How to Get Mobile Internet in the UK for Travelers: What Option to Choose?

To enjoy your trip in the UK fully, you will need a way to access the Internet to navigate maps, find great restaurants, order a cab, and keep in touch with your loved ones via chat apps. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to get mobile internet in the UK: the best alternatives, the pros and cons, and the most up-to-date prices.

I. Mobile Internet in the UK – Coverage and Speed

There are 5 main mobile internet providers in the United Kingdom, including EE Mobile, Three (3), O2, Vodafone, and Virgin Mobile.

Virgin Mobile UK does not offer prepaid SIM cards (also called pay-as-you-go SIM cards) for the UK. The other providers offer prepaid SIM cards for tourists.

Besides these major mobile internet providers, there are many other local SIM cards available in smaller shops which are called MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators)

However, tourists on short trips in the UK SHOULD NOT use these SIM cards. If still want it, you can consider Lebara or Lycamobile SIM cards because sometimes they have good prepaid deals.

Below we introduce about the coverage and speed of top 4 major mobile internet providers in the UK:

1. UK Mobile Internet Coverage

Coverage maps of major mobile network operators in the UK
Coverage map of main network carriers in the UK

The UK features great mobile internet coverage with widespread 4G and 5G availability.

  • EE boasts the widest 4G/ 5G coverage, with near-complete indoor and outdoor 4G/ 5G coverage in all towns and cities. Its map shows strong consistent signals in most rural areas as well.
  • Three covers all the tourist sites in the UK. 5G is also available across main cities and towns.
  • Vodafone and O2 have extensive coverage but are not as robust and consistent as EE and Three. 

▶ Our Recommendation:

For reliable 4G/ 5G connectivity nationally across varied locations including remote rural areas, EE is a good option for tourists to the UK. Three and O2 are also good alternatives with broad coverage and high-speed 4G/LTE networks.

2. UK Mobile Internet Speed

Mobile internet speed in the UK by Speedtest Global Index
UK mobile internet speed (Speedtest Global Index, 2024)

According to the Speedtest Global Index in January 2024, the UK ranks 49th in the world for mobile internet speeds.

  • The UK ranks 49th in the world for mobile internet speeds as of January 2024 according to Speedtest Global Index data.
  • Average download speed is 52.33 Mbps which allows for smooth HD video playback but may struggle with higher resolution content.
  • Upload speeds lag significantly behind at just 7.51 Mbps, which could impact sharing content and activities like video calls.
  • Latency of 34ms is decent for general browsing and apps but may cause delays for online gaming.

▶ Our recommendation:

Tourists should select unlimited data plans from major carriers like EE, Three, O2, etc. that have leading 5G networks. This to enjoy the highest speeds available.

II. What are Connectivity Options for Tourists to the UK?

Tourists can select the most suitable way to get mobile internet in the UK from these options: SIM card, eSIM, international roaming, pocket Wifi, and free Wifi.

OptionHow it worksCostWhere to buyProsCons
UK SIM cardInsert SIM in unlocked phone, connect to local networkAffordableAirport shops, carrier storesEasy setup, reliable speeds, affordable ratesNeed unlocked phone, registration
UK eSIMPurchase and activate online, connect without physical SIMNo buying a new SIMOnline retailersNo store visit, instant use, flexible planseSIM-supported phone required, higher cost than physical SIM card
Roaming with the UK operatorsUtilize existing SIM abroad, high rates for dataExpensive, depending on your domestic provider and planVia home operatorExtremely expensive roaming feesExtremly expensive roaming fees
Public WifiFree Wifi at cafes, hotels, restaurants, etcFreeAccessible at certain placesConvenientLimited availability, security concerns
Pocket WifiRental device for internet access anywhereQuite costlyAirports, rental shopsCover all locations, portable access for multiple devicesDaily/ weekly cost, device to carry

▶ Our recommendation:

If you are a moderate data user and prioritize flexibility and affordability, you may buy a physical UK SIM card or a UK eSIM. But, it is recommended to check if your cell phone is unlocked before purchasing a UK SIM card.

In case your smartphone supports eSIM technology, an eSIM from GIGAGO will be the best choice.

Pro Tip: For a quick check whether or not you can use an eSIM for the UK on your current phone, you can refer our latest list of eSIM-supported phones.

III. Mobile Internet Rates in the UK – Is It Expensive?

Good to know: GBP 1 = USD 1.28 and USD 1 = GBP 0.78 (as of January 2024)

The mobile internet rates in the UK vary depending on factors like the mobile internet option, the provider, and the plan chosen.

People visiting the UK have a few options to use mobile internet and each has a specific rate: UK SIM card, UK eSIM, Portable WiFi or Pocket WiFi.

The table below shows the internet tariffs of different mobile internet options in the UK, helping you choose the best one for your needs.

OptionRate (USD)
Prepaid UK SIM cardFor EE: around $15 for 1GB of data
For Three: around $20 for 12GB of data
For Vodafone UK: $15 for 1GB of data
O2: $15 for 1GB of data
UK eSIM3-10GB or daily 300MB, valid for 7-30 days with $5-$136.9
Roaming with the UK operators£3-8 per 1GB data, depends on your plan and carrier at home
Public WifiFree
Pocket Wifi£20-50 per week 

The information shown in the above table is for reference only. Contact your chosen carrier for the updated details.

▶ Our recommendation:

  • For price-conscious tourists, a UK SIM card from the main operators might be a wise choice.
  • For flexibility and instant Internet access upon arrival, choose an eSIM for the UK.

IV. Data SIM Card for Mobile Internet in the UK

A data SIM card for the UK has become a popular option among tourists exploring this stunning country. It provides travelers to the UK with great data plans at reasonable rates.

Four major network operators in the UK include EE. Three, O2, and Vodafone
EE, Three, O2, and Vodafone are the four major network carriers in the UK
OperatorCostData
EE£10 – $135GB data + 500 minutes + unlimited texts
EE£20 – $2570 GB data + unlimited calls/texts 
EE£30 100 GB data + unlimited calls/texts
Three£10 – $1310 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts
Three£35Unlimited data + unlimited minutes/texts
O2£15 20 GB data + unlimited calls/texts
O2£30 100 GB data + unlimited calls/sms – no free EU Roaming included
Vodafone£1520 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts
Vodafone£30100 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts

Note: The data plans and rates shown in the above table are just several of the many UK SIM card options available for travelers. The package information is subject to change over time.

V. Data eSIM for the UK – Best Option to Get Mobile Internet for Tourists

Pro Tip: Only purchase an eSIM plan if your mobile phone is compatible with eSIM.

Using a UK eSIM is the most convenient and budget-friendly way for tourists to access the mobile Internet in the UK. It comes with a range of benefits, including no store visit, online download and activation, multiple profiles, etc.

There are two ways for purchasing an eSIM for the UK: buy it from the main carriers or buy it from reputable UK eSIM providers.

1. Purchase eSIM from UK operators

Main mobile network operators in the UK like EE, Three, Vodafone, etc., provide prepaid eSIM packages for tourists. eSIM is very convenient but availability depends on your device.

  • Document required: passport for registration, eSIM-supported smartphone
  • Pros: various eSIM plans, extensive coverage, convenient activation process online or via an app, no need to visit stores, instant Internet access upon arrival.
  • Cons: additional identity checks, fewer options compared to getting from virtual eSIM providers

2. Purchase eSIM from Gigago

Gigago is a prestigious UK eSIM provider that offers a range of tourist eSIM plans
Gigago provides tourists with a range of eSIM plans at competitive rates

Tourists to the UK can also buy an eSIM from prestigious eSIM suppliers like Gigago. Gigago eSIM is an excellent alternative that comes with many benefits:

  • Purchase and activate online 100%, no waiting for SIM delivery
  • Easy setup, just scan a QR code and your UK eSIM is ready to use
  • Access the Internet as soon as you reach the UK
  • No identity document check
  • Diverse and competitive eSIM plans
  • Multilingual customer support 24/7

For the UK, Gigago delivers a wide range of data plan options, starting from 1GB for 3 days with only $3.5. There are also many validity options for you to choose from, such as 3 days, 5 days, 7 days, 10 days, etc. The price ranges from $3.5 to $125.98. See more details about Gigago eSIM plan options for the UK.

VI. FAQs

Which carrier has the best 4G/5G coverage in the UK?

EE has the most extensive 4G/5G network coverage across the country. Three and O2 also boast wide coverage in the UK.

Can I get mobile internet in the UK with an eSIM?

Yes, most UK carriers offer eSIM profiles for travelers which can be activated online on eSIM-compatible devices for fast internet access.

Does public Wifi in the UK require registration?

No, major airports and chain stores Wifis are typically free to use without signing up after agreeing to terms of use.

VII. Conclusion

To wrap up, there are many ways for tourists to have mobile internet in the UK such as UK physical SIM card, UK eSIM, international roaming, pocket Wifi, and free Wifi. Among these options, physical SIM card and eSIM are considered the best options thanks to convenience, great value, and affordability. For hassle-free setup, eSIM profiles are ideal as long as your phone supports the technology.