Britain Express > Heritage Traveller > UK SIM cards for Travellers to Britain

UK SIM cards for Travellers to Britain

Posted: 2010-12-01

The last time my wife travelled back to Canada from the UK to visit relatives she spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out a way to stay in touch while overseas. Trying to wade through a morass of information on roaming charges, SIM cards, and long distance rates kept her up at night. She remarked to me that there must be lots of people coming to the UK who were in a similar position and could benefit from an overview of how to stay in touch while in Britain. So when Doron Rubin of ChillSIM.com proposed an article on just that, I jumped at the chance to publish it. Here's Doron's take on the subject of [drumroll please] ...

UK SIM cards for Travellers:

Here’s the scenario:

You arrive at a famous London tourist attraction only to find that the wait to get in is an hour a half… and, of course, as it is London, it’s raining! You have two choices:

1. Wait patiently, get sopping wet and spoil the rest of your holiday by getting ill

2. Pick up your mobile/cell phone, call the ticket office and get “fast tracked” by purchasing tickets. Donate your umbrella to the last person in the queue, wave merrily at all the people who have not read this article and have not, therefore, arranged local SIM cards, and go straight to the front of the line

OK, you get the point but why shouldn’t you just use your overseas mobile and pay “roaming rates”?

Simple answer! If you use roaming rates, the call could well cost you twice as much as the entry ticket.

That is why it is well worth your while to read further to discover the benefits of purchasing a local SIM card before you even leave home.

Some people think it is best to use WiFi on their smart phones while touring. This is an option. Just remember, though, that when you need to make a call there is no guarantee that you will have access to a free WiFi spot.

Bearing all this in mind it is clear that whether you are calling home, booking an attraction or a restaurant, organising your itinerary or dealing with emergency situations that may arise, (e.g. flight delays or cancellations, car rental breakdowns, public transport issues etc.) you will need a dependable phone and there is no need for you to incur additional and unnecessary costs for using it. Read on to find out more….

Mobile/ Cell Phone Usage and Roaming Charges in the UK


Option 1 – Buy a Pay as You Go local UK SIM :

One way of ensuring that you don’t get a fright when you open your next phone bill is to purchase a pay-as-you-go UK SIM card to use whilst in the UK. This can save you a lot of money, even if you do not plan to make a lot of calls.

An added bonus is that by buying a SIM card, with a new number, you will not receive annoying- and expensive- calls from people who do not know that you are away and you will not be charged heavily for receiving calls from home that you do not answer and that are, therefore, routed to your answer phone, which also costs you money.

   Roaming calls vs Local SIM card call costs

  Roaming charge averages Rates available using a Local SIM card.
Calling your home country £1.66pm From £0.04pm
Making a call to a UK number £0.88 £0.05-£0.10pm
Receiving a call £0.78 Free  
Sending an SMS £0.32 £0.10per message

You will need to make sure that your phone is unlocked, and can work on GSM 900/1800. You can check both of these factors by calling up your network provider and asking them. Otherwise enquire at your local mobile phone store. If your phone does not work on these frequencies, you can buy a GSM 900/ 1800 unlocked phone very cheaply on the Internet. Any time you go away you can use that phone, and save money every time.

Option 2 – Find out if your mobile network provider has any special offers:

Find out from your network if they have any deals on international roaming which would significantly reduce roaming costs. They won’t get you lower rates than just purchasing a local SIM card, but if you need to have your home number whilst you are away, this could help to reduce the cost.

If you are coming to the UK from the EU, there is need to worry too much about using your usual phone in the UK, because there are EU regulations that restrict the maximum cost for roaming in the EU. However, making calls will still be more expensive than it is at home, and you will be charged extra to receive calls and to use data services. If you are from the EU, and intend on staying for a while in the UK, you too could benefit from purchasing a local sim-card.

For more information on this check with your provider.

Another potential flashpoint is the cost of receiving voicemails whilst roaming.

Voicemail Charges Explained

The snowball effect:

This is the snowball effect that occurs when you don’t pick up a call:

You pay:
Someone at home calls your mobile and, since you’re roaming, you’re charged for the international leg of the call.

You pay again:
The international network now tries to locate you, and if your phone is busy or you don’t take the call, the call is diverted to your voicemail box at home. You will be charged at international rates again!

And again: Your phone will now notify you that you have received a voicemail message and, if you’d like to hear it, you’ll have to phone into thevoicemail platform in your home country’s network. So this is your third payment at international rates.

Summary
If you really need your number from home, you can look to see if your operator has any specials on. These will not get you excellent rates though.

If you want the best rates for your phone whilst in the UK, you should think about getting a UK SIM card. Even if you do not use it, the fact that calls, and voicemail are not being received, means that you will not arrive home to find a huge phone bill.

There are a number of places to buy UK SIM cards online, including www.chillsim.com. They send the SIM card to your home before you leave so you can tell people what number to contact you on whilst you are away. Other companies offering services for travellers to the UK can be found in the UK Phone Rental and Navigation Systems section of our UK Travel Directory.


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