Best Way to Use my Unlocked iPhone in Britain?
August 7, 2016 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to use my iPhone 6+ in Britain during our two week vacation. Fido offers me a sad $10/20MB/day data plan. I assume I can do better by buying a different SIM in when I get to Heathrow. But what flavour of plan and what sort of provider should I be looking for?

And yes, there are a million answers to this out there, but most of them are at least two years old...
posted by musofire to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki seems to be kept up to date. I've used it on a couple of recent trips.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The good news is that Heathrow has free wifi so you can research there and/or make a plan to get out of Heathrow without your phone. So you can either get a card in the airport (decently competitive rates) or wait til you get to where you are going and go to the local Carphone Warehouse and just see which options seem decent. The only real choices are whether you need a lot of voice and data or mostly one or the other. I was pretty much able to get all the data I could use for about 20 pounds for ten days and I'm sure you could do better than that. Worth thinking about how much data you'll actually need by thinking about whether the places you're staying will have it, how much navigating you'd need to do, how in contact with people you'll need to be.
posted by jessamyn at 1:51 PM on August 7, 2016

Best answer: Most pay as you go SIMs in the UK will be a fraction of the cost you're used to if you live in the North America. If you spend any longer than 20 minutes thinking about/researching this question then you're overthinking a tiny expense and effectively paying yourself less than minimum wage.

But if you want a specific answer, I use giff gaff, which will give you 4GB and 1000 minutes for £15, or 500MB and 125 minutes for £5, among other options. SIMs are widely available with international shipping, e.g. on eBay, so you can get one mailed to you overseas. No need to haul your luggage around Heathrow when you land looking for a retailer.
posted by caek at 2:12 PM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I went to London a couple of months ago (also for two weeks), I went to one of those little convenience stores that sold Lycamobile SIMs. For £10, I got 2GB for 30 days. Data only. These shops are like, everywhere in London (assuming that's where you'll be staying). Coverage was pretty good, although occasionally it showed 3G when I know it's LTE wherever I'm standing.

If you have time before your vacation to get a SIM shipped though, giffgaff would be the better and cheaper choice. I don't recommend buying SIMs at Heathrow because they're pretty expensive; a 2GB SIM there was like £20, wtf.
posted by curagea at 2:43 PM on August 7, 2016

If you anticipate using LOTS of data and/or tethering, Three is an excellent option. You can get an obscene amount of data (maybe even unlimited) for £20/month. There isn't a Three at the airport (as far as I know), but if you can wait until you get elsewhere, it's worth it.

Also, this may or may not matter to you, but your data on Three will continue to work for the full month (i.e., even when you're back in the US).
posted by tango! at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Came here to say what tango! said. When I go back to visit my family in the UK I ALWAYS use Three. Amazing value.
posted by shesbenevolent at 4:35 PM on August 7, 2016

In my last trip to the UK in January, there was a vending machine in the airport which sold sims for £20 which included unlimited data as well as calling credit. It was in the corridor on the way to the Underground. I'm always apprehensive of buying things in airports, but the fineprint looked good and I used it successfully for my week of travel without needing to spend anything extra.

I don't recall which network it was (but leaning towards it being Three).
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 7:59 PM on August 7, 2016

I customarily use giffgaff on its £12 or £15 monthly goodybag, and have a SIM posted to the address where I'm staying, and now have a few backups if I lose one. I'd be fine with Three as well. As caek says, you don't need to overthink this, except perhaps to see if there are any add-on packages for international calls back home: whatever you choose, you shouldn't be paying more than £20.
posted by holgate at 10:11 PM on August 7, 2016

I use Three as well. I bought a SIM card when I landed in Glasgow. It was at WH Smith bookstore, right at the terminal. It was easy: install chip, register the SIM with Three by wifi, then I can top up with a credit card when I run out of minutes etc.

I do not have a monthly account - I pay as I go. I spent a few pounds initially when I bought the SIM, and traveled through Scotland for five weeks. The year after I was in England walking Coast to Coast, and used my Three account again.

There was lots of data and minutes left on the account. Three offers Facebook Zero, which does not count against the data plan. It's text only, so I can read updates and make updates without photos on the street - and post photos once I am back at the hotel on wifi.

So now I have a number in the UK that I can use, and log in to Three when I need to top up. Easy peasy process.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:26 AM on August 8, 2016

I was researching this for my parents last month, and ended up choosing Tesco's Rocket Plan pack & SIM.

For £15 you get 2GB, 1,000 min and 5,000 texts. You can also buy in larger or smaller increments.

The SIM is £10, or free if you order in advance and get it delivered to a UK address. (But you still need to activate it in a Tesco store. Thankfully, they're everywhere.)

On a trip last year I used Lebara, but found the top-ups to be confusing. YMMV.
posted by lukez at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2016

Just to add to Lukez's comment, Tesco Mobile is a MVNO part owned by O2, so you get good coverage along with low costs. Three's prices are extremely competitive but you won't get quite as good coverage.

Between the two, I'd go Tesco Mobile - because, for me, the discount you get on Three is largely irrelevant if you have no or poor signal.

Gifgaff use the O2 network too, although I hear that their data speeds aren't so great.
posted by mr_silver at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2016

Response by poster: So in the end, I bought a Giffgaff card over the internet, but wasn't able to charge it, because they don't take overseas credit cards. I didn't find a place to charge it until the day before I left!

However there are Vodafone stores, and that's where I swapped out my SIM.
posted by musofire at 5:11 PM on September 10, 2016

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