The best SIM cards for travelling in the UK

If you’re headed to the UK soon, be sure to grab one of the best travel SIM card deals going to ensure that you stay connected and communicating while in the United Kingdom.

Alex Kidman
Oct 24, 2023
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What to consider when roaming in the UK


UK sim card

England, don’t make that mistake amongst the locals) is a highly popular destination for Australian travellers, whether it’s to spend a holiday or get some serious work done. Staying online with your smartphone can be a key part of making the most of your time when in the UK, but what’s the best approach to doing so?

Ideally you want to save money and have the greatest degree of convenience when doing so. There’s a few key ways to do that depending on your phone, budget and the length of your trip. Here’s our picks for some of the best travel SIMs, travel eSIMs, roaming and local telco deals.

Best UK Travel SIM

Three UK 25GB Plan


Best Europe Travel SIM
Three UK SIM card
Prepaid 3 UK SIM Card (SIM Corner)
Purchase a genuine Three UK SIM card from Australia with unlimited incoming calls from any country.
Coverage
United Kingdom (Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland)
Data options
7 - 450GB
Expiry options
28 days
Starts at
$28

Most travel SIM providers will include the UK almost by default, because it’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations hands-down.

However, most travel SIM providers also offer fairly lousy rates for calls, texts and data within the UK, making it tricky to find a real bargain. The growth of eSIM options has only made this trickier, with many providers no longer shipping physical SIMs to Australia, though some local shipping options and resellers such as SIMCorner do still offer this kind of service.

The Three UK offer of 25GB plus unlimited standard calls and texts to standard UK landlines is amongst the better deals you’ll find if you do want to go down the travel SIM route and need a physical SIM to drop into your phone.

Airalo Uki Mobile


Best eSIM
UKI Mobile
Airalo Uki Mobile
Available anywhere with an internet connection with 24/7/365 customer support.
Coverage
United Kingdom (Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland)
Data
1 - 20GB
Expiry
7 - 30 days
Starts at (USD)
$5

Airalo’s eSIM offering for the UK has the rather awkward name of “Uki Mobile”, but that aside it’s an easy to use and generally affordable option, with plans providing between 1GB to 20GB of data an expiry periods between 7 and 30 days – more than long enough to pop down to Buckingham Palace for a spot of tea with the King, if you’re so inclined.

Pricing runs from $US5 to US$36 which certainly isn’t the lowest prices you can pay, but the beauty of using eSIM is that you can configure pretty much everything straight from your phone before you travel, freeing you from the difficulties of sourcing SIM cards, finding your SIM tool, dropping your SIM tool, picking it up and realising that the nano SIM went flying when you stood up to pick up your SIM tool… yeah, we’ve been there.

The catch here – as it always is – is that you must have an unlocked, eSIM-capable handset to use Airalo’s services. Airalo does not offer traditional physical SIM cards. eSIM is far more commonly found in premium priced or at least high mid-range smartphones, so if you’re carrying around an older or unsupported model, this may not be the deal for you.

Best Australian deal for UK roaming

Vodafone $5 Roaming


If you’d rather keep your mobile number to the one SIM – virtual or not – then you’ll need to check whether your telco offers any kind of prepaid or additional roaming service. Plenty will offer PAYG roaming, but that’s typically on pricey per-MB terms that will sap your wallet so rapidly it’ll make your head spin.

Vodafone’s $5/day international roaming includes the UK, and it’s hands-down the easiest way to keep yourself online and calling while you’re roaming through Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. That $5 per day buys you access to whatever inclusions your plan has, which these days basically means unlimited calls and texts to Australian numbers, plus your base line data inclusion. You don’t get “unlimited” data with speed caps as you would at home, however. Instead, every additional 1GB of data you need will cost you an additional $5 on top.

Here’s a range of suitable Vodafone plans to pair with its $5 international roaming deal:

You should consider how long you plan to roam for, however. $5 per day might not seem like much, but many Australians take longer breaks in the UK, if only because that flight is seriously lengthy and it’s not really worth popping over for the weekend. The longer you stay, the more those $5 charges will add up.

Vodafone isn’t the only player in the roaming space worth considering; here’s a range of telco plans that have international roaming options available at additional cost:

Can I travel to Europe with my UK SIM or roaming deal?
One big relatively recent change in the UK has altered the way you should think about roaming if you’re not only visiting the UK. In a pre-Brexit UK, the EU rules on roaming applied, such that deals you got for the UK would also work equally well across France, Germany, Italy and every other EU state – plus a few others. That isn’t the case any more, because the whole Brexit deal saw the UK leave the European Union. The practicalities of business means that many providers do still offer roaming deals for UK SIMs and services within EU states, but it’s not as assured as it used to be. Check the fine print before you pop over the channel for a cheeky baguette to ensure that you’re not stuck without coverage – or stiffed on a hefty mobile bill.
Can I add eSIM capability to my existing phone?

If your current phone doesn’t support eSIM and you want to use an eSIM plan when you travel in the UK, we’ve got some bad news for you. There’s simply no way to add eSIM functionality to a phone that didn’t have it the day it came out of the factory.

If eSIM is a vital part of your strategy, resell (or at least responsibly recycle) your old handset and pick up a new one with eSIM as a feature.

If your phone does support eSIMs, then it’s quite easy to set up your eSIM before you travel. We’ve got a handy guide to setting up eSIMs for Apple iPhone and Android here.

Will a stiff upper lip and public WiFi be enough?

The UK does have some wider ranging public WiFi networks, and it’s largely assumed across most accommodation services as well.

As such, the absolute lowest-cost way to travel the UK while staying online (sometimes) would be to use public WiFi networks. You do have keep in mind that they’re subject to a lot of variation in broadband quality, and you’re also at the mercy of whoever might be sniffing in around your data packets unless you’re also using a VPN.

A little smart preparation, especially if your UK hotel has decent Wi-Fi can pay off in this respect, though. Loading up offline maps, entertainment (music, podcasts, even streaming shows if your provider has them for offline) before you leave your hotel for the day can give you a lot of scope for entertainment and navigation as you take in the UK, meaning you’ll only need those public WiFi networks for Instagramming your spotted dick.

It's a dessert. Stop giggling in the back there!

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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