Buying a Prepaid UK sim card can help you save on roaming cost within the UK and EU (This may change when Brexit happens). Whether you’re staying in the UK or passing through Heathrow on your way to Europe this guide will help you pick up a sim card at the airport.
The UK has dozens of prepaid sim cards for tourists available, that unlock a monthly data, calling and texting plans based on the amount you top-up. Plus, if you’re using a UK sim card within the EU* you will not be charged data roaming fees, allowing you to use your UK allowance at no extra cost (although there is a fair usage policy on the amount of data you can use for free).
*This may change after Brexit, so if you’re traveling after 31st October 2019, please check with the phone network as to whether you will be covered.
How to use a UK Prepaid Sim Card
Before traveling, make sure your phone is able to use UK Sim cards. You’ll need to make sure your phone is unlocked or contact your phone network to ask for an unlock code. Depending on the phone and where you live, there may also be a store or online website that can help.
The UK’s phone networks use LTE, with support for 2G, 3G, and 4G speeds. The actual coverage of 4G will vary depending on where you’re going but within London and other UK cities, you can expect to have 4G.
Below’s a table of the band frequencies that the UK uses, make sure your phone supports these before you buy a sim card.
|EE||Band 3 (1800MHz) and Band 7 (2600MHz)|
|Three||Band 3 (1800MHz) and Band 20 (800MHz)|
|O2||Band 20 (800MHz)|
|Vodafone||Band 20 (800MHz) and Band 7 (2600MHz)|
European networks mostly use the same technology but I recommend checking this Wikipedia list of mobile networks to confirm what network types are available in the EU countries you’ll be visiting.
If you have a dual-sim phone, make sure you configure your sim card settings to use the UK sim card. Ensure roaming is disabled on your home countries sim, otherwise, you may end up with a huge bill.
Buying a sim card from Sim Local at Heathrow Airport
Sim Local stores are located in Heathrow Terminal 2, 3 and 5 plus the underground in Terminal 2. They’re all open from 6 am to 10 pm so if you’re arriving within these times you can easily grab a sim card. If you need assistance installing the sim card or figuring out which plan you need, then I recommend going to one of these stores. But If you’d prefer to do it yourself, then go to WHSmiths or a vending machine.
Buying a sim card from WHSmiths at Heathrow Airport
WHSmiths has a selection of UK Prepaid sim cards available. These are also sold by Sim Local but this way, you get to do it yourself without having to deal with someone trying to upsell things you probably won’t want. So if you don’t need assistance with buying and installing the sim card, I recommend going here. Just make sure you have a paper clip or a sim card slot opener on you or you’ll have to pop to Sim Local or the tourist information for help installing it.
If you do have an issue with the sim card you purchased from WHSmiths, you can pop into the Sim Local store and they’ll be able to help fix it. I recommend checking the prepaid sim card works before you leave the airport, otherwise, you’d have to return if there’s an issue.
WHSmith stores can be found in the arrivals for Terminal 2, 4 and 5. They’re also in the Landside arrivals area for terminal 3, and landside main in terminal 4. They’re open from 6:30 am until 10 pm.
Prepaid Tourist Sim card vending machines
Sim Local has a few vending machines that contain sim cards, dotted around each of the terminals — normally next to the drink and food vending machines. So if your flights is arriving after 10 pm or if you want to DIY it, you can buy a prepaid UK sim card from the vending machine and if there’s an issue, you can still go to the SIM Local store to have it resolved (if arriving before 10 pm). But once again, make sure you have the sim card opener/paper clip.
The vending machines have sim cards for EE, Three, Lyrca and Vodafone. They can sometimes have better deals than the store but if you’re on a budget it is worth checking each of the options mentioned in this travel guide before buying a sim.
Buying a sim card from WeKnow
WeKnow is the tourist information for London, and have prepaid sim cards for EE and Three available. They’re located in the arrival areas for Terminal 2, 3, 4 and 5. They’re open from 5:30 am to midnight in Terminal 3 and 5, and from 6 am to midnight in Terminals 2 and 4. Their sim cards, are more expensive than those you’ll get outside the airport but if you need a sim card straight away they’re not the worst option – especially if you need help setting it up.
They have the following plans available:
|EE||250 minutes, 500 texts, 13GBdata||£25|
|Three||1GB Data, for 30 Days.||£15|
|Three||3GB Data, for 30 Days.||£25|
|Three||3000 minutes, 3000 texts, 12GB Data up to 12GB data within the EU||£35|
|Three||3000 minutes, 3000 texts, Unlimited data in the UK, up to 12GB data within the EU.||£50|
If you want to, you can reserve and pay in advance for the sim card with WeKnow online, you’ll be asked to select your pickup location and time when ordering so make sure to double-check your flight information to make sure you have the correct terminal.
Buying a sim card in the departure area
If you’re staying within the departure area to meet a connecting flight, you can get an EE sim card from Dixons Travel (after security) or reserve it online. It’ll give you 150minutes call time and 500MB data within the EU for £10; which is a rip-off and sucks but that’s sadly all they have available after security. You can also try WHSmith’s, as they normally have some sim cards available in the departure side.
Dixons Travel is located in Terminal 1, 2, 3 and 5. They’re open from 5:30 am to 10 pm in Terminal 1, 3 and 5 and from 6 am to 10 pm in terminal 2.
WHSmith is located in Terminal 2, 3, 4 and 5 after security and in Terminal 3, 4 and 5 before security. Most of the stores are open from 5:30 am to 10 pm but some are open earlier.
What to do if your sim card doesn’t work
I really do recommend making sure your sim card is working before leaving the airport, to avoid the faff and cost of having to return to the airport.
If you’ve installed your sim card, and it has an error such as “no sim detected”, try restarting your phone. If this doesn’t work, try removing the sim card, and re-inserting it. If that still didn’t fix it then you’ll need to go to the sim local store.
If you have already left the airport, and cannot go back then your best bet is to contact the network provider and Sim Local. Sim Local used to have a refund request page but this has been taken down, so you’ll need to contact them via their contact page or you can email or ring them (the information is on the contact page). To contact your network provider without a mobile phone is quite a hassle, you might need to go into one of their stores or ask wherever you’re staying if they have a phone you could use.
Buying prepaid sims outside of the airport
If you can manage without a sim card until you’re away from the airport, then I highly recommend doing so – especially if you’re on a budget. The sim cards sold in Heathrow Airport are a lot more expensive than those sold in stores away from the airport.
Sim cards are available from most convenience stores, such as Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s, and Co-op. You’ll also find them in their supermarkets, as well as Asda supermarket. They’re normally located near the checkout.
You’ll find much better deals such as an EE Sim Card which is only £10 for 2GB Data and 100 minutes. For £10 you can get a 4GB data allowance with Asda. The plans last for 30-days but some such as EE now offer data rollovers.
These sim cards normally cost £1, and once activated you can then top them up over the phone or at the till.
You can also find sim cards in Argos, such as £10 for 6GB data, 250 minutes and unlimited texts with Vodafone. If you’re going to be using a lot of data in the UK, then VOXI offers 45GB data for £20. This sim card is available from Argos.
Ordering a UK Sim Card Online
You can also order sim cards in advance online from Amazon, and have them delivered to an Amazon Locker.
Such as this 36GB Simcard with unlimited calls and texts from Three, including up to 12GB of data roaming within 49 countries in Europe, or, this preloaded EE Sim Card with 6GB Data that lasts for 90 days. There’s also a Vodafone sim card with 15GB data that lasts for 90 days + international calling.
You can also order a sim card online directly from the network. These sim cards either require you pay online when ordering for a pay-as-you-go plan, or they send you a free sim card which you load credit onto when you receive it. I personally recommend ordering a free GiffGaff sim card. They’re a cheap network with good deals, and use the O2 network which has really good 4G and 3G coverage across the UK. Their deals include 6GB data, unlimited minutes and texts for £10, or get unlimited data (with a fair usage policy) for £25.
Other companies you can order sim cards from include:
If you’re planning on using a mobile WiFi device, then why not check out these plans and devices that can be ordered online.
Mobile Wifi Device / Mobile Wifi Plan
|Skyroam||Mobile WiFi Hotspot & Power Bank, works in 130+ countries including the UK and Europe.|
|Skyroam||Skyroam Pre-Paid Card: 5 Global WiFi Daypasses|
|GlocalMe||GlocalMe G3 4G Mobile WiFi Hotspot, with 1.1GB Global data|
|Three||Mobile Broadband 24 GB Data SIM|
|EE||EE PAYG SIM Card Preloaded with 24 GB of 4GEE Data|
|GMYLE||Prepiad Travel Sim with 200 MB Global Data|
|Huawei||Huawei E5573Cs-322, 4G Travel Hotspot – this is the I use!|
|TP-Link||TP-Link M7350 4G LTE MiFi Device (No Sim Card included)|
Buying UK Simcards in other countries
Depending on where you’re coming from, It is possible to pick up a UK sim card or an international tourist sim card that works in the UK, and sometimes multiple countries before you arrive. This is a great way of guaranteeing you’ll have a working sim card soon as you land, and might save you time.
If you’re flying from Bangkok, you can pick up a 4G Sim Card with unlimited data, that lasts for 15 days from Bangkok Airport.
If you’re flying from Hong Kong, you can order a UK Three Sim Card to collect from the arrivals hall in Hong Kong airport. This sim card gives you 5GB internet to use in 42 countries, including the EU, the UK, Hong Kong, and Macau. These sim cards last for 30 days.
Coming from Singapore? You can order this 4G Sim Card, that works throughout Europe with 2 different plans available (2.5GB data for 7 days or 5GB data for 20 days). This sim card will be shipped to you so you make sure to order in advance to ensure there’s time for you to receive the sim card.
If you’re flying from Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh City, there is a 4G Sim Card with either 5GB data or 12GB data that lasts for 30 days. This sim card will be shipped, so make sure to order well in advance to get it in time for your flight.
If you’re coming from the USA, you can order European Sim Cards off Amazon that covers the UK and EU. Such as this Orange Sim Card that has 20GB data, 120 minutes and 1000 texts, or a Three sim card that gives you 12GB for use in the UK and Europe for up to 1 year.
Other sim cards are available to pre-purchase in the USA.
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If you’re looking for cheap flights to Europe or the UK, check out my guide on buying cheap flights. Still, need accommodation? I have a guide for finding cheap hotels & hostels as well. If you’re staying in London and looking for some day trips, why not visit the beautiful Georgian city of Bath? or, make the day trip into a weekend by combining it with a visit to the beautiful county of Somerset?