The best local SIM card for travellers to London, United Kingdom

By Chris Chamberlin , March 10 2016
The best local SIM card for travellers to London, United Kingdom

While Australian travellers visiting the UK enjoy discounted global roaming rates from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, buying a local prepaid SIM card delivers big savings when your stay extends beyond just a few days.

It also gives you the convenience of a local UK (+44) mobile number for your UK business contacts to call without being slugged by international calling or messaging charges of their own.

There's no shortage of carriers and re-sellers to choose from, but our pick of the bunch are Giffgaff’s range of SIM-only plans which allow you to choose from a list of pre-paid inclusions running on the O2 mobile phone network.

It works like this: a few days before you leave Australia, head to the Giffgaff website to order a free SIM card and have it delivered to your hotel in London or elsewhere in the UK.

(The company's SIM cards are tough to find at the airport or in stores, but this means it’ll be waiting for you when you check-in.)

Then, take a look at Giffgaff’s selection of ‘goodybag’ add-ons.

Ranging in price from £5 (A$9.55) through to £20 (A$38.20), we’d peg the £10 (A$19.10) option as a good fit for most business travellers with 1GB of 4G data, unlimited SMS to UK mobiles and 500 minutes of calls to UK numbers.

Also thrown in are unlimited calls to other Giffgaff users, so if you’re travelling with colleagues and all switch to Giffgaff during your visit, you can keep in touch while out and about without burning through your allocation of included minutes.

Excluded from these bundles are calls and texts to overseas numbers, including to Australia: that’s where adding manual ‘top-up credit’ to your account, also via the Giffgaff website or by buying recharge vouchers from the usual range of convenience stores and newsagents, has you covered.

(Handy hint: O2 vouchers can also be used to recharge Giffgaff pre-paid accounts which may be easier to find in store. Giffgaff also doesn't accept American Express or Diners Club cards directly, but you may be able to use these cards to buy Giffgaff/O2 vouchers from retailers in-person.)

Top-up values start at just £10 (A$19.10) with calls to Australian landlines billed at 3p/min (A$0.06), calls to Aussie mobiles at 12p/min (A$0.24) and text messages to Australian numbers at 8p (A$0.16) per 160 characters.

Crunching the numbers, a £10 recharge is ample for a 30-minute call to an Australian mobile, a two-hour teleconference to an office landline back home plus 35 text messages to overseas numbers.

That’s on top of the inclusions provided via your chosen goodybags for an all-out cost of around A$38.20 – less expensive than a $105 seven-day Telstra Travel Pass, a four-day Optus Travel Pack ($40) or eight days of Vodafone $5/day roaming ($40).

And if you just need data, a £5 Giffgaff ‘gigabag’ unlocks 500MB for use within 30 days, while £7.50 (A$14.34) nets 1GB. Choosing a gigabag will designate your connection as data-only, though, and can't be paired with recharge credit for calls back home or in the UK.

Also read: The best USA SIM card for travellers to the United States

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 121

The O2 network (which Giff Gaff uses) in the UK was atrocious when I was there a few years ago, but hopefully it's better now with the new spectrum they bought for 4G.  

I used a sim card from www.ukprepaidsimcard.com.au for a trip back in January - the benefit was that I got it delivered two days after I ordered.  Also it roamed for free in Europe which was great for the two day trip to Paris.  

BT in the UK also do a sim card which piggy backs off the EE network.  Benefit of the BT sim card is you get free use of the thousands of BT wifi hotspots across the UK.  Very useful. 

Another tip for staying connected in the UK and Europe is to get a wifi plan from Boingo.com as it roams on most paid networks.  Although there is a lot of free wifi, its often not free when you want it.  Also, Boingo roams on some hotel wifi networks too, and you can search on Boingo for these hotels and then book them :)

30 Jun 2011

Total posts 50

Check carefully if tethering (personal hotspot) is important to you.  I've had good experiences with ee.co.uk but have been unable to create a personal hotspot to tether a laptop with Vodafone.  Of course every Cafe Nero, Costa & Pret have free wi-fi, and often you find your laptop or phone will auto-connect to these networks easily.  Different world to Australia on that score ...but, well, our coffee is 10 times better of course!

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 121

Hi Stredinnick: the UK is a bit strange with prepaid mobile plans and hotspot/tether.  I think officially all the telcos in the UK do NOT allow hotspot/tether on prepaid, and certaintly on an iPhone that can be enforced through the carrier settings downloaded by the network onto the phone, but for other phones it might not be able to be blocked.  I have heard stories of people being able to use hotspot but that the data speeds are slow.  

Just to share that Giffgaff allows tethering on all 'limited' data plans (ie. those with a set data limit like the 1GB option we identified in the story): https://community.giffgaff.com/t5/Learning-and-giffgaffer-articles/Tethering-policy/ta-p/7816336

30 Jun 2011

Total posts 50

Yes traveller99, I'd heard that same thing in terms of inconsistency of Hotspot creation.  I use an iPhone.  Speeds on ee.co.uk were good.  Calls and texts matter little to me, it's all about data and I usually mow through 4GB in a month.

20 Nov 2018

Total posts 1

Giffgaff definitely allows tethering, I'm writing this comment right using my phone as a Hotspot. Pretty much every one allows it.

 
You can even get giffgaff sim cards sent overseas which is why I chose them after finding this post and looking into it more. I had mine delivered before I'd even left the country to avoid messing around when I finally landed in Manchester. Just make sure you give yourself enough time for it to be delivered.
 
I like free wi-fi but tbh not a fan of using it when logging into banking etc. At least you know 4G is encrypted data so happy with giffgaff so far.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

Hey Chris

Whats your recommendation for someone going to London and then the USA?

Is it best to get a sim for the country you land in first and roam in the other or is there a better option? Eg get the To Mobile SIM from your USA review and roam in the UK before heading to the USA? Or some better sim that would cover both locations?

Hi sdtravel, this scenario isn't something we've covered and would require further research on our part to answer your question, so isn't something we can provide assistance with. Other users, however, are most welcome to respond with any suggestions they may have. :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 122

I've always found 3UK good with their coverage and value in their plans. Their 20pound add on includes unlimited data, 300mins and 3000 texts. Their plans also include free roaming to many countries under their 'Feel at home' roaming. It includes:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Lanzarote - Spain
  • Macau
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United States
https://www.three.co.uk/Discover/Phones/Feel_At_Home

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 593

i'm also using 3 UK with their £30 monthly plan for 2 months.  Give me unlimited data, calls and txts.  It's limited to 12GB for personal hotspots and roaming...but that's still heaps

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

Interesting you mention you can use it as a hotspot.

I was reading and they say you can't use it for hotspot while roaming? Are you using something to get around it or it just works? 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 514

With the changes being wrought within the EU in respect of mobile / roaming technology, major changes in maximum permitted tariff can be expected from April 2016 onwards. By June 2017, 'roaming' charges for EU carriers / customers between EU countries will be  non-existent and unlawful.

To follow this, see https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/roaming which will keep you up to date on all changes - and relevant compliance dates - in the EU.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jun 2013

Total posts 38

By far and away the best coverage and speeds are with EE. I was with them on prepaid for just over a year. Now that I've got my uk visa I got a contract with O2 and it's probably the worst coverage (regularly drops to gprs in the north of England and especially in Scotland) and if you go anywhere with high population (ie: London) the congestion makes it unusable during peak.

But for the price and the fact you'll only need it temporarily while travelling I'm sure it's going to be better than trying to use your Aussie sim.

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 121

Wow - seems like nothing has changed with O2 from when I used it about four years ago.  There would often be total outages of data, or perpetually on 2G.  

26 Dec 2017

Total posts 1

I'm travelling to U.K. During UNI assignment writing season in April & need guaranteed internet access while I'm there to work on assignments. Recommendations would be gratefully appreciated :)


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