SIM only deals
Getting a SIM only deal can be a great way to use your phone for longer if you don’t wish to upgrade. Discover the best SIM only deal for you by comparing prices with us.
Compare SIM only deals
If you’re after a SIM only deal then you’ve come to the right place. Find out what call minutes, text and mobile data allowance you could get by comparing deals quickly and easily today. Compare deals by network and search for one-month SIMs, unlimited SIM deals, data only SIMs and more.
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 insert 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 yourself a new one without signing up to a long mobile phone contract. Cheap SIM only deals can often be a more affordable option too.
What are the benefits of SIM only deals?
The benefits of SIM only contracts include:
- A cheaper deal – as you’re not paying for a phone you might be able to reduce your monthly payments and increase your call, text and mobile data allowance too.
- Save 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, you don’t have to with SIM only deals.
- Freedom to change tariff – you can get a 1-12 month contract, so you have the flexibility to change your deal if you want to.
- Chance to upgrade sooner – With many mobile contracts stretching to 24 months and longer, SIM only deals give you the chance to get a new phone much sooner if you want to.
- Easier credit check – the criteria you have to meet isn’t as comprehensive as it would be for a contract deal.
- 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.
Why people want to keep hold of their phones
Many people just aren’t ready to part with their precious phone after one or two years – either because they like their existing handset or because they don’t want to incur the cost of paying for a new model. They might also feel that new models don’t necessarily add much to the technology in their existing phone – or, at least, not enough to warrant a change or upgrade. SIM only mobile deals are a way of prolonging the life of a phone that isn’t ready for retirement just yet.
The downside of keeping an older phone, however, is that many new apps and functions are designed with the latest technology in mind. That means people with older models will 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 hold of his treasured iPhone 4 for six years. He said: “I only gave it up in the end because the home button was sticking and so started to randomly call people.
“My phone provided me with everything I wanted – calls, texts, apps – there were no issues. So, why bother upgrading to a new model which does exactly the same thing as I already had? 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 then use SIM only deals to get more value from it in the long term.
He said: “I used to flit around from phone to phone. 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 whilst hunting Pokémon.”
The rising popularity of SIM only deals
More and more people are turning to SIM only contracts for their mobile phones, with Ofcom figures showing that almost four in every ten customers (38%) now have SIM only deals.
The share of customers on a 12-month SIM Only deal more than doubled from 15% to 34% in the period between 2014 and 2019.
In total, 38% of UK mobile customers have SIM only deals.
Bundled contracts, where people get the handset and airtime in one package, now account for fewer than half of all pay-monthly mobile contracts (46%) as customer tastes change.
How much can you save with SIM only contracts?
Ofcom recently reported that more than two million people continue to pay the same amount for their phone package after their contract deal ends. Of those, it estimates that about 1.4 million people (73%) could save money by moving to SIM only deals, saving a combined £182 million. The average saving would be about £11 a month, although almost 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 a SIM Only deal
- 22% would save £0-5 a month
- 16% would save £5-10
- 13% would save £10-15
- 19% would save more than £15
Why SIM only deals are a greener choice
Environmentally conscious phone users can cut their emissions by extending the life of their smartphones with SIM only deals.
Research carried out by independent charity Green Alliance found that customers with SIM only phones have about half the average emissions from their devices compared to those on contracts with new phones.
The think tank is currently updating its research, having previously found that SIM only customers were able to extend the use of their phone handset well beyond the 1.8-year average lifetime – with about 100,000 customers even keeping their phones for longer than five years.
The rise in SIM only contracts is likely to suggest an even greener picture today.
‘People can do their bit by using their phones for as long as possible’
Libby Peake, Green Alliance head of resource policy, said: “The mountain of used mobiles that builds up when phones become waste is pretty alarming. But few people will realise that this is just a small part of the story: most of the environmental impact from phones – whether it be waste created, water used or carbon emitted – happens during production. To prevent the trail of waste and emissions phones leave behind, then it’s really important that companies design phones to be durable and repairable, that they offer extensive software support and that people do their bit by using their phones for as long as possible.”
Mobile phone recycling experts, Compare and Recycle, have carried out research to show the long-term impact that users can have by cutting their upgrades and keeping their existing phone with SIM only deals.
It found that if users could upgrade every four years instead of every year, they’d save 630kg of CO2 over a 12-year period – the equivalent in CO2 emissions of a person making 40 train trips from London to Paris.
Even halving upgrade frequency from annual to every two years cuts emissions from 960kg to 540kg over that period.
Carbon phone print – the emissions savings of SIM only deals.
|Upgrade frequency||Estimated total CO2 over 12 years|
|Every two years||540kg|
|Every three years||400kg|
|Every four years||330kg|
A spokesperson for Compare and Recycle said the firm believes the price tag of smartphones is the biggest factor for fuelling a rise in refurbished phone sales and delayed upgrades.
They said: “We strongly believe that the main driver for consumers to delay their upgrades is still the shocking cost of brand new smartphones, rather than their ‘carbon’ cost. Year on year, the distribution of refurbished smartphones is growing, which indicates a positive shift in understanding the impact of smartphones on the environment, even though the primary factor for this is often financial for consumers.”
They added: “Cutting down on your digital carbon emissions is a matter of educating yourself on your practices and your choice of electronics. Choosing a SIM only contract and buying a refurbished smartphone is a good start when it comes to making an effort to reduce your carbon footprint.”
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 the one you’re on, you might need to get your handset unlocked. Then, just 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 which type of SIM your handset has. If you’re not sure, check the manufacturer’s handbook.
What is the best network for SIM only deals?
The best SIM only deal for you depends on a number of factors, including:
- What you use your phone for. Do you need many minutes and texts or do you rely on other methods of communication?
- How much data you need. Do you have access to WiFi or are you reliant on connecting to 4G and 5G?
- Personal preference. Do you like the benefits and offers of one network? Do you want to be on the same network as your friends and family?
- Coverage. Which network provides the best service in your area? Our guide to mobile operators explains which has the most 4G and 5G coverage.
- Budget. How much do you want to spend on a month? Do you want the flexibility to be able to move around networks regularly? Cheap SIM only deals can help you to cut the cost of your phone.
The cheapest SIM only deals might be a great way to help you save money – and might be a big factor in which network you choose. However, they might also not be right for you, especially if, for example, you need lots of data.
Use our guides to different mobile networks to find out more about what you get from being a customer:
Frequently asked questions
How do SIM only deals work?
With a SIM only contract, the monthly cost covers:
Essentially you’re paying for the service you receive from a provider – and not the handset that you’re using the service for.
- Order a SIM card and buy a new SIM free phone separately to start from scratch
- Order a SIM card to put into your existing phone (provided this is unlocked already or you’re able to unlock it)
- Continue with your existing SIM card on a SIM only contract basis once your existing arrangement comes to an end.
Once activated, SIM cards are locked to an individual network, but you can use them in different handsets.
Can I keep my current telephone number?
You can keep your current telephone number. It’s fairly simple and you can do it yourself. When you move from one network to another, simply ask your old network for a PAC (Porting Authorisation Code) and give it to your new network within 30 days.
How do you get your PAC code?
Call your old network’s helpline to get your PAC code. Some networks will also let you get your PAC online.
You can also use Ofcom’s ‘text-to-switch’ service. Simply text ‘PAC’ to 65075 to get your PAC code delivered straight to your phone.
Then, ring your new network to give them your PAC code. The changeover is usually quick but can sometimes take a while.
Will I lose service during my switch to a SIM only deal?
There should be minimal disruption to your service when switching to a SIM only deal. If you’ are switching providers and transferring your number, there might be a very short period where your service is down. This could happen after you’ve sent your new network your PAC code – and only briefly during the actual process of moving you over. If this occurs for more than a few minutes, contact your new provider’s customer service team.
If you’re moving within your existing network, this should be a seamless process, with no noticeable disruption.
How much data will I need on a SIM-only deal?
The amount of data you need in your SIM only deal will vary, depending on what you use your phone for, but it’s useful to know that the average person uses about 2.9GB a month.
If you mainly use your phone at home or at work with a decent WiFi connection, you may not need much data. But, if you’re usually out and about or can’t bank on finding a good WiFi signal, you may need more data.
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 – use thisuse this so you know what to look for when considering the best Sim SIM only deals for your needs.
What contract lengths are available for SIM only deals?
Typically, you’ll be able to pick between 30-day SIM only deals, or 12-month contracts. A 30-day deal typically takes the form of a rolling contract, which automatically renews each month until you decide to cancel the arrangement. Year-long SIM only deals are much the same as a typical pay monthly mobile phone contract that just focuses on the minutes, texts and data you need.
Should I go for a short-term or long-term SIM deal?
A long-term SIM only contract offers a chance to plan what you’ll spend each month. However, you may be missing out on cheap SIM only deals if you’re tied down as a result of your contract length.
Short-term SIM only deals can last for as little as 30 days. They’re ideal if you’re always hunting for the best price and want maximum flexibility. However, 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 what you want from your phone and how you like to manage your money.
How do I tell if my phone is unlocked?
A simple way to check if your phone is unlocked is to insert an active SIM card from another network and see if you’re able to make a call. You can borrow one from a friend or family member to try this.
If you can make a call, the phone is unlocked. If not, contact your mobile provider to begin the process of unlocking your handset.
Customers with Three and Virgin Mobile should find that all of their handsets are unlocked.
Unlocked phones can use SIM cards from any network, giving you the chance to 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 just like moving from one tariff to another. If you’re currently on a fixed term contract, you might need to pay to leave your current deal. However, if that’s not the case, then you can simply select the deal you’ve found and make the switch – you’ll keep your number and everything should happen smoothly without any interruption in service.
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?
There could be a credit check when you sign up for a SIM only contract, but the criteria may not be as rigorous as they are for contract phone deals.
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 always pay your monthly SIM only contract on time, your credit score could improve. Be aware that if you miss your monthly repayments, your credit score could also go down.
Can you get an unlimited data SIM only deal?
It’s possible to sign up for a SIM only contract that includes unlimited data. You can read more about these deals in our guide to unlimited data SIM deals. These data plans are good for people without access to WiFi or who might travel regularly. It’ is also possible to find deals with unlimited minutes and unlimited texts if you expect to make a lot of calls and send a lot of messages too.
Can I get a data only SIM deal?
You can get data only SIM deals – these are SIM only contracts that don’t have any airtime as part of the package.
Clearly not everyone wants things like unlimited minutes, especially if you’re planning on using your SIM in an Android tablet or iPad for mobile broadband. Data plans typically cater for these users.
Some networks do allow the use of data only SIMs in phones and this might be attractive for users who do the majority of their communications through social media platforms that don’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 informing you that your current contract is coming to an end. It should spell out:
- The exact date your contract ends
- Details of what you’ve been paying – and what you’ll go on to pay after the end of your contract
- An outline of the new deals you could switch to from your existing provider
- Details of any notice period you might have to serve before you can leave your provider.
Since February 2020, it has been the law that end of contract notifications have to be sent by phone, broadband and pay-TV companies. These should be delivered by either email, letter or text message and must arrive with the customer between 10 and 40 days of the end of their deal.
Receiving an end of contract notification might be a useful prompt to encourage you to compare SIM only deals for your phone.
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 that you should get the same standard of call coverage and data with a lesser-known network and that the service should be just as reliable. You might well find that the best SIM only deal for you comes from a smaller network too.
What do I need to compare SIM only deals?
First, you’ll need to have a mobile phone. That’s because SIM only means the contract you take out won’t include a new phone.
Before ordering your new SIM card, you should check whether your phone accepts a standard, micro or nano-sized SIM card.
You should also make sure your phone is consistent with the type of SIM card you’re after. If you take out a contract on a 5G SIM card but your phone is only capable of connecting to 4G, you may end up wasting money.
Likewise, there’s no point taking out a SIM only plan with data included if your phone can’t connect to the internet.
For the sake of clarity, you can still use a 5G SIM card in a 4G device. In fact, any SIM should work in any device. But the speed of the network you can connect to will be limited by your phone.
Why use Compare the Market?
Find a deal within a minute^^
93.8% of users would recommend Compare the Market to friends or family^^^
^^On average it can take less than a minute to find and compare mobile phone deals through Compare the Market based on data in November 2020.
^^^For the period 1st September to 30th November 2020, 12,477 people responded to the recommend question. 11,706 responded with a score of 6 or above, therefore 93.8% are likely to recommend.Find a deal now