Choosing a mobile tariff can be confusing.
Networks often display tariffs on separate pages, use fancy terms, or bury hidden costs in their terms of service.
Our tariff comparison tool takes the guesswork out of finding the best deal, but how do you know which tariff is the best fit for your needs? And what should you look for?
Most mobile tariffs share a number of similar options, including an allotment of minutes, data, and SMS messages.
They’ll often also include a set of common calling features, such as voicemail, caller ID, group calling, and call waiting.
But what about everything else? What makes one tariff better for you than another?
This guide answers all the important questions you might have.
The type of tariff you choose will determine both when you pay for service and how you are billed.
Plans typically fall into one of two types:
- Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) tariffs where you pay in advance
- Monthly tariffs where you pay at the end of a monthly billing cycle
One tariff type isn’t automatically better than the other. Each option offers unique strengths and weaknesses you should consider to find the best fit for you. It all depends on what you need in a tariff and your financial situation.
As the name suggests, with PAYG service, you pay in advance or as you go for the features you want to use.
While you’ll still likely pay more for PAYG than monthly services, it’s not as expensive as it once was.
Benefits to PAYG service include:
No credit checks
No early termination fees
No worries about extra charges
The ability to tailor your bill to meet your needs and budget
Of course, there are aspects of PAYG that might not work for you either...
PAYG services often offer smaller data allowances than monthly tariffs. Adding extra data to your allotment is often more expensive as well.
Some PAYG networks do not let you use your mobile while travelling either. However, if you have an unlocked mobile, you can pick up a different PAYG SIM to use at your destination.
You can either you either pay upfront for an allotment of minutes, data, and messages -- often on a monthly basis -- or you can buy credits that are added to your account.
Two Types of PAYG Plans: Credit-based and Bundles
With credit-based PAYG tariffs, you spend credits each time you place a call, send or receive a message, or use data.
The allotment based tariffs are known as bundle tariffs or deals. These include a set amount of minutes, data, and message for a flat rate.
How you use your mobile will determine which type of PAYG service is best for you.
Bundles often feature lower per-feature prices compared to credit-based tariffs. However, your minutes, data, and messages also expire at the end of your billing cycle if you don’t use them.
If you don’t use all your minutes, data, and messages, you’ve paid less for the features, but you’ve also paid for features you didn’t use.
Pay-as-you-go rates are often higher on a per-feature or per-credit basis, but they rarely expire as long as you add credits to your account regularly.
For light users, this is often a better option as you’re not paying for things you do not use.
This is the standard type of tariff offered by most major networks. You use your mobile and they bill you each month.
If you go over the minutes, texts or data included with your tariff -- or use services not included with your monthly tariff -- the additional usage is tacked onto the next bill.
A few years ago, monthly billing was the way to go for most.
However, smaller networks and PAYG providers have improved service and prices since then making the choice less clear.
Two of the biggest reasons to consider a monthly tariff are:
- Multi-line discounts: Most major networks offer substantial discounts for having more than one line (one mobile number) on an account. This makes getting a mobile for the whole family much more affordable.
- Larger/Unlimited data packages: Unlimited data and larger data pools are often only offered on monthly tariffs. These are ideal if you’re not within range of Wi-Fi often or like to stream music, movies, or TV shows to your mobile device.
While most networks offer refunds on your deposit, the terms are often incredibly specific. One late payment and you could lose your deposit.
Most networks offer shiny new mobiles at a discount or let you bring a mobile you already own, assuming it’s compatible.
But whether you buy a new mobile or not could impact your tariff choices. So considering the best approach is essential to getting the best value for your new service tariff.
Don’t Need a New Mobile or Want to Bring Your Own?
While most networks might not make it obvious, many offer tariffs that allow you to use your own mobile with their service. These are known as SIM-only or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) tariffs.
SIM-Only tariffs don’t include device financing or subsidies. So you’re on your own to buy an unlocked mobile to use with the service find an unlocked mobile -- be that from your network, online, or at your favourite electronics retailer.
The advantage to SIM-Only tariffs is that they are often priced lower than PAYG or monthly tariffs that include a mobile.
SIM-only tariffs are available in both monthly and PAYG payment types, allowing you to pick the payment type you prefer.
Upgrade Your Mobile or Buy New Mobiles Using Device Subsidies
If you’ve seen ads online or on television offering you the latest smartphone for next to nothing, you’ve seen mobile discounts -- or mobile subsidies -- in action.
Essentially, the network offers you a substantial discount on a new mobile. In return, you agree to stick with that network for up to two years. If you cancel before that -- or can’t pay your bill -- they’ll recover their subsidy with an early termination fee.
While this seems like a good deal, in most cases, you’ll get better prices and enjoy greater flexibility if you buy your mobile upfront.
If you must use a subsidy to get your mobile, ALWAYS check the terms.
If they add interest to the cost of the mobile or tack on additional financing fees, do the math and be sure you’re getting a good deal.
Mobile Leasing or Early Upgrade Programs
Mobile leasing is a relatively new concept with networks but works very similar to how it works with cars.
You pay each month for your mobile just like if you had financed it. Most leases have one- or two-year terms.
At the end of your term, you can return it to the network for a discount on a new leased device or pay a reduced lump sum to keep it based on how much you paid toward the mobile’s price during your lease.
Many networks use different names for their mobile leasing programs.
One of the most popular names is “early upgrade tariffs.”
But take a minute to read the terms of the contract -- it’s still just a lease program in disguise.
Lease terms vary depending on the network but most require you to keep the mobile in like-new condition in order to trade it back in.
Some networks include mobile insurance with your lease fees, others don’t.
So read the fine print to understand the true risks and costs of your mobile lease or early upgrade agreement.
Regardless of the network, unless you upgrade every time a new mobile is released, you’ll probably save money over the long-term by purchasing a device outright.
So now that you understand the different options, which should you choose?
It will mostly depend on the number of mobiles you need and your budget.
If you only need a single line of service, we recommend buying your mobile outright.
You’ll spend a bit more upfront over taking a discount or financing, but spend far less in the end due to cheaper tariffs and more flexibility.
If your budget doesn’t allow that shiny new mobile you have your eyes on, buying an older model upfront and pairing it with a SIM-only tariff can reduce your upfront costs significantly while giving you access to a capable smartphone.
While today’s high-end releases are super powerful and sleek looking, the high-end mobiles from a year or two ago will still suit the needs of the average person.
If you need multiple mobiles -- like when you’re buying mobiles for the whole family -- decisions get tougher…
Buying multiple high-end mobiles upfront is out of the question for the budgets of many buyers.
In these cases, subsidizing or leasing a mobile from your network are likely the best approaches.
Just be careful...
Should your mobile take a dip in the pool or smash to the ground, you might be left on the hook for both the price of the mobile and the monthly service fees for the rest of your contract term.
Related Guide: How to Choose the Best mobile
In the early days of mobile phones, network coverage didn’t overlap much. This meant that you had only one or two options in your area for mobile phone service.
These days as networks expand networks, offer coast-to-coast coverage, and use deals with other networks to offer service around the world, the number of options you have to choose from might feel intimidating.
Not to fear.
By looking at a few important factors, you can begin to limit your options and find the best deals in your area.
Big Networks vs Small Networks
Many smaller networks are what’s known as mobile virtual network operators or MVNOs -- though there are a few small regional networks left as well.
MVNO’s typically use the same networks as the big networks. They just lease access to the network and resell it to you. There are even some MVNO’s which are owned by the major network.
So, in most cases, coverage is similar to what you’ll find with the bigger names.
The biggest downside to smaller networks is that you’ll often find fewer mobile options in their stores and limited customer support options.
Some smaller networks use email or online forums while others only allow phone support.
Also, depending on the network that the network uses, you might also see slower data speeds than major networks in your region.
If these differences are important to you, a big network might be the best choice.
However, for many, smaller networks offer substantial savings and comparable service quality.
Signal Strength in Your Area
There’s nothing more frustrating than missing calls and messages or having to find that magic corner on the second floor of your home or office to send a text.
You want a network that offers solid coverage in the areas you frequent.
But how do you know which networks have the best coverage near you?
One way is by checking the coverage maps offered by networks.
These offer a general idea of what you can expect but keep in mind that these maps only estimations based on readings in nearby areas. Just because their map says you should have great service doesn’t guarantee you will.
From thick walls to network congestion there are endless factors these maps can’t account for.
Better still, you can check with friends or ask in local social media groups about which networks they use and any problems they might have with coverage.
By checking a few different sources, you can see if service might be inconsistent in your area.
Related:Best Network Coverage
Customer Service Options and Availability
Even if you’re confident in your tech abilities, there’s a good chance you’ll need help with your mobile or account from time to time.
When this happens, not having support available could be the difference between a quick resolution and a frustrating few days without your mobile.
Many smaller networks and low-cost networks have limited support options.
At a minimum, we recommend choosing a provider that at least offers real-time chat support.
This means you can resolve issues quickly and not have to wait for replies to emails or sift through hundreds of forum posts trying to find an answer.
If you expect you’ll have questions or need help with your mobile or service, we highly recommend choosing a network with telephone support (preferably toll-free) and, ideally, with a retail store in your area.
This means you can skip the hassle of waiting on hold or trying to explain your issue through chat and swing by the store instead.
Tip: Check out our network summaries to compare the support options offered by the networks in your area.
Single vs. Group Tariffs
Group and family tariffs are one of the easiest ways to save on your monthly mobile bill. In many cases, the people on the tariff don’t even need to live at the same address.
This makes it easy to add kids in college, elderly parents, or even a trusted friend or coworker to your tariff and split the costs of your mobile service.
Terms and conditions vary. However, in most cases, multi-line tariffs work in one of two ways:
Shared allotments: With these group tariffs, everyone’s use comes out of the same pool of minutes, texts and data. This is ideal in family situations where some people might use a lot of one feature and others very little.
For example, your kids love to text with their friends and stream video but you might just want a mobile to make calls with. With a shared tariff, they’re not sitting with wasted minutes on their tariff, and you’re not required to keep a ton of data you’ll never use. Everyone shares the same set of features.
Per-line data: With these tariffs, each line often shares a pool of texts and voice minutes but has an individual data bucket. These tariffs are useful if you use little data or want better control over how much data each person can use.
In most cases, group tariffs offer better discounts for each line you add.
If you only need two lines, you might save money with individual lines through a PAYG provider. PAYG tariffs are often cheaper than monthly tariffs and the group tariff discounts for two lines are often very small.
So with a bit of shopping around and comparing tariff options, you might be able to find a cheaper PAYG service than the monthly group tariff will cost.
However, for three or more lines, group tariffs are almost always the most affordable and flexible option available.
Related Guide: The Best Family Mobile Tariffs
Related Guide: The Best PAYG Mobile Tariffs
If you plan to use your mobile regularly to make or receive calls, you’ll want to make sure you have enough minutes to use your mobile without worry.
If you already have service through another provider, check your past three bills to see how many minutes you used. This should give you an idea of what to look for with a new service provider.
If you’re new to mobile phones, choose an option that seems slightly more than what you might need. In most cases, you can downgrade your minutes later if you’re not using them. And paying for a slightly higher tariff is often cheaper than paying for any amount of overages.
If you plan to talk a lot -- or have kids who love to talk on your tariff -- consider an unlimited talk tariff. Then you’ll have zero worries when the bill rolls in.
With PAYG mobiles, using all of your minutes or credits could mean you’re unable to use the calling, messaging, and data features of your mobile until you add more credits to your tariff or renew at the end of your billing cycle.
On monthly tariffs, you’ll likely switch to per-minute billing if you use your monthly allotment. This can result in a scary surprise when the next bill rolls in. Even if the network adds minutes in bundles, they’re likely at a higher rate than if you had signed up for a higher tier tariff to begin with.
How calls are billed varies by the tariff and network.
If you’re only calling in your local area, you should have no worries regardless of the tariff you choose.
However, if you’re calling friends and family on the other side of the country or abroad, you’ll want to look at the network’s calling terms.
Many networks now include nationwide calling as a basic feature on most tariffs.
If the tariff you’re considering doesn’t include it, check the add-ons or bundles to see if you can add it for a reasonable fee. Even an hour of long distance calling will exceed the cost of the monthly add-on for most networks.
Virtually every network charges additional fees for long distance international calls.
If you plan to call abroad often, choose a network with a flat-rate international calling tariff.
These include a set amount of minutes and texts to a specific country or set of countries at a substantial discount over the regular per-minute rates.
Just keep in mind that if you don’t use all of your monthly minutes, you’ll likely lose them at the end of your billing cycle.
Most major networks now offer nationwide coverage and service but some smaller or regional networks still use calling zones to determine how to bill your call.
If you’re making calls from your home area, there isn’t much to worry about.
However, if you travel often you’ll want to check the terms of service.
You can find the roaming details for each network in our network summaries.
If your travels take you outside the country, you’ll also want to consider international roaming fees.
While most UK networks provide free or ultra-affordable roaming in the EU, many charge extra fees for using your mobile service in other countries.
Although some networks automatically suspend roaming service after you reach a certain bill amount, these limits are still high enough to stress the budgets of the average person.
We recommend choosing a network that offers flat-rate travel passes in regions you frequently visit.
These allow you to either use your standard allotment of minutes, texts and data or give you a dedicated allotment for use while you travel.
You can also consider a travel SIM or pick up a PAYG SIM when you reach your destination.
NOTE: Some PAYG networks do not support international roaming. In this case, you’d be without service while travelling unless you swap out your existing SIM for a travel SIM or pick up a PAYG SIM that offers service in the area you’re visiting.
Mobile data use continues to rise as more people use smartphones and network speeds improve. If you’re looking to keep your mobile costs manageable each month and enjoying your mobile to its fullest, choosing the appropriate data tariff is essential.
But before we talk about how much data you might need, let’s look at the different network types and data speeds available. This will provide an idea of what you can do with the data included in your tariff.
2G, 3G, 4G, LTE, 5G: What’s the Deal with Data?
These labels all refer to the type of network the network uses. While the specifics of how they work aren’t important, they can give you an idea of what to expect when using your mobile data.
Network types include:
2G: Basic data, mostly good for voice calls and text messages. Not compatible with streaming or browsing the web. Most networks are slowly phasing out their 2G networks.
3G: As the replacement to 2G, this network is slower than 4G but still fast enough for basic internet use and light streaming. It is more common outside urban areas.
4G: Faster than 3G, these networks can stream HD video or audio and work similar to a home or business broadband connection. These networks are common in urban areas though networks are adding 4G coverage in rural regions rapidly.
LTE: As the next stage of 4G, LTE offers yet another speed boost and improved reception on congested networks or in densely populated areas.
5G: While still in its early stages, this will be the replacement for 4G LTE in the coming years. It offers further speed boosts, lower latency, and improved indoor reception. However, at the time of writing, there are very few 5G networks in operation.
Real-world usage will vary based on your mobile model, location, network congestion, and other factors.
For a better idea of what to expect regarding network speeds in your area, we suggest consulting OpenSignal. Their data comes from real people using their app in your area instead of estimates. This means it should line up well with the speeds you will experience.
How Much Data Do I Need?
Much like minutes, the amount of data needed will vary from person to person.
In general, the more you use your mobile for things other than calling or texting, the more data you’ll need.
Also, while faster mobile speeds provide better video quality and more options in how you use your mobile on the go, it also means you can use data -- and potentially rack up hefty overage fees -- quicker as well.
As one of the most expensive parts of the typical mobile tariff -- especially if you exceed your data allowance -- this is one of the most important considerations when choosing a tariff.
Most data tariffs are measured in gigabytes. One gigabyte (GB) equals approximately 1000 megabytes (MB).
With 1GB you can:
- Receive 500 to 1250 emails with typical-sized (800KB to 2MB) PDF attachments
- Download 166 basic apps
- Download 16 basic game apps
- Download 2 high-quality, 3D games
- Stream music at high quality for up to 7 to 14 hours depending on settings
- Stream NetFlix for 3 hours at Low Quality
- Stream NetFlix for 1.4 hours at Medium Quality
- Stream NetFlix for 20 minutes at High Quality
- Upload 500 to 2000 images to Instagram
- Browse images on Facebook for 51 hours
- Use Google Maps Navigation for approximately 100 hours
- Send 34,000 WhatsApp text messages
- Video Chat on Skype for 4 hours
- Watch 68 videos on YouTube at SD quality
As you can see, how you use your mobile vastly changes what you can do with a set amount of data.
- In most cases, if you plan to use any data at all, we recommend opting for at least 1GB of data. While some networks offer data packages with less data, it’s often only a slight savings over the 1GB tariff.
- If you use apps, social media or email frequently, we recommend at least 2GB.
- Want to stream music or video or play games? We advise at least 4GB.
However, with the return of unlimited tariffs and networks that don’t count video or music streaming toward your data usage, you might find that one of these tariffs offers better savings.
You can find out more information in our mobile data guide.
“Unlimited” Data Tariffs
In most cases, unlimited tariffs aren’t actually unlimited. So, while these tariffs are making a comeback, be sure to check the fine print.
Typically, these tariffs include a cap -- somewhere around 20 to 30GB -- where speeds can be throttled if the mobile network is congested.
Note the “can” in their wording… it might not happen, but from reading reviews around the Internet, most times it does.
And even if you use 50GB with no problems for a year, you might experience throttling in the future as network congestion increases in your area.
Worse still, most throttled speeds are too slow for anything but basic email use and sending texts.
Some networks also reduce the quality of streaming audio and video to help save bandwidth on unlimited tariffs. While this won’t impact your experience much on a smaller mobile, you might notice the difference if you’re using a high-end mobile with a large screen or streaming on your tablet.
If you’re hoping to share your mobile data connection with other devices using your mobile’s mobile hotspot feature, some unlimited tariffs specify how much data you can share using tethering or block the feature completely.
This feature allows your mobile to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. This means you can use your mobile data connection on your tablet, laptop, or any other Wi-Fi enabled device.
Whether you need tethering will depend on your typical usage.
However, it is handy to have if your home Internet connection goes out, you’re working on the road, or you're planning to travel and won’t have access to Wi-Fi.
Keep in mind that unless you’re tethering with another mobile, you’ll use data quicker than normal. When tethering on a small data tariff, be sure to watch your usage closely to avoid additional fees.
Network support for tethering varies. Most that support it don’t charge extra to enable the feature. However, there are sometimes limits to data speeds or allotments when tethering.
You can find the full details on tethering for each network in our network reviews.
Beware of Data Roaming Charges
As with calling, most networks offer data service nationwide.
However, fees for international data usage are one of the leading causes of bill shock. Data roaming fees often start at dollars per megabyte.
This is particularly true of cruise ships where networks might charge as much as £10 or £15 PER MB.
This means checking your Facebook feed or watching a cute cat video could cost you hundreds of dollars.
If you’re planning to use data while travelling, be sure to check for flat-rate add-ons or consider getting a travel SIM or PAYG SIM at your destination.
Wi-Fi Calling & VoLTE
If you live in an area with poor coverage or frequently spend time in areas prone to signal issues -- such as basement offices or dense urban areas -- Wi-Fi calling can provide a reliable signal when mobile coverage cannot.
You might think, “Wi-Fi calling sounds great! Sign me up!”
But check the network’s terms first.
Many networks still bill you for minutes and texts over Wi-Fi. So the features are not a way to save money on your bill.
If you have a bandwidth limit on your wireless network, this means your mobile could cost you twice -- especially if your network makes it hard to switch between Wi-Fi calling and traditional mobile networks.
Some networks also cannot transfer calls from Wi-Fi to mobile networks seamlessly.
If you’re talking and leave the range of your router, your call might drop. While it’s far from a deal-breaking consideration, it might frustrate you if you have a weak Wi-Fi signal or frequently talk while on the go.
Many networks attempt to attract customers by adding exclusive perks or “free” services along with their mobile service.
This can range from discounts on movies, concerts, and other entertainment to free access to popular streaming services.
While these deals are legitimate, consider what they’re worth to you before you sign up for service.
If you don’t use a service often, then you might have found a better deal elsewhere. Not to mention that while the service provider might call the service free, the cost is likely hidden in your bill somewhere.
Most networks offer a range of additional services you can add to your tariff. Whether they are worth it for you depends on your preferences.
Let’s look at a few of the most popular tariff add-ons…
In our opinion, insurance isn’t worth it.
Back in the days of flip phones and Nokia candy bar phones, mobile insurance made sense. You paid a couple dollars a month and if your mobile took a swim or hit the ground a little too hard, you phoned up your network and they shipped out a replacement for next to nothing.
These days, when a flagship mobile retails for £1000 or more, network’s can’t afford to just hand you a new one.
This means you pay more each month for insurance. Then, when it breaks and you phone in for a replacement, they say, "Sure! Your deductible is £349.”
What’s worse is that they often then mail you a refurbished replacement, not a brand new mobile.
Sure, it’s cheaper than outright replacement...
But let’s be honest, £200 to £350 for a deductible still isn’t exactly budget friendly for most of us. Especially after paying for mobile service and insurance every month.
Instead of opting for insurance, we suggest picking up a good case, like an OtterBox, and stashing a little money away each month in case your mobile breaks.
TIP: If you need a mobile with built-in protection, rugged mobile options have improved greatly in recent years. There are even smartphone models with infrared cameras and other advanced features. This means you can take your mobile to the construction site or go hiking without worrying about drops, water, or dust.
Some networks offer roadside assistance as an add-on but the value of the service is a matter of preference.
Should you ever need to use it, there’s a good chance it will pay for itself in only one or two uses. Don’t use it and it’s money you could spend elsewhere.
However, be sure to check prices and what services are provided. Also check to see that you don’t already have roadside assistance through your car insurance, a credit card, or a club membership.
Streaming TV or Music Services
Before the glorious era of Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming sites, networks tried to entice subscribers into subscribing to streaming video and music services to enjoy their favourite media on the go.
These days, they’re often more expensive than the more popular standalone services while offering less content. And, in most cases, you can only access the service on your mobile or tablet.
One key difference is if you’d like to watch live TV -- particularly sports and news. Many networks are TV service providers too. So they’ll add live channels to their mobile streaming services.
However, with services like Playstation Vue and Sling TV gaining popularity their advantage is dwindling.
But the biggest consideration when deciding if you want streaming add-ons -- unless you’re on an unlimited tariff -- is Wi-Fi availability.
Streaming video apps chew through data. So you’re paying for a service to access the shows, then paying again with your data allotment to watch them.
If you don’t have regular access to Wi-Fi where you typically use your mobile, we recommend passing.
The one exception to this is networks that offer promotions in partnership with bigger companies like Netflix or Spotify. It’s not uncommon to see networks offer new lines with a few months of service with one of these popular streaming services included.
And you can use the service on all of your devices -- not just your mobile.
This depends on your tariff.
Some use a shared data pool while others track data usage per line. In most cases, shared data pools offer the greatest flexibility.
However, with tablets, some networks will allow you to add them to your tariff for a small fee and share your data with them.
If you have a PAYG tariff and run out of credits or use up your monthly allotment of minutes and data early, you will probably find that your mobile no longer works. For tariffs with free incoming calls, you could still receive calls but not place them.
If you have a monthly tariff and cannot pay your bill, your network will typically start by trying to contact you. Within a few days, they’ll often cut off service entirely.
If you’re on a contract, they’ll start with collections calls. But they will eventually close your account -- typically within one to three months. Once happens, you could face an early termination fee and the network will likely report your non-payment to the credit bureaus.
However, in most cases, should you need to contact emergency services, your mobile should still work. Many mobiles can still contact emergency services even without a SIM.
Early upgrade tariffs are one of the latest marketing tools used by networks. In essence, they’re mobile lease tariffs with all the same terms and conditions. They just don’t use the word lease because some people don’t like it.
You make payments on your mobile and after a set period, you can trade it in to upgrade to the latest model. In many cases, the term is set at 12 to 24 months.
The best mobile tariff is the one that fits your needs, offers coverage where you need it, and does so at the lowest price possible.
As such, there isn’t a single tariff we’d recommend for everyone. However, our tariff comparison tool is an easy way to compare options from leading networks based on a range of features and prices.
The answer to this is subjective and changes often.
If you’re looking for an idea of what to expect from a network, check our network reviews.
We list information from online reviewers, recent awards, speed ratings, and more to give you an overview of what reviewers and experts think of the company. You can also read reviews submitted by the community to see what others have to say about their services.
Coverage varies based on location and provider. It can even change based on the mobile you’re using. If you’d like an idea of what to expect, you’ll find links to coverage maps on our network listings.
Depending on the terms of your contract and deals offered by other providers, you might get out of your contract early without spending a ton of money.
Popular options include:
- Letting another network pay your early termination fee
- Transferring your contract to another person
- Downgrading your tariff and continuing to pay for it
- Paying the early termination fee if you’re near the end of your contract
- Proving the network has not met the terms of the contract
For more information, consult our guide on getting out of your mobile contract.
This depends on the device and network.
If your network sells unlocked mobiles, you can use them on any network using the same frequencies supported by your mobile.
Some networks lock the mobiles they sell to their network. This means it won’t work with other networks regardless of compatibility.
If you pay upfront for the mobile, many networks will unlock it immediately.
However, if you finance, lease, or receive a discount on your device, your network might not unlock it for use with another network until you meet their terms.
These terms vary from maintaining service for 90 days to paying off the remaining balance on your mobile. There might be a small unlocking fee but most networks have waived these fees in recent years.
Third-party unlocking services and tools might prove useful if your network will not unlock your mobile.
Yes. Many PAYG networks provide service without a credit check.
However, if you’d prefer a monthly account, our guide to getting a mobile tariff with bad credit covers a few common tips and tricks -- including finding a co-signer and using group tariffs -- that might help you avoid a hefty deposit.
Getting mobile service impacts your credit in a few ways:
The credit checks performed while finding a tariff could negatively impact your credit
If you are late paying your bill -- or they close your account for non-payment -- it will definitely have a negative impact on your credit report.
However, if you make timely payments and keep your account in good standing, a mobile phone is a great way to strengthen your credit report.
For more information, check our guide on how mobiles affect credit scores.
This depends on the gift in question.
If it is something you will use or is valuable, then it might be worth considering.
However, nothing is ever truly free. There’s a good chance the gift comes with a lengthy contract. Networks might also require you to agree to a high-end service tariff to qualify.
For cashback and rebate offers, you’ll often need to wait an extended period and follow a very specific list of instructions to claim your rebate or cashback deal. Even then, it will likely arrive as a prepaid card.
Some of the worst deals add credit to your mobile account or give you store credit. So while they technically honored your rebate, you can only spend it with the network.
While there are legitimate cashback deals out there, most are designed to be difficult to complete.
From complicated steps requiring multiple pieces of information to confusing deadlines, there are often endless ways for them to deny your claim.
And after they’ve denied your claim, you’re still on the hook for your contract or mobile financing.
If you’re considering a cashback deal, be sure to do your research to avoid any trouble.
As long as the original account is in good standing and the old provider offers service in your area, you can typically transfer your number to a new provider in as little as a few hours.
In most cases, getting started involves talking to your current network to get a PAC Code.
Once you have your code, order your new mobile or service with a different network. Provide the new network with your PAC code to start the number transfer process. This is usually done either online through the network website or over the phone.
Just keep in mind that once your number transfers, your old account will likely close. This could leave you with unexpected fees if the account was still under contract.
Choosing the best mobile tariff is all about knowing what you need and what you can afford.
Factors to consider include:
How you plan to pay for service
If you need a new mobile to go along with your new tariff
How many lines you will need
Which network offers the best deals
How many minutes and how much data you need
Where you can and cannot use your service
Extra perks and features
By knowing what features you need, you can find a tariff that is the perfect mix of utility and value -- and avoid costly charges when you run over your allotments by the end of the month.
We hope this guide helps to clear up questions you might have about choosing a mobile tariff.
If it has helped you -- or if you know someone who might need a little help with this -- please share this guide with others.
Now that you know exactly what you need in a mobile tariff, it’s time to find the best choices for your needs and budget.
Our tariff comparison tool makes it simple to search by network, price, tariff features, minute allotments, data allotments, and more to highlight ideal options. You can even compare them side-by-side to see how multiple tariffs stack up.
All without having to juggle a bunch of tabs or spend hours researching and doing the math yourself.
 Consumer Reports: mobile & Service Buying Guide
 The New York Times: Choosing the Best Smartphone Plan for You
 CNet: Before You Switch Wireless Networks, Read This
 CNN: Choosing the Cheapest Mobile Plan Is a Headache
 Best Buy: Quick Guide to mobiles and Plans
 The Wirecutter: The Best mobile Plans
 Kiplinger: Everything You Need to Know about Today’s New Cell-Phone Plans
 Money Saving Expert: 30+ Cheap Mobile Tips
 Choice: How to Find the Best Value Mobile Phone Plan
 Which: Choosing the Best Type of Phone Deal
 Step By Step: Buyers Guide to Family mobile Plan
 Unlock Base: How to Choose the Best Cellphone Service Provider
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