SIM Cards in the UK for Travelers – The land of enlightenment

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I just returned from the UK, and employed my skills to obtain a SIM card in advance.  I had pre-purchased a Vodafone SIM card through eBay that had been pre-activated and pre-loaded with £10 of credit, however upon arrival, this had proven unnecessary.

After clearing customs at Terminal 3 at Heathrow, and before you even get to the luggage carousel, the very first thing you see after leaving the customs area is a vending machine that sells SIM cards for several carriers.  I don’t know if there is a process involved in activating them, but I imagine if they make it this easy for travellers to obtain a SIM, it must be easy to activate it.

You can also visit a Vodafone store (all over the place in London) and get a free SIM card and they’ll activate it for you.  Vodafone also has several special offers whereby they’ll give you a free bonus every time you top up your account.  In my case, when adding a £10 top-up, I received 500MB of UK Web Access valid for 30 Days, and 300 UK texts.  While in the UK, I didn’t actually use any of my account balance because my freebies covered my needs.  This free 500MB of data would have cost me $15,000 if roaming on my home SIM card.  Incidentally, a regular 250MB data pack sells for £5.

So why is this worthy of a post when it’s so easy?  Well, it’s actually not very well documented online.  It’s so easy, nobody bothers to write about it.

I did only run in to one problem when using Vodafone.  When arriving in a different country, I always use the unlockit service to download an APN script for that country.  For some reason, the Vodafone UK unlockit scripts didn’t work for me.  Fortunately, enlightened Vodafone recognized that I was using an iPhone (probably because I set up my account to tell them that was my ‘device’) and I eventually received an unsolicited text, informing me that “iPhone settings can be retrieved via network or WiFi at” https://vdms-prd.sp.vodafone.com/skywalker-subscriptions-2.0.0/provisioning/UK/c9rxqhszmjsb41812y5w4sxii_PAYT+WAP+without+proxy

So download that particular script upon arrival in the UK after installing your Vodafone SIM, and you’ll be ready to go.

  • Roberto Ruiz

    I have an iPhone 4S from Telcel in Mexico. I will study 1 year un the UK, and wonder if I can use my phone by inserting a UK-based SIM. I asked Phones4u in the UK but they are not sure, because my iPhone may be locked to operate only with Mexican carriers (Telcel, Iusacell, Movistar). Any toughts?

    • If you bought your iPhone from Telcel, it will be locked to Telcel and you won’t be able to use it with another SIM.  Only iPhones purchased from Apple directly are factory unlocked.  You can talk to your Telcel dealer and see if it’s possible to pay to have it unlocked.  There are also other methods to unlock the phone yourself (Google it), but it’s best to try the dealer first.

  • Bruno

    Buying SIMs in the UK is insanely simple.  I bought one for me and one for my wife in East London in a £1 shop.  We had Lebara SIMs and they worked fine.  I think we wound up topping them up online.