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SIM Only vs Pay Monthly vs Pay as You Go

Choosing a new phone can be stressful. Should you get a contract? Would you prefer the freedom of pay as you go? If you’re currently on a contract, how long have you left? Perhaps you’re happy with your current handset, and you’re thinking of trying a SIM only deal.

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If you’re stuck making a decision, our guide gives all the options so you can make an informed choice.

What is a SIM only deal?

SIM only deals include a new SIM card and contract, but not a phone. Deals range from rolling 1-month contracts to a fixed 24-month contract. This could be an option if you already have a phone and don't want a new one. If that's the case, you don't need to compare mobile phone deals, just SIM only deals.

SIM only deals are generally cheaper than pay-monthly deals as you’re not repaying the cost of a handset. Embedded SIMs (eSIMs), virtual sim cards, are another option.

Pros and cons of SIM only contracts

SIM only contracts have a number of advantages and disadvantages. They are often preferred by customers who have bought a handset separately or are using a secondhand or refurbished phone.

Pros of SIM only contracts Cons of SIM only contracts
"Free to choose provider,Most SIM only contracts do not tie you to any one provider. Some contracts are as short as 30 days, meaning you can swap quickly and easily."
"Handsets are expensive,If you don’t already have a phone, it can be expensive to buy one to go with your SIM only contract."
"Stick with your phone,If you really love your current phone, you can stick with it. Just pop the SIM in and your phone is ready to go."
"Can be difficult to set up,If your phone is tied to a different network provider than the SIM, you may have to unlock your phone."

Table showing some of the pros and cons of a SIM only contract

Read more about SIM only contracts and SIM only contracts with no credit checks.

What is a pay monthly contract?

Pay monthly phone contracts involve paying a fixed amount every month for a new phone and a tariff. This monthly payment will cover the cost of the phone, which is paid in instalments. It also covers

your monthly allowance for data, phone calls, and texts. These contracts usually last between 12 and 36 months.

Pros and cons of pay monthly contracts

Pay monthly contracts have a number of advantages and disadvantages. They are usually preferred by people who have good credit and can commit to a set monthly payment over 2-3 years.

Pros of pay monthly contracts Cons of pay monthly contracts
"The handset,If you can’t afford to pay for a new handset outright, a monthly contract is a great option. You can spread the cost over the entire length of your contract."
"Locked in,You can be locked into your contract from anywhere between 12 and 36 months. This will mean paying a lump sum to get out of the contract early."
"It’s automatic,You don’t have to worry about remembering to pay your bill every month. The payment will automatically come out of your bank account every month."
"Credit checks,If you have bad credit, you may not be able to get a monthly phone contract. Many network providers perform credit checks before giving you the contract."

Table showing some of the pros and cons of a pay monthly contract

Read more about how phone contracts work

What is a pay as you go phone?

Unlike SIM only and pay monthly, pay as you go (PAYG) does not involve a contract of any kind. That means you don’t have to pay every month – you only pay for what you’ll use. However, you don’t get a handset either.

Pros and cons of pay as you go phones

PAYG phones have a number of advantages and disadvantages. They are often preferred by people who cannot commit to a monthly outgoing and who may have upcoming life changes, e.g. students.

Pros of pay as you go phones Cons of pay as you go phones
"Pay for what you need,With pay as you go, you pay for exactly what you need and there is no excess data at the end of the month."
"Manual payment ,Unlike contracts, pay as you go is not automatic. You’ll have to remember to top up every month so you don’t get caught out."
"Easy to move on,If you decide to switch providers, you don’t have to break a contract. You can switch as soon as you find a better deal."
"More expensive,The individual charge for calls and texts is slightly higher than what it would be as part of a contract."

Table showing some of the pros and cons of a pay as you go phone

Read more about PAYG SIM only deals

Should I buy my phone outright?

Whether you buy your phone outright or on contract is dependent on your personal situation. Generally, it is cheaper in the long run to buy a phone outright if you can.

You should also consider the non-monetary benefits. For example, if you need to build your credit score, it might be better to get a phone contract rather than pay as you go.

If you can’t afford to buy a new phone outright, check out our guide to refurbished phones to see if that’s more suited to you.

Which is the best option for me?

The best option - from SIM only to pay monthly to PAYG - depends on your current circumstances. It’s also worth thinking about any upcoming life changes as that might affect your choice.

For example, you might be a student now, but set to become a professional next year. Or perhaps you are planning lots of travel in the EU and so need to consider your data roaming options. Likewise, availability of regular perks or quality of customer service might be your deciding factors.

Find the best mobile phone deal for you.

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