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What does Pay As You Go mean?

A Pay As You Go (PAYG) mobile phone is a mobile phone for which credit is purchased in advance of service use. The purchased credit is used to pay for mobile phone services at the time the service is accessed or consumed. If there is no available credit then access to the requested service is denied by the mobile phone network. Users are able to top up their credit at any time using a variety of payment mechanisms.

Alternative to contract phone

The alternative billing method is a monthly mobile phone contact, where a user enters into a long-term billing arrangement with a mobile network operator. This costs a significant amount of money a month and you are often locked into the contract for a year or 18 months. It’s usually a lot more expensive than a PAYG phone but customers are often rewarded with free handsets and it can be cheaper than PAYG for very high volume users.


  • It’s great value – there are no monthly charges it’s often much cheaper than a contract.
  • There’s no credit check – great if your credit history needs improvement or you’re under 18.
  • You know exactly how much you’re spending – you’ll never be charged more than you’ve topped up.
  • You’re not tied to a contract – you can change operator or upgrade to a new phone whenever you want.

Top up Pay As You Go

Pay As You Go (PAYG) phones have a balance which can be queried at any time and which can be topped up periodically. It’s possible to use the following methods to top-up PAYG mobiles:

  • a credit card or debit card through an automated system, on the phone or online
  • direct from a bank account using an ATM
  • in a retail store by purchasing a “top-up” or “refill” card at retail
  • in a retail store using a swipe card where the balance is credited automatically to the phone after the retailer accepts payment


Many networks offer free Pay As You Go (PAYG) SIM cards. These free SIM cards sometimes even come with free credit once you activate them so you can start making calls right away. It’s even possible to get deals for unlimited texts, unlimited calls or unlimited data with your free SIM card.

Below is a list of mobile networks that will offer free SIM cards and links to where you can order them today.

by Jon M

10 Responses to “What does Pay As You Go mean?”

  1. MichaelS 7 January 2015 at 09:56 Permalink

    Re PAYG credit expiring: this has always been the case in some, probably most, cases. I’m not up-to-date with current conditions, but I expect it remains the same. There is a Three PAYG system which is cheap and doesn’t expire. I have used it, making few calls, for a couple of years, and it works as advertised. I think all systems will disconnect you if you don’t use your phone at all for many months; I was told that this is required by law (to prevent unused SIMs from holding on to numbers?. HTH

  2. Ian F 5 January 2015 at 09:30 Permalink

    On PAYG, I had an old PAYG sim and that was just as it sounds, on Orange. I needed a new phone and got a new PAYG sim card. However the meaning seems to have changed now as PAYG seems to be a 30 day rolling contract. I was told to let this expire and re credit my phone and I would get a credit that would get used up only when I used it. However when I did re credit I got another 30 day contract. Do you know how to get an old style PAYG as companies seem to have changes the type of contract this is but not the name. My phone is EE

  3. Mark 9 August 2012 at 10:14 Permalink

    Assuming that the SIM allows roaming then making one short call or sending a text from abroad will reset the 90 days clock.

    I think it is 6 months for Vodafone.

    • MichaelS 24 August 2012 at 16:34 Permalink

      Thanks for responses (make call; send SMS). For at least some PAYG SIMs neither will work for a visitor who visits Britain, say, once a year. If the SIM does not support roaming, it is not possible either to make an outgoing call or send an SMS from the SIM. It’s not a matter of avoiding calls to save money; it just can’t be done.

      • Mobile Network Comparison 26 August 2012 at 02:36 Permalink

        Are there any UK networks that don’t support roaming?

        • MichaelsS 26 August 2012 at 08:44 Permalink

          I don’t know all the PAYG services, but iCard (the cheapest, and the one I recommend for people who travel) doesn’t. And, according to their customer services, credit expires and may be lost irretrievably after 90 days of non-use. This is not intended as a criticism of their service (others will have restrictions), just a limitation to be aware of. To keep a SIM available it needs to be left with, or mailed back, to someone in the UK who either uses it regularly or makes one call every 90 days, or passed on to someone else travelling to the UK within 90 days. I haven’t done any detailed checking, but GiffGaff seems to allow roaming in many countries, so may be better for travellers – make a brief roaming call every 2 months to keep SIM alive..But GiffGaff calls to landlines/mobiles are 10/10p, vs iCard’s 3/6p. Losing credit is not a big deal for a traveller using £5 topups towards the end of the trip

  4. MichaelS 6 August 2012 at 16:58 Permalink

    Following up my own message: I asked Talkmobile Essentials and was given to understand that the account is inactivated after 90 days of non-use but can be reactivated; it expires irrevocably with loss of remaining credit after 270 days. The person I spoke to thought that it was an Oftel requirement for the account to expire. This is a problem for me, because I wanted overseas visitors to have a SIM which they use in the UK, then take back with them so on their next visit (more than 270 days later) they can start using the phone in the airport.

    • Mobile Network Comparison 24 August 2012 at 14:37 Permalink

      Would it not be possible to use the phone every 270 days (or fewer) to insure it doesn’t expire? Maybe incoming calls/texts would count but if not an outgoing SMS would be a small price to pay.

  5. MichaelS 4 August 2012 at 03:42 Permalink

    Re expiry of purchased PAYG credit: I haven’t used PAYG for a long time; when I did, there was a monthly charge which ate up credit even if the SIM was not used. The last PAYG SIM I had was used for 2 weeks then never again; it depleted all its credit with monthly charges, then ultimately became unusable, unrenewable, and I lost the number (I knew this would happen, I got it for a visitor from overseas and it served its purpose). The paid credit on the SIM simply got entirely used up this way, it’s not expiry of free minutes or anything like that.

    I see this isn’t mentioned at all, so may no longer apply; but I would suggest that at least a brief mention of this fact should be made for people in my situation, both on this page and other tariff-related pages.

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