Traveling to the UK and wondering what is the best way to stay connected? Don't waste money on high roaming costs or slow overseas data roaming plans. In this complete guide for finding the best way to stay connected when traveling to the UK you will read everything you need to know about buying a prepaid sim card in the UK, the best e-sim cards for the UK, up to date prices as per August 2023, a comparison of the UK mobile internet providers, the best 4G/5G network, where to buy a sim card for the UK, everything about EU roaming with prepaid UK sim cards, international sim cards and more.
You can also buy a sim card for the UK directly on arrival at the airport. Much more expensive but convenient. Check out my guides for buying a UK sim card at: London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or Manchester Airport. I will tell you exactly where to go, how much UK sim cards cost at the airport, if you can get an e-sim card at the airport and more.
In this article you will find a UK sim card comparison of all the pay-as-you-go deals on the market as of August 2023. Any of these sim card deals can be bought in any official retail store of one of the mobile internet operators in the United Kingdom.
Being a full time nomadic travel blogger for many years trying to visit every country in the world you can imagine that I constantly change countries. For example in 2022 I visited a total of 62 different countries. These days e-Sims are the easiest way to stay connected when traveling to the UK, but when I stay longer than 7 days in a country I personally prefer a local prepaid sim card.
Looking for the best to stay connected is the first thing I do when I get to a new country and I like to document my research for the best sim cards. Therefore on Traveltomtom you can already find more than 200 sim card guides from all over the world: USA, Asia, Malaysia, Brazil, Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa, Costa Rica, Bali. But also places like New York, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Thailand, Bangkok, Hong Kong, etc.
So whenever you are planning your next adventure abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid and e-sim card advice for your holiday destination. Bookmark me!
Why buying a sim card for the UK?
Being connected to the internet makes life so much more easier! Imagine having no data connection on your phone when you travel to the UK! Ordering a cab on the streets or getting directions from Google Maps, finding a nearby restaurant with good reviews, etc. suddenly all becomes pretty difficult. So many simple things that you can only do when you have a working internet connection on your phone: check your banking apps, sports results, staying in touch, finding nearby friends and so on.
You can of course use data roaming or overseas data plans, but these plans work with reduced internet speed. Plus, why pay $10 per day when for $25 you can get unlimited 4G/5G data for a whole month!? Data roaming is much more expensive than local prepaid sim cards and buying a sim card in the UK is easy. Getting an e-sim card for the UK is even easier!
Yes, all hotels, bars, restaurants, sometimes even trains and busses have free public WiFi. However, keep in mind that public WiFi is through an UNSECURED internet connection? The use of a VPN service is recommended.
Just don't rely on WiFi, thank me later! Traveltomtom recommends buying a local prepaid sim card for traveling in the UK or an e-sim card.
However, since the United Kingdom left the EU following Brexit, there are now EU roaming charges. So if you are traveling to Europe, you might want to look into buying a sim card for Europe rather than a UK sim card. More about that later.
Traveltomtom recommends a Three (3) sim card for traveling to the UK. For £15 ($20 USD) you get 25 GB data for 30 days on one of the best 4G/5G data networks in the UK. Plus they still offer some free data-roaming in Europe with their prepaid sim cards plans.
None of the mobile internet providers in the UK offer e-sim cards for prepaid users. So tourists that looking to get an e-sim card for the UK, will have to order one online. But don't worry...
The easiest way to get internet on your phone when traveling to the UK in 2023 is an e-sim card for the UK. See below for the best e-sim card plans for traveling to the UK in 2023. You can get a UK e-sim card for with 20 GB data + unlimited calls in Europe for $49.90 USD. Or simply get an e-sim card for just $5 USD, the cheapest way to stay connected when traveling to the UK.
Traveltomtom mostly recommends local prepaid sim cards over international sim cards. However, especially since Brexit and the end of free EU roaming, some international sim cards are amazing deals for traveling Europe.
Check out my article with a comparison of the best international sim cards for traveling in 2023 or my complete guide for the best prepaid and e-sim cards for Europe travel.
If you are NOT a fan of swapping sim cards and changing phone numbers then you might want to look into the option of getting a portable WiFi device for your trip to the UK. Personally I am not a fan and I will tell you why in my HONEST review about using a pocket WiFi when traveling.
Best e-sim cards for the UK
E-sim cards are the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to stay connected when traveling to UK in 2023.
However, as of August 2023 no mobile internet provider in the UK provides e-sim cards for tourists. Vodafone, O2, Three and EE stores in the UK do NOT sell e-sim cards, only physical prepaid sim cards for tourists. The only place to buy an e-sim card for the UK is on the internet.
Which is actually even much easier. No more visiting a sim card store, no more swapping physical sim cards! You arrange everything online within just a couple minutes. You order an e-sim card directly on the internet, receive a QR code in your email along with instructions. Scan it, follow the steps and you are all set and connected instantly.
Check out the following UK e-sim card plans:
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $5 USD
- 2 GB data for 15 days = $7.5 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $10 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $15 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $22.5 USD
- 20 GB data for 30 days = $36 USD
Click here to directly order one of the above e-sim card deals for the UK and find more info.
All the above e-sim cards for the UK from Uki Mobile are data-only and calls are NOT supported. The data allowance is only valid in the UK, there is no free EU roaming with these e-sim cards. They operate on the 4G/LTE networks of O2 and Three.
If you are looking for e-sim cards for the UK that support calls AND EU roaming then check out the following international e-sim cards for the UK:
- 5 GB data only in the UK for 30 days = $17.90 USD
- 10 GB data in all of Europe + $2 calling credit for 30 days = $24.90 USD
- 8 GB data in all of Europe + unlimited calls in Europe for 14 days = $29.90 USD
- 20 GB data in all of Europe + unlimited calls in Europe for 14 days = $49.90 USD
- 20 GB data only in all of Europe for 30 days = $34.90 USD
Click here to order one of the above international e-sim card deals for the UK or find more offers and info in the link.
Before ordering an e-sim card for the UK make sure your phone is e-sim compatible and unlocked. If not sure contact your mobile internet provider in your home country before traveling to the United Kingdom.
There is also still the possibility of ordering an international prepaid sim card with coverage in the UK on the internet and get it shipped to your home address before your trip. This is particularly handy for those that have a smartphone that is not e-sim compatible.
For $49.90 USD you get 20 GB data + unlimited calls within Europe and 120 minutes worldwide. Click on the link to order directly online or find more info.
Do UK prepaid sim cards allow free EU roaming?
One of the best things the European Union came up with after the Euro was the ban on roaming charges within the EU countries. That means you can use a sim card from Italy also in France, Spain, etc. without extra charges, so called free EU data roaming.
The UK was always part of this deal but unfortunately since Brexit most mobile internet provider in the UK stopped offering free EU roaming. That means if you buy a sim card with 30 GB data in London and 2 days later you travel to Paris your sim card won't work unless you pay an extra fee per day!
Luckily EE and Three UK still offer free EU roaming on their prepaid sim cards. Vodafone UK does NOT offer free EU roaming and O2 only on some pay-as-you-go plans.
This makes UK prepaid sim cards pretty useless for traveling to Europe. If you are traveling in Europe onwards after visiting the UK, you better have choose one of these sim cards for traveling in Europe in 2023, which you can also use in the UK.
Read more info about EU roaming and all my tips and tricks in my guide for buying a local sim cards in Europe in 2023.
Mobile internet operators in the UK
Before I make a UK prepaid sim card comparison I will first show you all the available mobile internet operators in the UK.
There are 5 main mobile internet providers in the UK:
- Three (3)
- EE Mobile
- Virgin Mobile
Virgin Mobile UK does not offer prepaid or pay as you go sim cards for the UK! All the other providers sell prepaid sim cards for tourists. In the UK they call them often pay-as-you-go sim cards.
On top of the above available mobile internet providers there are a dozen of other local sim cards available in smaller shops which I did not take into consideration, so called MVNO's. For tourists on a short stay I do not recommend any of these sim cards. But you can check out Lebara or Lycamobile sim cards for the UK. Sometimes they have good prepaid sim card deals.
When arriving at London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted or London Luton Airport you are able to buy a Lebara sim card or a Lycamobile sim card at the airport. Both sim cards also work fine for traveling in Europe. The problem is they have a lot of restrictions, surprises and hidden fees or very limited EU roaming, etc.
Where to buy a UK sim card for tourists
International Airport on arrival in the UK
If you are flying to the UK and landing at one of the following airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or Manchester Airport then click on the links for a detailed guide for buying a UK sim card on the airport.
Official retail stores
When looking to buy a sim card in any city in the UK, it is best to use Google Maps to find the nearest mobile phone shop or official retail store nearby. Simply type in your preferred mobile internet operator and add store to it. For example your search term would be: ‘Vodafone store’.
The search results on Google Maps will then show you all the Vodafone shops around you. Simple as that! :)
At the official retail stores you will get the best service and the staff will make sure everything is working perfect and smooth and you are connected before you walk out of the store.
You can also buy a prepaid sim card for the UK in a convenience store. But is that convenient? Well, if you know what you are doing and are ok with the registering the sim card yourself online then it is an option. Some bigger supermarkets also sell UK sim cards. Traveltomtom does not recommend buying a sim card for a convenience store as the staff has no exact knowledge about these sim cards. Is EU-roaming included or not? How to do the registration? Scan your own passport, etc. Just too complicated for tourists.
Tourists can also order sim cards for the UK online. International sim cards are physical sim cards that will be shipped to your home address before your trip and are ready to use when you travel to the UK. Another popular way of staying connected when traveling to the UK are e-Sim cards. International and e-Sim cards for the UK can only be bought online and not in a store.
UK prepaid sim card comparison in 2023
Prices for prepaid sim cards and data plans constantly change. Traveltomtom does everything in his power to keep all the information up to date. The below prices and data plans are updated as per August 2023. £1 GBP = $1.27 USD and $1 USD = £0.78 GBP
Vodafone UK pay as you go sim card
Vodafone has 5 different UK prepaid sim cards, so called pay-as-you-go plans. If you are not a heavy data user the smallest plan with 7 GB will be enough to use data for keeping in touch, navigation, emails, etc. All plans are valid for 30 days, but only on 4G.
- 7 GB data + unlimited calling and texting = £10
- 20 GB data + unlimited calling and texting = £15
- 40 GB data + unlimited calling and texting = £20
- 100 GB data + unlimited calling and texting = £30
If you want to use the Vodafone 5G network and you are looking for a UK sim card with unlimited data:
- Unlimited data + unlimited calling and texting = £40
There is NO free EU-roaming included anymore in the Vodafone pay-as-you-go prepaid sim card. For using your data allowance in Europe you have to pay £2 per day, £8 for 8 days or £15 for 15 days. For some reason there is free roaming in Norway and Iceland.
Vodafone does NOT offer e-sim cards for prepaid users. For more info see the Vodafone UK website.
Three UK prepaid sim card
There are 4 different Three UK sim card plans for tourists available. Three UK sim cards are free, no activation costs required and great thing is that they are all 5G ready at no extra costs.
- 10 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £10
- 25 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £15
- 50 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £20
- Unlimited data + unlimited calls/sms = £35
Three UK still offers free EU roaming on their prepaid sim cards and even better for those who travel even further. Three UK offers free roaming in over 70 destinations: Australia, Brazil, United States, etc. Data roaming packages are capped at 12 GB.
Three Mobile does NOT offer e-sim cards for prepaid users. Online orders are ONLY available for UK residence. For more info and offers check out the Three UK website.
For more on how to order a sim card for the UK online scroll down below!
O2 UK prepaid sim card
There are 4 different O2 UK prepaid sim cards available. The sim card is free, but you have to top up with one of the following 4 pay-as-you-go options valid for 30 days:
- 7 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £10
- 20 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £15
- 30 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £20
- 100 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £30 - no free EU Roaming included
These are the prices as per August 2023. O2 allows free EU roaming on the first 3 packages. O2 does NOT offer e-sim cards for prepaid users. Check the O2 UK website for more info.
EE UK pay as you go sim card
What I like about EE is that they have a wifi signal at every London Underground station. There is no phone signal in the London Underground so if you are about to buy a sim card for the UK and you know you gonna travel a lot in the London Underground this is something to keep in mind.
Although EE has the best 4G/5G network in the UK EE does NOT allow prepaid sim card users to use their 5G network. That means although there is 5G everywhere, the max data speed with EE prepaid sim cards is 4G/LTE.
These are the EE prepaid sim card deals for 2023, all valid for 30 days:
- 5 GB data + 500 minutes + unlimited sms = £10
- 15 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £15
- 70 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £20
- 100 GB data + unlimited calls/sms = £30
EE offers competitive prepaid data plans. An EE prepaid sim card is free and for £20 GBP you get 70 GB data + unlimited calls/text in the UK. Data roaming in the EU is NOT included anymore. EE does NOT offer e-sim cards for prepaid users. For more info check the EE website.
GiffGaff UK sim card
Looking for another free sim card for the UK then have a look at GiffGaff. A Giffgaff prepaid sim card will be send to your home address for free before your trip to the UK. The activation is very quick and easy. GiffGaff operates on the O2 network in the UK.
Rates for GiffGaff UK sim cards are GOOD! All the pay-as-you-go data packages below INCLUDE unlimited calls/text within the UK. For £35 GBP ($42) you get unlimited calls/text AND DATA in the UK.
EU roaming is NOT included in GiffGaff sim cards and also the process of obtaining one is rather difficult. I tried it myself and it wasn't a success as I had problems with the activation and gave up.
Lebara UK sim card
Lebara also offers prepaid sim cards for the UK. The pay as you go bundles already start from £5 and but only gives you 2 GB data for 30 days. But there are more data bundles available, see the picture above.
For most tourists traveling to the UK the £15 sim only plan from Lebara is a good deal, but it give you much less value for money than Vodafone, EE, Three and O2. Free EU roaming is also NOT available or very limited. Lebara UK is NOT a recommended sim card for traveling in Europe.
What Lebara separates from the other UK sim cards is that they offer free international calling minutes not only to the EU, but also to the USA, India, Thailand, Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, Israel, South Korea, Singapore.
Another positive thing about a Lebara UK sim card is that you can also buy them in mobile phone shops and convenient stores across the UK like Tesco, WH Smith, Argos, Sainsbury's. If you see shops with a Lebara sign that means you can get the same deals as online. Lebara operates on the Vodafone UK network.
Best 4G/5G network in the UK in 2023
To make a fair UK prepaid sim card comparison let's also have a look at the 4G/5G network coverage in the United Kingdom. It would suck big time if you are on a UK road trip and as soon as you leave the city there is no service. Also who is happy with a 3G signal nowadays!? As much as we can, we want 5G and fast mobile data speed.
Find below the UK 4G/5G network coverage maps per provider and my conclusion.
Network coverage Three UK
Network coverage Vodafone UK
Network coverage O2 UK
Network coverage EE Mobile UK
Three UK has an excellent network coverage and covers all the tourist destinations in the UK. Vodafone has surprisingly the weakest 4G/5G network in the UK as of 2023. However, by far EE has the best 4G/5G network in the UK in 2023 compared to the other mobile internet operators.
Best sim card for the UK in 2023
International sim cards for the UK are worth considering especially for those who are traveling onwards in Europe and want to arrive prepared in the UK. For $24.90 USD you get send a sim card to your home address with 10 GB data in the UK and all of Europe. Not bad, but e-sim cards are for the UK are even more affordable and much less hassle. The best e-sim card deal for the UK costs $22 USD and gives you 10 GB data.
This all sounds pretty good, but as said before local prepaid sim cards offer more value for money, especially if you are a heavy data user.
Those who need just a couple Gigabytes for staying in touch with family, arrange stuff online and get directions I definitely recommend an e-sim card for the UK with just 1 or 2 GB. You can already order these UK e-sim cards for just $5 USD.
When I updated my comparison of the UK prepaid sim cards in August 2023 I came to the conclusion that data plans on UK sim cards are pretty good. Even more reasons for travelers to avoid high roaming charges and slow overseas data plans from their home providers. The UK mobile internet providers offer great deals on prepaid sim cards for tourist in the UK.
Since Vodafone UK does NOT offer free EU-roaming and because Vodafone has the weakest 4G/5G network coverage in the UK, it would be my last recommendation.
Then EE does not allow prepaid sim card users to use the 5G network, which means max data speed on an EE prepaid sim card is only 4G/LTE when there is 5G network available everywhere. On top of that EE also stopped offering free EU data roaming. Therefore EE is also not a recommend prepaid sim card for the UK.
With a local prepaid sim card for the UK you can already get 70 GB data for just £20 GBP.
As Three Mobile has one of the best 4G/5G data networks in the UK, offer great prepaid sim card deals for tourists, 5G network and some free EU data roaming, Traveltomtom rates Three Mobile as the best sim card for the UK in 2023.
UK prepaid sim card deals used to be pretty good for traveling in Europe, but since Brexit those days are over. Three and O2 still over some free EU data roaming, but it is very limited. When traveling onwards in Europe it is much easier to get yourself a sim card for traveling in Europe on the internet.
Let me show you the best prepaid and e-sim cards for traveling in Europe in 2023. Click on the link to check out my complete guide including all info about EU roaming.
Buying a sim card for the UK online
Does your phone not support e-Sim cards or you simply want a physical sim card for traveling to the UK? Make it yourself easy and order an international sim card for the UK online. These pre activated travel sim cards will be shipped to your home address before your trip and work based on plug and play. They work in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe:
- 10 GB data in all of Europe and UK
- Unlimited calls/sms within Europe and UK
- Valid 30 days
There are also 3 UK international sim cards for 1 year and for 2 years. Click on the link below for more info!
- 10 GB data in all of Europe and UK
- $2 calling credit - top up possible
- Valid 30 days
- 20 GB data
- Unlimited calls/sms in Europe
- 120 minutes worldwide
- 1,000 sms worldwide
- Valid 14 days
Click here to directly order one of the above international sim card deals for the UK online and find more deals and info.
Also another last reminder that you can arrange everything online and get connected in just a couple minutes by ordering an e-Sim card for the UK.
Las t but not least here is also a video about my experiences buying a sim card for the UK. The above guide for finding the best way to stay connected is much more detailed, but if you or one of your friends rather watches a video about it, then here you go.
I hope this article about what is the best sim card for tourists traveling to the UK was helpful and it helped you planning your trip to the UK, London or Europe in general. If you have any questions please leave me a comment below. I am more than happy to help you out!
If you have any travel related questions also feel free to reach out to me or check out my Instagram profile @traveltomtom where I keep track of my road to visit every country in the world. As per August 2023 I have visited more than 155 countries. Still many to go...
Enjoy your trip to the United Kingdom!
Some links in this article about the best way to stay connected when traveling to the United Kingdom are affiliate links. If you buy any of the products after using an affiliate link I will earn a small commission. Don’t worry this is at absolutely no extra cost to you.