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Mobile Phones

Best SIM only deals 2020

SIM only contracts are often much cheaper than regular contracts, and networks today are offering more deals than ever. But which offers are the best? Read on to find out!

multi coloured sim cards

In recent years, SIM only plans have surged in popularity – largely because they're flexible and you only pay for usage (minutes, texts and data) rather than a phone as well. 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 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 a SIM only plan or contract is best for you.

Why should you get a SIM only deal?

These are the things to consider when you're thinking about signing up for a SIM only contract:

  1. Do you want or need a new phone?

    iphone on arm of chair

    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 makes 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. How to buy a cheap phone

    person holding phone

    Credit: sergey causelove – Shutterstock

    Although buying a phone upfront (rather than on contract) is usually cheaper, you'll need to have several hundreds of pounds spare to do so – so any deals or discounts are worth looking for.

    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 you where it's being sold 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!).

    Alternatively, you could always head to eBay in search of a bargain. As well as brand new devices, there'll be plenty of second-hand phones to choose from (some in great condition) – check out our guide to getting an eBay bargain for more tips.

    Finally, if you want to buy an iPhone, Apple has 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.

  3. Is your phone unlocked?

    phone with lock and key on screen

    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) as well as the sites and numbers you'll need to use.

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

    man solving mathematical problem

    Credit: CBC

    Unlimited minutes, data and texts all sound 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 free 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, if you're careful, you shouldn't need much more than about 5GB 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!

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

Best SIM only deals 2020

Mobile networkData
(txt/min)
Contract lengthEffective monthly costReview
plusnet
Plusnet
8GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£8 More »
plusnet
Plusnet
2.5GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£6 More »
smarty
SMARTY
30GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
vodafone
Vodafone
8GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
12
months
£8 More »
id mobile
iD Mobile
9GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£9 More »
id mobile
iD Mobile
3GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£7 More »
voxi
VOXI
12GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£10 More »
virgin mobile
Virgin Mobile
8GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
12
months
£9 More »
vodafone
Vodafone
15GB
(Unltd/250)
1
month
£10 More »
giffgaff
giffgaff
9GB
(Unltd/Unltd)
1
month
£12 More »

We select our top picks from the listings on each network’s website. Our ranking is based upon a formula that takes into account contract length, data allowance and price.

SIM only contract reviews

plusnet mobilePlusnet

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £8*
  • Length of contract: One month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: EE.

Get this deal »

Offer ends 11.59pm on Sunday 18th October.

Allowances

  • Data: 8GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Other SIM only deals from Plusnet

Anything else to know?

Plusnet offers 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 2GB of extra data.

So, in the case of the £8 per month deal we’ve featured, Plusnet customers will get 10GB of data rather than ‘just’ the 8GB that the package would normally get you.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

plusnet mobilePlusnet

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £6*
  • Length of contract: One month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: EE.

Get this deal »

Offer ends 11.59pm on Sunday 18th October.

Allowances

  • Data: 2.5GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Plusnet Mobile review

Click here for more info on Plusnet’s best offers, as well as the perks of being a customer of the network.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

smarty mobileSMARTY

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: One-month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Three.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 30GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Other SIM only offers from SMARTY

SMARTY offers a small selection of plans that are split into two groups: big data plans and data discount plans (all still offering unlimited minutes and texts). In addition to the deal we’ve featured, the big data plans are:

  • 100GB for £15 per month* | Get deal
  • Unlimited data for £20 per month | Get deal

Offer ends 11.59pm on Tuesday 6th October.

Meanwhile, the data discount plans are:

SMARTY referral scheme

SMARTY also runs a refer a friend scheme. Every time you refer a friend to join the network, you’ll both get a free month on your plan!

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

vodafoneVodafone

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £8
  • Length of contract: 12 months
  • Piggybacks on: N/A.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 8GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Other SIM only offers from Vodafone

Anything else to know?

Vodafone customers are able to get exclusive offers on the network’s VeryMe Rewards app. Like O2’s Priority Moments, VeryMe has exclusive offers and giveaways that range from the likes of a free coffee to access to ticket presales.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

id mobileiD Mobile

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £9
  • Length of contract: One-month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Three.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 9GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Other SIM only offers from iD Mobile

Extra perks for iD Mobile customers

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

 

id mobileiD Mobile

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £7
  • Length of contract: One-month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Three.

Get this deal »

Allowances

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

iD Mobile review

Click here to find out more about iD Mobile.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

voxi mobileVOXI

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: One month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: Vodafone.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 12GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

* £10 plan usually only includes 6GB of data. Offer ends 11.59pm on 29th October 2020.

Other SIM only offers from VOXI

VOXI only offers four 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, a £20 per month package with 45GB and a £35 plan with unlimited data. You can check out all the plans here.

Anything else to know?

It’s 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

 

virgin mobileVirgin Mobile

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £9
  • Length of contract: 12 months
  • Piggybacks on: EE.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 8GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Other SIM only deals from Virgin Mobile

Extra allowances with Virgin Mobile

All of Virgin Mobile’s SIM only plans 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 (just note that it will only roll over once).

What’s more, if you’re a Virgin Media broadband customer (check out the latest and best student broadband deals) you can also get unlimited free calls to other Virgin Mobile phones.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

vodafoneVodafone

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: One-month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: N/A.

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 12GB
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited.

Vodafone review

Click here to find out more about Vodafone’s offerings for SIM only customers.

Get this deal »

↑ Comparison table

 

giffgaff giff gaffgiffgaff

Package details

  • Monthly cost: £10
  • Length of contract: One month rolling contract
  • Piggybacks on: O2

Get this deal »

Allowances

  • Data: 9GB*
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited

Usually 6GB, but data is boosted to 9GB when you set your plan to recur each month. Offer ends on Saturday 31st October. Terms apply.

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

SIM only FAQs

What is 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.

What is a rolling contract?

This is a contract which automatically renews at the end of its term. Most 30 day/one month 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 a month 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.

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.

However, while we’d usually say that loyalty doesn’t pay, 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 still worth checking with the network if you’re worried you’ll fail a potential 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 you’ll pass!

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 SIM only 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 notify you if and when they intend to increase the price.

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

Unsure if SIM only is right for you? Check out our guide to getting the best phone contract.

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