If you’re an international student and you’ve just moved to the UK for the first time, then it can be a little overwhelming. You’re in a new city with new people and you’ve probably got tonnes to organise before uni starts. To help, we’ve teamed up with O2 to bring you a guide to getting a UK mobile phone as an international student.

Getting the right mobile phone and SIM will set the tone for the rest of your time in the UK. The last thing you want is to be paying over the odds and panicking every time you make a phone call. The good news is there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to selecting the right mobile phone and SIM for you.

Can I use my mobile phone in the UK?

If you’re worried about whether your current phone will work in the UK, then the answer is most likely yes!

There are two types of frequencies that exist around the world: the GSM band and the CDMA band. The UK, along with most of the world, operates on the GSM band. If this is you, then you shouldn’t have too many issues connecting to local networks on arrival.

If you’re coming from Japan or North/South America, it’s likely your phone only supports the CDMA band and there’s a chance it may not work in the UK or it may work but cost a lot to operate. If this is you, it might be worth selling your current phone and buying a new one. The worst thing you could do is keep your current SIM card whilst studying in the UK and rack up high charges when you call home or even call local numbers.

Currently, there are no extra roaming charges within the UK if you’re coming from within the EU, but this is due to finish at the end of 2020. Roaming charges may then apply to EU visitors in the UK and it would be advisable to check with your operator before travelling to avoid any extra charges.

Mobile phone coverage in the UK

You’ll be happy to learn that the UK boasts 4G or 4G+ coverage, with some larger cities even boasting 5G connectivity. More isolated parts of the UK like the Scottish Highlands or Central Wales may only have access to 2G or 3G.

Should you get a pre-paid or mobile phone contract?

International students have plenty of choices when it comes to phones. You can choose from either a prepaid SIM card or a phone contract. If your phone is unlocked and operates on the GSM network, then you’ll have the freedom to choose any network provider in the UK.

The benefits of a prepaid SIM card are it gives the user the freedom of not committing to lengthy phone contracts and if you already own an unlocked phone then you’ll be able to gain access to a UK number quickly.

O2 offers a Pay As You Go International Big Bundle which lasts for a month and renews automatically. With the International Big Bundle, you’ll be able to use your minutes to call the UK and 29 European destinations for just £10 a month. Or you can choose to go with the Premium International Big Bundle for £20 a month which gives you 1000 minutes to UK and 48 destinations, plus an additional 250 call minutes to Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa. (Terms Apply).

Can international students get a contract phone in the UK? Taking out a mobile phone contract can be a good option if you’re planning to stay in the UK for a long time and would like the security and savings that generally come with having a contract. Typically, if you use your phone a lot then a contract may work out cheaper for you.

Mobile phone plans in the UK

As mentioned previously a contract will typically offer cheaper rates than a pre-paid SIM card. This usually includes calls, texts and internet usage.

If you choose to take out a mobile contract, then you’ll be able to choose from either a SIM-only or include a handset with your contract. This is usually available for one, two or three years. The monthly charges will depend on the contract you select, depending on how much usage you think you’ll use. If you do happen to use up your monthly allowance, then don’t fear as you’ll be able to purchase additional minutes or data.

One of the best UK phone plans for international students is the International Bolt On for Pay Monthly offered by O2. This may be the perfect option for you, as it can be added to your existing phone contract for just £3 a month. This allows you to make international calls to mobiles and landlines at a rate of 1p per minute! Amazing!

O2 offers 20% off Airtime Plans (cost of data, text and minutes) of a new or upgrading O2 Refresh contract taken out with an eligible handset. A whopping 20% off also applies to their range of accessories (check the Terms and Conditions to see what is and isn’t included).

How to get a mobile phone contract in the UK

Can international students buy a phone contract in the UK? Getting a mobile phone contract is thankfully pretty easy and can be done in-store or online. Most operators will need the following to sign you up, but this will differ depending on the operator:

  1. Proof of identity
  2. Proof of address. This would need to be your UK address (e.g. Utility Bill, Bank statement)
  3. A UK bank account for payment
  4. Some operators may also choose to run a credit check

If you are yet to open a UK bank account then check out Starling or Monzo. It’s super easy to open up an account and takes minutes.

A pre-paid SIM card in the UK

If you don’t intend to use your phone a lot, then a pre-paid UK SIM card is a good option for international students. You can purchase one in-store, online or even in selected supermarkets where the operator will be marked clearly. Pre-paid SIM cards are beneficial if you’re looking to get a phone connection quickly. Once you have one, you can either top-up in a phone shop, at a supermarket, online or via your phone.

There are plenty of options to suit all situations. Check out O2 range of offers to get started on getting your UK mobile phone.

We know getting a phone sorted is one of the first steps to feeling settled here. So, we hope this guide was useful for you. You can also find out more about making cheap or free calls abroad from the UK on our site too.