Planning a trip to the UK? One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is how to get mobile data during your visit. A local UK SIM card can provide affordable data, calls and texts while traveling.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting a SIM card in the UK 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:

  • Use your home SIM card with roaming – This can work, but roaming data rates are usually very expensive. You may face bill shock when you get home.
  • Rent a portable WiFi hotspot – These give you mobile data, but can be bulky to carry around. Hotspot rental pricing is similar to local SIMs.
  • Buy a local UK SIM card – A UK SIM gives you affordable mobile data, calls and texts. It’s flexible since you can use it in your own phone. SIM cards are easy to find in the UK.

For most travelers, getting a UK SIM card is the best option. It gives you cheap data starting from around $10 per month. Calls and texts are very affordable too.

You’ll avoid expensive roaming fees on your home SIM. And you won’t need to lug around a MiFi hotspot device.

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

When getting a UK SIM card, you’ll have two main options:

SIM Type Pros Cons
Physical SIM Card Works on all unlocked phones Need to insert card into device
Easy to purchase locally Not as convenient for advance setup
eSIM Instant activation before travel Limited to newer phone models
No plastic card needed Need compatible device
Can do dual SIM with physical SIM Online purchase only

The benefit of an eSIM is instant activation before you travel. You can purchase online and set up the eSIM profile via QR code right away.

When looking at SIM card types by function, you’ll also see:

  • Data-only SIM – Provides mobile data but no call/text capabilities. Best for tablets, hotspots.
  • Voice + Data SIM – Gives calls, texts and mobile data. This is the best option for using in your smartphone.
Feature Data-only SIM Voice & Data SIM
Calls & Texts No call or text allowance - data only Includes minutes and texts as part of plan
Data Allowance Variable GB data-focused plans Shared minutes, texts and data allowance
Typical Users For tablets, laptops or backup devices For primary smartphone usage
Contract Length 30 days rolling 12-24 month contract term
Upfront Cost No device subsidy - SIM only Potential upfront cost of device
Plan Flexibility Can change plans monthly Locked into monthly plan for contract
International Roaming Data usage charged abroad Calls/texts extra on most plans abroad
24/7 UK Support Online/overseas support only Phone/in-store support included

In summary, Data-only SIMs provide flexibility and data-focused

For most travelers, a Voice + Data SIM is recommended for full functionality. An eSIM is the most convenient since you can activate it before arrival.

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

As a baseline, here’s what you can do with different data amounts:

  • 1 GB – Enough for light usage like maps, messaging, social media
  • 5 GB – Suitable for moderate usage including some video/music streaming
  • 10+ GB – For heavy usage with HD video streaming, work emails, etc

For most short UK trips under 2 weeks, we recommend 5-10 GB of data depending on your expected usage. This gives you enough data for daily Google Maps, messaging, social media and some video streaming.

For longer UK trips of 1 month or more, start with a 10 GB SIM. You can top up with more data packs later if needed.

👉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!

IV. How Much Does a UK SIM Card Cost?

UK SIM card pricing depends on the mobile data amount, validity period, and extras like UK calls/texts. Here are sample SIM card prices from major providers:

Network SIM-Only Plans Basic SIM Cost Replacement SIM PAYG SIM
Three From $7.50/month for 5GB data Free with plan $5-10 $10-15
O2 From $10/month for 10GB data $5-10 upfront $5-10 $10-15
EE From $20/month for 60GB data $10-15 upfront $5-10 $10-15
Vodafone From $7.50/month for 1GB data Free with plan $5-10 $10-15

These SIMs above provide a good amount of data for short UK trips. Prices start around $10-20 per month depending on data and validity.

When getting a UK SIM, check for any activation fees which can range from $0-20 depending on the provider. Also look for data rollover or sharing if you don’t want to lose leftover gigabytes.

V. UK eSIM – Alternative to Physical SIM Cards

Along with physical SIM cards, eSIMs are also available from most major UK providers like Three, EE, O2, Vodafone.

For convenience, eSIMs can be activated before you arrive in the UK. Some of the benefits include:

  • Digital format – no plastic SIM card needed
  • Instant activation via QR code
  • Use mobile data immediately upon UK arrival
  • Easily switch plans from the app
  • Buy online and shipped right to your phone

UK eSIM from GIGAGO is a simplest way to get connected. With online purchase and digital activation, you skip the SIM card pickup and installation. Everything happens right from your phone’s settings.

Let’s check their best plans: 

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

VI. Where to Buy a UK SIM Card?

You can pick up a UK SIM card both pre-trip and during your travels. Here are the main options:

Airport Shop Pickup

Another fast option is to grab a SIM at Heathrow or other UK airport shops after arrival.

If you need data right away or want in-person support, an airport SIM pickup works fine. But prices might be a bit higher vs online/local stores. Check UK Airport SIM for more details.

Airport Shop Pickup UK SIM Card
Airport Shop Pickup – WHSmith

Local Store Purchase

You can also buy a pay-as-you-go SIM from convenience stores like Tesco Mobile or carrier stores (Vodafone, O2, etc).

Local Store Purchase UK SIM Card
3 (Three) Store

Buy Online Before You Go

For most travelers, pre-order online for delivery or airport pickup on arrival is a great choice. This balances convenience with good prices. Local stores work too if you don’t mind the store visit.

Another popular way to stay connected when traveling to this country is using UK eSIM. It is highly recommended for tourists visiting the United Kingdom because it allows them to easily stay connected, they also allow tourists to have flexibility with choosing short-term plans that match the length of their trip, instead of being tied to long contracts.

VII. How to Use UK SIM Card/ eSIM

  • For physical SIM
    • Remove previous SIM
    • Insert UK SIM into tray
    • Power on phone and follow activation prompts
    • Enter SIM PIN if required
  • For eSIM
    • Scan QR code to download eSIM profile
    • Follow in-app activation prompts
    • May need to reboot phone
    • Enter any activation code if required

Once activated, your UK SIM will connect to the local mobile network. You can use mobile data immediately and place cheap local calls/texts.

For detailed setup help, visit our UK eSIM Activation Guide. Or chat with our support team if you need assistance activating your new UK eSIM. Enjoy seamless connectivity with your eSIM!

VIII. Best Mobile Operators for UK SIM Cards

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

Mobile Operators

Network Coverage SIM Card Price Pros Cons eSIM?
Three 99% $12+ Unlimited data plans, free roaming Smaller rural coverage Yes
EE 99% $18+ Fastest speeds Pricier plans Yes
O2 98% $12+ Unlimited plans Slower speeds Yes
Vodafone 99% $12+ Good prices and coverage No unlimited data Yes

So, Three stands out with unlimited data deals and free global roaming in 71 destinations. EE has the fastest 4G speeds in cities. Vodafone has great value PAYG bundles.

Note: No most UK prepaid sim cards do not allow free EU roaming anymore since Brexit, except for Three UK prepaid sim cards which still provide limited free EU roaming. 

Let’s see Best UK Mobile Operators.

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.

Can I use a UK SIM across Europe?

Yes! UK SIMs include free roaming across the EU. You can use your data, calls and texts when traveling to other European countries.

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.

XI. Conclusion

A prepaid UK SIM card solves connectivity during your travels, providing cheap local service for calls, texts and mobile data on your unlocked phone.

Order your UK eSIM online and activate before takeoff for maximum convenience. Have an amazing trip to the UK!