Pay As You Go SIM plans: everything you need to know

20th February 2024

Pay As You Go SIMs

Pay As You Go is the simplest, most flexible way to get an allowance of minutes, texts, and data for your phone, and it’s offered by a number of networks.

Read on below for an overview of each of those networks and of Pay As You Go itself, so you can see whether it’s right for you and which network is the right fit.

What is a Pay As You Go SIM?

A Pay As You Go SIM is one which you top up as and when you choose, so you’re generally only paying for the allowances that you use. You’re also generally free to add as much or little credit as you want on Pay As You Go, rather than having to pay a set amount.

In many cases though you can also choose to purchase Pay As You Go bundles, which give you a set allowance of minutes, texts, and data. This is often better value than spending your credit directly.

Why should I choose a Pay As You Go SIM?

Pay As You Go is more flexible than a contract, as you’re not committed for any amount of time. Buy a Pay Monthly phone and you’re usually tied in for 24 months, while SIM Only tends to commit you for either 1 or 12 months, but on Pay As You Go you can change your plan at any time and only pay what you want or can afford.

Pay As You Go is also often cheaper for the same amount of allowances than Pay Monthly phone contracts, since you’re not also paying for a new phone.

You also don’t have to worry about any credit checks with Pay As You Go.

Are there any downsides to a Pay As You Go SIM?

Although cheaper than Pay Monthly phone contracts, Pay As You Go often isn’t as cheap as SIM Only, since you get discounts there for committing to stay with the network for a period of time.

You also have to remember to top up with Pay As You Go (though in many cases you can set this to happen automatically), whereas on a contract the money is automatically taken and you automatically get a monthly allowance.

Plus, if you want a new phone then Pay As You Go may not be the best choice, as you’ll have to buy the handset outright.

Which networks offer Pay As You Go SIMs?

A variety of networks let you Pay As You Go. Note that their prices and services are subject to change, but at the time of writing here’s what you need to know about them:


EE stands out primarily through offering very high 4G speeds, as well as having a rapidly growing 5G network – it was the first to launch 5G in the UK so has a head start on rivals. Though at the time of writing it doesn’t yet offer 5G on Pay As You Go.

For Pay As You Go it offers a range of bundles, each of which lasts 30 days and gives you an assortment of allowances. Outside of that you’ll pay 40p per minute and 20p per text, however data use is limited to bundles and add-ons.

A highlight of these bundles is that they include data rollover, so you can roll over unused data from one month to the next. And the network rewards you for sticking with it by giving you 500MB of extra data for every three months that you’ve bought the same bundle.

EE also allows tethering, so you can use your data to get other devices online, though roaming costs extra.


Three’s Pay As You Go prices are 35p per minute, 15p per text and 10p per megabyte. Additionally, the network offers a range of bundles which last 30 days and give you allowances at better value.

These low prices are one of the main highlights of Three’s Pay As You Go service. You can also roam not just across Europe but also in select locations further afield on Three Pay As You Go, which is rare among UK networks.

Plus you can tether your data, use 5G at no extra cost, and get bundles with up to unlimited data. You also get access to Three+, which includes various rewards and discounts from other brands.


O2’s Pay As You Go rates come in at 55p per minute and 30p per text, while £2 will get you 100MB of data for a day.

However, like many other networks, it also offers 30-day bundles of allowances for a range of prices. These come with data rollover, plus the network lets you roam across Europe while on Pay As You Go (up to a 25GB fair usage limit), and you’ll also have access to the O2 Priority service, which gives customers early access to gig tickets, plus discounts, freebies and more.

Some bundles also include international minutes, though you can’t get unlimited data on O2’s Pay As You Go plans, and nor is 5G currently available on them.


On Vodafone Pay As You Go you’ll be charged £1 per day, which will give you unlimited minutes and texts, as well as 50MB of data. On days when you don’t use your phone for calls, texts or mobile data, you won’t be charged anything.

That’s if you don’t opt for a 30-day bundle, of which there are a variety available, similar to other networks. However, Vodafone’s bundles stand out as some of them (called ‘Big Value Bundles’) let you roll over any unused data, minutes and texts from one month to the next, just as long as you renew your bundle. That’s a more comprehensive roll over scheme than other networks offer.

That said, the network primarily advertises Pay As You Go Plus bundles, and while it still seems possible to buy a Big Value Bundle, we had to Google to find them – they weren’t obviously visible when navigating to the Pay As You Go section of Vodafone’s site. All of which is to say you might have to hunt them out, and they might not be around for long.

In any case, the Plus bundles are reasonable too, coming with up to unlimited data and supporting 5G (if you have a 5G phone), as well as giving you access to Vodafone's VeryMe Rewards service, which includes treats and giveaways from other brands. You do have to pay extra to roam though.

Tesco Mobile

Tesco Mobile charges 25p per minute, 10p per text and 10p per megabyte. But it also has a range of 30-day bundles, as well as a triple credit offer, which – if you choose this rather than a ‘Rocket Pack’ bundle – means it will triple your credit if you top up £10, £15 or £20.

The extra credit lasts a month, and on top of that Tesco Mobile will also give you a free bundle of extra minutes, texts or data if you top up by £10 or £15 in one go.

You can also roam across Europe and tether at no extra cost. Tesco Mobile uses O2’s infrastructure, which means it has 4G coverage for around 99% of the UK population. Tesco Mobile also offers 5G on Pay As You Go.

iD Mobile

iD Mobile offers a small selection of 30-day Pay As You Go bundles (including an unlimited data one), outside of which you’ll pay 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per megabyte of data, which are some of the cheapest rates around.

iD Mobile uses Three’s infrastructure, so the two networks should have identical coverage. iD Mobile also lets you roam across most of Europe at no extra cost, and you can tether.


Giffgaff runs on O2’s network and charges 25p per minute, 10p per text and 10p per megabyte.

It also offers a bunch of 30-day Pay As You Go bundles, which come with 5G and top out at unlimited data (though only the first 80GB per month is at full speed – after that it’s reduced to 384kbps from 8am to midnight). Plus you can roam across the EU and tether on Giffgaff.

Lyca Mobile

Lyca Mobile uses EE’s infrastructure and charges 15p per minute to landlines, 23p to mobiles, 23p per text, and 15p per megabyte.

It also offers 30-day Pay As You Go packs. These top out at unlimited data, and they also include international minutes. You can roam for free across most of Europe and in India on Lyca Mobile, and it allows tethering and supports 5G.


Lebara uses Vodafone’s network and charges 25p per minute, 19p per text, and 9p per megabyte. It also offers 30-day SIM Only deals (which aren’t technically Pay As You Go but give you similar flexibility), including ones with unlimited data, and it stands out through including international minutes on these plans. Plus, like most networks you can roam across the EU at no extra cost.

Asda Mobile

Asda Mobile uses Vodafone’s network and charges 15p per minute, 10p per text, and 10p per megabyte, making it cheaper than most but not all Pay As You Go networks.

You can also get 30-day bundles (including ones with unlimited data), and both roam across much of Europe and tether at no extra cost.


1pMobile – which uses EE’s coverage – is the cheapest network for truly paying as you go, as it charges just 1p per minute, 1p per text, and 1p per megabyte of data.

If you’d rather buy a bundle then you can do that too, though there’s no unlimited data option. You do however get 5G data on 1pMobile, as well as inclusive EU roaming, and tethering.

What alternatives are there to Pay As You Go?

There are two alternatives to Pay As You Go. The closest is SIM Only, which gives you a monthly allowance of minutes, texts and data. That means you have a set allowance each month and pay the same amount for it each month.

It also generally means you’re committed to a contract for either 12 months or 30 days. The main advantage of SIM Only is that it often has the best prices.

The other option is Pay Monthly with a phone. This is like SIM Only but also includes a new smartphone, which you pay off as part of your monthly price. That means it’s more expensive, and you’re usually tied in for 24 months, but it can be a good choice if you want a new phone and would like to spread the cost.

Can I change network?

Yes! As long as you’re not currently committed to a contract you’re free to move at any time, to any network you like – and one of the advantages of Pay As You Go is that you won’t be on a contract.

Just make sure that your phone is either unlocked or locked to the network you’re moving to.

How do I keep my number?

Just order and activate your new Pay As You Go SIM, then call up your old network and request your PAC code (or text ‘PAC’ to 65075 from the number you want to keep).

From there it’s simply a case of giving your new network that code and telling them the number you want to keep. Usually at that point you’ll only have to wait 1-2 days for the transfer to happen.

For more information, check out our guide to keeping your number.

What SIM card size do I need?

That will depend on your phone. To find out for sure your best option is to Google your handset, but smartphones from 2014 onwards tend to use a nano SIM, which is the smallest kind. If it’s slightly older (or not a smartphone) it might use a larger micro SIM and if it’s very old an even bigger standard SIM is possible.

However, most networks provide all three SIM card sizes in one, so you shouldn’t need to find out your SIM card size before placing your order. For more information, check out our guide to SIM card sizes.

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