Find out more about mobile phone services in the UK and how to keep in contact with friends and family back home.
London is one of the most well connected cities in the world, so you will find it easy to stay in touch with your family back home and with your new friends in the UK. Here you can find information on the following:
- mobile phone providers and tariffs
- broadband internet access
- other ways of staying in touch with friends and family
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 considering. 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.
Paying for mobile services
There are three ways in which you can pay for a mobile service in the UK.
- Pay monthly: the least flexible option, you will be tied into a contract lasting between 18 and 24 months.
- Pay as you go (PAYG): PAYG is very popular amongst students, you buy a phone and then pay in advance for a set amount of calls and texts.
- SIM only: you will be provided with a SIM card but no phone, and you will only be committed to a rolling 30 day contract.
If you are paying monthly, you will be charged extra for paying by any method other than direct debit. If you set up a direct debit, make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the bill when the due date comes around.
Understanding mobile tariffs
When you are looking into phone deals and tariff options, you will notice that providers use specific terminology. The most common terms are broken down below:
- Inclusive minutes: the amount of call minutes you are allowed, for example this could be 1000 minutes per month or it could be ‘unlimited’.
- Inclusive texts: the number of texts you are allowed, for example this could be 500 texts per month or it could be ‘unlimited’.
- Data allowance: how much data you are allowed, for example this could be 3GB of data, but some tariffs may offer an 'unlimited' data option.
You should also be aware of other possible charges relating to your tariff. For example, you should check with your provider if they charge you for calls to your voicemail and to customer services numbers.
Key factors to consider
Do not forget to consider the following:
- Do you need a new phone or could you just go for a SIM-only deal?
- What do you use your phone for the most, for example checking social media or calling your family back home, and what is the best deal to fit your needs?
- If you are signing a contract, how long is it for and what is the cancellation policy?
- Remember that restrictions may apply to calls to other networks or outside the UK.
Before deciding, take a look at an Ofcom approved price comparison site, these are useful sites where you can compare deals across several networks and services. Some examples are:
In addition to having internet on your mobile phone, you are likely to want to have internet access at home. If you are staying in UCL managed accommodation, the cost of Internet connection is included in your residence fees. You will need your UCL user ID and password to be able to access the Wi-Fi.
If you are staying in private accommodation, you will be able to get broadband from various providers, including BT, O2, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and more. Most providers will offer contracts of either 12 or 18 months. Some providers may offer student broadband deals and shorter contracts.
Key factors to consider
There is additional information to consider when choosing your broadband provider:
- 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.
- Make sure you set up a direct debit to pay your monthly bill, as your provider will charge you for other payment methods.
- 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 an attractive option, but make sure you stay within your budget and bear in mind that everyone in the UK who owns a TV is required to have a TV license.
Calling international numbers from the UK can be expensive, especially if you decide to use your mobile. Below are some alternative ways to stay in touch with your family and friends back home.
Calling plans and cards
If you have a landline telephone where you live, you can save by subscribing to an international calls plan. You can also 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.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
With a reputable VoIP provider such as Skype you can make free voice or video calls to anywhere in the world. There are other VoIP providers, such as Vonage and Viber, but make sure to use one that is well established and reputable. If you have an iPhone or iPad, then Facetime is a good option, and it is better to use this when connected to Wi-Fi to avoid big data charges
Simply dial services
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.