Best Prepaid UK eSIM | Data Plan Buyer’s Guide

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Before visiting the United Kingdom you’ll want to ensure you have a high-speed mobile data plan for your phone. But don’t make the expensive mistake of using your home plan’s data package because you could get hit with a huge bill. Luckily, UK eSIM data plans are very affordable and easy to set up.

In this guide, I’ll cover how to find the best UK eSIM data plan that will give you consistent high-speed mobile data without spending a lot of money.

Why It’s Best To Not Use Your Home Plan’s International Data Plan in The UK

Your current mobile phone provider likely offers an international data plan option but this is typically expensive and the service is often slow, inconsistent, and has limited data allowances.

For example, the AT&T International Day Pass costs $10/day, Verizon TravelPass is also $10/day and many T-Mobile plans offer free international roaming but you’re only guaranteed 2g data speeds… which will struggle to load Google Maps or even email.

These “international data plans” are 5X as expensive as buying a UK eSIM data plan—for example, eSIM data plans from Orange or Holafly will cost you around $2-$3/day.

For more in-depth information, check out The Savvy Backpacker’s guide on How To Use Smartphones and Data Plans In Europe and The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide To Using eSIM data plans in Europe.


Comparing The Best eSIM Data Plans for the UK

Quick Note About Brexit and Data Roaming: By EU law, there are no data roaming fees within EU countries so, for example, an Italian plan will work seamlessly in France, Germany, Spain, etc. But the United Kingdom left the EU in 2020 so they’re no longer covered by this rule.

As of now, many data plans still operate as they did before Brexit but there is a possibility that some UK eSIM data plans might not work in the rest of Europe and vice versa. I’ll try to emphasize this for each plan I recommend below.

There are a handful of different mobile providers that offer eSIM data plans in the UK.

The first (and most complicated) option is to buy an eSIM/SIM data plan directly from one of the main UK mobile carriers (Vodafone UK, BT/EE, O2 UK, and Three UK). The problem for visitors is that many of these UK plans are intended for people who live in the United Kingdom so you’re forced to sign up for a long-term contract. This can be a good deal if you’re visiting the UK for multiple months but this isn’t the case for most travelers.

The best UK eSIM option is to buy a prepaid data plan geared toward short-term visitors. These plans are much more “tourist-friendly” so you don’t have to mess with registration, etc.

For this guide, I’ll focus on these “tourist-friendly” eSIM plans.

Each eSIM plan I list in this guide will vary slightly so spend time looking at the specific details of each plan. But here are the main things to consider:

  • Data Allowance: Most plans give you a set amount of mobile data (i.e. 5GB, 10GB, 30GB, etc) but others give you unlimited data over a set amount of time (5 days, 15 days, 30 days, etc).
  • Plan Length: eSIM data plans can be valid anywhere from about 5 days to 90 days. It depends on your plan so it’s something you’ll want to consider when picking a plan.
  • Mobile Hot Spot Tethering: Most eSIM plans don’t allow you to use your phone as a mobile hot spot.
  • Voice Calls and SMS Texting: Most eSIM plans are data only—which means the plan doesn’t include voice calls or SMS texting. This isn’t much of an issue since you’ll probably not be calling people anyway.
    • NOTE: You can still use iMessage to “text” between iPhones but you can’t send messages between iPhones and Android phones. Or you can download WhatsApp to send messages over data (which is what most Europeans do).

Geography Refresher: The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is not part of the UK.

HOLAFLY UK ESIM [Best Unlimited Data UK eSIM]

Holafly is a new data-only eSIM provider that I previously used while visiting Europe and had a great experience using (read my Holafly eSIM Review to get a more in-depth look). Holafly sells both UK-specific plans and Europe-wide data plans. Holafly isn’t an actual mobile carrier but they rent bandwidth from a local UK mobile provider (Vodafone UK) so you’re more likely to get less priority on the Wind Tre network during peak usage times.

Unlike other companies, Holafly gives you unlimited data and their plans run from 5 to 90 days. However, Holafly/Wind Tre may throttle your data if you use excessive data but shouldn’t be an issue with most typical data users.

  • Prices For Unlimited Data (Check Holafly for details)
    • 10 Days: $34
    • 15 Days: $47
    • 20 Days: $54
    • 30 Days: $64
    • 60 Days: $84
    • 90 Days: $99
  • Service Speed: 5G/4G/LTE
  • Calls: None
  • Texts/SMS: None
  • Tethering: No
  • Network: Vodafone UK
  • Service works everywhere in the EU and UK

Holafly eSIMs are data only so you don’t get any voice calls or texting with these plans. Holafly doesn’t allow data tethering in most cases so you won’t be able to use your phone as a mobile hotspot.

But I do like how Holafly offers multiple plan options to fit various trip lengths so you don’t have to over/underbuy for your particular trip.


ORANGE HOLIDAY EUROPE ESIM [Best Full-Featured UK eSIM]

  • Price: $49.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 20GB (they sometimes give you 30GB of data)
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 120 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 1000 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data Tethering: Allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM plan comes with a French phone number that can still be used in the UK
  • Service works everywhere in the EU and UK

The Orange Holiday Europe eSIM data plan is the most robust eSIM plan on this list because it comes with many features you don’t find with other mobile plans—including international voice calling and texts (it gives you an actual French phone number that will work anywhere in Europe). The Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan also allows you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot.

You’ll get 20GB of data with this plan but Orange sometimes runs a special where they give you an extra 10GB. But even 20GB should be plenty of data for most users. Orange is also one of the largest mobile companies in Europe so you’ll always get great coverage and high data speeds.

The potential downside to the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan is that it’s only valid for 14 days once activated so it’s not great for longer visits (but you can always buy a second plan).

I’ve personally used the Orange Holiday Europe plan while traveling through Europe and it worked flawlessly. Read my Orange Holiday Europe review to hear more.


ORANGE HOLIDAY ZEN ESIM [Best Budget-Friendly UK eSIM]

  • Price: $29.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 8GB (they sometimes give you 15GB of data)
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 30 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 200 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data Tethering: Allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM plan comes with a French phone number that can still be used in the UK
  • Service works everywhere in the EU and UK

The Orange Holiday Zen eSIM is the budget version of the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan. It comes with 8GB of data and has fewer voice minutes and texts, otherwise, it’s the same as the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan.

Most users will use more than 8GB of data while traveling for a week or two but light data users could easily use less than 8GB of data during a typical 10-14 day trip.


MORE TIPS ON USING YOUR MOBILE PHONE IN THE UK

I’ve written extensively about using smartphones and data plans in Europe and tips for buying SIM Cards For Visiting Europe. Below are some more helpful tips about using your phone in the UK and throughout Europe.

BRING A PORTABLE BATTERY CHARGER

Traveling with your phone will quickly drain your batteries so I highly recommend a portable battery. I use Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s tiny and affordable but there are multiple options.

Be Aware of Theft While Using Your Phone

Pickpockets love stealing smartphones so pay attention while you’re using your phone, stash it away safely while on public transportation/crowds, and don’t set it down while you’re in public. Read my guide to Pickpockets in Europe for more anti-theft advice.

TAKE STEPS TO LOWER YOUR MOBILE DATA USAGE

It’s extremely easy to unknowingly burn through a lot of data because many apps use data in the background. Facebook, email, Instagram, Snapchat… those all constantly use data throughout the day without you knowing it. That’s it’s important to know how to limit your data usage.

USE AIRPLANE MODE AND BLOCK DATA TO SPECIFIC APPS

I’ll put my phone in Airplane Mode because that disables all data (but GPS still works in Airplane Mode). You can also go into the settings and disable data access to each individual app. I’ll go in and turn every off except for things like Google Maps or others that I’ll use more frequently — this way when I turn off Airplane Mode only those apps that will use data. Then I’ll turn Airplane Mode back on when I’m done.

DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS

Google Maps lets you download entire city maps so they can be used offline. As an added bonus, GPS doesn’t use data so offline Google Maps works fairly well (but not all functionality works). Here is a good YouTube video that explains everything.

Save Heavy Phone Usage For WiFi

Wait until you’re somewhere with a WiFi connection before you do any heavy streaming or download files.


More UK Travel Tips From The Savvy Backpacker

Check out more of my favorite articles to help you plan your trip to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe:

James Feess is the creator of The Savvy Backpacker and the author of the book “The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide To Europe On A Budget”. He’s been blogging about budget travel in Europe since 2010.

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This article was originally published by Thesavvybackpacker.com. Read the original article here.