SIM only FAQs
What is SIM only and how do SIM only contracts work?
A SIM only package is when you get a tariff of data, texts and minutes for a set monthly cost. It's usually a little cheaper than a standard pay monthly package. SIM only is very much the same as a usual mobile phone contract only you don't a get phone with the contract (just the SIM card). This is perfect if you're happy with the mobile phone you currently have.
SIM only plans also work well for customers who prefer to buy a handset outright (from a retailer) and then grab a SIM only deal.
You can either get a pay monthly SIM only deal (where you get an allowance for the contract period) or pay-as-you-go (where you add credit and top-up the SIM card). Pay monthly SIM deals are becoming ever more popular, as a convenient way to stay connected without having to top-up your phone.
5 steps to getting a SIM deal with another network
- Find out if you're free to switch networks? If you don't know then get in touch with your existing network.
- If you're free to switch then pick a SIM deal that's perfect for you using our broadbandchoices SIM only comparison service.
- Contact your existing network, telling them you want to switch to a new network and that you want them to unlock your phone. There could be a small charge of around £20 to unlock your phone.
- They could offer you some retention deals to try to get you to stay. You don't need to take any of these - you should still switch networks if that's what you want to do.
- If you want to keep your number then ask for a PAC code from your existing network.
Can I keep my existing phone number on SIM only? Getting a PAC code.
You can keep your phone number when you switch networks. You'll need a PAC code from your existing supplier. Get in contact with your current network supplier and ask them for your PAC code. It's free to get this code and they must issue it within 2 working days.
Once they've issued it to you, you've got 30 days to let your new network know the code, so it's important that you give your new network the code as soon as you can.
The new network gets to work and the number is transferred usually within a working day or so.
We recommend leaving your old SIM card in your phone until the switchover has happened, this way you can still make and receive calls whilst you wait. The number should switch over to the new SIM within a working day or two. Put the new SIM in your phone and check that it's all working.
What are the good things about SIM only?
- Cheap deals: If you've just finished your mobile contract then a SIM only deal could save you a chunk of cash. Switch to a SIM only deal and you'll probably find that you can get the same minutes, texts and data allowance you've already got, but it costs you less.
- Short contracts: SIM only packages are often available in 30 day to 12 month contracts, which are perfect if you want flexibility and don't want to be tied in to a long term phone contract.
- Accessible: If you're struggling to get a contract deal because of the credit checks, whilst SIM only contracts do have credit checks, they tend to be less rigorous than a Pay Monthly phone contract. After all, you're not buying a handset on contract, just a data, minutes and text allowance.
Top things to consider when getting a SIM only deal
- What contract am I currently on? When does this contract expire?
- What size SIM do I need?
- Is the phone locked to a particular network?
- What's the best network for me?
- What length of contract am I willing to sign up to?
- What minutes, texts and data allowance am I likely to need?
- How do I keep my existing number?
What do I need to do before I switch my SIM cards over?
If you've got contacts stored on your old SIM card and want to keep them then copy all your contacts over to your phone. If you're unsure if your contacts are on the old SIM card memory or the phone's memory then remove the SIM card and see if the contacts are still on the phone. If you're moving to a new network then make sure your phone is unlocked.
SIM unlocking. What do I need to do?
A handset plus a SIM card (with a mins, texts, data allowance) is all you need to get going, right? Well, sort of...
First thing first, you need to make sure your phone is not locked to a different network. Most smartphones these days are bought already locked to the network from which the phone was purchased. If you already have an iPhone and it's locked to EE, and your new SIM card is an O2 SIM card, then you'll not be able to use that O2 SIM card on that iPhone until you unlock the iPhone.
How do I know if my phone is locked?
A simple way to know if your phone is locked to a particular network is to switch the phone completely off, take the SIM card out of the phone, insert a different SIM card from a different network (a friend would be handy here!), put the phone back together and turn the phone back on.
If you see the new network carrier appear on the phone and/or you can make a phone call, then hey presto, your phone is unlocked and you can insert a SIM card from any network! Failing this, you could go a network's shop on the high street and they should be able to help you.
How do I get the SIM out from my iPhone?
Something people never think of until they need it, is how to get your SIM card out of your iPhone. If you need to change the SIM card in an iPhone it's actually quite a neat and simple process.
Remember the small Apple SIM card remover-thing that came in the nice pretty box when you first got your hands on your phone? Looked a little bit like a strange paperclip? Well it did serve a purpose after all! If you haven't been keeping this safe, fear not, a bent paper clip will do the trick too.
Find the SIM card slot on your phone and insert the clip or SIM card remover into the small hole. Be careful here, you wouldn't want to damage your phone, so only put a thin clip into the hole and only apply force directly downwards, not sideways. Apply just enough pressure to grab hold of the tray and pull it out.
Needless to say, be careful when you put the SIM card and SIM card holder back in.
How do I unlock it?
If you're phone is locked to a certain network then you can ask your network to unlock it for you. Different networks have different policies on unlocking, and some charge a fee for the service, usually around £15-£25. Some networks may only unlock a phone after a certain period of time (for example, after the original phone contract has expired). It should be a relatively simple process to get a handset unlocked and take a few days. For your peace of mind, phone unlocking is perfectly legal; all you're doing is making your phone work with any network.
No contract SIM only deals
Don't feel like committing to a long term contract? There are 2 options for you when it comes to short-term SIM only packages. You can either sign up to a 30 day contract, which you can cancel at any time. If you don't cancel it then it just rolls on to the next month.
These 30 day plans often give customers the option to switch to a different allowance to suit their needs - perfect for if you find you're not using the monthly data allowance you originally signed up to and fancy downgrading the plan. The second option is the good old Pay-as-you-go SIM deal. With a pay-as-you-go SIM you just top it up with the credit you want and off you go. If you run out of credit then you top it up again.
The downside of this is that it can be a bit of pain to keep on topping up your phone, and you could find it more expensive than the pay-monthly options in the long run.
SIM card with unlimited data
Watch movies? Browse tonnes of videos on Facebook? Love online gaming? Do any of these on your phone? There a loads of activities that eat up your internet data allowance. Everyone is different, so if you find yourself on a tariff that just isn't giving you the amount of data you want, it's probably worth considering an unlimited data SIM. You can check our best unlimited data SIM deals here.
4G SIM only
A 4G SIM only deal means that you'll be able to access the faster speeds that come with a 4G connection. 4G loads web pages, videos and all other internet content faster than 3G. If you are on a 4G SIM deal but not in a 4G area then you'll simply drop to a 3G connection until your phone picks up a 4G signal again. The good news is that 4G plans are not always more expensive than 3G plans. To access 4G you will need a 4G data allowance, a 4G enabled phone (most of the latest smartphones are 4G enabled but do check to be sure) and be in a 4G coverage area. You can see cheap 4G SIM deals here.
Which networks offer SIM only deals?
You can get SIM only plans for a variety of mobile phone networks, some big and some small.
- BT Mobile SIM-only
- EE SIM-only
- giffgaff SIM-only
- Mobile by Sainsbury's SIM-only
- O2 SIM-only
- talkmobile SIM-only
- Tesco Mobile SIM-only
- The People's Operator SIM-only
- Three SIM-only
- Virgin Media SIM-only
- Vodafone SIM-only
Are the smaller networks any good?
The less well-known networks are often mobile virtual networks (or MVNOs for short) and these use the infrastructure of the bigger networks. For example, The People's Operator is an MVNO that uses the EE network. Giffgaff is an MVNO that uses the O2 network. These networks offer good value, cheap SIM only deals.
There's nothing to be suspicious about here; these networks often have the same coverage as the larger networks, but are able to offer decent prices due to their lack of overhead costs. They tend not to advertise much on TV, they don't have to maintain all the technical stuff and they're less likely to give you the freebies and benefits you get from a big network.
The one thing you have to watch for is customer service - small isn't necessarily a bad thing, but giffgaff is an example of a smaller network that doesn't have dedicated customer service support. Instead, giffgaff uses its online community of giffgaff members to help other users and promote the network.
Can I use SIM only abroad?
Using your phone abroad has always been a sticking point for customers. No one wants to come back refreshed after a summer holiday to find they racked extra phone charges. Some networks such as Three offer free roaming in popular destinations abroad, which mean you can call, text or use the internet abroad in countries like the USA, Spain, Australia on your normal tariff allowance. Most other networks offer add-ons, which mean you can use your phone abroad for less. It will typically cost you a few pounds a day to purchase an add-on, for which you'll get a travel allowance of minutes, texts and data.
Can I get a SIM card from Tesco or Sainsbury's?
Customers can get SIM only deals from both Tesco and Sainsbury's. Both supermarkets have a range of value SIM only packages. Tesco Mobile uses the O2 network as its carrier and Mobile by Sainsbury's uses the Vodafone network. The benefits of using one of these supermarkets' SIM only deals includes bonus Clubcard and Nectar points on their respective loyalty programs.
What SIM card does my iPhone need?
There are quite a few different iPhones on the market and they don't all use the same SIM card size. Check the SIM card types below to find out which one your iPhone uses:
- Nano-SIM card: iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5
- Micro-SIM card: iPhone 4S and iPhone 4
- Standard SIM card: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3 and original iPhone