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Best pay as you go SIM deals 2021: The best PAYG SIM deals for calls, data, texts and roaming this month

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Browse, stream, text and call with the best PAYG SIMs and bundle deals available this December

Keen to prevent a lengthy commitment to a phone contract? Hate upfront costs and steep monthly fees? Happy with your current handset? These flexible, pay-as-you-go SIM-only plans are a much more cost-effective way to bank sizeable minutes and texts, as well as a generous data package.

There are loads of other benefits to pay-as-you-go SIMs. They're perfect for erratic data/minute users: those of you who only really start rattling through the minutes/data at the weekend or when you're on holiday. Then there's the fact that you can change your plan at a moment's notice, with no exit fees or cool-off periods.

Struggling to choose the best mobile network provider for you? You can also check out our Mobile Network Awards to find out who the best provider is, as voted for by our readers.

Nearly all the big mobile networks have their own PAYG SIM deals, plans and bargain bundles, but which one should you pick? Read on and we’ll help you find out.

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones you can buy


Best pay as you go SIM deals: At a glance

  • The best PAYG SIM for moderate users: Giffgaff
  • The best PAYG SIM for flexible deals: Vodafone PAYG
  • The best cheap PAYG SIM: 1pMobile
  • The best PAYG SIM for speed: EE
  • The best PAYG SIM for big data deals: Three
  • The best PAYG SIM for international calls: Lycamobile

How to choose the best pay as you go SIM deal for you

How do I buy a PAYG SIM?

You might get a SIM as part of a PAYG handset or find one thrown in when you upgrade your phone, but, if not, getting hold of a PAYG SIM isn’t a challenge. You can order one for free or postage costs from a provider or buy one for less than £1 from a local newsagent or supermarket. Once the SIM is in your phone, you can generally top it up with credit online or using vouchers, or directly from a shop or cashpoint.

What differentiates the various SIMs on offer is how this credit gets used. Most networks have a base tariff, setting out the standard cost of making calls, using data or sending texts, with additional charges for calling premium numbers, using premium SMS services, retrieving voicemail messages or using your phone abroad. However, you can normally get better value by buying “bundles” of services, where you pay a fixed fee for a package of call, data and text allowances.

How much data do you need?

Bundles normally range from £5 to £35 and the more you spend, the more calls, texts and data you get. Beyond the £10 mark, you’re typically looking at a big chunk of call time (500 minutes or more) and unlimited texts. Data allowances can vary significantly, however, so it’s a good idea to work out how much you need.

The trick is to be realistic. If you spend almost all of your time connected to a home or office Wi-Fi network, 1GB of mobile data could last you a month, but as more apps place more demands on your mobile connection and websites throw in more videos and animations, you may need a little more these days. If you’re a heavy user of social media, use Google Maps or make voice and video calls, your usage could go up a lot – and that’s without streaming video or music. If that’s the case, the larger 10GB to 20GB deals look more attractive, although you might find you get better value by going for a pay-monthly 12-month contract SIM deal instead.

Some networks – including Giffgaff, O2 and Vodafone – also allow you to use your bundle’s data for tethering, connecting a laptop or tablet to the internet through your smartphone. This can eat through your data even faster and, once you’ve exhausted your bundle, costs can rocket, typically to 5p or more per megabyte.

All the same, you must have a balance. While it’s important to buy enough data, there’s also no point spending money on a huge allowance you won’t use, even if more networks now allow you to roll unused data over to the next month. The beauty of PAYG is that you can stick to a low-data bundle for most of the year and then switch to a high-data bundle as needed – for example, when you’re travelling on business or going away on holiday.

Do I need to worry about speed or network coverage?

A cheap SIM deal isn’t much use if the connection is slow or flaky – and speeds and coverage vary massively from network to network and location to location. The smaller operators normally piggyback on one of the major mobile networks, and each one has a coverage checker so it’s worth using this to discover the speeds expected in your immediate area. It’s also worth asking friends who live nearby which networks have and haven’t worked for them.

Another good and entirely independent option is RootMetrics’ coverage map, which can help you pinpoint coverage and speeds in your area. Click here and have a look before you grab a new PAYG SIM.

What about making international calls or going abroad?

If you have friends and family overseas, you should investigate how much it costs to make international calls. Many providers offer cheap calls to specific destinations, but (for example) the SIM that’s cheapest for calling the US might be expensive for calling Brazil, and vice versa. In some cases, paying for an add-on can slash call costs.

It’s also a good idea to do some homework if you’re planning to take your own phone abroad. Within the EU you should be able to use your phone on exactly the same terms as within the UK, although it remains to be seen whether that will still be true after Brexit.

Outside of the EU, things can be much more expensive. Certain networks offer lower charges or free usage in specific territories or add-ons that can cut the cost. Alternatively, it might make sense to buy a local PAYG SIM, rather than roam on your UK SIM.


The best pay as you go SIM deals in December

1. Giffgaff: The best PAYG SIM for moderate users

Price: £6/mth (1GB data) to £25/mth (unlimited data) | Order your SIM now

Giffgaff isn’t a PAYG provider in the traditional sense, but it sells Goodybag bundles of data, minutes and texts on a rolling monthly contract, which you can change or cancel any time you like.

Our favourite Goodybag is the £10 version, which gets you 12GB with unlimited calls and texts, which is all you need for day-to-day use. You can also pay £12 for 20GB with unlimited minutes and texts when you buy the Golden Goodybag, giving you an extra 3GB of data when you set your plan to recur every month like a normal contract. Giffgaff has a few more options – including one with unlimited data – but they're all pretty reasonably priced.

If you're a student, there are even better deals to be had. For just £10, you can get 16GB of data with unlimited calls and texts; that's 4GB more than the standard £10 Goodybag. Also, you'll be able to afford an extra pint or two because GiffGaff will give you £5 cashback when you refer a friend.

Giffgaff is owned by the same company as O2 and operates on the same network, but it’s cheaper than O2 and a lot more flexible. Data doesn’t roll over from month to month and the community-driven approach to support means customer service can be patchy, but you’ll struggle to find as good a deal anywhere else.

Key details – Giffgaff

Network providerO2Mandatory top-up period3 months
Network types2G to 4G servicesVoicemail call charge8p per call
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff25p per minute; 10p per text, 10p per MB

Order your Giffgaff SIM now


2. Vodafone PAYG: The best PAYG SIM for flexible deals

Price: £10/mth (25GB data) to £40/mth (unlimited 5G data) | Order your SIM now

Vodafone is the network to beat for speed and coverage. Its base tariff lets it down (35p/min and £2 for a pitiful 50MB of data), so ignore the table below and instead feast your eyes on Vodafone's outstanding SIM-only winter offers – all with unlimited minutes and texts, and with superb data roll-over terms.

Cheapest of the bunch is a £10 SIM with 25GB of data. The £15 SIM gets you 50GB and £20 buys 70GB. They're good deals, but if you've got a 5G-ready phone and want to get the best out of its souped-up engine, check out Vodafone's two 5G SIM bundles: £30 for 100GB data or £40 for unlimited 5G data. The £40 deal includes roaming in 51 European countries (with a 25GB data cap), and all these deals include unlimited mins/texts.

Here's the best bit. Vodafone’s Total Rollover feature lets you carry over any month's unused data into the next month. You only get to carry unused data into the next month (you don't keep it forever), but it's a fantastic extra perk.

If you're a big social media user, check out Vodafone's Voxi deals. The Voxi SIM-only plans give you unlimited use of social apps including Twitter, Facebook (and Messenger) and Instagram, plus unlimited mins/texts and EU roaming (up to 20GB cap). The best Voxi deal is £35/mth for unlimited data, meaning unlimited data for "everything" including streaming, Wi-Fi calling, 5G, photo messaging and more. You can opt out of Vodafone's Voxi SIMs whenever you want.

Key details – Vodafone
Network providerVodafoneMandatory top-up period270 days
Network types2G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge5p per minute
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff35p per minute, £2 per 50MB, 20p per text

Order your Vodafone SIM now


3. 1pMobile: The best cheap PAYG SIM

Price: 1p per minute, 1p per text, 1p per MB | Order your SIM now

1pMobile’s proposition is as straightforward as it gets and, if you only make light use of your phone, it’s terrifically cost-effective. You pay £10 for the SIM, which includes your first £10 of credit and, as the name suggests, all your basic requirements cost a penny from there on in. Nor does the usual peanuts/monkeys maxim apply: as it’s a virtual network running on top of EE’s network, 1pMobile has excellent coverage and decent speeds.

If you use less than 500MB of data a month, you should save money compared to rival networks, and if you need more, competitively priced data boosts give you 2GB for just £6, 10GB for £10 and 50GB for £15. However, while normal credit doesn’t expire provided you top up every 120 days, these boosts expire after just 30.

You have to watch that 120-day top-up requirement, as failing to top-up before the next due date will result in the service being cancelled. Meanwhile, charges are higher for premium numbers and text services, while costs also rise significantly while abroad. Still, with good speeds, a simple pricing model and tethering supported, 1pMobile is a great option for casual smartphone use.

Key details – 1pMobile

Network providerEEMandatory top-up period120 days
Network types2G to 4G servicesVoicemail call charge1p per minute
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff1p per minute, 1p per text, 1p per MB

Order your 1pMobile SIM now


4. EE: The best PAYG SIM for speed

Price: £10/mth (10GB data/500 minutes/unlimited texts) to £30/mth (100GB data/unlimited calls/texts) | Order your SIM now

If you want a halfway house between PAYG and a SIM-only contract, EE has you covered. Its Flex Plans work a little like Giffgaff’s Goodybags, giving you a monthly allowance for a monthly payment, but with no contract keeping you locked in. You can change allowances whenever you like with unused data rolling over, and with bundles running from £10 for 10GB with 500 minutes to £30 for 100GB with unlimited minutes, you can get a good amount of data without going overboard with costs.

EE isn’t as cheap as Giffgaff, Vodafone or Three, but it has a couple of points in its favour. Firstly, you’re getting access to the UK’s fastest 4G network, with higher speeds in more places. Secondly, EE rewards you with a free 500MB data boost every three months, so your data allowance keeps on growing the longer you stay signed up. And if you prefer a straight PAYG deal, you can have that too. The basic charges are exorbitant, and you have to pay upfront for data, but the bundles allow you to prioritise calls or data and they’re not too badly priced.

Key details – EE

Network providerEEMandatory top-up period180 days
Network types3G and 4G servicesVoicemail call charge35p per minute
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff35p per minute, 15p per text, no data

Order your EE SIM now


5. Three: The best PAYG SIM for big data deals

Price: £10/mth (8GB data) to £35/mth (Unlimited data) | Order your SIM now

Three’s PAYG service has a simple 3-2-1 basic tariff, charging you 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per MB you use. It also has good “add-on” bundles at just about every price point. If you're serious about data, Three's PAYG bundles are where it's at. Prices start at £10 for 8GB of monthly data and you can also get 25GB of data for £15 – both of these deals have a big data boost available right now so get them whilst they're available. Alternatively, other deals are available such as unlimited data for £35.

As a network, Three’s speeds and coverage aren’t quite in the same league as EE or Vodafone’s, but you can still get a good signal and decent performance across the vast majority of the UK. What’s more, you can use your allowances not just in the EU, but in 71 destinations around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong and the US. Frankly, if you’re regularly spending more than £15 each month on PAYG, you ought to think about a SIM-only contract, but if you just need more data every now and then, Three has the best SIMs in town.

Key details – Three

Network providerThreeMandatory top-up period6 months
Network types3G and 4G servicesVoicemail call charge3p per minute
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff3p per minute, 2p per text, 1p per MB

Order your Three SIM now


6. Lycamobile: The best PAYG SIM for international calls

Price: £10/mth (6GB data) to £20/mth (20GB data) | Order your SIM now


If you're looking to stay in touch with family and friends abroad, Lycamobile has a range of cost-effective international PAYG SIM options that all come with data, as well as unlimited UK minutes and texts.

The All In One 10 plan includes 6GB of data, EU roaming and 500 international minutes to countries such as the US, India, Australia and China for £10 per month (£5 for the first month). Meanwhile, there's an All In One Plus 15 plan for £15 a month that offers unlimited international calls and 15GB, while the All In One Plus 20 plan gets you the same minutes but with 20GB of data for £20.

Key details – Lycamobile

Network providerO2Mandatory top-up period90 days
Network types3G and 4G servicesVoicemail call chargeFree
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff£10 per month - 6GB data/unlimited UK minutes/unlimited UK texts/500 international minutes

Order your Lycamobile SIM now


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