Your sim card may have a short expiry date, and not all networks display the date on the pack so you should top up or activate your sim as soon as possible, and certainly within 30 days of the date of purchase.
Activating your sim card
All sim cards have an expiry date (we'll talk about this more later), but most networks ( including EE, Three, Smarty, Voxi, Lycamobile) don't give you - or us - that expiry date. We rotate and replenish our stock regularly, but we don't know how long the distributors have had them in stock before we get them so you may occasionally receive a sim card that is "dead" - you won't get a signal and won't be able to use it. Obviously we'll replace any expired sim free of charge, but we strongly recommend that you activate or top up your sim card within 30 days of purchase.
For O2, Vodafone and Lebara sims you can check the expiry date on the white label on the back of the sim pack and ensure you top up before that date to prevent the sim from expiring.
Please be aware that we cannot exchange or refund any sim card more than 30 days after purchase.
What does "activate" mean?
This varies from network to network. The main networks such as EE, O2 and Vodafone generally only require you to top up the sim card to activate it, while others such as Smarty require you to register on their website to activate the sim. Others, such as Voxi and Lyca, only give you your mobile number when you have registered with them.
What information does registration require?
Again, this will vary between networks. O2, for example, only ask for your name and email address, while others may require more details. One advantage of registering is you will be informed of special offers such as improved tariffs, and free benefits such as extra data and rewards (for example, O2 Priority Rewards)
Am I tied to that network or tariff once I've registered?
Absolutely not. Pay As You Go (PAYG) sim cards are effectively a rolling contract which you can cancel at any time and leave whenever you like.
Most PAYG sims now require a monthly top up in exchange for a "bundle" of minutes, texts and data. Most tariffs over £10 now include unlimited UK minutes and texts, so you can choose the tariff you want mostly on the basis of how much data you'll get. "Monthly" means 30 days.
What if I don't top up after my last 30 day period is up?
If you don't top up the following month you can usually still receive calls and texts, but will not be able to send any and will not be able to use mobile data. You can still access online features using your wi-fi.
The important thing to understand here is that if you do not top up for several months (usually 3-4 months) the network will deactivate the sim card and your number will be disconnected. Once this is done, your number will be lost forever. However, you can transfer your number (before it is disconnected) at any time. To do this, you need to obtain a PAC code from your network and give it to your new network. You have a legal right to transfer your number at no cost to you. See our guide on transferring your number for more details.
Why it's important
If your sim is not activated, the network will cancel or "deactivate" it. The sim is then classed as "expired". The reason for this is that they have to pay a licence fee for every mobile number issued each year.
Tens of millions of sim cards are issued every year and each one attracts a licence fee, so obviously it doesn't make sense for the network to continue to pay that licence fee for a sim card that's sat in a drawer and not being used, as they are not getting a return on their investment. No company is going to continue to pay for something they're losing money on, it simply increases prices for everybody.
This, plus the fact that we often don't know when the deactivation date is, is why you should activate, or top up, your sim card within 30 days of the purchase date. it is particularly important to understand this if you're buying one of our Gold Number Sim Cards as the number cannot be replaced - once the sim has expired it's gone forever.
Therefore we can not replace any sim card after 30 days from the date of purchase, and you should top up as soon as possible to prevent the sim expiring. This is when the network disconnects the sim card.
For the same reason, sim cards do not come with the usual 12 months warranty, but your network will usually replace a faulty sim card at any time, free of charge. We would point out that faulty sim cards are virtually unheard of.
To check your sim is active just place it into your phone, which must be unlocked or on the same network. You should get a signal within a minute of so of placing the sim in your phone, and you can test the sim by dialling the network’s helpline as shown in the sim pack, It’s a free call and you can also top up there by credit or debit card – just follow the prompts.
If you have the mobile number (it will be shown on the back of the pack) you can call the number from another phone to see if it rings. If it does, it's active. Some sims require you to register before the network issues a mobile number to you. Details will be in your pack.
Topping up your Pay As You Go sim card.
You can top up your sim card by one of the following methods:
- Buy a top up voucher at most supermarkets, filling stations and smaller stores such as newsagents and general stores.
- Online via the networks website - but be wary of independent sites that charge you extra to buy your top up. If you spend £10 you should get £10 of credit, no more, no less.
- Buy a top up from an ATM - "Hole in the wall" cash machine - but be wary of the machines that charge a cash withdrawal fee as they may class a top up purchase as a cash withdrawal.
- Top Up by credit or debit card over the phone via the network's helpline number, which will be shown in your sim pack. Some networks also allow you to top up a different mobile on the same network, such as your kids mobiles.
- Most networks now accept automatic monthly payments by card or direct debit.
This is intended as a guide only and do note that not all methods will be available to all networks.
I hope this guide has been helpful to you, but for further advice please contact your network directly. If you think any of the information provided is incorrect or out of date please let us know. There is a "Contact us" form link at the foot of the page.