Heading to the UK soon? A prepaid British SIM card lets you use your smartphone, tablet and 3G laptop England without clocking up a massive data roaming bill through Telstra, Optus or Vodafone.
One of the best deals is with Tesco Mobile, an offshoot of the British supermarket Tesco.
Tesco Mobile resells the O2 mobile network. You can check O2's mobile coverage online -- but be sure to click the "Mobile Internet" button to see 3G coverage, otherwise the map just shows O2's 2G coverage which has very sluggish internet speeds.
Tesco Mobile's prepaid SIM card cost £15 (A$23). That gives you 500MB of internet data plus 250 minutes of calls within the UK and 5000 texts.
If you think you'll need more call time or texts there are higher plans available, although they all come with the same 500MB of data.
If you order an iPhone SIM from Tesco, for another £2.50 (A$3.80) you can boost your internet data allowance to 1GB. Micro-SIMs for iPhone 4 and iPad are available.
For non-iPhone SIMs, upgrading to 1GB per month is a bit more expensive – you'll be up for £7.50 (A$11.50).
Because this is a pay-as-you-go SIM there's no ongoing commitment. Your initial £15 fee will keep the SIM card active for a month.
Calling back to Australia
Calls to Australian landlines or mobiles from the Tesco SIM card cost 25p (A$0.38) per minute -- so while using Skype would certainly be cheaper, a 10 minute call is still only going to cost you $3.80.
Obviously, these calls are not included in your 'calling minutes' that come with the SIM card. You'll need to buy some additional credit and load it on to the SIM card to make calls to Australia (see "topping up" below.)
Receiving calls from Australia
Your Tesco SIM card will have a UK +44 number, so it will be an international mobile call for people in Australia who want to reach you.
However, you can use our trick of diverting your Australian mobile through Skype to allow people to call you at no extra cost to them, and a fairly minimal cost to you.
Of course, given the Tesco SIM has a generous data allowance, you could also run the Skype app on your phone, and receive calls for free on that.
Skype for mobile is available for iPhone, most Nokia handsets, and Android phones (from companies like HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola and others). More details are at the Skype on your mobile site.
You can find a Tesco Mobile store using the Tesco Store Locator -- just enter the location you'll be visiting, select "phone shop" on the left, and click the "locate store" button.
Alternatively, the SIM card can be delivered free of charge to any address in the UK, so you can order it in advance of your arrival if you like and have it waiting at your accommodation.
We did noticed that when ordering online, the order process requires an 11 digit phone number. We put in our Australian mobile number with 61 at the beginning and an 0 at the end, and the site accepted it (e.g. 0421 123 456 becomes 614211234560).
Don't forget your phone will need to be unlocked. If you bought it on a plan from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, 3 or one of the other Australian mobile resellers, chances are it will be locked to only use SIM cards from the original provider.
If you have had the phone for a while, most mobile networks will unlock the phone free of charge for you.
For tips on unlocking an iPhone bought in Australia, see our article, Top 5 tips for travelling with an iPhone.
Topping it up
If you run out of credit on the SIM, you can buy more by dialling 4444 from the handset, free of charge. You can then use a voucher purchased at one of 100,000 outlets in the UK, or pay by credit card over the phone.
There's a full list of topping-up methods here.
You can also top-up online at the Tesco Mobile website.
Setting up your phone to work with it
To get the internet working on your phone, you'll need to change the "Access Point Name" (APN) setting in it.
Tesco's APN details are:
To do this on an iPhone, connect the iPhone to a Wi-Fi hotspot, and in the iPhone's web browser, go to the website unlockit.co.nz. Select "custom APN", then from the drop-down list, select "UK - Tesco". Then click "create profile" and "install".
On an Android phone, we highly recommend the Tweakker app which costs A$4.16 to download and install on your phone, but will handle the settings for you automatically.
For instructions on how to change the settings manually on an iPhone, Android-based phone, Windows Phone 7 handset, or Nokia phone, go to unlockit.co.nz.
For other models of phone, google "How to change APN [your phone model]", e.g. How to change APN Sony Ericsson W705.
Note: if you change the SIM card in your BlackBerry, all internet services such as email, apps and web browsing will stop working. You'll only be able to make and receive calls. This is one of the limitations of BlackBerry handsets -- the internet side of it is tied to the Australian SIM card.
Cancelling it at the end of your trip
We did notice that it's an monthly auto-renewing SIM card so you will need to ring up Tesco and cancel it before the end of your trip. You can call 4455 from the handset for 20p (untimed) to get through to customer service.
Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Best prepaid SIM card for travelling to the UK: Tesco Mobile
30 Aug 2011
Total posts 1
I tried to purchase a Tesco SIM online but hit a snag when entering payment details. You need to pay with a credit or debit card registered to a UK address. Therefore Australians can only buy this card from a Tesco phone shop
03 Jan 2011
Total posts 667
Did you try an American Express card? I've had luck working around this problem because it seems that Amex's systems don't match addresses in the same way as Visa/MasterCard.
30 Jan 2012
Total posts 1
I think the best option is to look for a sim card at amazon.co.uk. They are easy to find from a number of different networks, cheap, available in sim or microsim and best of all, it is really easy to pay via an amazon account. You can also set your shipping address to your hotel in the UK before you arrive. The only downside is the need to set up an amazon account, but this doesn't take long and has additional benefits if you need to buy from them in the future.
18 Sep 2013
Total posts 1
.As a travel beginner i have a suggestion, You have to keep in mind that “Anything is walking distance if you have enough time.” and if you have chosen a right place to visit in UK . I was also scared while I was traveling for first time. UK is the right place to get your feet wet. If you are visiting too many places in UK than order a Global Sim Card from Prepaymania , 0044 etc. to slash down your International roaming charges during your trip.
Have a great trip !!
18 Sep 2013
Total posts 1
Great and Informative Post !! Buying a new Uk local sim would be better option instead of paying high roaming bills. Once I got a chance to visit London. I ordered a Sim card from a site called Prepaymania, the Sim was delivered to my address, the best part was that the SIM card was free, i just got charged £2.50 for shipping :-)
06 Oct 2013
Total posts 1
I used the Tesco sim card two years ago in 2011, but there are better deals now in 2013, for example 5 GB for £29,50, if you use a lot of data like me, 500 MB is not much anymore. Better take somehing else.
18 Nov 2015
Total posts 118
Old thread but wanted to mention that I used a sim card from www.ukprepaidsimcard.com.au for my most recent UK trip. It was $69 and came with 25GB of data and I could use it in France and Italy too.
Another recommendation I have is to get a wi-fi account from boingo.com because they roam onto many "paid" wifi networks (including in lots of hotels). You pay about $15 for 30 days and get unlimited wifi even in hotels which otherwise charge for wifi. Whilst most UK hotels give free or cheap wifi, I found many European hotels weren't so generous.