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How to get a mobile phone in the UK

If you’ve recently moved to the UK or you’re planning a move soon, you’ll want to stay connected with friends and family while you’re here. Setting up a local SIM card and getting a UK mobile phone number is a great way to stay in touch and feel settled in.

But with so many mobile operators offering different deals, it can be difficult to know where to begin. 

Here, we’ll tell you how to get a mobile phone and SIM card in the UK. 

Choosing a mobile phone operator

There are many mobile phone operators in the UK. These include EE, O2, Vodafone, Virgin, Three, Sky and BT Mobile. BT, which owns BT Mobile and EE, is the largest mobile phone operator, while O2 is the second-largest. This is followed by Vodafone and Three. 

When looking at contracts, price and mobile signal are the two biggest factors to consider. You’ll want to consider your budget and the importance of decent network coverage. If you’re living in a major city, you’ll usually get a good signal, while more rural areas can sometimes be patchy.

The best option is to buy online if you can. This way, you’ll be entitled to a 14-day cooling-off period, meaning you can leave your contract and switch to another mobile phone operator if you’re not satisfied. If buying online isn’t a possibility, some mobile phone operators (EE, for example) still allow you to cancel penalty-free under certain conditions when buying in-store. 

To find out which networks have the best mobile signal in your area, Which? Have a handy mobile network coverage map here. 

Prepaid vs mobile contracts

When setting up your mobile phone, visitors and expats in the UK have a choice between a mobile contract or a prepaid SIM card. If you already own a mobile phone and it’s unlocked, you can choose whichever operator you like. Or if your previous mobile phone operator has a presence in the UK, you may find it easier to stick with them. 

Prepaid SIM contracts are often the easiest option for expatsparticularly those who already own a mobile phone. They allow easy access to a UK phone number to make calls, send texts and use mobile data. If you’re not sure how long you’ll be staying in the UK, SIM cards also offer flexibility since they don’t require you to sign up for a lengthy contract.

But, as with many things offering convenience and flexibility, you may end up paying more. Mobile contracts usually offer better value for money—particularly if you plan to use your phone a lot. 

How to get a mobile phone contract in the UK

Once you’ve decided on the right mobile phone operator, you can go ahead and sign up for a contract. You can do this by going into the store or ordering online. You can usually expect your mobile phone to arrive within the week when buying online.

In order to apply for a contract, you’ll need to provide proof of identity, proof of address and a UK bank account for payment. Depending on the operator, you may also be subject to a credit check before your contract is approved. 

How to get a prepaid SIM contract in the UK

SIM cards offer freedom and flexibility to those who are understandably reluctant to sign up for a lengthy contract in the UK. And if you don’t plan on using your phone much, it could prove easier and cheaper. 

Getting one is relatively straightforward. You can buy one online or from a mobile phone shop, supermarket or convenience store. The process of buying a SIM and having a working phone can take minutes. Topping up is also painless. You can do so by going into the shop, using your phone or topping up online. 

But if you think you’ll be using your mobile phone a lot, a mobile phone contract will be more cost-efficient. 

Only you know what’s best for you.


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