Best UK SIM Cards for Tourists: Updated Prices & Where to Buy 2024

Visiting the UK soon? Wondering whether you can access the Internet for map navigation, social media browsing, or staying in touch with your family and friends? The short answer is yes and prepaid tourist UK SIM cards can help you. Check out this essential guide to know how and where to buy UK SIM cards, costs, and data plans.

SIM cards in the UK

I. Should You Get a SIM Card in the UK?

Yes! Definitely!

Prepaid UK SIM cards are the most convenient and cost-effective way that keep you online in the UK. Having an Internet connection on your phone makes your trip much easier. Getting directions from Google Maps, ordering a cab on the street, browsing social media, and sending calls or messages to relatives and friends are all made simple.

Get an SIM card in the UK
You should get a prepaid SIM card when visiting the UK

To further understand why a UK SIM card is the best option, check out this comparison table:

CriteriaSIM CardFree Wifi International Roaming
Availability– Diverse operators
– Extensive coverage
Available at limited cartels, cafes, restaurantsCoverage depends on your home provider
Convenience– Easy purchase
– Internet access from your device anywhere
Need to find hotspots, inaccessible when in remote areasUse existing number
PriceReasonableFreeHigh fees for data usage, calls, texts
DeviceAny unlocked phoneYour phoneYour own phone
PrivacyPrivate connectionUnsecured connectionOperator tracks your usage

Important Notes:

  • An unlocked phone is required to use a UK SIM card. In case your device is locked, contact your mobile network carrier to unlock it.
  • If you don’t need to make calls or send SMS, you should choose a data-only SIM card for the UK to reduce waste and save your budget.

II. Types of UK SIM Cards for Tourists – Which One is the Best?

Physical SIM card and eSIM in the UK
Physical SIM card and eSIM in the UK

UK SIM cards can be categorized into 2 main types based on their forms:

  • Physical SIM card: a SIM in the physical form, can be inserted or removed physically.
  • eSIM: a virtual SIM/ digital SIM which is built-in to your mobile phone.

Each type is also further classified by function:

  • Data-only SIM (no phone number): used for data usage (Internet browsing, map navigation, access to chat apps like WhatsApp, Telegram), unable to make phone calls or send text messages. 
  • Data + voice + text SIM (phone number): best for travelers who want to have an Internet connection to send messages, make phone calls, navigate maps, browse the web, etc.

Let’s look further into the two types: physical prepaid SIM card and prepaid tourist eSIM in the UK:

1. Prepaid physical SIM card in the UK

A prepaid physical UK SIM card is a SIM card that exists in a tangible form. To activate it, you need to insert it into a designated slot of your phone or remove it from your phone. Tourists traveling to the UK can choose a data-only SIM or data + voice + text SIM depending on their priorities and needs.

2. Prepaid Tourist UK eSIM

eSIM is a chip that is built-in to your mobile phone. Unlike a physical SIM card, you do not need to insert or remove a physical SIM when switching carriers or packages. eSIM can be bought and activated online and also has two sorts (data-only plan and data + voice + text plan). To use UK eSIM, you will need an eSIM-compatible cell phone.

The table below features the pros and cons of the two types of UK SIM cards for tourists:

SIM TypePrepaid physical UK SIMPrepaid UK eSIM
Pros– Widely available
– Offerd by all mobile network carriers in the UK
– Affordable
– Available anywhere, anytime
– No need to visit SIM stores
– Simple online activation
– No risk of SIM loss
Cons– SIM might get lost when uninstalled
– Unlocked cell phone needed
– Need to purchase 
– Only for eSIM
-compatible devices
– Need to unlock phone before use
– Tied to a single activating phone

► Our Recommendation:

Select prepaid UK eSIM with a data-only package if you already have an eSIM-compatible cell phone and need Internet connection for entertainment or to stay connected via online chat apps. This is an incredible choice for tourists visiting the UK in 2024.

III. Best UK SIM Card Packages for Tourists and Price

Four main network carriers in the UK (Three (3), EE, O2, and Vodafone)
Four main network carriers in the UK (Three (3), EE, O2, and Vodafone)

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

1. Best UK Three SIM Card Plans and Price

  • 10 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £10 GBP – $13 USD
  • 25 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £15 GBP
  • 50 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £20 GBP – $25 USD
  • Unlimited data + unlimited minutes/texts: £35 GBP

Insight: Three UK seems to offer competitive plans, especially for heavy users. It still offers free EU roaming, making its plans suitable for traveling within Europe.

2. Best UK EE SIM Card Plans and Price

  • 5 GB data + 500 minutes + unlimited sms/: £10 GBP – $13 USD
  • 15 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £15 GBP
  • 70 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £20 GBP – $25 USD
  • 100 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £30 GBP

Insight: EE’s plans seem to be reasonably priced with decent data allowances and call/ SMS bundles. However, prepaid users cannot use EE’s 5G network.

3. Best UK O2 SIM Card Plans and Price

  • 7 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £10 GBP – $13 USD
  • 20 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £15 GBP
  • 30 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £20 GBP – $25 USD
  • 100 GB data + unlimited calls/sms: £30 – no free EU Roaming included

Insight: O2 offers affordable plans and offers free EU roaming on the first three packages. O2 plans are a decent choice for tourists traveling in the UK as well as in Europe.

4. Best UK Vodafone SIM Card Plans and Price

  • 7 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £10 GBP – $13 USD
  • 20 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £15 GBP
  • 40 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £20 GBP – $25 USD
  • 100 GB data + unlimited minutes/texts: £30 GBP

Insight: Vodafone is a suitable option for tourists traveling to the UK as its plans include generous allowances and offer value for money. If you are not a heavy user, 7G will be enough to keep in touch, map navigation, emails, etc. All the plans are only on the 4G network.

Note: The details and prices of plans are subject to change. You should visit your chosen carrier’s website for the latest information.

► Our Recommendation:

Of all UK mobile network carriers, Three provides the best balance of cost, network coverage, and roaming benefits suited for tourists traveling in and beyond the UK. EE is also a solid choice for tourists with roaming add-ons which can be useful for tourists. O2 and Vodafone also have strong coverage and their pay-as-you-go plans offer flexibility but they are not as competitive as Three. 

IV. Where to Buy a Tourist SIM Card for the UK?

Tourists have 04 major ways to buy a UK SIM cards for travelers:

1. Buy prepaid UK eSIM online before traveling

The first way is to buy UK eSIM online before traveling. You can get it from reliable eSIM providers like Gigago. Setting up is straightforward as you can activate it online right on your phone via a QR code.

Pros: No need to get to SIM stores, no need to wait for delivery, immediate Internet connection as soon as you reach the UK.

Cons: only for eSIM-compatible cell phones. 

2. Buy physical UK SIM cards at UK airports

It is easy to get a suitable physical SIM card at carrier stores or kiosks which are located at airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, or Manchester

Pros: Convenient to have an Internet connection upon arrival

Cons: Limited plan options, more costly than stores outside airports

A kiosk sells UK SIM cards at UK airports
A kiosk sells UK SIM cards at UK airports

3. Buy physical UK SIM online

Another way to get a UK SIM card is by ordering it online and the international SIM provider will ship it to your home address before your trip. Then the activation and package selection may be arranged online.

Pros: No UK address required, convenient, good value bundles

Cons: Additional shipping fees, still more expensive than local city purchases

4. Buy physical UK SIM cards in the cities

You can visit official retail stores of UK mobile network providers like EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone in cities across the UK. You may also get to convenience stores like Sainsbury and Tesco to buy a SIM card for UK.

Pros: widest selection of plans, competitive rates, best guidance and customer service at official stores.

Cons: Require searching for stores, staff at convenience stores may have no exact knowledge about UK SIM cards.

EE's official store in the UK
EE’s official store in the UK

► Our Recommendation:

The finest option for travelers in the UK will depend on their priorities and preferences:

  • For price-conscious tourists: Getting UK SIM card in cities gives you a wide range of plans and the rates are very competitive.
  • For tourists who have eSIM-compatible cell phones: Getting an eSIM online before your trip to UK can save your time and avoid the hassle of exchanging SIM cards. Check out the list of eSIM-compatible phones.

V. How Much Data Is Enough for a UK Tourist SIM Card?

To choose the best plan for your trip to the UK, it is crucial to estimate the amount of data you will need. Before calculating, you need to know what you can do with 1GB of data:

  • Browse social media for 2-3 hours
  • Send or receive around 100-150 photos or messages via WhatsApp
  • Stream low-quality videos or music for 30-60 minutes
  • Get directions from Google Maps for 5 hours

Each tourist’s need for data may differ depending on the length of their trip and their consumption habits. It would help if you defined which group of users you belong to and chose a suitable plan accordingly.

  • Heavy users (make video calls daily, stream HD videos, play games online, constantly browse the web): 10GB+ per week
  • Medium users (check emails/ messages daily, use maps/ transport apps, stream HD occasionally, use average social media): 5-10GB per week
  • Light users (navigate maps, check email, send/ receive messages, browse the web): 3-5GB per week

Pro Tips:

  • You had better choose a higher data amount than you expect to use to avoid running out while still traveling in the UK.
  • Free Wifi is accessible in hotels, cafes, public spaces, and so on. Using free Wifi when in these hotspots will help save your mobile data for a few moments.

VI. UK eSIM – Best Alternative to Physical SIM Cards to Get Internet in the UK

Tourists to the UK may have an Internet connection via different options like international roaming, free Wifi, pocket Wifi, and physical UK SIM cards. However, eSIM for the UK provides outstanding features over those alternatives:

  • Convenience: You can buy and activate an eSIM online on your compatible phone before your trip without finding and inserting a physical SIM card.
  • Instant connectivity: You will have data access on arrival in the UK, no need to hunt for SIM cards after reaching.
  • Affordability: eSIM plans offer much cheaper rates than daily roaming charges.
  • Security: No issues of using unsecured public Wifi networks unlike depending on them for internet access.
eSIM competitive plans offered by Gigago
eSIM competitive plans offered by Gigago

If you are in the UK or are planning a trip to the UK and are looking for a reliable eSIM provider, Gigago should be a great choice thanks to its competitive eSIM packages. Unlike other suppliers, Gigago provides tourists with data-only options and call-inclusive plans.

The provider offers multiple data plan options for the UK, starting from a 3-day plan with 300MB per day for $5 as their most minimal plan. They also have 5-day, 7-day, 10-day, 14-day, 15-day, 20-day, 25-day, 28-day, and 30-day plans ranging from 1GB to 50GB of data, with prices from $5 up to $136.90.

Buying a UK eSIM from Gigago is undoubtedly the top choice for tourists seeking budget-friendly and hassle-free Internet access during their UK trip.

VII. Which UK Mobile Networks Are the Best for Tourists?

There are (04) major network carriers in the UK: Three, EE, O2, and Vodafone. All these providers offer extensive coverage across the UK, rapid Internet speed, diverse packages, and competitive rates.

Below is a summary table comparing these UK network operators:

CriteriaThreeEEO2Vodafone
CoverageBestGreatGoodGood
SpeedFastSuper fastFastFast
PriceCheapAffordableAffordableExpensive
eSIM availableNoNoNoNo

1. Three

Three's coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)
Three’s coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)

Three UK has the widest 4G/5G coverage across the UK. Tourists using Three network can access the Internet nearly everywhere, including very remote rural regions. This provider offers the 5G network to prepaid users at no extra cost. The prices for plans are reasonable for the data amounts.

2. EE

EE's coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)
EE’s coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)

EE ranks the second position with extensive coverage in the UK. All plans are competitive. However, it does not allow prepaid users to access their 5G network, so prepaid users on EE are limited to max 4G/LTE speeds even if there is 5G coverage.

3. O2

O2's coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)
O2’s coverage map in the UK (Source: nPerf)

O2 coverage map is extensive but not as far-reaching as Three and EE. This carrier also has reasonable plan prices and sizes. O2’s SIM card is free but tourists have to top up with one of the options offered by this carrier. 

4. Vodafone

Vodafone's coverage map in the UK
Vodafone has good coverage in the UK

Vodafone has good coverage map but shows some weak spots compared to others. Rural and countryside fringe coverage is less consistent than Three and EE. Its plans have good data amounts. Vodafone offers various plans of UK SIM card but only on 4G. 

► Our Recommendation: 

Three is considered the best option for tourists who want to access the Internet with the 5G network and some free roaming in Europe thanks to its competitive plans and extensive coverage across all major cities and rural regions.

EE and O2 are also great choices if you want great coverage and high-speed 4G/ LTE networks.

VIII. How to Use UK Prepaid SIM Cards and eSIM

You have chosen the best network operator and data packages for your trip to the UK. Here is how to get online with UK prepaid SIM cards and eSIMs. 

1. Using prepaid UK tourist SIM cards

Firstly, you purchase a prepaid SIM card for the UK. Then:

  • Turn off your smartphone and put the SIM in the slot.
  • Turn it back on and follow the setup prompts.
  • Enter the network setting (if needed) to connect to the Internet
  • Call the provider’s number displayed on the SIM package to check your balance and plan details.
Insert a UK physical SIM card in the designated slot
Insert a UK physical SIM card in the designated slot

2. Setting up and activating UK eSIM

To utilize a prepaid eSIM in the UK, you need to follow these simple steps:

  • Make sure your cell phone works with eSIM and is unlocked.
  • Sign up for an eSIM plan online. The provider will email a QR code.
  • Open your device’s eSIM settings, scan the code and follow the on-screen prompts.
  • Restart your mobile phone – your eSIM is now ready for the Internet.

IX. FAQs

Do I need to unlock my mobile phone to use UK SIM cards?

Yes, of course. Your mobile phone needs to be unlocked to work with a UK SIM card. To be sure, check your phone’s locking status with your home provider before traveling.

Can I use my UK SIM card in European countries?

Most UK SIM cards no longer include free EU roaming since Brexit. Check the plan details to see if roaming is included for a fee or not supported.

How do I get a UK SIM card?

You can pick one up upon arrival at UK airports, purchase from official stores of network carriers located throughout the country, or order online from trusted providers before your trip.

What ID is needed to get UK SIM cards?

You will need a valid passport to get a prepaid SIM card in the UK.

X. Conclusion

To sum up, prepaid UK SIM cards and eSIMs will help you stay connected during your trip. Major network carriers such as Three, EE, O2 offer extensive coverage and competitive plans, so going online and enjoying reliable data and call/ text services will be easy and quick. An eSIM will be the best option for those who have eSIM-compatible mobile devices.