If you’re visiting London for an extended stay or moving here to study or work, then you will need to know how to use your mobile phone in the UK.
Your phone will connect to one of the networks over here without the need to do anything but using your foreign SIM card in the UK will bring with it a world of costs. The two ways of connecting to the mobile networks are by purchasing a SIM card when you get to London or using your domestic SIM card with roaming activated.
Throughout this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about mobile use in London and the UK, make a comparison of Cheap SIM-only deals, and hopefully, you will leave knowing what you need for your move.
Cellular coverage in the UK is provided by one of the four primary providers: Vodafone, EE, O2, and Three. They all offer different things but all boast coverage for 99% of the population by using 2G, 3G, 4G, and more recently 5G (you can find out where to access 5G here). Your mobile device will be compatible with one of the major bands, and if your device is unlocked then you should be able to put a UK SIM card in from any of the providers above.
There are also numerous mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in the UK, that make use of network coverage provided by the primary providers. You can often get access to the same coverage but without paying the premium costs.
If you need to find information on the frequencies used in the UK, then you head over to the 4G website.
Getting a SIM card in the UK is extremely easy, you don’t need to be a citizen and prepaid plans generally offer a 30-day monthly rolling option (making it extremely flexible). The only thing you need to, as mentioned above, is making sure that your device is unlocked by your domestic provider. You can save yourself money by ordering a SIM card in advance. Doing so will also save you a lot of time visiting shops to find the best deals.
The SIM card you choose largely depends on what you want to use it for, so it is sensible to have a look at what deals are available.
For international calls - Lebara - starting as low as £5 per month; no credit checks involved and so anyone can apply; utilises the stellar Vodafone network; you can share your data through tethering; you don’t need to worry about overspending with the bundle cap automatically set to zero. You can head over to lebara.co.uk for more information and secure your SIM card before you arrive.
For UK usage - GiffGaff - owned by Telefónica (the giants behind O2), there is free international delivery so you can buy before arrival. Prices start as low as £6 - with £10 providing unlimited UK calls and texts as well as 9GB of data, but it doesn’t have great options for calling internationally.
These are the SIM card plans most worth mentioning, there are a lot of other options out there that you can research - the market is changing all of the time so keep an eye out. Remember to order your SIM card before you arrive in the UK to save time and money, whatever you do, do not get your SIM card at the airport terminal because you will be charged an absolute fortune.
You can get pay monthly plans from any of the main providers, but to do this, you often need to become a resident and pass a credit check, which is difficult when you’re only visiting. For this reason, there’s very little point in looking further than one of the options above.
So that you can make a well-rounded decision, we will take a quick look at the primary differences between roaming or getting a UK SIM - the biggest being that your domestic carrier could charge a lot of money for you to roam. However, if you are staying in London for a short time, it is worth getting in touch with your provider to see what they can offer - a lot of carriers offer add-ons that include foreign travel and will usually be at a set charge per day.
Do make sure that you contact your provider first to avoid large roaming fees.
If you’re staying in London for a longer time, even as much as two weeks, you will be better off using a UK-based Cheap SIM-only deal. Not only will you get a new +44 mobile number, but you will also benefit from spending as little as £5 per month, and you won’t have to worry about the need to get online or make contact with loved ones when you aren’t on WiFi.
Using a local SIM means you can make local calls, such as to shops, government agencies, friends, and more without incurring significant costs. It’s also cheaper for other people in the UK to call you, as they will pay the cost of a local or national call, which will probably be included in the free minutes provided by their network.
If you are planning on visiting any other countries in Europe, it is still worth getting yourself a UK SIM card. Even though Brexit has officially happened, a lot of mobile operators are still keeping in place their free EU roaming policies. However, keep checking information on individual providers because this could change at any time without warning.
Every country has a different code and formats for their mobile numbers. In the UK, you will be given an 11-digit number that will always start with 07. However, if your family or friends abroad would like to call you, they will have to remove the 0 and replace it with +44. For example, 07777 888 999 would become +447777 888 999.
The same applies if you are calling internationally, you will need to add the relevant international calling prefix.
Calling the emergency services in London will be different from that at home - the number will be 999, and that will connect you to the ambulance, fire, and police services. You can make these calls in most instances, even when your mobile phone doesn’t have coverage.
Hopefully, you now know all there is to know to get yourself connected within the UK. With how digital the world is now, it’s important that you can get online whilst you’re travelling. The choice is yours whether to opt to continue using your domestic SIM or save yourself some money and go for a UK SIM.
Make sure that you buy before you travel, as airports will charge you a phenomenal cost. Remember to make sure that your phone is unlocked by your carrier back home before you travel to London. Decide what you will be using your phone for the most before you decide which plan will work best for you, with access to online communication you may not need international calls.