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Getting a UK SIM Card as a Student
6 min

Getting a UK SIM Card as a Student

Dec 9, 2021
6 min

SIM Card attached to a hook
Discover the details of Buying a UK SIM Card

Moving to a new country for the first time is a completely different experience in itself. It is common to feel mind-boggling if you’re an international student. The new city, the confusing road signs, public chaos, and the rush to accustom yourself to a new accommodation before the university starts can be a bit intimidating for young minds.

Getting the right SIM will aid your task for the rest of your time in the United Kingdom. And the last thing you want to do is pay hefty bills for making phone calls. But don’t you worry! There are ample options available to choose from when selecting a UK SIM card for yourself.

Here is everything you need to know about getting a UK SIM card as a student.

Can I use an International phone in the UK?

Should I replace my existing phone with a new phone to operate a UK SIM Card? It is common for International Students to come across such questions. The answer to this question depends on whether your phone is locked or unlocked. A locked phone can be used with a specific network when the contract is received at a discounted price.  Although, you can pay and get it unlocked in your homeland only after your previous contract has ended. Unlocking the phone allows you to use the UK SIM card in your phone. 

Mobile Network in the UK 

Two commonly existing frequencies for mobile communications are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). The United Kingdom, and many other countries, operate on the GSM band. This minor feature allows you to prevent overspending on another smartphone device.

Meanwhile, students' phones from countries supporting the CDMA band will not work in London, Coventry, or any other part of the UK. North/South America and Japan are exceptional cases.

Mobile Phone Network Coverage in the UK

The UK government boasts its utmost importance in the telecommunications sector. After the successful rollout of 4G technology, UK telecom operators have also introduced 4G+ aka LTE-A or LTE- Advanced. And you’ll be happy to know that the country provides 5G in larger cities of the UK. But, unfortunately, the remote parts of the UK still have 2G and 3G coverage.

Types of UK SIM cards 

SIM Cards are of two types- physical SIM Card and e SIM. A physical SIM Card is a small chip that is available in 3 sizes (Standard/Mini SIM Card, Micro SIM Card and Nano SIM Card). It can be handled physically by inserting it into your phone and removing it if required. e SIM UK (embedded SIM) is a virtual SIM that can be digitally embedded in your phone by a service provider. It is similar to the standard SIM card but removes the need of placing a physical SIM in your phone. 

Prepaid SIM Card in the UK

  1. Prepaid SIM Cards are usually called ‘Pay as you go’ in the UK. 
  2. With a prepaid SIM card, users don’t have a fixed subscription. Instead, they need to buy prepaid credit on their phone frequently to make calls, send messages, and use data. 
  3. Users can get subscriptions from any convenience store or supermarket in the UK.
  4. A prepaid SIM card gives users the ability to use it as per the usage and not bind to a rambling contract

Contracts / Pass-as-you-go 

  1. If you’re planning to stay in the UK for a long duration, such as for students pursuing a master's or a PhD., or prefer calls over messages, then mobile contracts can be a cheap option.
  2. A contract can be available for a longer duration (annual plans).
  3. If you exceed your contract limit, charges will be collected from your bank account depending on the usage.
  4. mobile contracts support long-duration calling users. Such agreements offer long-minute dial-up recharges for a longer duration (in months or annual plans). 

SIM-only deals UK

After opting for a phone contract, you will get an option to select a SIM-only deal UK or include a handset. In a SIM-only deal UK, the service provider will give you a free UK SIM card and charge monthly wherein you will be attached to a 12-month contract so a prior check is vital. These contracts keep rolling until you cancel them.

eSIM Card

An eSIM is a SIM card incorporated in a smartphone and can connect you to any eSIM-enabled provider. An eSIM is essentially a little microchip inside your phone that functions similarly to the NFC chip. It maintains various cellular profiles and thus works effortlessly all around the world. International students can use it to save on roaming charges and connect to their friends and family right from the comfort of their student accommodation. Prominent service providers like Airalo offer access to eSIM Cards for 190+ countries at affordable prices.

Can international students get a mobile phone contract?

To get a contract, you have to have a permanent address or a credit history or you should be residing in the UK for not less than 3 years. But, it’s not always the same. Discussing your options with your service provider in person can be of a lot more help. Sometimes, providing proof of your credit history in another country is sufficient. It varies case by case. 

How can a student get a mobile phone contract in the UK?

While visiting the UK at one of the major airports: London, Birmingham, Leicester, Sheffield, or Exeter, you can directly explore a nearby mobile store to avail of the network providers' SIM card services.

Getting a mobile phone contract in the UK is a swift and manageable task. You can apply for it online or visit a nearby mobile store. For getting a mobile contract in the UK, some standard documents are required for registration by a majority of operators:

1. Identity proof- Since you are a student, you can show your university ID or legal paperwork for a visa and passport.

2. Address proof- Your current address in the UK can be shown through utility bills or bank statements.

3. Some operators may also choose a credit score check. You can benefit from a UK Student Guarantor facility depending on the availability.

Best mobile network providers in the UK

Presently, the UK boasts four primary mobile network providers with the best UK SIM card-

  • O2
  • Vodafone
  • EE
  • Three

Many secondary mobile network providers also “piggyback” over the major four network bands and deliver suitable perks for users. Some of these include-

  • Smarty
  • Plus Net
  • ID Mobile
  • BT Mobile
  • Giff gaff
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Talk Mobile
  • Sky Mobile

O2 in the UK

O2 UK merged with the UK’s leading fibre broadband provider Virgin Media to form a new company currently having the most number of subscribers in the UK. It has good coverage of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE nationwide. You can check out the plans and exciting student offers on the O2 official website

Vodafone in the UK

Vodafone Group has its domestic home market in the UK. It is a British-based global telecommunications company, which owns and operates networks in 22 other countries. It is the only company that has never been owned by a non-UK company.  In 2022, Vodafone UK reintroduced surcharges for roaming in the EEA/EU on all its prepaid options. It introduced its very own youth-oriented brand Voxi.

EE in the UK

EE is originally called Everything Everywhere and was created in the year 2010 by the consolidation of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK. After having no UK network of its own, BT Group plc (formerly British Telecom) acquired EE in 2015. EE UK has good coverage of 4G, and 4G LTE nationwide and has started 5G  services in towns and cities.

Three in the UK

In late 2003, 3 (Three) owned by the Hong Kong partnership Hutchison Whampoa is the challenger of the UK providers. It has gained a lot of customers through its aggressive pricing but has the smallest market share in the UK. Three UK does not have 2G but has 3G, 4G, and 5G with very limited text/voice fallback. 

UK SIM Card delivery

In recent months, a lot of UK telecom operators have started offering a home delivery system for their customers residing overseas. This allows you to leverage the advantage of a free UK SIM card order at your home country address and use it once you’re in the UK. “SIM-only” cards come with limited mobile data, texts, and phone calls. 

Roaming Charges

Roaming charges are specific charges that users are contractually bound to pay when they leave their home network area and roam to a new network coverage area. It is beneficial to leave your existing phone behind and buy a new phone because roaming charges may apply to you, which can be too much if you seek long-distance calls for a more extensive duration. EU visitors may be charged roaming charges in the UK. 

EU roaming regulations and the UK

The UK-EU trade deal said that both sides would encourage operators to have "translucent and affordable rates" for roaming charges. Since January 2021, UK operators have been allowed to reintroduce roaming charges for EU residents in the UK and vice versa. So, you must consult this with your network service provider and take suitable action thereafter.

Mobile Number

UK mobile companies are allocated 5-digit numbers along with area codes. A personal UK mobile phone number starts with 07***, whereas a UK mobile phone number for a business starts with 08***. Your phone number will have six digits that follow your UK mobile service provider’s prefix. So for example, your UK mobile phone number will look something like this: 07777 654321.

For someone to call your UK mobile phone from abroad, they first need to dial the country code for the UK, which is 0044 (+44) eg. 0044 7777 654321.


Which mobile network is the best in the UK depending on the area?

Mobile networks can be checked area wise and it varies for each area in the UK. Check the mobile network with the best signal on the Ofcom website.

Where can I check monthly/annual plans for my mobile network?

You can check it on the official website of the SIM Card that you use.


You can also explore a wide range of SIM card opportunities while studying abroad with our exclusive go-to mobile network service. Leverage the utmost benefits and tap into the latest offers with amber.