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.