SIM-only deals

Getting a SIM-only deal can be a great way to use your phone for longer if you don’t want to upgrade. Discover the best SIM-only deal for you by comparing prices with us. 

What is a SIM-only deal? 

A SIM-only deal means you don’t get a phone included in your mobile contract. You’ll simply pay monthly for an allowance of minutes, texts and data (everything you use your SIM for), and nothing related to the handset. You might be sent a SIM card to slot into your phone – or switch to a SIM-only basis with your existing card when your contract is up. 

SIM-only contracts are a great solution if you’re happy with your phone, or want to buy a new one without signing up to a long mobile phone contract. SIM-only deals are often cheaper, too.

How do SIM-only deals work? 

With a SIM only contract, the monthly cost covers: 

  • Data
  • Minutes
  • Texts 

Essentially, you’re paying for the service you receive – not the handset you use. 

You can: 

  • Order a SIM card and buy a phone separately 
  • Order a SIM card to use in your existing phone (provided it’s already unlocked)
  • Continue with your current SIM card on a SIM-only basis once your contract ends.

What are the advantages of SIM-only deals? 

Benefits of SIM only contracts include: 

  • A cheaper deal – since you’re not paying for a phone, you might be able to reduce your monthly payments, while also increasing your call, text and mobile-data allowance.
  • Save money on your phone – sometimes it makes sense to buy a new SIM-free phone outright, rather than pay interest over the course of a contract.
  • Keep your existing phone – if you’re happy with your handset and not ready to move on, SIM-only deals mean you don’t have to.
  • Freedom to change tariff – you can get a short or rolling contract, giving you the flexibility to change your deal.
  • Chance to upgrade sooner – With many mobile contracts stretching to 24 months or more, SIM-only deals mean you can get a new phone much sooner if you want to.
  • Easier credit check – the criteria for SIM-only deals aren’t as comprehensive they would be for a contract phone.
  • Better for the environment – making your phone last longer can cut your carbon footprint. 

Decide whether a SIM-only deal or contract is better for you with our guide to SIM only vs contract phone packages

See our best SIM only contracts

What are the disadvantages of a SIM-only deal? 

Naturally, SIM-only deals have their downsides, too. Some of these include: 

  • If you don’t already have a phone, a SIM-only deal could work out to be more expensive than a contract phone deal.
  • Some SIM-only contracts have restrictive data allowances and call caps, so check the small print carefully. 
  • If you’re changing contract, there may be a charge for unlocking your phone. 

With that in mind, you might find you’d rather get a contract deal

The rising popularity of SIM only deals 

Ofcom figures show that almost 38% of phone users now have SIM-only deals. And, between 2014 and 2019, the number of customers on a 12-month SIM-only deal more than doubled, going from 15% to 34 %. 

Bundled contracts – where people get the handset and airtime in one package – now account for less than half of all pay-monthly mobile contracts (46%) , as customer tastes change.

How do I keep my phone number while changing to a SIM -only deal? 

If you’re changing to a SIM-only deal with the provider you already have, you shouldn’t need to do anything. If you’re switching to a new provider, you can use the text and switch service. Just text ‘PAC’ to 65075. Your current provider will send you your PAC code, which is valid for 30 days. You then give your PAC code to your new provider.

How much can you save with SIM only contracts? 

More than two million people carry on paying out for the same phone package once their contract ends, according to Ofcom. The watchdog estimates that about 73% of these – that’s some 1.4 million people – could save money by moving to SIM-only deals, saving a combined £182 million. The average saving would be about £11 a month, although nearly one in five people could save more than £15 a month. 

According to Ofcom, of the out-of-contract pay monthly mobile users in the UK: 

  • 27% would lose money on an equivalent SIM-only deal with their provider
  • 20% could save more than £15 a month
  • 22% would save £0-£5 a month  

Compare SIM-only deals now

How do I switch to a SIM-only tariff?

If you’re currently on a contract deal, you may have to wait for it to end to avoid paying a cancellation fee. Once you’re out of contract, you can shop around and sign up to a SIM-only deal. If it’s with a different network from your current one, you may need to get your handset unlocked. Then, pop your new SIM into your phone and you’re ready to go.

It’s easy to keep your number using ‘text to switch’ – just text ‘PAC’ to 65075 to start.

What SIM card do I need?

There are three types of SIM card:

  • Standard – these are usually only found in older phones. They measure 25 x 15mm and are the biggest type of SIM.
  • Micro – slightly smaller than a standard SIM at 15 x 12 mm.
  • Nano – the smallest SIM at 12.3 x 8.8mm and often used in new smartphones.
  • eSIMs – electronic SIMs that are part of the phone are just coming onto the market. They can be found in the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, the iPhone XR and Google Pixel 2 and 2XL.

Before you order your SIM card for your SIM-only deal, check what type of SIM card your handset requires. If you’re not sure, check the manufacturer’s handbook.

What is the best network for SIM only deals? 

Which SIM-only deal is best for you depends on several factors, including: 

  • How you use your phone. Do you need many minutes and texts, or do you communicate in other ways?
  • How much data you need. Do you have access to WiFi, or do you rely on 4G or 5G?
  • Personal preference. Does a particular network offer attractive benefits? Do you want to be on the same network as friends and family?
  • Coverage. Which network offers the best service in your area? Our guide to mobile operators explains which have the most 4G and 5G coverage.
  • Budget. How much do you want to spend each month? Do you want the flexibility to move networks regularly? Cheap SIM-only deals can help you cut the cost of your phone. 

The cheapest SIM-only deals might be a great way to save money – and a big factor in which network you choose. But they might not be right for you – especially if you need lots of data.
Use our guides to mobile networks to see what you get from being a customer: 

  • EE
  • O2
  • Tesco
  • Mobile
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Vodafone
  • Giff Gaff

How much data will I need on a SIM-only deal? 

The amount of data you’ll need will vary, depending on how you use your phone. It might help to know that the average person uses about 2.9GB a month.

If you mainly use your phone at home or work, where there’s a decent WiFi connection, you may not need much data. But if you’re often out and about, or can’t bank on finding WiFi, you may need more.

Before choosing a new SIM-only deal, review your current plan to see how much data you’re using each month. We’ve drawn up a guide to help you to understand your mobile data usage. This will help you know what to look for when considering the best SIM-only deals for your needs.

How do I switch my SIM-only deal? 

There are lots of reasons you might want to switch your SIM-only deal – you may simply want a new phone, or you’ve found a longer contract that works better for you. You should be able to cancel a monthly SIM-only deal with 30 days’ notice. 

Switching is easy, simply find our best SIM-only deals and your mobile-phone provider should do the hard work for you.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get a PAC code?

To get your PAC code, call your old network’s helpline. Some will also give you it online.

You can also use Ofcom’s ‘text-to-switch’ service. Text ‘PAC’ to 65075 to have your PAC code delivered straight to your phone.

Call your new network to give them your PAC code. The changeover should be fairly quick.

Will I lose service during my switch to a SIM only deal?

When switching to a SIM-only deal, any disruption to your service should be minimal. If you’re switching providers and transferring your number, there may be a short period after you’ve sent your new network your PAC code where your service is down. If this lasts more than a few minutes, contact the customer-service team. 

If you’re sticking with your current network, the process should be seamless.

What contract lengths are available for SIM only deals?

You can typically choose between 30-day SIM-only deals, or 12-month contracts. A 30-day deal usually takes the form of a rolling contract, which automatically renews until you cancel. Year-long SIM-only deals work much like monthly mobile-phone contracts, but are all about the minutes, texts and data you need, rather than the actual handset.

Should I go for a short-term or long-term SIM deal?

A long-term SIM-only contract allows you to better plan your spending. But you may be missing out on cheap SIM-only deals if your contract is tying you down. 

SIM-only deals can be as short as 30 days. These are ideal if you’re always hunting for new offers and want maximum flexibility. But you may find yourself without service if you forget to line up a new deal in time.

Ultimately, the best SIM-only deal for you depends on how you use your phone and how you like to manage your money.

How do I tell if my phone is unlocked?

An easy way to check if your phone is unlocked is to borrow a friend’s SIM card and see if you’re able to make a call. If you can, the phone is unlocked. If not, contact your provider and ask to unlock your handset. 

Most Three and Virgin Mobile unlocked. 

Unlocked phones can use SIM cards from any network, which means you can search for the cheapest SIM-only deals for your handset.

I’ve found a SIM only deal with my current network. What should I do next?

Switching from a contract to a SIM-only deal is like moving from one tariff to another. If you’re currently on a fixed-term contract, you might have to pay to leave your current deal. Otherwise, simply choose your deal and make the switch – you’ll keep your number and it should all happen smoothly.

What do I do with my old SIM?

Before you do anything, be aware that your SIM card contains a lot of personal information, including the names and contact numbers of your friends and family. With that in mind, you have three options:

  • Destroy it: If you’re sure you’ll never need that SIM card again, cut the chip in half and recycle the plastic shell.

  • Recycle it: There are many companies that offer to securely collect your old SIM, wipe it and let someone else make use of it. Some will even pay for your old SIM cards.

  • Keep it: If you think your SIM might come in useful in the future – for instance, if you lose your new SIM card – you can keep it in a secure place. You can even convert old contract SIMs into pay-as-you-go SIM cards by contacting your network provider.

Will there be a credit check for a SIM only deal?

When you sign up for a SIM-only contract, there could be a credit check, but the criteria may not be as rigorous as for a contract deal.

Will a SIM-only deal improve my credit rating?

Taking out a phone contract is a form of borrowing – your network provider ‘loans’ you a bundle of calls, texts and data and you pay them back month by month. If you make all your payments on time, your credit score could improve. But if you miss them, your credit score could go down.

Can you get an unlimited data SIM only deal?

It’s possible to find SIM-only contracts that include unlimited data. You can read more about these in our guide to unlimited data SIM deals. These are good for people without access to WiFi, or who travel regularly. You can also find deals with unlimited minutes and texts, too. 

Compare unlimited data SIM-only deals with us

Can I get a data only SIM deal?

You can get data-only SIM deals – these are SIM-only contracts that don’t include airtime.

Clearly not everyone wants things like unlimited minutes, especially if you’re using your SIM in an Android tablet or iPad for mobile broadband. Data plans typically cater for these customers.

Some networks allow you to use data-only SIMs, which might appeal if you communicate through social media, which doesn’t require minutes or texts.

Can I get a SIM only deal for a tablet?

If you want to use your tablet while you’re out and not connected to WiFi, you can get a  data-only SIM. These are like ordinary SIM cards, but they only come with data. Before you buy, check that your tablet has a slot for a SIM card – not all do. Also check the manufacturer’s handbook to see what type of SIM you need. 

What is an end of contract notification?

An end-of-contract notification – or ECN – is a letter telling you that your contract is ending. It should spell out: 

  • When your contract ends
  • How much you’ve been paying – and what you’ll pay after your contract ends
  • New deals you could switch to
  • Any notice period you might have before you can switch

All phone, broadband and pay-TV companies must, by law, send end-of-contract notifications. You must receive these between 10 and 40 days before your deal ends. 

 End-of-contract notifications are a useful reminder to start comparing SIM-only deals

How reliable are smaller, less well-known networks?

Smaller mobile networks tend to rent access from one of the big networks – O2, EE, Three and Vodafone. This is known as ‘piggybacking’. For example, Giffgaff uses the O2 network and iD Mobile uses Three’s. This means a lesser-known network should give you the same standard of call coverage and data, and the service should be just as reliable. You might well find that the best SIM-only deal for you is with a smaller network.

What do I need to compare SIM-only deals?

Firstly, you’ll need a mobile phone. That’s because SIM-only means your contract won’t include a new phone.

Before ordering your new SIM card, check whether your phone accepts a standard, micro or nano-sized SIM card.

Any SIM should work with any device, so you can still use a 5G SIM card in a 4G device. But a lower-capacity phone will limit the speed of the network you can connect to.

Why people want to keep hold of their phones

Many people aren’t ready to part with their phone after a year or two – either because they like their handset, or don’t want to pay for a new one. They may feel that the newest models aren’t a huge improvement on their existing phone, or not enough to warrant an upgrade. SIM-only mobile deals can prolong the life of a phone that’s not yet ready for retirement. 

The downside of keeping an older phone is that many apps and functions are designed with the latest technology in mind. People with older models often find it increasingly tricky to use their handset to the full. 

I only gave it up because it started randomly calling people’ 

David Bagley, of Beeston Rylands, managed to keep his iPhone 4 for six years. ‘I only gave it up because the home button was sticking and started randomly calling people,’ he says.

‘My phone provided me with everything I wanted – calls, texts, apps. There were no issues, so why bother upgrading to a new model that does the same thing? I got a new iPhone in February and will use it for as long as possible before I get another one.’ 

I’ve reduced my spend by 85%’ 

Stuart Shaw from Spalding would rather pay more for a quality phone and use SIM-only deals to get more from it over the long term. 

‘I used to flit from phone to phone,’ he says. ‘By the end of my contracts, the battery would be awful and the phone quite slow.  

‘I found that by investing in a better spec I've been able to get out the other end of my contract, picking up a SIM-only bargain and reducing my mobile outgoings by 85%. Getting a strong case has meant it's weathered the impact of children relatively well, having been dropped multiple times while hunting Pokémon.’

Compare SIM-only deals 

If you’re after a SIM-only deal, you’ve come to the right place. Compare deals quickly and easily today to find out what call minutes, text and mobile data allowance you could get. You can search for one-month SIMs, unlimited SIM deals, data-only SIMs, and more.

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