Choosing the right SIM only deal for you

If you are new to SIM-only, or you want to make sure you get the best deal for you, then we’re here to help you navigate step by step all of the big decisions you face when choosing your SIM-only deal. 

With a SIM-only deal you provide your own phone and the network provides the mobile phone services.

Since the cost of the handset is not included in your bill, SIM-only contracts offer great value for customers who want to keep the handset they love or don’t want to be tied into lengthy contracts. There are dozens of plans to choose from, so before you decide which deal is the right one for you, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How much data, minutes and texts do you really need?

No one likes to pay more than they need to, but even worse is being charged extra for going over your allowances. Mobile network charges can be expensive for off plan billing so it’s important to choose a plan that suits your needs and not just opt for the cheapest deal. 

To work out how much you use each month take a look at your previous bills. If you are regularly being charged extra for using calls, texts or data outside of your plan then it’s time to upgrade to a bigger deal. If on the other hand you barely use any of your allowances then save yourself some money and choose a smaller deal. Most networks will let you increase your plan at a later date if you need too, but few will let you reduce you plan once you’ve signed your contract.

Read our guide How to check your mobile phone usage for practical tips on calculating your usage.

Although there are some great deals offering unlimited calls, text and data there is no point paying extra for allowances you won’t use – and even less point paying a penalty each month for going over your allocation! Look at your past phone bills to see how much of your current call and data allowance you actually use. You might be surprised to see that you’re not using that much, or you might be horrified to see you are regularly being charged extra for going over.

2. What do you use your phone for?

Think about how you use your phone. If you rarely use the internet then a big data allowance of 1GB a month or more won’t be of much use to you, but if you love gaming and stream videos all day long then you might want to consider an unlimited data plan to avoid big bills.

It may seem like a silly question but we no longer use our phones for just calls and texts and there’s a lot of choice when it comes to SIM-only. It’s a good idea to narrow down your options by deciding what you really need from your contract. 

With so many of us using Facebook instant messaging, Whatsapp, Google Talk, Skype and Facetime, getting in touch has never been easier. You might find that compared to a few years ago, you’re using far fewer texts and voice minutes than you think. You’ll still need to make sure you’ve got a data allowance that covers you of course (unless you spend most of your time on WiFi).

If you only use your phone occasionally, or just for emergencies, then you may be better off choosing a Pay As You Go deal instead of paying out each month for a contract. If on the other hand you own a smartphone that’s practically family you’ll want to look for a deal that includes plenty of data to keep up with all of your online activities. If you do need loads of voice minutes or texts, there are plenty of tariffs available to suit your needs.

3. Is a 30-day or 12-month contract best?

Many networks offer short contracts with SIM-only deals and this is great news if you don’t want to commit to a two year contract. Instead, opt for a 12-month contract or for added flexibility, choose a rolling 30-day contract and the option to change your mind if you’re not completely happy with your network provider.

Note that by choosing a 30-day contract with the big networks, you’ll often pay a couple of pounds more per month for the privilege of being able to leave at any time, but some of the smaller networks offer great value too. Take a look at giffgaff or Tesco Mobile‘s offers.

4. Which network should you choose?

Each provider offers a range of extras to entice you to sign up with them, so compare their offers carefully. Some of the extras available include Internet Tethering, cinema and event tickets, music and movie streaming or unmetered data for certain apps. 

Click here to see the available plans, and take a look through the “Extras” list to see what offers are available from the various networks. If you want to try out a new network then a 30-day rolling contract is a great way to test the network’s coverage in your area without making a big commitment.

5. Do you get a good signal?

Where you live can influence which network you choose. If you live within a city or town then your 4G mobile coverage should be pretty good across all of the networks. But if you want 5G, or you live in a more rural area, then it’s a good idea to check the coverage where you live, where you work and at any other locations that you frequently visit before you commit to a long contract. 

You can use coverage checkers, like the ones below, but to get a real feel for a particular network’s coverage it is best to ask friends or family who are already with the network, or choose a 30-day SIM plan and experience it for yourself, before you commit.

6. Is your phone unlocked?

It doesn’t matter which network provider or which SIM-only deal you choose, if you are changing to a new network you will need to make sure your phone is unlocked before you switch. Take a look at our unlocking guide for tips on how to do this.

7. How much do you want to pay?

Set a budget and stick to it is the key lesson here. You can find SIM-only deals from £5 – £40 so there is something for every wallet. It’s easy to be tempted by big allowances and extras but if you don’t need them then, like we said before, don’t bother – it’s a false economy. 

Many of the bigger networks offer add-ons. These are bundles of calls and texts or data and you can add these to your plan on a rolling monthly basis. This is a much cheaper option than paying off-plan if you find you need a little extra one month.

There are also a number of ways to reduce your data use without changing what you do with your phone. This is a good way to make your allowances go further. For practical tips read our guide How to reduce your mobile data usage.

8. MNO or MVNO?

When it comes to selecting your network it comes down to a choice between price, service and perks. Most people are familiar with the big four Mobile Networks Operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. But there are a whole host of smaller Mobile Virtual Network Operators that run using the infrastructure of the bigger networks. These include Tesco Mobile, giffgaff and Virgin Media.

The MNVOs offer some great value deals and shouldn’t be disregarded. But if it’s particular features you are looking for like roaming, or you are more interested in what is known as provider wraparound benefits such as freebies, discounts and entertainment packages, then a deal from one of the big four might be more suitable. 

Often the acquisition deals networks use to attract new customers are better than the retention deals offered to existing customers to stay with the network. So even if you love the network you are with don’t let inertia cost you money.

If you have come to the end of your minimum term compare the deals offered by all of the networks, including your own. The plan you are on may have been reduced in price and this could help you negotiate a better renewal deal with your existing provider.

I have made my choice, What next?

OK, so you know how much call, text and data allowance you need and how much you want to spend. You’ve found your perfect deal on your favourite network and you’ve ordered your new SIM. Well done! You’re almost there. Just a couple of extra things to do.

The first is to unlock your phone from your current provider. If you are changing to a new network you’ll need to make sure your phone is unlocked so that your new SIM will work in your handset. This is a simple process and most networks just require you to fill in an online form. Read our guide How to unlock your mobile phone for instructions.

If you want to keep your mobile number then you’ll need to ask your current network for a Porting Authorisation Code or PAC. You can do this when you contact them to cancel your contract. A PAC will let you transfer your existing phone number to your new contract. There are no limits to how many times you can port your number so you can keep it even if you frequently switch between 30-day deals. To find out more read our guide How to port your mobile telephone number.

7. How long do you need your contract to last?

SIM only deals come in two contract lengths; 12 months or 30 days. 12 month deals are the most popular and tend to work out around £3 cheaper each month. If you know you’ll stick with the same network and you don’t anticipate any changes in your mobile phone use then you could save around £36 over the year.

If you think you might want to change your plan, for example if you’re going travelling for an extended period of time or if you want to bridge a short gap between contracts while you wait for that phone to be released, then the added flexibility of being able to cancel your contract with just 30 days notice could be worth the extra few pounds for a 30 day SIM. 

Find out more about the benefits of shorter contracts in our guide What is a 30-day rolling SIM?

Looking for something specific?

The advice above covers the basics of choosing a SIM only deal but there are some additional considerations if you are looking for specific features from your mobile phone contract. We’ve written separate short guides to cover these topics in greater detail. Simply click on the links below to find out more.

Capped contracts – these are useful if you’re repeatedly being charged extra for going over your contract allowances, or you want a phone contract for your child but don’t want them running up huge phone bills.

Credit checks – if you have been refused a mobile phone due to a poor credit score then SIM only may be your solution.

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