Keeping in touch
London is one of the most well connected cities in the
world and you will find it really easy to stay in touch with your family back
home and with your new friends in the UK.
Mobile phones in the UK
Thanks to London’s excellent mobile phone coverage, there are plenty
of providers and different packages you can choose from. There
are three ways in which you can pay for a mobile phone service in the UK:
- Pay monthly
This is the least flexible option and you will be tied into a contract of between 18 and 24 months. If you choose a pay monthly deal and leave before your contract has ended you will almost certainly be charged for early disconnections.
- Pay as you go (PAYG)
PAYG is very popular amongst students. You buy a handset and then pay in advance for a set amount of calls and texts. This usually is not the cheapest option, but it does offer great flexibility and is the best way to keep track of how much you spend.
- SIM only
These packages are a halfway house between PAYG and contract phone. You will be provided with a SIM card but no phone, and you will only be committed to a rolling 30 day contract.
There are currently four major mobile phone providers in the UK: 3, O2, EE and Vodafone. However, some of the smaller providers, such as Tesco Mobile and Giff Gaff are also worth checking out. Each provider has its own range of packages so it is important to shop around when you are deciding on the best option for you.
The first thing you need to consider is whether you actually need a new phone handset. If you don’t, you could make a big saving by opting for a SIM only deal. If you have brought your phone with you, it may be worth continuing to use that phone but with a UK SIM card. You may need to get your phone unlocked as some phones are locked to the network from which the handset is purchased. Speak to your provider about this – some providers may charge a fee to unlock your phone. Alternatively you could buy a new phone handset in the UK.
Before deciding, take a look at an Ofcom approved price comparison site, like MobilePhoneChecker or HandsetExpert – these are easy to use sites where you can compare deals across several networks and compare the different services (pay as you go, pay monthly and SIM only). Take a look – you’ll see you can often get a SIM only deal for half the price of a pay monthly contract!
The Carphone Warehouse is a shop in the UK that caters for all mobile networks so may also be a good starting point for comparing the various options.
When you are researching your mobile options, make sure you take into account whether they offer an international calling plan if you expect to make regular international calls. Many providers will offer this as an extra service on top of a monthly subscription, but some are available to PAYG customers too.
Understanding what is included in your mobile tariff
When you’re looking into phone deals and tariff options, you’ll notice they use a lot of the same terminology. We’ve broken down the most common options below:
- Inclusive minutes
Each mobile deal will come with its own level of inclusive calls – this could be ‘unlimited’ or it could be a certain number of inclusive minutes (e.g. 1000 minutes per month).
Make sure you also check what is not included – key factors to check are:
- Whether your minutes are inclusive of calls to other networks, or if it is just ‘same network’ calls.
- Inclusive minutes are usually limited to UK calls only – make sure you check what the rates are for international calls, and ask about international calling options
- Check what the rate is if you exceed your number of inclusive minutes
- The rates for non-geographic numbers or ‘freephone’ numbers (for example, 0800 numbers). You will often find ‘freephone’ numbers are not free to call from mobiles, and can charge considerably more than a standard call rate.
- If you have unlimited calls, make sure you check the network’s fair usage policy to make sure you are not charged extra if you spend a lot of time on the phone.
- Inclusive texts
Similar to inclusive minutes, each mobile deal will come with its own level of inclusive text messages – again, this could be ‘unlimited’ or it could be a certain number of inclusive texts (e.g. 500 texts per month).
Make sure you check what is not included – key factors to check are:
- How much texts cost if you exceed your limit
- Inclusive texts are usually limited to UK texts only – make sure you check what the rate is for international texts if you will be using your phone to text your friends and family at home
- If you have unlimited texts, make sure you check the network’s fair usage policy to make sure you are not charged extra if you send a lot of texts!
- Data allowance
Data allowance is now the most important factor for many people – it is also where you can end up getting charged a lot of money if you exceed your data allowance, so make sure you get a tariff that fits your needs and then stick within your data limits! Some tariffs may offer an ‘unlimited’ data option, but many will offer a set amount per month. Key factors to consider are:
- How much data to you really need? Generally speaking, 3GB of data per month is enough for most people if you are just using your phone to look at webpages, check your email and browse Facebook!
- Remember you can always turn off your data when you are not using it, and you can connect to the UCL WiFi when you are on-campus to save your data.
- If you have unlimited data, make sure you check the network’s fair usage policy to make sure you are not charged extra if you spend a lot of time on the phone.
- Don’t forget to always turn off your data and roaming if you are abroad – otherwise you will come home to a hefty bill!
- If you’ll be using your mobile as a modem to get online with your laptop, make sure you get a generous allowance.
- If you will be using data on your phone to make internet calls (for example, using the Skype app), try and do this on WiFi as this can use a lot of data very quickly!
- Other charges
Be aware of other possible charges relating to your tariff and make sure you check the following with your provider:
- Calls to voicemail – some providers will let you check your voicemail for free, while others will charge you by the minute. Find out how much you will have to pay for these calls before you buy.
- Calls to customer service – All being well, you will not need to call customer services very often, but it is worth knowing if you will be charged for doing so. Some common customer service numbers, like 0800 numbers, are free from landlines but will be charged for if called from mobiles.
- Paper bills – almost all mobile phone providers will charge you extra to receive paper bills, so request e-billing to save yourself a few pounds each month.
- Non-Direct Debit charges – likewise, you will be charged extra for paying by any method other than Direct Debit. If you set up a Direct Debit ensure you have enough money in your account to cover the bill when the due date comes around
- Comparison sites
There are many UK comparison sites where you can look for deals on mobile phones. Looking online for Carphone Warehouse may be a good place to start your search.
Remember to be careful when shopping online, especially with regards to your bank details. To be safe we recommend buying a mobile phone from a reputable high street store and keeping your receipt safe in case you encounter any problems.
Don't forget to consider the following:
- Do you really need a new phone? Does it have to be a smart phone? Could you just go for a SIM only deal and save money?
- What do you use your phone for more than anything else? Calling friends in the UK? Checking social media? Calling family back at home? Make sure you find the deal that best fits your needs!
- If you're signing a contract, how long is it for? What is the cancellation policy?
- Is this really the best deal? Shop around! Don't feel pressured into agreeing to anything until you're sure it is the best option for you
Broadband internet access
In addition to having internet on your mobile phone, you are likely to want to have internet access at home.
- Living in UCL managed accommodation?
If you are staying in UCL managed accommodation the cost of Internet connection is included in your residence fees. You will need your UCL userid and password to be able to access the Internet.
- Staying in private accommodation?
If you are staying in private accommodation, there is a wide selection of home broadband companies and packages to choose from. You will be able to get broadband from BT, O2, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and many more – and each of them offers a range of packages to suit different budgets and needs.
To get started, you will need an active phone line which means that you will also need to pay line rental, either to BT or directly to your broadband provider. You will also need a broadband modem and router to get online, which may be one combined unit or two separate devices. Your provider will supply this equipment, but you may be required to pay towards delivery.
Additional information to consider when choosing your broadband provider:
- Some providers will offer a package deal, or bundle. This could mean some level of inclusive landline calls, or it could be a TV package. A TV package may seem like a very attractive option, but make sure you stay within your budget. Also, bear in mind that everyone in the UK who owns a TV is required to have a TV license.
- Make sure you look at both the broadband cost and the line rental cost to work out exactly how much you will need to pay each month.
- Most providers will offer broadband on contracts of either 12 or 18 months. Some providers may offer student broadband deals and shorter contracts. If in doubt, give your prospective provider a call to find out if they have any short contract options.
- Make sure you set up a Direct Debit to pay your monthly bill – your provider will charge you for other payment methods.
- The best way to find yourself a good deal on broadband is to find out exactly what is available where you live, and then to compare the different packages and providers against each other. Again, remember to use an Ofcom accredited comparison site.
Staying in touch with your friends and family back home
Calling international numbers from the UK can be expensive, especially if you decide to use your mobile. Some alternative ways to stay in touch with your family and friends back home include:
- Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
This is an excellent method of staying in touch if you have a broadband.
With a reputable VoIP provider such as Skype you can make free voice or video calls to anywhere in the world as long as you and the person you are calling are both online and have the same software installed. In addition to calling from your PC, Skype has a smartphone app which allows you to make calls via the app to other Skype users. Be aware that this can use a lot of data quite quickly, so make sure you are connected to Wifi instead of using your mobile data.
If you need to call someone who does not have internet access, you can use Skype to make cheap calls to their landline or mobile phones. You can pay for these calls after you make them, or save more by buying blocks of minutes to a specific country.
Skype also offers monthly subscription options which could be suitable if you are going to be making lots of international calls. However, check the small print to make sure you won’t be tied to any long-term contracts.
There are other VoIP providers, (Vonage and Viber for example) but make sure to use one that is well established and reputable as installing software from unknown sources can harm your computer.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, then Facetime is a good option – again, it is better to use this only when connected to Wifi to avoid big data charges
- Calling plans from your landline provider
If you have got a landline telephone where you live, you can save by subscribing to an international calls plan. There is a range of these to choose from, and each is different to the next so the best advice is to call your landline provider to find out what they can offer you.
- International calling cards
You can use international calling cards to make cheap calls from landline and mobile phones, and they are very widely available across London. You can usually find them in convenience stores and supermarkets. You are recommended to compare different cards to find the one that offers the cheapest rate to your country and has the lowest connection charge, so be careful to select one with the most appropriate access number.
- Simply Dial
Simply Dial services provide you with an access number that you dial into before entering the number you wish to call. The cost of each call plus a connection fee will be added onto your phone bill, rather than being deducted from a prepaid balance. You can make calls from a mobile or landline, but always check with your phone provider first as they may add a surcharge to your calls.
- Mobile plans
If you brought a mobile with you when you came to the UK, try to avoid using it to call abroad as the “roaming” charges can be very high. Instead try to get hold of an international SIM card, such as that offered by O2 and T-Mobile (ask in store) to put in your existing mobile so you can call UK and international numbers for less.
Lebara mobile SIM cards with £0.50p credit preloaded onto them are available free of charge from the UCLU shop, situated at the South Junction (UCL Maps). Once you have used this credit you may choose to purchase additional credit if Lebara offers you the cheapest rate to you country, but you are not required to do so and can switch to another provider if you wish.
Most UK mobile phone providers offer an international calling plan. These are usually available as an extra service on top of a monthly subscription, but some are made available to Pay as you go (PAYG) customers.
You can contact some of the main mobile phone operators in the UK as follows:
3 Mobile – 0843 373 3333 (333 from a 3 mobile)
O2 PAYG – 0844 809 0222 (4445 from an O2 mobile)
02 Pay Monthly – 0844 809 0202 (202 from O2 PAYG mobile)
Orange PAYG – 07973 100 150 (150 from an Orange PAYG mobile)
Orange Pay Monthly - 07973 100 450 (450 from an Orange PAYG mobile)
T-Mobile – 0800 956 5042 from a landline (150 from a T-mobile phone)
Virgin mobile - 0845 650 4500 (789 from a Virgin Mobile phone)
Vodafone – 08700 700191 (191 from a Vodafone mobile)