So you need a travel SIM card for London and the UK in 2023? After googling this and looking at the top results littered with terrible choices for travelers that make them pay more for an affiliate commission we knew we had to share this. So, do you want the real, no bullsh*t guide that’s going to save you money AND give you more data + more days for that money? If so, read on, and we’ll share exactly what you need to do.
Why trust us? We live in the UK so we know exactly what you need to do to get a cheaper SIM card and get more bang for your buck. Use this technique to save you £10-15/month during your stay here.
Our writer Nicole used this article on her recent trip to London and saved herself 50% on SIM Card plans in the UK!
The Cheapest Way To Get A SIM Card For The UK | Head To The Shops
The Airport sells SIM cards for tourists and prices are double what you’ll find in a shop. To save money, leave the airport and go to a Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or corner shop (convenience shop). Here, buy a prepaid SIM card (with data), or a SIM without a plan and add data online. We recommend Giff Gaff (cheapest, decent coverage) or EE network (best speed & coverage).
Here’s how to get a SIM card in London:
- Find a convenience shop or purchase at the airport (double price) – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or any convenience shop will do
- Look for a SIM card – GiffGaff offers best bang for buck, EE offers best speeds & coverage, Three has great speeds but poor coverage, Vodafone has ok speeds and ok coverage, O2 is expensive and slow but great coverage
- Purchase a pre-paid PAYG SIM plan – read the packets, they show what’s included for the price, purchase a suitable one (you do not need a passport)
- Put the SIM card in your phone – use a SIM pin to eject the tray and put your new SIM in your phone
- You are good to go! – you should have data, minutes and texts almost instantly
Contrary to what you might find online, you do not need a passport to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card in the UK. However, if you purchase a SIM card without a plan and want to top up online, when you register to do so, you may need to provide your identification documents. For pre-paid plans, this is not the case.
Purchasing a plan online is generally cheaper, so if you want to purchase just the SIM (usually around £0.99-£1.50) and choose a plan online, it’s a very easy process and only takes a few minutes. If you’re staying for 2 weeks to a month in London or the UK you’ll be able to purchase a monthly plan for a low cost that will include quite a bit of data. This will support your travels around the entire of London and the UK.
We recommend looking for a GiffGaff SIM Card. This will be the cheapest option with the best coverage and speeds for the price. However, be aware that 5G coverage is not as good on Giff Gaff as it is on EE.
If want the fastest speeds and best coverage, but are happy to pay more, look for an EE SIM Card.
Both of these brands can be picked up in any convenience shop or supermarket in the UK. Go to a Tesco and you will find both Giff Gaff and EE SIM cards. Some will have pre-paid plans, but it’s usually best to just get the SIM card and purchase the plan online later on. Additionally, if you go to a phone shop you may be able to get a SIM card for free, however, you might have to show your passport for this and Giff Gaff does not have physical stores like EE does.
With GiffGaff pay-as-you-go, you can get:
- 15GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£10)
- 30GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£15)
- 80GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£20)
- 150GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£35)
With EE pay-as-you-go you can get:
- 8GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£10)
- 25GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£15)
- 50GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£20)
- 125GB data & unlimited calls + texts (£30)
As you can see, compared to airport prices, you’re saving quite a bit of money.
In general, it’s best to avoid Lyca and Three Mobile, as both have pretty poor coverage in the UK, however Three speeds are great. In London you should be ok, but across the country you’ll experience connection drops.
GiffGaff uses O2’s signal masts, which means the coverage is fantastic. In the UK O2 currently has the best coverage for 4G with 99% of the country covered. However, if you want 5G, it will be best for you to get EE, as they have 99% coverage for both 4G and 5G. If you are staying in London, you will get 5G everywhere with GiffGaff, but outside major cities, the signal is not as good for 5G specifically.
If you’re going up to Scotland (which many UK travelers do), Giff Gaff’s 5G connectivity is much worse, but 4G is 99%.
You can check the coverage where you’re staying before flying to London, by entering the postcode into their coverage map, which can be found here to see if it’s worth looking for another SIM type. You can also check EE’s network coverage here.
Shops That Sell SIM Cards in London
In London, there are many shops that sell both monthly and prepaid SIM cards. All major brands, Vodafone, Three, O2 & EE have physical stores that you can go into and buy a prepaid UK sim card or a pay monthly plan. You will also be able to head to any Supermarket or Convenience shop to get yourself online.
In London here is a list of the shops that will sell pre-paid SIM cards:
- Any brand corner shop (convenience store)
Most SIM cards that do not come loaded with a data plan should cost you no more than £0.99 ($1.21). You’ll then be able to top-up any of these SIM cards online and purchase a data plan online. You do not need a passport to do this.
If you want to browse multiple SIM card deals, you can go to Curry’s or Argos. They stock different network SIM cards and will have shop assistants that will be able to help you choose a plan.
The Best SIM Card Deals Are Online
If you want to save money, it’s best to order a SIM card for your accommodation and purchase a SIM plan online. If you already know your address before traveling, we recommend doing this as you’ll save a lot.
Some of the cheapest UK SIM cards are:
Every UK network will send you a SIM card totally free of charge, so it’s good to check the plans online ahead of time. You can check a website like moneysupermarket.com to see the latest and best deals.
Getting A SIM Card At London Heathrow Airport
To get a UK SIM card at Heathrow Airport, go to Terminals 2&3 or 4 and go to “sim LOCAL” shop or vending machine. You can purchase a SIM from either. You can also find SIM cards at “WHSmith”. Keep in mind you’ll pay double the local price in supermarkets and will get less data, so to save money, avoid this & wait to leave the airport.
At any convenience shop or supermarket, you can find the best prepaid SIM cards. You do not need passport verification to buy. We recommend doing this instead (explained below), but if you like the convenience of getting a SIM at the airport, we’ve listed the places you can do so below.
Where Are The SIM Card Stands Located?
You will find SIM card stands at Terminals 2,3 & 4 at London Heathrow Airport. There will be a stand near baggage claim, the arrivals hall, and close to the information desks dotted around. There are no retailers that sell SIM cards in Heathrow. If however you land in Gatwick, you will find WHSmith stores that sell SIM cards.
Close to baggage claim aisle 7, there is a simLOCAL stand and a vending machine. In the arrivals hall and baggage claim section, look for the claim aisle 7 if you are lost trying to find the SIM card stall.
Buying A SIM Card At Gatwick Airport
To get a SIM card at London Gatwick Airport, go to North or South Terminal and find “WHSmith”. You can purchase a SIM card from here. We recommend EE because it has the best coverage and speeds in the UK. Keep in mind you’ll pay double the local price in supermarkets and will get less data, so to save money, avoid this & wait to leave the airport.
At any supermarket, or convenience shop you can find cheaper, better SIM card plans (explained below). When leaving the airport look for any Tesco, Sainsbury’s or convenience shop. You do not need a passport to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM plan.
Where Are The SIM Card Stands Located?
At North Terminal in the arrivals hall you will find a shop called “WHSmith”, located close to the “Costa Coffee”. This sells pre-paid SIM card plans from EE and Three networks. EE is the best choice of network for speed an coverage. You will also find another WHSmith shop in South Terminal.
When you enter the shop, you should see a stand at the front of the shop that will have SIM card packets from both EE and Three. Look at the images below to help you locate it.
Buy A UK SIM Card Before Arriving in London – What Are My Options?
Before arriving in London you have two options for SIM cards:
- Prepaid SIM card – a physical SIM card that can be ordered online and sent to your door, most networks offer them free
- E-SIMs – a virtual SIM that any iPhone newer than 2018, and any Samsung or Google Pixel newer than 2020 can use
If you know where you are traveling and have accommodation listed, many providers will send free SIM cards. If you have your accommodation address we recommend doing this, then activating it once you arrive and adding a plan online. This is an easy process and doesn’t require a passport.
The main advantage of getting an E-SIM over a UK prepaid SIM card is that you never have to remove your current one. This allows you to keep receiving authentication texts for logins like banking, PayPal etc., and also removes the possibility of losing your original SIM card.
Personally, we don’t think it’s worth the cost and, unless you really need to access your old SIM card a lot abroad, we recommend getting a pre-paid SIM and keeping your old one in a safe place, like an electronics case.
Should I Get An E-SIM Card For The UK?
The best options for Europe, UK, and London are the networks – Spusu and Nomad. These are the cheapest, cover most European countries and offer the most data as well as European country-to-country calls included in the price. SimOptions, Airlo and Holafly are quite expensive and poor value for money, and despite them having lucrative affiliate programs, we will never recommend you something based on our personal commission gain. Spusu and Nomad are best. Spusu is the best and has no affiliate program.
Spusu is specifically best for the UK, London, and Europe because it offers a large amount of data for a small monthly cost, you can cancel your subscription at any time, and it covers over 36 countries in the EU. So, if you are on a European backpacking trip, you can purchase this SIM plan and not have to worry about constantly changing SIM cards between countries- essentially giving you a SIM card for Europe (nice!)
Spusu offers 36 countries in the EU where roaming and calls are available at no extra charge. So, if you’re on a travel throughout Europe, the $12/month plan would cover you for all of these countries and offer more than enough data of 20GB per month unless you’re hot-spotting everywhere. This is the cheapest EU roaming E-Sim plan for the UK and EU.
For unlimited data, the price comes in slightly lower than most of the Sim Options, Airlo, Holafly, and Nomad plans at $43/month. This appears to be the most cost-effective plan for travel to the UK & Europe and is in fact almost the same costs as some of the PAYG plans you’ll find when arriving in the UK.
Nomad is a little more expensive than Spsusu and is more in line with the higher-priced E-sim options available for the UK and Europe. However, Nomad often has sales, so you can get some pretty great monthly deals compared to the likes of Sim Options, Airlo or Holafly. $25 for 20GB/month and free EU data roaming to over 35 countries is not bad. It’s not the best, but it’s not bad.
Unfortunately, Nomad does not include any unlimited options on their EU and UK E-Sims which is where they fall short.
If you are traveling to other parts of the world like South East Asia, and Thailand specifically, then Nomad is a great plan of choice compared to the options available there.
Sim Options offer a wider range of plans including some UK exclusives, so if you are traveling Europe, make sure you check before purchasing. The higher priced “Travel Basic +”, “My European Sim” & Orange packages can be used in European countries as well as the UK, but comparing them to Spusu, they’re really not worth it. Other online publications have recommended these for European travel, but you can get more data in more countries for a lower price with Spusu.
If you’re going to use Sim Options, we recommend getting a pre-paid PAYG SIM plan when you arrive in the UK instead, or just opting for another E-Sim option.
Which is The Best Network For The UK?
There are 4 main networks in the UK:
- Three UK
And, although there are other brands, these brands piggyback off the masts of these 4 listed above. For example: Giff Gaff uses O2’s masts for connection, but is a different brand to O2 and provides a different service.
Generally, the networks that piggyback off the main network masts are cheaper, and you will get more for your money. We recommend purchasing a plan from one of the networks that piggybacks off a main network’s masts because they are cheaper and the coverage and speeds you get are pretty much the same.
Below are the best SIM networks in London & the UK (in order):
|Network||Coverage %||Data Speeds (3G, 4G, 5G combination)||Pricing|
After personally using EE, O2, and Vodafone, as well as getting experience from family and friends using Three, we can confidently say any network that uses EE or O2 masts is the best. Any network that uses Vodafone masts is 2nd best, and anything that uses Three masts is the worst and you will drop connection frequently through the country, but you get great speeds from Three when it works.
None of these networks will give you a “bad” experience. All have good coverage and decent speeds. However, EE hands down provide the best speeds and coverage for both 4G & 5G connections. This personal experience is backed up with coverage tests done by both the Independent and USwitch. Additionally a Rootmetrics report of the UK showed that many experienced the best connectivity and speeds across the whole of the UK on EE.
We personally use Giff Gaff & VOXI at the current moment but have past experience with O2, Vodafone & EE. These are brands that use O2 & Vodafone masts. Our reasoning for this choice is they are much cheaper than alternatives, and we live in a fairly populated place where the connection is not likely to drop, never traveling much of the UK.
Our experience with Giff Gaff, Vodafone, O2, VOXI, and EE has been very positive in London & the UK. All networks rarely drop the connection and provide decent speeds throughout the country.
EE (Best UK SIM)
EE has the best coverage for 4G & 5G connections with 99% of the UK covered. Additionally, with EE you will receive the fastest connection speeds throughout the UK & London. It is one of the more expensive networks, but it is thoroughly worth it if you have the extra cash to hand.
You can get an EE sim at any London Airport, supermarket, or convenience shop. We recommend a supermarket or convenience shop. At the Airport you will pay 2x price for the same plan.
Below is a map of the coverage that EE provides in London & the UK:
You can see the full coverage map of the EE connection here.
Giff Gaff (Cheapest, Best Coverage UK SIM)
Giff Gaff uses O2 masts to provide connectivity, meaning you will experience great connectivity throughout London and the UK. However, the speeds on O2 are slow compared with other network providers. A Rootmetrics report showed O2 was the slowest network in the UK for speed. Giff Gaff has great connectivity and low prices, which is why we rate it highly.
Our experience with Giff Gaff has been fantastic. We currently pay £10/month for 15GB of data. Connection rarely drops and speeds are fast enough for our personal use. However, you can get better speeds using other networks like Three, EE, and Vodafone. Although, may experience less coverage with Three and Vodafone compared. This is ok if you are not traveling far from built-up areas in London and the UK.
Here is the coverage map of Giff Gaff:
You can check the coverage of the area you’re staying for Giff Gaff here.
VOXI uses Vodafone masts to provide connectivity. This offers 97% connectivity throughout the UK and average speeds of 21.2/7.1Mbps. Unfortunately, you cannot purchase a VOXI SIM in a convenience shop, so it will be hard for a traveler to get a hold of. Prices are very low, and VOXI offers unlimited social data on all plans.
We personally use VOXI at the moment and have a great experience with it, currently paying only £12/month for 25GB of data. The connection very rarely drops and the speeds are good for the price.
You can see the full coverage that VOXI provides here
When testing VOXI for speed it performed better than O2 and Giff Gaff, but EE and Three had better speeds. Below we’ve left an image of the speed test we conducted on 4G connection with 3 bars.
O2 offers 99% coverage across the UK and average speeds of 16.8/4.9Mbps. Most people report that O2 has some of the slowest speeds but is rated 2nd best when it comes to coverage. Plans are extremely expensive on O2, which is why you might want to look into other networks that piggyback off O2’s masts.
Having used O2 before we have been happy with the service provided. Coverage was good throughout the UK with few dropouts and speed was good enough for our personal use. However, the price was far above any of the other networks we used. We personally used O2 on a contract for £50+/month on a Samsung Galaxy S15 with an 8GB data plan.
Here is the coverage map of O2 in the UK:
You can see the full coverage that O2 provides here
Vodafone offers 97% coverage across the UK and average speeds of 21.2/7.1Mbps. Most people report that Vodafone is 2nd best when it comes to speed, but coverage is rated 3rd. Plans are mid-range on Vodafone, but if you look into a network that piggyback’s off the masts, you’ll be able to get much cheaper plans with the same network experience.
Having personally used Vodafone for the past few years we can confirm that the coverage is worse than O2, but speeds are generally better. With Vodafone, the plans are relatively affordable on PAYG and pay monthly. For £15 you can get 20GB of data per month. When you compare this to their sister brand VOXI this is pretty expensive.
Here is a map of Vodafone’s coverage in London & the UK:
To check the coverage of Vodafone you can head to this link.
When testing Vodafone’s speeds on speedtest.net, with a 4G connection and 3 bars available, the results we found were as follows. The average speeds were quite low, but generally better than O2 speeds, however slower than both Three and EE.
Three offers 91% coverage across the UK and average speeds of 30.7/5.6Mbps. Three offers the best speeds next to EE, but the coverage is pretty poor and you might experience more drop-outs if you travel into the countryside and go more off-beaten-path. Pay as you go plans are also very cheap on Three network, with plans as low as £15 for 40GB of data per month.
We have no personal experience using Three, however, based on friend’s and family’s experience we don’t want to have experience with Three. Most of the time they drop connection far more frequently but experience good speeds. With other networks like VOXI and Giff Gaff offering competitive rates, going with Three seems pretty pointless.
If you are in London or somewhere built-up Three should be fine for connectivity.
Here is a coverage map of Three in London & the UK:
To check the coverage of three you can use this website.
We’re Harry & Iris – and we were tired of the same old “10 best places I’ve never been but I’m writing about for some reason” blog posts. So… we’re two young travelers on a mission to travel the world and share our true, unfiltered experience, including all the gristly details. From packing our life into one bag for a year to traveling Vietnam by motorbike, to sorting out Visas for specific countries – we’ve done it all, are doing it all and only give our advice on things we have done – not regurgitated cr*p from another source *cough* most publications *cough*. So bear with us! This project will take some time to grow, and will take a fair bit of money. But we’re determined to make it the single best source of information about traveling on the internet.