Having a mobile phone is a must in the UK, especially if you have just arrived and looking for a job. You need to be contactable 24-7 or be able to set off in a hurry when that temping shift comes up.
The mobile phone is of course also indispensable for keeping in touch with home. The UK has a competitive and cheap mobile market. Phone contract plans last 12-18 months and offer cheaper call charges. Getting a prepay SIM card deals is as easy as walking into a shop – if you already have a handset.
But shop around – there are always bargains and specials around. Some SIM cards will offer 300 free texts a month or free calls to landline phones. If you know what you’re looking for, one-off deals advertised in magazines like TNT, on tntonline or newspapers can save you loads.
Contract or pay-as-you-go?
The thought of contracts scare some people, but you can get a better deal if you sign a contract. If you know you will be in the UK for at least 12 months, you can be rewarded for signing the right mobile phone contract.
For people less certain of their future, pre-pay gives extra flexibility. So what are the benefits of each and how do they work?
» You are billed for calls and monthly subscriptions, usually over a term of 12 months;
» There is a wider choice of handsets and services;
» Call charges are generally cheaper;
» You will usually get inclusive call minutes and text messages (for instance, 250 minutes to any network and 200 free texts a month); but
» There are usually fees if you want to exit early.
» You pay before making calls, topping up your account with vouchers or your credit/debit card;
» There are no credit checks before signing up or minimum contract period;
» Handset and service choices are limited;
» It is easy to control spending, but you will not get a bill and it may actually prove more expensive in the long-term.
Before you buy
Before setting out to buy your phone/SIM card, take some time to think about how you will be using your phone, whether you will call or text more, who you will be calling and when. For instance, if you will be making a large number of calls, all the major companies offer a tariff that allows you to call any network in the UK at any time.
But if you think you will be texting more, look for a package that offers a large bundle of free text messages, or the pre-pay deal with the cheapest text costs. Most plans with free texts do not cover international texting, so ask before you buy.
If you’re signing onto a plan, a few other things to consider include:
» Are calls to retrieve voicemail free?
» Can you buy add-on services to save money overall, such as text message ‘bundles’?
» For how long will any unused inclusive minutes in one month be carried forward to the next month?
» Can you use more than one handset on a single account?
And the charges?
The UK Government’s communication watchdog, Ofcom, provides some handy advice when it comes to finding out exactly what charges will turn up in your bill. Things to check include:
» Calls to numbers beginning with 0800 are often called ‘freephone’ but if you call from a mobile, you may be charged;
» Calls to numbers starting with 09 are for premium rate services and often cost more – usually even more than the advertised rates;
» Some phone companies may charge for sending itemised bills;
» Weekday peak periods usually run from 7am-8am to 7pm, but times vary between tariffs and some do not have peak periods.
Using your phone abroad
It may feel awful, but hanging up on your mum when she calls you while you’re in Italy could make the difference between being overdrawn or overjoyed when the phone bill comes.
Using your phone outside the UK can be very expensive, even if you’re the one being called. The reason is that you will be paying for the services of the network in that country, as well as your own network, even when someone’s calling you. If you have a pre-pay phone, this is when the costs will bite as it is possible to be more expensive than a contract.
You can get yourself an international SIM card – let’s call it your travel SIM (see below) or if you decide to travel with your existing SIM, remember that you will first need to have your service provider enable roaming on your phone. It is free and can be done with a simple call to your service provider, but make use of the opportunity to ask them about how much outgoing, incoming calls and texts will cost.
Ofcom advises travellers to choose a contract instead of a pre-pay, and to use texts instead of voice calls. Texts still cost extra to send but are free to receive.
Consider also swapping the SIM card in your phone. If you use your mobile a lot abroad, it may be easier to buy a SIM card for that country. Websites like www.textbaysims.net allow you to buy your SIM online before you leave. Make sure your phone is unlocked, however, or the new card may not work. A country-specific SIM means all incoming calls are free and your phone can be treated like a pay-as-you-go.
» For more on the best deals, click here.
A Travel SIM
If you do get a dedicate SIM for travelling abroad, is will enable you to use your mobile handset to make and receive calls in many different countries without paying expensive roaming charges paid by the service providers of your host country.
If you pick your travel SIM carefully, you could save up to 90 per cent of what it could have cost you because in most cases it is free to receive calls and you only pay for the calls you make or the text you send.
How will it work?
There are various deals available, of which the most are prepaid SIM card deals. Credit can be added online by ringing the SIM provider or visiting a mobile phone shop. Make sure you will be allowed to use any unused a year or mare later if you do not travel that often.
What is the cost?
It all depends on who your service provider is and where you are going to travel. But one thing is sure; it will be cheaper than paying for roaming.
It is easy to find pricing details for calls, SMS and MMS for each provider on their websites. Also make sure your phone is compatible with the frequency used in your chosen country and that it is unlocked for the use of SIM cards from other providers than the provider you purchased your phone from.