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Best Sim Card for London Travel

We will be in London the last week of June and the first week of July. Like most travelers, my wife and I want to use our mobile phones without racking up expensive roaming fees. Our mobile provider, AT&T, offers an international plan, but, in my opinion, the AT&T plan is too expensive for the minutes and data it allows. I have done some research, and a popular offering appears to be the Orange Holiday Europe prepaid card. As I understand it, after activation, a subscriber gets a 14-day window of usage for 10 GBs of 4G data, 1000 world-wide texts, and 2 hours world-wide calls, all for $49.99 per phone. This seems like a great deal. I was wondering if any members of the forum have had any experiences with the Orange Holiday Europe prepaid SIM card. If you would not mind sharing your experiences, I would appreciate it. Also, if you have a better recommendation for a prepaid SIM card, please share that information as well. Finally, regardless of which prepaid SIM card, do you recommend purchasing it in advance, at Heathrow, or in Central London? Thanks in advance for the advice!

Posted by
752 posts

Hi, BaileySC,

Just want to confirm first that both your phones are unlocked so you can change SIMs?

I’ve used the Orange Holiday Europe SIM when traveling in more than just the U.K., and when I’ve needed calls and texts to countries beyond Europe. Works great! But the SIM comes with a French phone number, which might be annoying if your only going to be in the U.K.

In the U.K., I’ve used the carrier EE for pay as you go service a number of times. Here are some options: EE SIM plans

EE has great coverage 4G LTE. Vodafone also has similar plans on a different coverage network. Both are sold at Carphone Warehouse stores, and EE has shops around London. I’ve always bought my SIM at an EE store in London, so can’t speak to the airport.

Posted by
5687 posts

I don't consider $50 for two weeks a great deal, personally, though, because I would never use anything close to 10GB in two weeks. The UK has some competitive prepaid SIM offers that sometimes limit EU roaming, but if you will be staying in the UK for two weeks, that obviously won't be an issue.

I'd probably just buy a SIM as soon as you arrive in the UK. Sign up for the AT&T daily roaming plan in case you need it the first day (you pay for only the days you use it - so if you never use it, no cost.).

However, make sure your phone is actually unlocked. AT&T does lock phones that you buy directly from them, but they will unlock the phone for free upon request if the phone is paid off. If you didn't buy the phone via AT&T, then it should not be locked.

"Unlocking" a phone means AT&T gives you a code that you enter only one time - after you have inserted another non-AT&T SIM into the phone and upon power-up, this code is requested; enter the code one time and you'll never needed it again. So it's important to take this code to the UK with you (for each phone) - you'll need it there.

It's also important to remember that inserting a non-AT&T SIM into your phone means you can't use your AT&T number while the other SIM is in place - you'll have a UK phone number. If the SIM includes international calling (some may be mobile data-only), you can of course call people at home but for them to call you on a UK number would be an international call (not sure about texts). I use Google Voice, an app that allows me to make free calls to US phone numbers, even to landlines, while traveling, so I don't need to worry about calling with the SIM itself.

More info on UK SIMs here:

Posted by
11 posts

Hello, Barbara,

Thanks so much for the information regarding EE SIM and Vodafone. Since we will be staying in London for the entire two weeks, having an English telephone number would probably make things easier for us instead of having a French number.

I definitely will check out these two companies' offerings. I should have posted that our phones are unlocked, for as you know, that would be another layer of difficulty to discover upon our arrival. Thank you again for your kind and quick response!

Posted by
357 posts

Check the websites for Three and Carphone Warehouse to see what offers they have. Three only sells their service while Carphone Warehouse offers multiple carriers.
They usually have offer along the lines of 20GB of data, and X amount talk and text for £20 for 30 days.

Posted by
713 posts

Check the websites for Three and Carphone Warehouse to see what offers
they have. Three only sells their service while Carphone Warehouse
offers multiple carriers. They usually have offer along the lines of
20GB of data, and X amount talk and text for £20 for 30 days.

I second that. The last time I needed a SIM card for my (unlocked) smartphone in the UK, I just walked into a Three store and asked. A few minutes later I walked out with a prepaid SIM that included plenty of data, talk, and text for something like £20 for 30 days. And the guy in the store installed it for me and got it working. On that trip I traveled around the UK by train and I always had great service - including in London. That was in 2015. Since then, I have changed my regular mobile service to Google's Project Fi. Fi works seamlessly internationally, so on recent trips to the UK I haven't had to get SIM cards.

I've had mixed experiences in Carphone Warehouse stores. One time the staff were helpful, another time - when I came in with an unlocked phone just needing a SIM card - they were unhelpful to the max. To the point of lying to me, as in. "We don't have any SIM cards." Yeah, sure. I assume they didn't want to waste time selling just a SIM card vs. a phone/card setup for more £££.

Posted by
956 posts

So I did the Orange Holiday prepaid when we went to France and Spain last year and it was awesome. BUT, we were in Europe for over two weeks. This time we will ONLY be in London and only for 8 days. So although the 40 Euros was reasonable to have a generous cell phone plan, I figure I could do a little research and maybe spend a bit less this time. Anyway, Suz, you mentioned the Three store, and I found that a Three store is the closest cell phone store to our hotel. This was the info I found on their website and wondered if this is the appropriate plans for someone with an unlocked phone to get. I get the prepaid/pay-as-you-go stuff mixed up since I'm on a regular ole cell phone plan here in the US. Is this what I'd want to ask about? I hope it is b/c these prices are excellent IMO!

Posted by
713 posts

Amy, that does look good. Yes, you'd want the pay as you go deal. I don't know if you have to order it online to get the prices shown on the website, or if you can just walk into the store and get those prices. Maybe that info is somewhere on the site; I didn't take the time to rummage around and look for it.

Posted by
3003 posts

I was in the UK in November, and ordered a giffgaff sim card online before I went.

It arrived here at my home in about 5 days, and was easy to set up.
It worked really well in London, on the train north, and in Edinburgh.
It cost 10 pounds, about $17. Canadian, and had I think 3G of data.
I set it up on my phone at home, then took it out again till I was nearly landing in London; put it in my phone and it was working by the time I landed at Heathrow.
Well worth it.
They sell different packages in what they call "goody bags".
I bought the ten pound one, and it was more than enough for my two weeks there.
There is also one you can buy there, when you get to London, called Lebara.
I bought it in a phone shop, and they put it in my phone for me.
I've used that in the past.
Don't buy a sim at Heathrow from a machine.
If you are going to buy one in the UK, get one from a proper phone shop such as Vodafone, Tim, etc; then you can go back to one of their stores for help if need be.

Posted by
182 posts

When we arrive at Gatwick and pick up our car our first stop is going to be a Carphone Warehouse a short drive away and pick up a SIM there and let them install it. lots of options, check out their website.

Posted by
7 posts

On my last trip in October, I decided to just buy a phone and SIM card in England.

I did research at home first, and decided to go with Lycamobile and buy an inexpensive unlocked phone. The Lycamobile plan I decided on was a mix of international and local minutes (to call home and place calls locally). The phone I got was the old type Nokia which is still made, as I didn't care about using data (I brought my laptop with me). The phone itself was around 15 GBP, and the plan was around 10 GBP.

I got what I needed from the grocery-store chain Sainsbury's, as I got familiar with them on my first trip. Their bigger branches (meaning the ones with a car park and large building; not the little ones in town centers) stock cell phones and SIM cards. The store I used also had an Argos counter inside, which I believe is a Sainsbury's subsidiary that sells electronics (I have seen free-standing Argos stores in town centers). The presence of Argos was to my advantage, as the phone Sainsbury's proper had was out of stock. I picked the Lycamobile SIM card off the shelf, and the woman at Argos helped me with the phone. I think she would have installed the SIM card for me had I asked, but I didn't.

I went to the Sainsbury's customer service counter to pay for minutes on the SIM card. I also set up an online Lycamobile account with the SIM information. Prior to my next trip, I see no reason not to pay/reactivate before I leave.

Posted by
956 posts

I never thought of it being an in-store only offer, Suz. But I just checked and it appears to be either online OR in store! I'm also checking out the giffgaff site. I guess I hesitate to simply buy a SIM because I don't know how/have the tool to swap out SIM cards and there are a bunch more steps to remember to get it activated. I realize I could probably figure it out. Sometimes I'm willing to pay more or go through a little more trouble to have things done for me. Yes, it's sad. LOL

Posted by
3003 posts

"I'm also checking out the giffgaff site."

Amy: The giffgaff site seems a bit confusing , but here's what you do, or I did anyway.
Order the sim card, choosing which "goodybag " you want. As I said, the 10 pound one was more than adequate for my two week trip.
When you get the simcard, open the website on your computer, and I believe there was a code with the simcard to activate it all.
Take out your regular simcard (finds out how online)
Don't lose's tiny!
Put the giffgaff card in your phone. It will have snap off pieces to get to the size you need.
Activate the card, and take it back out of your phone so you don't incur charges.
Put your old sim back in.
On the plane, or when you land in the UK, swap cards again, and put your own card away safely.
That's it.
It'll work right away.
They have good forums on their website to ask, too.

Posted by
713 posts

You can absolutely do all that stuff ^^^ before leaving home.

Or, you can wait till you get to the UK, walk into a Three store and get the £10, £15, or whatever, deal on a PAYG SIM. Which a staff member will put into your phone and activate on the spot.

Neither is the "right" or "wrong" way to do it.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
956 posts

Thanks, Suz!
SJ, thanks for the step by step! Wow! Actually, I bet it would be even easier than you've proposed, b/c I have an old iPhone that I would use. So I think the in and out stuff doesn't apply. So basically, taking that in to account, could I simply activate, then turn the phone off (or keep it in airplane mode) until we land? If so, man, that really is easy! And if I figure this out, this will be great knowledge/skill for our future overseas travel. And for that cheap, my husband may want one for himself...

Posted by
3003 posts

Hi Amy.
Yes, if you have a second phone, then just do most of the steps but then turn the phone off after you activate it, till you arrive in the UK!
If you don't have the little tool to open the simcard drawer in the phone; a very thin paper clip will do it.

Posted by
956 posts

Excellent! I'm not intimidated to do this anymore. Thanks for all your guidance!

We use T-Mobile from the US. $60/month flat rate( 2 phone lines), no extra charges, unlimited data worldwide. No need for SIM cards, and you keep your home number. Phone calls are about $1/minute, but we never call and don't answer incoming. Text and google maps serves all we need.