How does a pay as you go sim card work?

Pay as you go SIMs

I’m a bit confused about pay as you go SIMs. It seems to mean something different to what it used to. Can you shed some light on it? Jim Banks, Merthyr

Thanks for your email, Jim. And you’re absolutely right to discern that ‘pay as you go’, or PAYG, has changed.

In the dim and distant ‘90s, pay as you go customers bought credit in the form of top-ups, so they could make calls and send texts. For these, they were charged a flat rate per minute and for each text they sent.

They were free to use their credit whenever they wanted to and only paid for the calls they made and texts they sent.

But now when you see the term ‘pay as you go’ on phone networks’ sites and on advertising billboards, it’s referring to something slightly different. Read on and we'll explain all...

How pay as you go SIM cards work now

tesco sim

Nowadays networks that offer pay as you go still offer top-ups. But instead of being charged for each call, text or megabyte of data, your top-up gets you a pre-determined allowance of data, calls and texts.

You’ve then got a month to use your allowances. At which point, you’ll need to buy more credit to continue using your phone.

Examples of this type of pay as you go are Tesco Mobile’s Rocket Packs and O2’s Big Bundles.

Need to activate a pay as you go SIM? We’ll walk you through the process in our fuss-free guide.

Rolling contract pay as you go SIMs

These are SIMs that operate on a one-month rolling contract basis, which you’re free to cancel whenever you like with 30 days’ notice. So they’re somewhere between pay as you go and a contract.

Much like the pay as you go SIMs we discussed above, when you sign up for a rolling contract pay as you go SIM you’ll get pre-determined monthly allowances. And once again, you’ve got a month to use up your allowances.

The difference is that with rolling contract PAYG SIMs, your contract will refresh at the end of the month and your payment will be taken from your account automatically by direct debit.

What are the advantages of rolling contract pay as you go SIMs?

  • One-month PAYG SIMs are flexible. So you can switch whenever you like.
  • Monthly allowances comparable to longer term SIM only contracts. No longer do you need to pay over the odds for the flexibility of a rolling contract.

Compare PAYG SIMs