Mobiles

SIM-only or a bill pay contract: which is best?

If your contract ends soon, you may be wondering whether a SIM-only deal could save you money. Here’s all you need to know about picking the best plan and making the switch.

What is a SIM-only plan?

It’s a mobile phone contract that includes minutes, texts and data, but unlike a bill pay contract, you don’t get a new phone.

Plans are usually offered as a 30-day rolling contract, with no contract tie-in, but you’ll have to provide your contact and bank details.

The monthly price is fixed, but if you prefer to pay-as-you-go, you can choose a prepay SIM-only plan and top up when needed.

SIM-only plans are usually cheaper than bill pay deals because you’re not paying for a new handset.

Get a SIM only deal with the calls, texts and data you need for less.

It only takes a few minutes to find a cheaper deal and start saving.

How much do SIM-only plans cost?

The price depends on the network and offers you choose. Compare the most up-to-date prices and discounts on our SIM-only deals page.

Some mobile networks offer a discount for 12 months, after which the monthly cost increases, but because it’s a 30-day rolling contract, you will be free to leave and take your number with you.

Pros and cons of SIM-only plans

If you’re not ready to part with your beloved phone and your phone contract has finished, then there are many advantages to switching to a SIM-only deal.

Pros

  • Cheaper deals
  • More flexibility
  • No tie-ins or penalties
  • Keep your phone & number

Cons

  • You don’t get a new phone
  • Prices may rise after 12 months
  • You may need to unlock your phone
  • Latest models are expensive upfront

Who offers SIM-only plans in Ireland?

Nine mobile networks offer SIM-only deals in Ireland, offering both prepay and contract options.

Main networks
eir Three Vodafone            
Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)
48.ie Clear Mobile GoMo Lycamobile Tesco Mobile Virgin Mobile    

mobile number handset

Can you keep your mobile number?

Yes, this is called ‘porting’ your number and makes changing network a much smoother process.

Keeping your number means you won’t have to tell all your friends and family your new number or risk losing contact with anyone.

Your new network will guide you through the steps you need to take to port your mobile number.

What is a bill pay contract?

With a bill pay contract, you’re committed to a plan for a set period usually between 12-24 months.

You’ll pay an upfront cost and fixed fee every month for the handset of your choice and an allowance of calls, texts and data. Most bill pay contracts are unlimited with a fair usage policy.

The latest, premium models are the most expensive, and you can expect to pay up to €60 per month in addition to an upfront cost.

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Pros and cons of bill pay plans

Here’s some of the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a bill pay phone on contract.

Pros

  • You can upgrade to the latest releases
  • Spread the cost of expensive mobiles
  • Build your credit rating
  • Perks & freebies

Cons

  • You’re normally tied in for 24 months
  • Monthly costs can be very high
  • You’ll need to be credit checked
  • If you lose or break your phone, you still have to pay

Group of young people standing against a wall using mobile phones

What happens when I change my network?

All that will happen when you change network, is you’ll see a new mobile provider name on your phone and on your bills. You may also experience minor differences in mobile phone coverage.

Switching your mobile phone network is straightforward, and your new provider will guide you through any changes you need to make.

Should you switch to a SIM-only deal?

If you’re happy with your mobile phone and don’t want to upgrade for at least 12 months, switching to a SIM-only deal will save you money.

This type of plan is also cheaper if you buy a discounted or refurbished mobile phone.

Here’s a couple of things to consider before making the change.

  • Check that you are out of any contract tie-in. If you are still in your phone contract you’ll be charged for leaving early so it’s better to wait.
  • Confirm you can keep your number. Most mobile providers allow you to keep your number, but check with your new provider before you make the move.
  • Check your new provider’s network coverage. If the provider is an MVNO, find out who powers the network - the coverage will be the same.
  • Is your phone unlocked? If it’s locked to a network, you may need to unlock your phone, but don’t worry, it’s a simple process.
  • SIM-only deals require you to give contact and bank details, if you don’t want to do this, buying a prepay SIM maybe a better option.

Find a SIM-only deal

How to find the best SIM-only deal

The best SIM-only deal for you will depend on how much you use your phone, what you use it for and where you live. When you’re comparing networks and plans, think about:

  • Price: For most, this is the most important thing when picking a plan. If the deal has an initial discount, make sure you also consider the ongoing monthly cost when the offer period ends.
  • Coverage: A good signal and reception are vital for your mobile phone. If you’re not sure which networks have the best coverage, our dedicated guide can help.
  • Unlimited or capped: Unlimited deals allow you to call, text and download as much as you like. Capped deals are cheaper, but you’ll get a set number of minutes, texts and data and be charged if you go over.
  • Contract length: Most SIM-only deals now have 30-day rolling contracts, so you’re free to leave whenever you like. Longer contracts with tie-ins are normally cheaper.

Consider bundling your mobile plan with other services like broadband, phone and TV. Some providers like eir and Virgin Media offer discounted mobile plans to their customers.

Switching to SIM-only FAQs

Can I use my current SIM card if I switch network?

No, if you move to a new network, you will need to get a new SIM card. Your new mobile phone operator will provide this when you sign up with them.

However, if you switch to a SIM-only deal with your existing provider, you can keep your current SIM.

How do I know if I'm free to switch?

If you got a phone as part of your current mobile phone contract it’s likely that your contract was for 24 months. If you’re not sure when you signed up, check your online account, app or contact customer services.

Early exit fees for mobile phone contracts can be high, requiring you to pay for the months remaining on your plan, so wait for your contract to end before switching.

How do I unlock my phone?

You can find out how to unlock your phone in our guide. You may have to pay a fee if you are still in contract.

Where can I buy a refurbished phone?

You can find out more about buying a recycled phone in our helpful guide Should you buy a refurbished phone? which tells you all you need to know about refurbished phones and where to buy one.

Which network should I choose?

In Ireland, the three main networks are eir, Three and Vodafone. All of the other operators, including Lycamobile, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, 48 and Clear Mobile use one of these main networks to provide their customers with phone service.

So, if you have decent coverage with Three, for example, you will get very similar coverage from Virgin Mobile, which is powered by the same network.

You can read more about this in our dedicated guide to mobile phone coverage in Ireland.

Will I lose signal when I switch?

You may experience some downtime between changing networks - you’ll notice your coverage will disappear on your old SIM, at which point you should start to use your new SIM.

At most, it will be about an hour but is usually less.

Get a SIM only deal with the calls, texts and data you need for less.

It only takes a few minutes to find a cheaper deal and start saving.