Buying a SIM Card in London for Travelers 2024: Guide from Locals

Traveling to London soon? Wondering how to get online during your trip? Getting a UK SIM card with cellular data is the most convenient and affordable way to stay connected. In this blog, we will find out how and where to buy SIM card in London, essential tips shared by locals, and the best SIM packages to choose from.

I. Why Buy SIM Card in London?

A UK SIM card with mobile data is one of the most convenient and budget-friendly ways to stay online while traveling in London. Here is why:

  • Independence – No dependency on hotel/ cafés WiFi speeds. UK SIM ensures private internet access from your phone.
  • Affordable rates – UK SIM plans are much cheaper than daily roaming charges from your home carrier. Packages start from £5-10 with plenty of data.
  • Reliable connectivity – London mobile networks like EE, Vodafone, and O2 provide fast 4G across the city. Free WiFi spots are limited. 
  • Apps usage – Using WhatsApp and Facebook without eating into your daily roaming data cap or risking excess roaming fees.

Pro Tip: Only unlocked mobile devices accept networks of major carriers in London, as a result, you had better confirm with your carrier if your device is unlocked.

II. Which Mobile Internet Carrier is the Best in London?

London, UK has four (04) major mobile network operators: EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone. Let’s dive into the coverage and data plans of each carrier.

Four main carriers in London: EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone
Four main carriers in London: EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone

Three (#1)

  • Three boasts the widest 4G/ 5G coverage throughout London, UK. You may use Three network to connect to the Internet nearly everywhere, including remote regions;
  • Provides 5G network to prepaid tourists at no extra charge.
  • Plan prices are affordable for the data amount.

EE (#2)

  • EE has extensive coverage in London UK;
  • All plans are affordable but it does not let prepaid tourists use their 5G network
  • Prepaid users are limited to 4G/LTE speeds

O2

  • O2 coverage is wide but not as far-reaching as EE and Three;
  • Has affordable plans and sizes
  • O2’s SIM is free but travelers need to top up with an option from this operator

Vodafone

  • Vodafone has good coverage but shows several weak spots compared to Three, EE, and O2. Network is less consistent in rural areas.
  • Vodafone’s plans have good amounts of data but only on 4G

► Our Recommendation:

If you want to access the Internet with 5G network and several free roaming in Europe, Three is the best option thanks to its affordable plans and widest coverage. O2 and EE are also good options if you want high-speed 4G/LTE.

III. Best London SIM Card Plans and Cost

Here are some of the best UK SIM card packages for London provided by major carriers Three, EE, O2, and Vodafone.

Good to know: GBP 1 = USD 1.26; USD 1 = GBP 0.79 (as of February 2024)

OperatorDataCost
Three10 GB data & unlimited minutes/ texts£10 GBP – $13 USD
Three25 GB data & unlimited minutes/ texts£15 GBP
ThreeUnlimited data & unlimited minutes/ texts£35 GBP
EE5 GB data & 500 minutes & unlimited sms£10 GBP – $13 USD
EE15GB data & unlimited calls/sms£15 GBP
EE100GB data & unlimited calls/ sms£30 GBP
O27GB data & unlimited calls/ sms£10 GBP – $13 USD
O220GB data & unlimited calls/ sms£15 GBP
O2100GB data & unlimited calls/ sms£30 – no free EU Roaming included
Vodafone7GB data & unlimited minutes/ texts£10 GBP – $13 USD
Vodafone20GB data & unlimited minutes/ texts£15 GBP
Vodafone100GB data & unlimited minutes/ texts£30 GBP

Note: The details about London SIM card plans above are indicative only and may change over time. It is recommended to contact the network operator for the most updated information.

IV. Where to Buy SIM Card in London

Travelers visiting London have two options to buy SIM card in London: at London Airport and in London center

1. Purchase a SIM card at London airport

London has two airports: Heathrow and Gatwick. Depending on which airport you land at, you may choose to get a SIM card at Heathrow or Gatwick Airport. Buying SIM at airport allows you to have instant Internet connection upon arrival.

London Heathrow Airport Map
London Heathrow Airport Map

Buy SIM cards at Heathrow Airport:

  • Local SIM stores: situated in the arrival halls and baggage claim areas of all terminals; plans from EE, Three, and Lycamobile; open 6:00-22:00
  • WHSmith store: in the terminals near the arrival halls; similar packages to Local SIM stores
  • SIM card vending machines: in baggage area; no staff support; similar packages to Local SIM stores
  • Travelex Currency Exchange: In baggage claim halls terminal 2 and 5
London Gatwick Airport Map
London Gatwick Airport Map

Buy SIM cards at Gatwick Airport:

  • SIM card vending machines: at baggage claim in both North and South terminals; SIM plans from EE, Vodafone, and Three
  • WHSmith stores: in both terminal, arrival halls; Plans from Three, EE

2. Purchase SIM card in London center

Go around London city for a wide selection of SIM plans at the cheapest rates. This way, tourists may compared the various SIM packages and the opt for the best one that suits their needs.

  • EE, Three, Vodafone, O2 stores: Westfield Shopping Center, etc.
  • Retail stores like Fonehouse, Carphone Warehouse
  • Supermarkets like Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s
  • Convenience stores like WHSmith Travel Store; The Phone House, Tesco Express Gas Station, etc.

► Our Recommendation: 

Buying SIM cards at London airports is suitable for those who want convenience. Getting SIM cards in the London center is a great option for tourists who have time freedom and prioritize a wide selection of SIM plans and good rates. It is also worth considering the option of buying eSIM online before your flight.

V. UK eSIM Card for London – Alternative to SIM Card for Tourists

UK eSIM has become a prevalent choice among tourists to London thanks to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and best value. You just need an eSIM-supported mobile device to download an eSIM plan for London. eSIM has a variety of benefits such as no SIM card store visit, online download and activation within several minutes, reliable and affordable Internet connection, etc.

Gigago offers a wide selection of eSIM plans for London, UK
Gigago eSIM plans for London

If you are looking for a prestigious eSIM provider, GIGAGO would be a top recommendation for many reasons:

  • No ID check
  • Online eSIM download and setup
  • Once purchase, your eSIM will be activated and ready for use within some minutes
  • Multiple UK eSIM packages for London, starting at 1GB for 3 days with only $3.50 and varying from $3.50$125.98 . Travelers just need to opt for the London eSIM plan that aligns with their preferences, trip length, and budget.
  • 24/7 multilingual customer service

VI. What to Prepare to Buy SIM Card in London

There are several things you need to prepare before getting a SIM card when traveling in London:

  • Passport for ID check: Most stores require ID to activate a SIM.
  • Unlocked phone: Your phone needs to be unlocked to receive the cellular networks in London, UK
  • Research carriers like EE, O2, Vodafone, and Three to compare coverage, SIM card plans, and costs.
  • Know your phone’s signal bands to ensure it works on UK networks.
  • Cash as some smaller shops do not accept cards for SIM purchases.

VII. Buy SIM Card in London – Extra Tips

To buy SIM card in London effectively, you may need to refer to these tips:

  • Research SIM deals and plans online before visiting stores to know your options.
  • Ask about bundled offers that include data rather than paying separately for calls/texts.
  • Make sure your cell phone is unlocked to use UK networks.
  • Pay attention to coverage maps for different providers. Go for ones with good underground signals if using London transport a lot.
  • Consider data-only eSIM plans if your phone supports it for convenience.
  • Keep a UK contact stored for emergencies while traveling.

VIII. FAQs

Can I purchase a SIM card at the airport?

Yes, airports like London Heathrow and London Gatwick have retail shops for the major networks. But city stores may offer better deals on SIM card plans.

What are the major mobile networks in the UK?

The major carriers are EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three. All offer SIM cards that provide good coverage across London as well as the UK so you may buy SIM card in London from these operators.

What payment methods are available to buy UK SIMs?

Major retailers accept cash, UK debit/ credit cards, and international payment methods like PayPal.

IX. Conclusion

In conclusion, getting a prepaid SIM card is a hassle-free way for tourists to stay in touch while exploring London. Major carriers like EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone have shops spread throughout the city so you may buy SIM card in London easily. You may also get an eSIM for London from trusted providers like Gigago for the best value and flexibility. Remember to choose the plan that suits your preferences, trip duration, and budget.