Buying a Prepaid UK sim card can help you save on roaming cost within the UK and depending on the sim card, possibly within the EU. 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 monthly data, calling and texting plans based on the amount you top up.
Brexit warning: Due to Brexit, networks have been changing how they handle EU roaming charges. Please make sure you double-check with your network before using the sim card abroad.
Some UK networks which used to have a fair usage policy for EU roaming have kept this in place, although the restrictions have tightened.
But, sadly most networks (including Three, EE, and Vodafone), are now charging daily fees for using your UK sim card abroad. I have covered the announced changes so far in this post but as roaming can get stupidly expensive please make sure to double-check the information I’m sharing with the phone network before travelling to Europe. As of July 2022, Tesco Mobile stopped including roaming allowances with all new plans. So if you need a sim card for roaming in Europe, don’t go with Tesco Mobile UK. However, if you’re also visiting the Republic of Ireland their Tesco Mobile Ireland sim cards work in the EU.
How to use a UK Prepaid Sim Card
Before travelling, 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. From 2020 onwards, within London, you can get 5G data from the UK’s main phone networks.
The quality coverage of 5G and 4G you get will vary depending on where you’re going but within London and other UK cities, you can expect to have 4G. 5G.
If you’re staying in or visiting London, and have a 5G phone make sure to buy a 5G UK Sim Card to make use of the latest London phone network technology.
Below’s a table of the band frequencies that the UK mobile phone network 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 country’s 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 the following places at Heathrow Airport:
- Level 1 of Arrivals at Heathrow terminal 2
- Baggage hall at Heathrow Terminal 2 (opening in 2022)
- Ground floor of arrivals at Heathrow terminal 3
- Baggage hall at Heathrow Terminal 3
- Level 0 of arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 5
- Arrivals in Terminal 4 (opening in 2022)
- The underground walkway between Terminals 2 and 3
The stores in terminal 3 and 5 are open from 5:30am until midnight. The terminal 2 store, is open from 6am to midnight. 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 you can go to WHSmiths or a sim card vending machine.
Sim Local stocks sim cards from EE, Three, Vodafone and Lyca mobile. Here’s a list of some of the plans the have available
|Lyca Mobile||3GB of 4G Data, unlimited texts + minutes, 100 international minutes to 42 countries.||£25|
|Lyca Mobile||7GB of 4G Data, unlimited texts + minutes, and unlimited international minute to 42 countries.||£30|
|EE||30GB of 4G Data, unlimited texts + minutes.||£30|
|EE||40GB of 4G Data, unlimited texts + minutes.||£35|
|EE||120GB of 4G Data, unlimited texts + minutes.||£45|
|Three||8GB of 4G/5G data, unlimited texts + minutes.||£25|
|Three||25GB of 4G/5G data, unlimited texts + minutes.||£30|
|Three||50GB of 4G/5G Data, unlimited texts, unlimited minutes||£35|
|Three||Unlimited 4G/5G Data, unlimited texts, unlimited minutes||£50|
|Vodafone||20GB of 4G Data, 250 minutes, unlimited texts.||£30|
Buying a Sim Card From WHSmiths at Heathrow Airport
WHSmiths has a range 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 sim card slot opener on you or you’ll have to pop to Sim Local or the tourist information for help installing it. Tip: to avoid losing your sim card slot opener, you can attach it to a keyring on your house/car keys.
If you do have an issue with the London 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 Terminals 2, 4 and 5. They’re also in the Landside arrivals area for terminal 3, and the landside main in terminal 4. They’re open from 6:30 am until 10 pm.
London 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. These vending machines can be cheaper than the Sim Local stores, so I recommend checking them out. Plus they’re open 24/7 so if your flights arriving before 6am or after midnight you can still buy a prepaid UK sim card from the vending machine in the airport. If you have an issue you can still go to the SIM Local store to have it resolved (if arriving before midnight). But make sure you have the sim card opener if you’re arriving outside of the store opening times.
The vending machines have sim cards for EE, Three, Lyca and Vodafone. They tend to have one plan for these of networks, and they’re normally cheaper than the Sim Local store.
Buying a UK sim card from WeKnow
WeKnow is the tourist information for London, and has prepaid sim cards for EE and Three available. They’re located in the arrival areas for Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5. They’re open from 5:30 am to midnight in Terminals 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.
Here are some examples of the plans available:
|EE (5G available)||40GB Data / 80GB Data / 120GB data for 30 days, unlimited UK calls+texts.|
Roaming data allowance includes the EU/EEA
|Three (5G Available)||12GB / 30GB / 50GB / Unlimited data, for 30 days. All plans have unlimited UK calls+ texts||£25-£50|
|Lyca Mobile||1GB data, 100 UK Texts, 500 UK minutes, 500 International minutes||£25|
|Lyca Mobile||5GB Data, Unlimited UK calls + texts, with 1000 call minutes to India||£30|
|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.
How to Buy a London Sim Card in the Heathrow Departure Area
If you’re flying through Heathrow, there’s a few places you can find a sim card although options and limited and you’ll probably have to pay extra for the joy of being stuck in the airport. I recommend waiting until you arrive at your destination and purchasing a local sim card when you arrive. If you’re not staying in the UK, check out my other sim card guides.
Sim Local has a store located just after security in Terminal 5b. This store sells sim cards that can be used in the EU, US and other countries so this is a good place to look if you’re flying to another country.
You can also try WHSmith’s, as they normally have some sim cards available on the departure side.
WHSmith is located in Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5 after security and in Terminals 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 recommend making sure your sim card is working before leaving the airport, to avoid the hassle and cost of returning 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 in London
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 normally have to top up at least £10 when buying the sim card.
Supermarkets have much better sim card deals than the airport. Here are some examples of offers available from UK networks, as of June 2021 using supermarket sim cards:
A £10 top-up with GiffGaff will give you access to 10GB of data and unlimited UK texts + minutes for 30 days. With EE, a £10 top-up gets you 100 UK minutes, unlimited texts and 4GB of data for 30 days.
Some supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco, have their own-brand sim cards. Asda mobile uses Vodafone’s network and gives you unlimited minutes, texts and 10GB of Data – you’ll also get access to 5G if in a 5G coverage area. Whereas Tesco, uses the O2 network, and a £10 top up with Tesco will give you a 4G sim card that has 5000 minutes, 5000 texts and 10GB of data.
You can also find London sim cards in shops like Argos, such as £15 for 15GB of data, unlimited minutes + texts with Vodafone. If you’re going to be using a lot of data in the UK, then VOXI offers 45GB of data for £20. This sim card is available from Argos.
How to Buy a UK eSim Online
eSims are digital sim cards that download onto your phone. Plus there’s the added benefit of not having to remove your home country’s sim card, so you can still receive calls/texts etc from friends/family. New phones, such as the Samsung S22 and iPhone 13 support dual sims via eSims.
I recommend buying eSims from Airalo, as they make it super easy. You buy your eSim online via their site, download it to your phone along with their app and you can top up the eSim or purchase different eSims as needed. They sell eSims per country, region and global ones. Though all of the eSims are data only so ifyou need minutes/texts you’ll need to get a physical sim card instead.
Airalo has 4 different UK eSim plans available.
For $5 you’ll get 1GB of data that is valid for 7 days.
$10 gets you 3GB of data that is valid for 30 days.
$15 gets you 5GB of data that is valid for 30 days.
$22.50 gets you 10GB of data that is valid for 30 days.
If you’re visiting other EU countries, then you should check out their EU travel eSim card options as they could work out cheaper than buying country-specific sim cards. Their EU eSim works in 39 countries including the UK, Spain, Iceland, and Greece.
They have 6 different plans available as of July 2022:
- 1GB data, valid for 7 days for $5.
- 3GB data, valid for 30 days for $13
- 5GB data, valid for 30 days for $20
- 50GB data, valid for 90 days for $100
- 100GB data, valid for 180 days for $185
If you’re not staying in the EU, then you should check out Airalo’s global sim cards. These start at $7 for 1GB data so they’re a bit more expensive but they work in 87 countries including the UK, USA, Thailand and Australia.
Airalo has the following eSim global plans available:
- 1GB data, valid for 7 days for $9
- 3GB data, valid for 15 days for $24
- 5GB Data, valid for 30 days for $35
- 10GB data, valid for 60 days for $59
- 20GB data, valid for 180 days for $89
How to Buy a UK Sim Card Online
You can also order UK sim cards in advance online from Amazon, and have them delivered to an Amazon Locker. Amazon lockers are found in a lot of stores, around London so you can easily arrange to have one delivered to the 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 of data that lasts for 90 days + international calling.
You can also order a sim card online directly from the UK mobile network. These sim cards either require you to 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 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 plus 5G coverage in London (and other cities). Their plans start at £10 and last for 30 days. Plus they include roaming in the EU! Their deals start at £10, for 15GB of data and go up to £35 for unlimited data. All plans include unlimited texts + minutes in the UK. Giffgaff sim cards can be ordered for free online, but these can take a while to arrive. To guarantee you’ll get it in time for your holiday, I recommend ordering one from Amazon UK for a penny and paying £2.99 for priority delivery. Plus the sim card from Amazon includes a £5 bonus when you do your initial £10 top up.
Another good option is a SMARTY sim card, which runs on Three’s network and includes 5G Data plus EU roaming. This network will give you access to good 4G and 3G coverage throughout most of the UK, and 5G available in some cities including London. SMARTY sim cards cost £1 from Amazon and require you to top up and pick a plan. For £20 you get unlimited data, or for £10 you get 30GB data plus unlimited calls and texts. Plus you can use the sim card in Portable WiFi devices, laptop and tablets – not just phones.
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 before you head off on your travels:
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 Day passes|
|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||Prepaid Travel Sim with 200 MB Global Data|
|Huawei||Huawei E5573Cs-322, 4G Travel Hotspot – this is the one I use with a SMARTY sim card.|
|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 travel-friendly sim card gives you 5GB of internet data 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 cover the UK and EU. Such as this Orange Sim Card that has 20GB of 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.
If you found this guide to buying a UK prepaid sim card at Heathrow Airport helpful, please share it with your friends.
If you’re looking for cheap flights to Europe or the UK, check out my travel 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?