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The best UK plans for international calling and travel
Skype, WhatsApp, and other internet-based messaging and calling services have made it easier to stay in contact with friends around the world for free. Sometimes you can’t help making an international call, though. For those times, you’ll probably want a SIM with affordable international calling.
Before Brexit, you could use your UK mobile plan to call all 28 EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and more. However, suppose you want to use your phone to call international or from countries like Australia, India, or the United States. In that case, you’re going to want a plan with some more extensive coverage or roaming options.
Best plans for international calling in the UK
Lyca offers some of the broadest 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 deals with a range of operators worldwide.
For frequent callers, the Lyca Globe plan offers 3000 minutes to 40 destinations for 10 pounds every 30 days and 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 traditional EU roaming coverage. You can trade that setup for 1,000 minutes to India if needed.
Alternatively, the All In One 10 SIM covers the same countries but drops the international minutes to just 500. However, this offer includes unlimited UK texts and 6 GB of data, making it handy for UK use. Lyca has introduced All in one Plus 15 and 20 plans, which pack unlimited international minutes for 15 or 20 pounds per month.
Lyca also offers some dedicated packages for regions like Eastern Europe and South Asia. 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. Like Lyca, the network 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 local UK plans.
All of Lebara’s plans grant varying levels of international calling minutes to 41 destinations. These include Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the US, and European nations. Prices start at 5 pounds each cycle for 1,000 UK minutes, 100 international minutes, and 2 GB of data. 30 pounds per month ramps this up to unlimited international calling minutes and unlimited data.
EE — International SIMs
EE offers dedicated international SIMs, including minutes, texts, and data, along with its extensive range of UK contract options. 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.
You can travel abroad with EE’s Smart Plan or its more affordable Essential Plan on Android and iPhone. The critical difference between the two is the inclusion of Smart Benefits like Apple Music and BritBox. You can even go for the Full Works Plan for iPhone, which beefs your perks from one to three.
EE has two international calling options available. The £10 package offers 1,000 minutes to a whopping 50 countries. The £20 package boosts this to 100 countries, but you only get half as many minutes. 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 fallback option, every network will also charge fixed 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 valuable 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.
Three Go Roam
While this isn’t technically an international calling package, Three‘s Advanced contract plans offer some exciting terms and conditions. These plans make it a cheap way to call home when you’re traveling and use your data allowance for free calls across a wide range of countries through its Go Roam proposition.
Read more: The best phones under £500 in the UK | Under £300
Go Roam Around The World covers 71 destinations (check out the complete list here), allowing unlimited calls and texts back to the UK and European destinations and the use of your data allowance up to 19 GB at no extra charge. It’s also free to receive calls, texts, photo messages, and video messages. Calling and sending texts to non-UK numbers while in these destinations still incurs standard 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 30 GB 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 12 GB of data on a 12-month contract, making them relatively affordable.
If you want a basic calling package, Three offers Call Abroad 100 and Call Abroad Unlimited for 5 pounds and 10 pounds, respectively. As you might have guessed, the cheaper plan provides 100 minutes to 55 countries, and the more expensive plan lets you call those 55 nations as much as you want.
If you’re looking for the best inclusive option for traveling from the big four carriers while still getting a great deal here in the UK, Three’s Advanced packages offer the best value for money.
EE Unlimited Plans
EE offers a similar arrangement to Three, where customers on its more expensive unlimited plan receive more generous roaming arrangements than just the standard European zones. EE’s Max plans appear to only be 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 different destinations are included.
EE’s unlimited plan allows customers to take their full data, text, and call allowance to Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the US. 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 UK also offers customers passes and add-ons, providing access to data and lower cost, more inclusive calls while abroad to augment your regular contract. Remember that EU roaming comes by default with any PAYG or contract option in the UK, 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
Travel data Pass
£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
Travel data Pass
Unlimited UK minutes
Unlimited UK texts
Up to 500 MB data
Uses home plan allowance
Travel data Pass
The costs of these passes add up very quickly, but they are viable ways to boost your UK 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 travelers or those away for extended periods will want a dedicated, more cost-effective plan.
International calls needn’t cost an arm and a leg anymore. Many plans and SIMs support cheap calls to Europe and across more and more of the world. However, you still need to know where to find the best deals and save money in the long run.
Generally speaking, it’s best to steer clear of the UK’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 what your plan covers.