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What are SIM-free phones?

What does SIM-free mean?

It is as it says on the tin – a SIM-free phone is a handset that doesn’t come with a SIM card when you buy it.

If you prefer to buy your phone outright and own it, a SIM-free phone is a great way to go. As well as having your choice of SIM-only deals to pair it with, it typically works out cheaper in the long run. Even though it’s more money upfront to buy a phone, a pay-monthly contract adds up, costing you more.

There are often financing options available, and you can save even more if you trade in your handset to offset some of the cost.

What’s the difference between a SIM-free and an unlocked phone?

Although SIM-free and unlocked phones both let you use a SIM card from a network of your choice, the way they’re obtained differs.

A SIM-free phone is a phone you purchased outright, usually directly from a retailer. It comes without being locked to any network, so it can take any SIM card straight out of the box.

On the other hand, an unlocked phone is one that was previously locked to a network – for instance, if you bought it on a pay-monthly contract which has come to an end. In which case, you’ll need to contact your old provider to ask them for a network unlock code. Our guide on how to unlock a mobile phone takes you through the process.

SIM-free phone providers

You can often buy SIM-free phones directly from manufacturers, like Apple and Samsung, but there are plenty of merchandisers and networks willing to let you buy handsets up front.

This includes refurbished handsets - though if you're looking for those, you can still get refurbished phones paired with contract deals if you'd prefer.

Vendors like BuyMobiles carry new SIM-free handsets, whereas sites like UR specialise in second-hand and refurbished models.*

*note that if you buy a SIM-free handset through the providers listed above, we receive a commission.

Why buy a SIM-free phone?

Although it’s a lot of money to spend in one go, there are a few advantages of buying a SIM-free phone versus getting it on a contract:

  • More flexibility – Instead of being tied to a long-term phone contract, you can get a one-month rolling SIM deal with your SIM-free phone, and change it whenever you like. Plus, you’re free to use a local SIM if you travel abroad
  • More choice – Plenty of networks offer a large variety of SIM-only deals, and with a SIM-free phone, you’re spoilt for choice
  • Cheaper in the long run – Despite the large upfront cost, a SIM-free phone tends to work out cheaper overall when compared with a pay-monthly contract - especially when you finance the handset up front with a 0% interest purchase card - just be sure to keep up your payments.

Can I put my current SIM card in a SIM-free phone?

Yes, absolutely. SIM-free phones are unlocked, meaning you can pop in a SIM card from any network.

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