Buying O2 SIM Cards and eSIM for Tourists in 2024

When traveling to the UK, getting an O2 SIM card or eSIM is a smart option for tourists who need mobile access. As one of the largest and most reliable networks in the UK, O2 provides fast data and calls throughout the country via their extensive network coverage. Read on to find out the best choice, where to buy, and how to activate O2 SIM cards and eSIM.

I. Quick Facts about O2 UK

First, let us explore some key facts about O2 UK:

  • Founded: 1985
  • Headquarter: Reading, UK
  • Full company name: Telefónica UK Limited, operates under the brand name O2
  • Types of services: mobile phone services (call, text, and Internet), home broadband and fixed line services
  • Coverage: O2 network covers all of the UK including cities, towns, and countryside. It works both outside and inside homes and buildings
  • Number of users: 23.8 million users as of May 2023
  • Distribution: hundreds of O2 stores, authorized repair shops and phone shops
  • Customer support: 24/7 via email, phone call, and live chat
  • Language: English
O2 is one of the largest cellular network carriers in the UK
O2 is one of the largest cellular network carriers in the UK

II. Why O2 When Visiting the UK – Coverage and Speed

O2 network’s widespread coverage and fast data speeds keep visitors connected seamlessly while exploring the UK.

1. O2 Coverage in the UK

O2 boasts a wide 4G coverage in the UK
O2 coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)
  • O2 ranks third with broad 4G coverage across the UK – still not as far-reaching as EE and Three (the other two major networks in the UK);
  • Tourists using the O2 network can connect to the Internet almost everywhere, including cities, towns, and remote areas;
  • O2’s 5G network is quite extensive, covering most major cities and towns

2. O2 Speed

O2 has fast 4G speed in the UK
O2 Speed in the UK (Source: OpenSignal)
  • Average download speed: 20.9Mbps (led by EE 40Mbps, Three 34.5Mbps, and Vodafone 27.9Mbps
  • Average upload speed: 5.0Mbps
  • Consistency: 62.8%

► The O2 network covers most places in the UK. Their 4G network also offers fast Internet speeds so tourists can seamlessly browse and stream on their phones nearly anywhere in the UK.

III. What are the Best O2 Connectivity Options for Tourists to the UK?

Travelers visiting the UK may access the O2’s networks via these connectivity options:

O2 SIM cards: exist in a tangible form, can be put into unlocked mobile devices

  • Pros: a diverse range of options to choose from, attractive rates, easy purchase online or in the city shops
  • Cons: unlocked mobile devices required

O2 roaming: use your home cellular network carrier while visiting the UK

  • Pros: convenient, no SIM swap, familiar phone number and carrier
  • Cons: very expensive charges, 

Pocket Wifi: portable Wifi hotspot, may be rented from electronic stores

  • Pros: portable, multiple devices can connect to the Internet using a pocket Wifi
  • Cons: limited range, not sure whether it can connect to O2’s network or not

► Recommendation:

Rather than paying high roaming fees with your home carrier, O2 SIM cards give you local UK number and data so you can stay connected while in the UK. It is much easier and better value than renting pocket Wifi, too.

IV. Best O2 SIM Cards for Tourists & Cost

The table below shows some O2 SIM card options for tourists to the UK and prices accordingly.

PriceOffersBenefits
£10 GBP – $12.6 USD8GB data + unlimited minutes & textsFree EU roaming (limit of 25GB)
£15 GBP – $19 USD25GB data + unlimited minutes & textsFree EU roaming (limit of 25GB); 50 international call minutes to 42 countries
£20 GBP – $25 USD40GB data + unlimited minutes & textsFree EU roaming (limit of 25GB); 50 international call minutes to 42 countries
£30 GBP – $38 USD125GB data + unlimited minutes & textsFree EU roaming (limit of 25GB); 250 international call minutes to 42 countries

Note: Visit O2’s official website for more details on the offers and benefits of O2 SIM cards.

V. Does O2 Support eSIM in the UK?

Yes. O2 UK offers eSIM for tourists to the UK. It is a small chip which stores the data you needs to connect to the O2 network. It is like a traditional SIM card, except there is no need to insert a physical SIM into your phone’s SIM slot. It is already embedded into your mobile phone. Tourists can download an eSIM plan online 100% without a store visit or wait for delivery.

To get a UK eSIM, you can:

  • Download an eSIM plan directly from O2’s website. Remember to prepare your passport for ID proof
  • Purchase an eSIM from third-party provider. Online purchase, no identity check

► Recommendation:

Getting a UK eSIM from a third-party reseller is much easier than directly from O2. So which eSIM provider to choose? Gigago – a prestigious eSIM seller that provides affordable eSIM plans for more than 200 countries around the world – should be a top recommendation.

Gigago offers competitive eSIM plans for tourists to the UK
Gigago eSIM plans for visitors to the UK

Gigago provides a variety of UK eSIM packages for travelers. The starter pack costs only $3.50 and provides 1GB of data used in 3 days.  Other options range from $3.50$125.98 , depending on the data amount and trip length. Tourists choosing Gigago eSIM plans will have a smooth and secure Internet connection for the best UK travel experience.

Pro Tip:

VI. Where to Purchase O2 SIM cards and eSIM?

Now that you have selected your O2 SIM/eSIM. It is time to explore where to buy O2 SIM cards and eSIM.

1. Where to Get O2 SIM Cards for the UK?

1.1. Upon arrival at the UK airports

You can buy O2 SIM cards at:

1.2. O2 shops & authorized resellers

Hundreds of O2 stores and authorized repair shops and phone stores offer O2 SIM cards. These stores are widely located in cities and towns such as London, Manchester, etc. They provide tourists to the UK with a wide selection of O2 SIM plans at competitive prices.

Tourists may buy O2 SIM cards at O2 offical stores and authorized shops
O2 store at Lakeside Shopping Center, UK

2. Where to Get O2 eSIM for the UK?

O2 eSIM for the UK can be purchased via:

  • Online service on O2’s website
  • My O2 app
  • Get to the nearest O2 store

Pro Tip:

  • Prepare your passport or driver’s license and GBP cash/ debit/credit card for purchase and SIM registration
  • It is recommended to get to the city centers to buy O2 SIM cards for the best deals
  • For instant Internet right when you reach the UK, get O2 SIM cards at the UK airports.

VII. How to Activate O2 SIM/eSIM in the UK?

Activating O2 SIM cards and eSIM is simple and here is how:

1. How to Activate O2 SIM Cards in the UK?

If you choose to activate and use O2 SIM cards, you need to:

  • Pop the O2 SIM card into your unlocked mobile phone
  • Power on your mobile phone
  • Follow on-screen instruction to activate the O2 SIM – Normally, it should do this automatically
  • If your data is not working, check your network settings
  • Once activated, you are good to go! You can now use your phone with O2’s network wherever you are in the UK.

2. How to Activate O2 eSIM?

If you choose to activate and use O2 eSIM, you need to:

  • First check that your phone works with O2 eSIMs
  • Purchase an O2 eSIM online – they will email you a QR code
  • Scan the QR code using My O2 app or phone’s settings under Mobile Service > Add eSIM > Use QR code. 
  • Set up the O2 eSIM profile on your phone.
  • And just like that, your O2 eSIM is all ready to go! You are now all set to use your phone with O2’s network.

You can learn to set up eSIM on different devices:

VIII. Alternatives to the UK O2 SIM cards

In addition to O2 SIM cards, tourists can buy SIM cards from other cellular network carriers such as Three, EE, and Vodafone for their trip to the UK.

  • Three provides competitive SIM plans, especially for heavy data users and still delivers free EU roaming
  • EE has SIM card plans at reasonable prices with good data and text/call allowances
  • Vodafone plans provide generous data, calls, and texts, and offer value for money
  • Gigago: Going with Gigago lets you get an affordable and flexible eSIM plan

IX. FAQs about O2 SIM cards and eSIM

Can I use my O2 SIM card or eSIM with any unlocked phone?

Yes, as long as your phone is unlocked and supports the required network frequencies, you can pop in an O2 SIM card or scan the eSIM profile on most unlocked smartphones, tablets or hotspots.

Is it easy to set up an O2 SIM card or eSIM on my phone?

Setting up O2 SIM cards and eSIMs is quite straightforward. Just insert the SIM, turn your phone on and follow the prompts to activate service. eSIM setup involves scanning a QR code.

Can I keep my UK phone number after visiting on an O2 SIM/eSIM?

Unfortunately not, as O2 SIM cards and eSIMs are temporary. Your number expires when your plan ends.

X. Conclusion

In summary, purchasing an O2 SIM card or eSIM is convenient for visitors to the UK. O2 SIM cards and eSIM offer affordable plans with suitable data, calling, and texting benefits, letting tourists easily stay connected without worrying about high roaming charges. It is best to choose a UK eSIM plan for convenience, flexibility, and affordability while exploring all the UK has to offer.