
giffgaff
giffgaff
3GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
O2
O2
5GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
12
months
£13 More »
plusnet
Plusnet
3GB
(2,000/Unltd)
1
month
£12.50 More »
ee
EE
2GB
(100/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
vodafone
Vodafone
500MB
(500/Unltd)
12
months
£11 More »
For all the latest deals, check out our mobile phone price comparison tool which includes a SIM only option!

SIM only contract reviews

id mobileiD Mobile

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £9
  • Length of contract: 30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Three

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 3GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from iD Mobile

Anything else to know?

There are a fair few added perks that come with being a SIM only customer with iD Mobile.

For starters, you can cap your out-of-plan spending (how much you’re willing to spend if you’ve used all your allowances) to as little as £0. No more nasty surprises at the end of the month for you, then!

What’s more, all iD Mobile plans come with Data Rollover – a free feature which transfers any unused data from one month to the next, meaning you never miss out on using what you’ve paid for.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

voxi mobileVOXI

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: 30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Vodafone

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 6GB (unlimited for social media)
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from VOXI

VOXI only offers three plans, all of which come on exactly the same terms with exactly the same allowances (including unlimited social data) – apart from the data.

We’ve featured the £10 deal, but the network also offers a £15 per month deal with 15GB of data and a £20 per month package with a massive 45GB of data. You can check out all three plans here.

Anything else to know?

The main distinction between VOXI and other phone networks is that its plans are only available to those aged 29 and under.

It’s also worth noting that when VOXI say you get unlimited social data, this only applies to the following apps:

  • Facebook (and Facebook Messenger)
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • Twitter
  • Viber
  • WhatsApp

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

three mobileThree

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £9*
  • Length of contract: 12 months
  • Piggybacks on: N/A

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 4GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from Three

  • 8GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts for £14 per month* | Get deal
  • 100GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts for £20 per month* | Get deal

Anything else to know?

*All of the prices listed include a £5 monthly discount for paying by a recurring method, such as a direct debit.

Three’s SIM only deals also include Go Roam, the network’s data roaming service. Unlike most other networks, Three’s no-extra-charge roaming doesn’t just apply in Europe – it applies to a total of 71 destinations around the world, including the USA.

Finally, all Three mobile users get to take advantage of the network’s Wuntu app which is full of exclusive freebies and discounts.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

smarty mobileSMARTY

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract:30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Three

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 4GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from SMARTY

Like VOXI, SMARTY offers a small selection of plans, all of which have the same terms and are only differentiated by their data allowances. They are:

Anything else to know?

SMARTY offers you £1.25 back on every gigabyte of data in your allowance that you haven’t used each month. There is a limit on the amount of data you can get refunded for, and this varies from plan to plan – with the £10 plan we’re featuring, you can get up to £5 back every month.

The network also has a couple of great offers up for grabs until 4th February. Firstly, if you sign up before then, once you’ve paid for your first month you’ll get your next two months for free!

Secondly, SMARTY is also running a limited-time refer a friend scheme. Every time you refer a friend to join the network, you’ll get a £10 Amazon voucher and a free month of SMARTY, while your friend will get two free months!

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

giffgaff giff gaffgiffgaff

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: 30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: O2

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 3GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from giffgaff

Anything else to know?

Your giffgaff plan (or ‘goodybag’, as they call them) may not automatically renew at the end of the month.

This is great if you want a different package each month (perhaps you’ll need more data in one month, or have less money to spend in another), but if you think you’ll always need roughly the same allowances, head to your online account and enable recurring payments.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

o2 mobileO2

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £13
  • Length of contract: 12 months
  • Piggybacks on: N/A

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 5GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only offers from O2

Anything else to know?

Some of O2’s more expensive SIM only deals (including the £20 one we featured above) include six free months of Netflix.

If you already have the £7.99 Netflix plan (the one O2 offer for free), this will save you £47.94 over the course of the contract. In the case of the £20 per month offer, this would bring the effective cost down to just over £16 per month – well worth it if you need the data and already pay for Netflix!

And, of course, as an O2 customer you’ll get to take advantage of all the offers and freebies on the O2 Priority Moments app.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

plusnet mobilePlusnet

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £12.50
  • Length of contract: 30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: EE

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 3GB
  • Minutes: 2,000
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only deals from Plusnet

Anything else to know?

Plusnet offer exclusive bonus deals to existing customers. These essentially act as upgrades on the existing plans, which all cost the same for Plusnet customers but come with extra allowances.

In the case of the £12.50 per month deal we’ve featured, Plusnet customers will get 6GB of data (rather than 3GB) and unlimited minutes (rather than just 2,000).

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

ee mobileEE

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: 30 day rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: N/A

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 2GB (boosted to 4GB for three months if bought before 31st January 2019)
  • Minutes: 100
  • Texts: Unlimited

Other SIM only deals from EE

Anything else to know?

Most of EE’s SIM only deals now come with Data Rollover – in other words, if you don’t use all the data from one month’s allowance, it’ll be added on top of your allowance next month.

EE also gives bonus allowances every three months to customers who renew their contract each month. After the first three months you’ll get a bonus 500MB of data, then 1GB after six months, 1.5GB after nine months, and so on.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

vodafoneVodafone

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £11
  • Length of contract: 12 months
  • Piggybacks on: N/A

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 500MB
  • Minutes: 500
  • Texts: Unlimited

Anything else to know?

Vodafone has recently launched the VeryMe app. Similar to O2’s Priority Moments and Three’s Wuntu, VeryMe is packed full of exclusive offers and freebies. Best of all, the more you use the app, the more the offers become tailored to the things you’re actually interested in!

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

SIM only FAQs

Can you keep your number with SIM only contracts?

In a word: yes!

Whether it’s SIM only, pay monthly or pay as you go, you can always transfer the number from one SIM to another – and it shouldn’t cost a penny!

All you need to do is ask your current network for your PAC code, which will either be given to you immediately over the phone, or within two hours via text.

Each network has a slightly different process for giving you your PAC code, but fortunately, this site has a really handy tool where you can select the networks you’re moving to and from, and it tells you exactly what to do!

Are the best SIM only offers available to everyone?

Unfortunately not. As is the case with most things in life, the very best SIM only offers are sometimes only available to new customers.

We usually say that loyalty doesn’t pay, but as we explain in our guide to getting the best phone contract, already being a customer of a company can be used to your advantage.

If you call them up and ask them to match an offer that’s exclusive to new customers, they may well say no. This is when it’s time to explain that you’ve been a loyal customer of theirs for months/years, and that you’re so disappointed in their reluctance to reward this that you’re considering going elsewhere (quoting another network’s offer will help!).

Networks are desperate not to let their competitors steal their customers, and you’ll often find that with a little gentle persuasion, you can get an offer that’s just as good (or as close as you could wish for!) as the one for new customers.

Is there a credit check for SIM only contracts?

Taking out a phone contract often involves the network conducting a credit check on you to look at your credit score and decide whether or not they’re happy to enter a financial agreement with you.

For SIM only contracts, though, it entirely depends on the deal you’re going for.

Basically, if you’re paying for the entire term of the contract in advance, there won’t be a credit check (because the network already has all the money they’re owed by you). This usually applies to 30 day contracts, but it’s worth checking with the network if you’re worried you’ll fail a credit check.

If you’re going for a longer term deal, like a 12 or 24 month contract, the chances are that they’ll conduct a credit check on you as you probably won’t be paying for all the months at once. Again, though, you should contact the network if you’re unsure either way!

And if you’re wondering what a credit score even is, and how to make sure yours is tip top, check out our guide to credit ratings.

Why has the price of your contract gone up?

The cost of a phone contract often goes up over time in line with inflation.

SIM only contracts are no exception, but if you’re on a long term contract (or on a 30 day contract that’s set to renew every month), your network should let you know if and when they intend to increase the price.

Note that the price increase is usually only ever a couple of percent, and it shouldn’t make a huge difference to the affordability of the plan – but then again, on a student budget, every penny matters!

Not looking to go SIM only? Check out our guide to getting the best phone contract.

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