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Getting connected in the UK

Posted on: September 7, 2015

I am adding to my irregular series on getting connected with prepaid SIM cards while overseas. Other entries in this series: DenmarkSwedenHoi An, VietnamNikoi Island, Indonesia.

My Denmark and Sweden entries get many views every day, so I hope the information I share below on UK prepaid SIMs (Three and EE) is useful.

I was in London in January this year, but did not share my experiences with Three UK (amendment: I did share something about Three UK). Back then the £20 SIM cards were easy to pick up from Vendpoint vending machines at Heathrow Airport.

However, unlike my previous visit, the vending machines were only stocked with Lebara, EE, and one or two other brands. None were as good as the all-you-can-eat data plus 300-minute 3G cards from Three.

As Three SIMs were not available, my family and I made our way to the store on Oxford. Even though the Three staff are friendly, knowledgeable, efficient I would rather avoid the crowds at Oxford!

The process of switching to a Three SIM is straightforward.

  1. Pop out the old one.
  2. Insert the new one in.
  3. Wait for an SMS prompt to restart the phone. If all goes well, you should be connected to Three’s 3G network.


  • The SIM is a modern multi-size one. Push out the size you need for your phone.
  • The connection is not 4G, but it is speedy enough. It might be a compromise for having unlimited data. (The new packaging says 4G comes free, but I have no way of verifying this as the SIM was in my wife’s phone while I used EE.)
  • There is no tethering with this plan.
  • According to a sales associate, if you have a dual-SIM phone, leaving the other SIM in might prevent access to Three.
  • Do not expect your phone to work in the Tube as tunnels are so deep underground. A few stations along select lines might have wifi (see EE note).
  • The fastest way to pay for a Three SIM packet from a machine is a contactless credit card, e.g., MasterCard Paywave. Tap card, select row and column code in machine, collect SIM package.
  • If you opt to use cash, you will need to use exact change in the form of £10 or £20 notes.

We arrived late at Heathrow thanks to the airline schedule and an unplanned flight delay. I decided we needed data and texting should we miss the very last Heathrow Express train and I needed Uber to get us to our Airbnb-rented home.

I resorted to getting an EE 4G data-only SIM (6GB) for £30.

Setting up an EE SIM is not as reassuring as Three. On popping it in, you will receive an alarming text message informing you that you have “used up your data”.

The message will include a URL that you tap or click on to register the service. Tip: Provide as little personal information as possible. After registration, you should be good to go.


  • The SIM is nano-sized. EE includes adapters in the package for devices with mini and normal-sized slots.
  • I inserted the EE SIM into my phone and it worked fine. It should also work in a slate, mifi router, or USB dongle.
  • When used with a phone, the data can shared with other devices, i.e., you can tether.
  • EE provides a handy site that helps you monitor your data quota.
  • Like Three, the 3G or 4G signal cannot reach trains underground. However, EE cards seem to connect automatically to their wireless network on some train lines. You also have the option of using Virgin Media wifi with your EE creditials.

I did not try other mobile services as they do not offer the same value nor were the walk-in stores as easy to find.

Addendum: Lebara stores were about as common as in Denmark. However, I did not enjoy my previous experience with them. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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