Skype, WhatsApp, and other internet-based messaging and calling services have made keeping in contact with people around the world for free easier than ever. Sometimes making international calls using your phone can’t be helped, though. For those times you’ll probably want a SIM with affordable international calling.
These days you can call, text, and use data on your current plan across Europe at no extra cost. This applies to all 28 EU countries, and is extending into Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway as well (the EEA countries). However, if you want to use your phone for international calling to or from countries like Australia, India, or the United States, you’re going to want a plan with some more extensive coverage and/or roaming options.
Here are some of the best plans for international calling in the UK, looking both at contracts from the big carriers and dedicated SIMs for roaming. Let’s dive in.
SIMs for international calling in the UK
Lyca offers some of the widest coverage and cheapest dedicated plans for parts of the globe, which is particularly handy for regular business or personal calls. The network claims to be the world’s largest MVNO and has deals with a range of operators across the globe.
For frequent callers, the Lyca Globe plan offers 3000 minutes to 40 destinations for 10 pounds every 30 days, as well as unlimited calls and texts to other Lyca SIMs. This includes Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States, as countries outside of traditional EU roaming coverage. Alternatively, the All In One 10 SIM covers the same countries, but drops the international minutes down to just 500. However, this offer includes 1000 national texts and 1GB of data too, making it handy for U.K. use too.
If you’re after lots of minutes with some inclusive data as well, Lyca’s Far East Plus M and Great Eastern packages offer 1000 minutes and up to 2GB of data to select destinations for 10 pounds per month. Lyca also offers some dedicated packages for regions like Eastern Europe and South Asia, among others. The carrier also provides competitive pay-as-you-go rates to both landlines and mobile phones.
Lebara Mobile is another MVNO specializing in international SIM plans for cost effective international calling in the UK. Just like Lyca, the networks offers a range of specialized options for calling specific countries and has the added benefit that Lebara-to-Lebara calls and texts are always free. Lebara splits its global calling options into two main categories, international-only calling packages and ones include local U.K. and data too.
The All-in-One plans roll and grants international calling minutes to 39 destinations. These include Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the U.S., and a selection of European nations. Prices start at 10 pounds each cycle for 500 U.K. minutes, 500 international minutes, and 1GB of data. 20 pounds per month ramps this up to unlimited international calling minutes and 10GB of data.
EE – International SIMs
Along with its extensive range of U.K. contract options, EE offers dedicated international SIMs which include minutes, texts, and data. We prefer this option over O2’s international SIMs, as it’s a simple allowance rather than a convoluted top-up scheme with various national prices and data allowances. EE’s SIMs also boost the amount of data you can use every three months by an extra 500MB, so it pays to stick around.
The range of countries isn’t as expansive as Lyca, at just 34 destinations, and the plan only includes calls made from inside the U.K. and Europe. Outside of commonly covered European countries, EE’s SIM works with calls to Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, and the U.S.
EE has two international calling options available. The 10 pound package offers 150 minutes, 150 texts, and 500MB of data every 30 days. The 15 pound package boosts this to 250 minutes, 500 texts, and 3GB of data each month. Going over the allowance or calling outside the EU from in the EU will incur EE’s standard PAYG roaming rates.
PAYG and charges compared
As a fall back option, every network will also charge set rates for international calls, which nearly always vary depending on which country you’re calling. The table below, courtesy of Ken’s Tech Tips (which has compiled tons of exceedingly useful data on this subject), highlights the calling cost per minute for some of the most popular foreign destinations:
PAYG customers on certain networks need to opt-in to these lower charges. EE customers need to text CALL ABROAD to 150 to join its Call Abroad scheme. O2 customers need to be on the carrier’s International tariff, and Vodafone customers will have to text INTERNATIONAL to 2345 to opt-in to its International add-on.
Best for roaming and travel
Three’s Go Roam
While this isn’t technically an international calling package, Three‘s Advanced contract plans offer some interesting terms and conditions that not only make it a cheap way to call home when you’re travelling, but also to use your data allowance for free calls across a wide range of countries at no extra cost through its Go Roam proposition.
Go Roam Around The World covers 71 destinations (check out the full list here), allowing unlimited calls and texts back to the U.K. and European destinations, as well as use of your data allowance up to 19GB at no extra charge. It’s also free to receive calls, texts, photo messages and video messages. Calling and sending texts to non-U.K. numbers while in these destinations still incurs normal roaming charges. Even so, calling and texting back home is free and the key here is to make use of your roaming data allowance for free calling and texts even while abroad, using internet services like Skype and WhatsApp.
Some Advanced plans come with a 30GB personal hotspot allowance for tethering and Go Binge, an unlimited data allowance for streaming music and video from select partner services. Advanced plans with Go Binge start at 14 pounds per month for 12GB of data on a 12 month contract, making them rather affordable.
If you’re looking for the best inclusive option for travelling from the big four carriers while still getting a great deal here in the U.K., Three’s Advanced packages offer the best value for money.
EE – Max Plans
EE offers a similar arrangement to Three, where customers on its more expensive Max plan receive more generous roaming arrangements than just the standard European zones. EE’s Max plans appear to only available when you grab a new phone and can’t be found easily on the site, so you have to pay close attention to each contract option to make sure the extra destinations are included.
EE’s Max plan allows customers to take their full data, text, and call allowance to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the U.S.. This makes it a better option than Three if you’re looking to make calls within your travel destination without incurring extra costs, but the number of countries is far smaller.
Big four passes and add-ons
As a last resort when roaming, each of the big four networks in the U.K. also offer customers passes and add-ons offering access to data and lower cost, more inclusive calls while abroad to augment your regular contract. Remember that EU roaming is included by default with any PAYG or contract option in the U.K., so these packages are designed solely for those going further afield and using a fair bit of data each day.
Here’s a breakdown of each carrier’s prices and what’s included with these optional extras.
Travel data Pass
|Cost||£4.80 per day, USA & Canada|
£6 per day, 9 other countries
£6 per day, 45 other countries (150MB only)
|£4.99 per day||£5 per day||£6 per day|
|Allowance||Unlimited UK minutes|
Unlimited UK texts
Up to 500 MB data
|Unlimited data||Uses home plan allowance|
The costs of these passes adds up very quickly, but they are viable ways to boost your U.K. data plans when traveling outside of Europe on short trips. These passes are cheaper than traditional roaming data costs, but they’re only really worth it if you use quite a bit of data and don’t have any other options. Regular travellers or those away for long periods of time will want a dedicated, more cost effective plan.
International calls needn’t cost an arm and a leg anymore. There are lots of plans and SIMs supporting not only to cheap calls to Europe, but also across more and more of the world. However, you still need to know where to look to find the best deals and save money in the long run.
Generally speaking, it’s best to steer clear of the U.K.’s biggest carriers and even smaller MVNOs to avoid high international calling costs, and instead opt for a dedicated internationally based network. Failing that, some dedicated SIMs from the big players will provide better value for regular international callers than their standard plans. Cheap roaming has its own set of things to check for, but Europe is well covered by any PAYG or contract option now.
Unfortunately the marketplace is still a mess of terms and conditions dictating which countries you can call from where. This can be particularly problematic if you travel a lot, so always read the fine print of any contract option to see exactly what you’re covered for.