Planning a trip to the United Kingdom? One of the first things you need to figure out is affordable mobile connectivity during your visit. While physical UK SIM card has traditionally been the way to get data, calls and texts while traveling, there is now an even easier option – UK eSIM. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting a local SIM for your UK trip as a tourist.


I. Should I Buy a New SIM Card for My UK Trip?

Should I buy a new UK SIM Card?
Should I buy a new UK SIM Card?

When visiting the UK, you have a few options to get mobile internet access: getting a local SIM card, using pocket WiFi, relying on public WiFi, or using international roaming with your home provider.

A local UK SIM card provides the widest coverage on cellular networks throughout the country. It allows you to make calls, send texts and use data on your mobile device without worrying about connecting to public hotspots. Pocket WiFi devices offer connectivity but coverage may be limited compared to cellular. Dependence on finding available public WiFi can also be unreliable. While roaming enables use of your regular phone plan abroad, costs per megabyte of data are significantly higher than local plans. 

Considering coverage, speed and cost-effectiveness, purchasing a pay-as-you-go SIM card from a UK provider is generally the best option for international tourists. And recently, eSIM technology has emerged as an even more convenient choice, as it allows downloading and activating a local profile directly on your device without the need to insert a physical SIM card.

II. UK SIM Card Types – Which One is the Best for Tourists?

Travelers visiting the UK want to stay constantly connected whether it’s for navigation, making calls, or using data. There are a few different types of SIM cards available in the UK, so which one is ideal for tourists?

SIM Card TypeProsConsBest For
Physical SIM Card– Wide availability at stores, airports– Need to insert/remove SIM card
– Can lose physical card
– Travelers on a budget
– Short trips
eSIM– No need for physical SIM card insertion
– Can have multiple profiles downloaded
– Limited availability from carriers
– May require compatible phone
– Frequent international travelers
– Long trips abroad
– Digital nomads

In conclusion, eSIM provides clear advantages over physical SIM cards for international travelers to the UK. As eSIM eliminates the hassle of inserting and removing physical cards, it offers a more seamless connectivity experience for tourists. Multiple profiles can be downloaded beforehand to easily switch between plans as needed.

III. Where to buy UK SIM Card for Tourist?

Where to buy UK SIM card
Where to buy UK SIM card?

When it comes to buying a UK SIM card for tourists, there are several options available depending on your needs and location.

Major mobile carriers like EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 allow you to buy pay monthly or pay-as-you-go SIMs either online or from their retail stores found on high streets and in shopping centers across the country. This provides the full range of tariffs and plans to choose from.

If you’re short on time at the airport, most large UK airports have stores from carriers like EE and Three right after passport control. Don’t forget to discover the popular places for purchasing SIM cards at the airport before your trip. Otherwise, supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA sell cheap PAYG SIMs that are good for short trips. Online retailers are suitable for delivery anywhere.

Whichever purchase method you opt for, most SIMs can now be easily activated online in minutes. Going direct to retailers ensures you get the officially backed SIM and access to customer support.

IV. How Much Data is Enough for a Prepaid Tourist SIM Card for UK?

The amount of data needed on a prepaid SIM card during a visit to the UK will depend greatly on how tourists plan to use their mobile devices. General activities like web browsing, using maps, and occasional social media usage can typically be managed with 1-2GB of data per day.

However, streaming video or music, downloading apps and games, or navigating in unfamiliar areas will consume significantly more data. Watching YouTube or using Netflix heavily without WiFi could drain 5GB or more in a single day. Video calls also utilize data at a higher rate than just messaging and photos. For short trips of a week or less focusing on light usage, a prepaid plan with 6-10GB should suffice. But those wanting to download content or stream extensively while traveling may find 15GB or more provides a safer buffer, especially on longer trips.

👉Tips: To save money, look for UK SIM deals that roll over unused data. Some providers like Three let you gift extra data to friends too!

V. Best UK SIM Card Plans for Tourist

Pay as you go SIM card plans are very popular options for tourists visiting the UK. Most major networks like O2, EE, Vodafone and Three offer competitive pay as you go bundles starting from as low as $12.50 with good data allowances. Here are sample SIM card prices from major providers:

NetworkPlanDataPricePrice in USD
O225GB25GB (up to 25GB rollover)£15$18.25
40GB40GB (up to 40GB rollover)£20$24.30
EE£20 Subscription Pack25GB£20$24.30
£30 Subscription Pack50GB£30$36.45
Vodafone35GB35GB (25GB standard + 10GB extra)£15$18.25
60GB60GB (50GB standard + 10GB extra)£20$24.30
Three40GB40GB when auto-renew£15$18.25
80GB80GB when auto-renew£20$24.30
Value Data PackUnlimited data for 3 months£90$109.35

These plans offer good value data allowances for tourists to use navigation, maps, uploads and streaming. Additional benefits include data rollover, EU roaming and auto-renewal for flexibility. The three month unlimited data pack from Three is also a good option.

VI. Do UK Prepaid SIM Card Allow Free EU Roaming?

Do UK Prepaid SIM Card Allow Free EU Roaming
Do UK Prepaid SIM Card Allow Free EU Roaming?

When traveling to both the UK and other parts of Europe, one important consideration is whether your prepaid UK SIM card will allow free roaming throughout the European Union.

The United Kingdom was part of the European Union deal that banned roaming charges between EU countries. This meant you could use a SIM card from one country like the UK in other EU nations like France, Spain, etc without any extra charges.

However, since Brexit, most major mobile providers in the UK have stopped offering free roaming within the EU on their prepaid SIM cards. Vodafone UK, O2, and EE have all started charging extra fees for using your UK data allowance while roaming in other European countries. The only exception is Three UK, which still offers limited free data roaming within the EU on their prepaid SIM cards.

VII. Best Mobile Operators for UK SIM Cards

There are over 50 mobile operators in the UK, but these are the main networks:

OperatorCoverageProsConsSIM PriceeSIM Available?
EEWidest 4G coverage (99%). Expanding 5G coverage.Fast speeds. Good roaming options. Wide choice of plans.Most expensive plans. Poor customer service ratings.$25.60-$38.40 for monthly plans. $12.80-$32 for pay-as-you-go.Yes
O2Extensive 4G coverage (98-99%). Average 5G coverage.Broadband & SIM only plans. Cheaper SIM only offerings.Poor rural coverage. Average customer satisfaction.$25.60-$38.40 for monthly plans. $12.80-$38.40 for pay-as-you-go.Yes
VodafoneWide 4G (99%) and 5G coverage. Very fast 5G speeds.Large network. Cheap international roaming. Good customer service.Expensive SIM only plans. Poor rural coverage.$32-$44.80 for monthly plans. $12.80-$51.20 for pay-as-you-go.Yes
ThreeLarge 4G network (95% coverage). Average 5G coverage.Cheap plans and pay-as-you-go options. Unlimited data plans.Slower data speeds than competitors. Poor indoor coverage.$23.04-$35.84 for monthly plans. $12.80-$44.80 for pay-as-you-go.Yes

All of the major mobile operators in the UK – O2, Vodafone and Three – have their own pros and cons. Things like coverage, plan options, speeds and customer service vary between them. So there is no outright best network suitable for all users.

👉Tips: If you want to roam within the EU, Three stands out as the better choice for traveling between the UK and Europe.

VIII. UK eSIM – Alternative to Physical SIM Card

UK eSIM - Alternative for tourists
UK eSIM – Alternatively for tourists

UK eSIM is an exciting new alternative to traditional physical SIM cards for travelers visiting the United Kingdom. An eSIM is a digital SIM card that is embedded directly into your device, eliminating the hassle of swapping out SIM cards when you arrive in the United Kingdom. is at the forefront of this innovation, offering convenient eSIM plans for the UK that are simple to set up remotely before your trip. Say goodbye to spending time in airport stores searching for the right SIM or standing in lines to activate it. With, you can purchase an affordable UK data package from just $3.50, then connect straight away upon landing. An eSIM from is the stress-free modern way to stay connected while exploring the UK. 

UK eSIM 3 Days
UK eSIM 3 Days
From $3.50
UK eSIM 14 Days (Data & Voice)
UK eSIM 14 Days (Data & Voice)
From $21.90

IX. Tips for Saving Data on UK SIM Card

To conserve your UK SIM data, try these tips:

  • Connect to free WiFi whenever possible – saves mobile data usage
  • Turn off background auto-updates
  • Disable auto-play video and music streaming
  • Download maps/directions while on WiFi
  • Limit bandwidth-heavy tasks like video calls
  • Monitor usage in phone settings – avoid surprises
  • Consider an unlimited data SIM if streaming lots of video
  • Buy a data add-on if running low, rather than a whole new SIM

Following these tricks will help you reduce mobile data consumption. Stretch each gigabyte further during your UK trip!


Do I need to unlock my phone to use a UK SIM card?

Yes, your phone needs to be network unlocked to use a foreign SIM. Contact your home carrier to unlock before traveling if needed. iPhones from Verizon or AT&T are often locked.

How long does a UK prepaid SIM card last?

Most tourist SIMs last 7-30 days depending on the plan. You can extend validity or buy a longer 1-12 month SIM card if staying longer.

Is passport required to buy a SIM in UK?

No passport is typically needed. Some sellers may request ID like your passport as age verification, but a driving license or national ID card also works.

Can I use both physical SIM and eSIM together?

On dual SIM devices, yes you can use both a physical SIM and eSIM. For example, your regular SIM plus a UK eSIM for travel data.

Can I buy an UK SIM in the US?

Yes, it is possible to purchase a UK SIM card in the United States. Your best options are to either order one online from a UK provider and have it shipped to your US address, or to find multi-network SIMs

XI. Conclusion

Staying connected while traveling in the UK is important for making plans, navigating with maps, and keeping in touch with friends and family back home. With a prepaid UK eSIM from, you have a convenient solution that allows affordable local calls, texts and mobile data accessible.

Leave your physical SIM behind, travel light with a digital SIM from