Most people these days get a new phone on contract, but if you can afford to pay for that phone upfront (or you're now out of contract on your phone) it makes much better financial sense to get a SIM-only tariff. In fact, our round-up of the best SIM deals in the UK could save you a fortune in the long run.
A big concern for many is that you'll lose your current phone number if you switch. But that's not true: you can transfer your current phone number to a new network and the whole process is simple if you use the new text-to-switch service.
Here, we've picked the very best SIM-only deals available right now. If you're studying at the moment, also check out our article on the best phone contracts for students.
The best SIM-only deals right now
Below we have a more detailed breakdown of the best SIM-only deals; but the best one on the market right now is Three's deal, which offers unlimited data, unlimited texts, unlimited minutes and 5G on a 24 month contract.
You get all of this for the low price of £11 per month for six months, and then a reasonable £22 for 18 months - which is still quite good for an unlimited plan.
It's also worth mentioned that Tesco Mobile is offering six months worth of Clubcard Plus for customers who sign up on SIM-only contracts. This card will get you 10% off two shops of your choice in-store, double data on select contracts and 10% off selected Tesco brands in-store all the time. You can get that deal over on the Tesco mobile website.
Also read: Best SIM deals for kids
Unlike smartphone contracts, which typically stretch to 24 months, SIM-only deals are much shorter. Most SIM-only deals come with 12-month contracts, but there are many rolling monthly contracts – sometimes at the same price – that are ideal for visitors to the UK or for anyone who doesn't want to be tied in.
The price you pay per month will largely depend on how many minutes and texts you need, and how much data you require.
Plus, you'll need to decide whether your SIM is to go in a tablet (in which case you'll only need data) or a smartphone (in which case you'll want minutes, texts and data).
Most operators don't allow you to simply take your SIM out of your smartphone in a tablet. Some often frown upon tethering, so check the Ts & Cs if you want to use your phone's data connection on your tablet, or a second phone.
Pinning down the best SIM-only contract is tricky due to the huge number of combinations of minutes, texts and data available. Some providers also offer deals with cashback redemption - which means that you won't be billed the amount advertised, but you can claim your refunds from the provider.
Most people will fall into one of three camps that we'll focus on here: those who simply want to make the odd call or text, and use their PC to go online; those who make calls and texts, go online, check emails, use apps and perhaps watch the odd video; and those who are permanently glued to their smartphone.
Or, to put that more simply, light, moderate and heavy users.
SIM deals for light use
There are plans available from not much more than £5 per month if you plan on using your SIM for light use.
We'd recommend considering iD, which is Carphone Warehouse's mobile network. All of iD's contracts offer bill capping, data rollover and Roam like at Home making it an even more appealing option with no nasty surprises.
Lebara also offer a great deal of 2GB for just £5 per month on a rolling contract. With this you also get 100 minutes to 41 international countries - great if you need to call family abroad. You also get 1000 UK minutes and 1000 texts. View Lebara's deal here.
- iD: 4GB data, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 4G - £7 per month on a monthly rolling contract. View deal here.
- Vodafone: 3GB data, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 4G - £6 per month for 12 months. View deal here.
SIM deals for moderate use
For moderate use, and also for teenagers, the best deal is from VOXI, which is powered by Vodafone.
It's an interesting one, because you get 15GB of data, but social media usage is unlimited and won't eat into that data. That means any Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Pinterest and more. Voice and video calls via those apps is not included, but all other activity is.
- VOXI: 15GB data, unlimited social media, unlimited calls and texts, 4G - £15 per month on a monthly rolling contract. View deal here.
You can also get a different deal via Mobiles.co.uk for the same amount of data, but for slightly less a month. They don't offer unlimited social media usage, but do offer bundles with streaming services like Now TV.
- Vodafone: 20GB data, unlimited calls and texts, 4G and free streaming service - £13 per month for 12 months, £144 cash by redemption. View deal here.
SIM deals for heavy use
For anyone who wants the freedom to text and use the internet as much as they like, our favourite deal is Three's unlimited data SIM for £11 for the first six months.
Other recommendations include:
- Superdrug, unlimited data, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 4G, extra card points - £20 per month, one month rolling. View deal here
- Vodafone, unlimited data, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 5G, free access to either Spotify, Now TV, Amazon Prime Video or Sky Sports and £180 cashback by redemption - £20 per month for 12 months. View deal here.
- Vodafone is also offering 100GB data, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and an extra saving if you switch to Vodafone Broadband in a Summer sale - £20 for 24 months. View deal here.
EE currently has a 200GB SIM offer for £25 per month that includes a free pair of Beats X earphones worth £89.95 and a streaming service of your choice. See our full coverage of this deal.
EE is also offering a bundle SIM deal for iPhone users, called the Full Works SIM. Users get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data, plus the choice of three extras which include Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and BT Sport Ultimate. The SIM-only plans costs £41 per month - but when you factor in the cost of individual subscriptions for each service its quite a decent bundle.
Tablet plans (Data SIMs)
You can't simply take the SIM out of your phone and stick it in your tablet. You need to get a SIM that uses a data-only plan (and don't forget that not all tablets offer SIM-card slots, in which case you'll only be able to connect to WiFi).
How much data you need will very much depend on the activities you intend to enjoy on your tablet, plus whether you spend any of your time within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you want a SIM just to cover you on the odd occasion that you use your tablet away from home and need to continue to access your email, you certainly don't need to pay out extra for a 4G plan.
Some of the best SIM-only deals for tablets come from Three, which offers 2GB for £10 per month, 15GB for £14 per month and 40GB for £23 per month. You can view those deals here.
When is Black Friday 2020 - should you wait for a better deal?
Black Friday will take place on Friday 27 November, immediately followed by Cyber Monday on 30 November. Traditionally the biggest sales event of the year, it may yet throw up some even greater tech deals - but with so much uncertainty around finance and retail, and no guarantees regarding what discounts we will see, we advise you not to wait: if you see a deal you like, on a product you need, and you can afford the outlay, buy it today.
Amazon Prime Day comes first, on 13 and 14 October, so you may find some particularly cheap SIM deals available then, too.