How to get a mobile phone as an international student

The best phone contract for international students

If you’re an international student - either currently or planning a move to the UK to attend university - you’ll already be aware of the amount of extra work goes into the whole process of education. Attending a university or college in a foreign country can be stressful on its own, let alone dealing with all the extra factors that you’ll need to take care of along the way. 

One of those extra factors that you may or may not have thought about in advance is securing yourself a mobile phone for use while you’re living in the UK. This one is deceitfully complicated most of the time, too, often causing more trouble than you’d expect.

Often the first problem international students run into when looking for a UK-based mobile phone - the biggest hurdle to overcome is that the majority of UK phone contract providers require a UK address and a credit check in order to set up an account in the first place. This has the potential to leave a lot of international students out of luck, though it’s not the end of the story - as there are a few alternatives that might work out just as well.

Best International Student phone - Pay as you go SIMs

The first and arguably best option for any and all international students looking to get themselves a UK phone is to check out GiffGaff - a company that offers the modern equivalent of ‘pay as you go’ SIM cards, allowing users to ‘top up’ a number of call minutes, texts and data as and when they need it and only pay for what you use.

Going through GiffGaff, you’re able to only pay when you need to top up, too, so you’re not locked into a contract at all. For example, currently, if you’re okay to provide your own mobile phone (perhaps the one you’re currently using), you can pay £10 per month and get access to unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of data. Not a bad start, especially if you’ve already got a decent phone as it is.

You can order a free SIM card from GiffGaff here.

There are, however, some newer alternatives to GiffGaff that have been rising in popularity over the past few years. User jameswhughes in the forums points out that both Voxi and Smarty offer phones and SIM only plans that include a number of unique perks in each, such as unlimited roaming with no charges, the ability to use social media apps without eating into your monthly data usage, and more.

At the time of writing, Smarty is offering a 'join now and get two months free' deal, which is a superb way to get on board and try out this new provider without blowing all of your budget.

Best International Student phone - Contracts

Of course, GiffGaff does offer plans that include handsets, so you’re welcome to try to get your hands on one of those contracts, although as previously mentioned, it’s highly likely that you’ll need a UK address of some sort in order to get your contract underway. You can always try using a UK-based friend’s address for the time being, but be careful with this one. Monthly contracts are most likely to be restricted to those who can pass a UK-based credit check, have a UK bank account and a UK home address. These options are probably best suited for those looking to stay in the UK after your studies finished.

Here are some of the deals available there now:

If you’re willing to go down that route, of course, there are other options at your disposal - is a relative newcomer in the realm of phone contracts online but has proven to be a popular one. The site offers everything from SIM-only deals to full-blown handset contracts on models including iPhone XR, Samsung Galaxy, Huawei P20 Pro, and more.

Here are some of the deals available there now:

Then, of course, you have which has been around ever since mobile phones were known as ‘Car-phones’. To this day, the company offers competitive contract deals and phone models from every major manufacturer you can think of - iPhone, Samsung, Huawei are all included, of course. CarphoneWarehouse also offers a ‘Price Promise’, meaning if you find a contract or phone cheaper elsewhere, the company will be happy to match that price or refund you the difference.

Here are some of the deals available there now:

Whatever you choose, be sure that your new contract will cover your needs for minutes, texts and internet data usage. Be careful not to fall for any deals that appear too good to be true - in most cases, they usually are, and costs can be hidden in picture message charges or international usage fees, among other things. 

Once you’ve found a phone and a contract that suits you best and covers everything you need, you can go ahead and sign up for a contract or a SIM-only deal and top up when you need. After that, you’ll be able to take advantage of everything the UK-based phone providers can offer, with 4G and O2 priority and all that other fancy stuff.

Whatever you choose - good luck and hopefully, it’ll serve you well for your entire education career. Have we missed any particularly good options? Are you already an international student who has gone through this process before? Let us know your thoughts, over in the forum.

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