Birmingham SIM Cards: A Guide for Arriving Visitors
A guide to buying a SIM card when arriving at Birmingham Airport: Which shops at the airport sell SIM cards, and some better deals available after leaving the airport. I travel a lot and used to live in England; I understand how confusing it can be to arrive in a new city. Hopefully this guide helps visitors, tourists, students, business travellers, and anyone else arriving in Birmingham find a SIM card.
The following shops at Birmingham Airport sell SIM cards:
|Shop||Location||SIM Cards Available|
|To the left, immediately after leaving customs||
WH Smith is the only shop at Birmingham Airport to sell prepaid SIM cards. The nearest WH Smith is to the left immediately after exiting the customs area.
Three options are available at WH Smith for prepaid SIM cards, depending on stock:
Expect to pay £20 for 5-10GB of data (depending which company) and some calls. These SIM cards can currently be used to roam to the EU, this guide was written pre-brexit. More options are available if 10GB is not enough data. All of these SIM cards last at least 28 days and can be topped-up and extended online, by voucher from retailers (such as WH Smith) or in their respective shops.
My favourite is EE, typically starting from £20, based on my experience visiting and working in the UK. EE seemed to have better coverage consistently at every location I visited. Three and Lebara do offer slightly more calls and data than EE, however the allocations are already generous and I found myself rolling over unused data at the end of the first month anyway.
With a plan of £20 applied, EE includes1:
- 10GB of data
- 750 mins of local calls
- 30 day validity
For comparison, Three includes 12GB of data for £202, and Lebara offers 10GB on its £20 plan3. An additional cost for the SIM card itself may be required at purchase. While Three and Lebara seem good on paper, I’ve had a much better experience using an EE SIM card across England (particularly for coverage).
Further in this guide below I’ve compared the EE SIM card to the other options available, including at the airport and the savings that can be made by leaving the airport to buy a SIM card.
This guide to SIM cards for arrivals at Birmingham Airport includes:
The cheapest SIM cards for use in Birmingham and the rest of the UK are not sold at the airport. Tesco Mobile, which can be purchased after leaving the airport is roughly £5 cheaper initially and per month. For hurried travellers such as myself, it is not worth the hassle (even when I ended up staying nearly 6 months in the UK).
At Birmingham Airport, SIM cards should be available from these providers (stock depending):
I took a look at which of these SIM cards is better for:
- Data (it’s EE),
- Coverage (also EE), and
- Calling back home (Lebara)
All plans offer generous amounts of calls to UK phone numbers. I usually look for a plan with at least some local call minutes to make it easier when dealing with taxis, hotels, and restaurants.
EE (from £20) is my favourite overall because it was the only provider to consistently offer coverage at the office I was working in and in the towns near the office. This isn’t a common experience though, every provider offers excellent coverage in Birmingham and the midlands so most people won’t notice a difference.
For data: EE, from £20
The £20 plan with EE currently includes:
- 10GB of data
- 750 mins of calls to the UK
- EU roaming (as of January, 2019 pre-Brexit)
For £30, this doubles to 20GB of data. Plans are valid for 30 days.
Data rolls over at the end of 30 days if the plan rolls over. I missed this once and lost all the data that had rolled over, however the monthly allocation is so generous I was never using that amount anyway.
I used this data to watch two hours per day of high definition Youtube videos (had to take the staff shuttle bus to the office), and never came close to using 10GB per month.
If this is not enough data, Three offers 12GB of data for the same £20, or 36GB for £27.502.
For coverage: EE
EE offered me better and more consistent coverage when I was travelling outside the major cities.
Around Birmingham and the larger towns throughout the midlands, I found all providers had excellent coverage. Coverage was also excellent on the train lines and motorways connecting Birmingham and London.
Coverage wasn’t great outside of these areas, including roads and train travel elsewhere in the UK. I was working in a new business park with a village nearby, this also didn’t have great coverage (except for EE, and a little with Vodafone).
For international calls: Lebara, from £20
Lebara is excellent for calling back home with international calls, this is their selling point. Even on their cheapest plan (£10, but not always available at the airport), Lebara include calls to many common destinations.
On the £20 plan (typically available at the airport), unlimited international calls are available to:
- Most of the EU
- Australia and New Zealand
- China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand
- United States and Canada
Many more countries (41 at last count) are included in the unlimited international calls.
I don’t like Lebara for data or coverage, but it is hard to beat their unlimited international call inclusion.
Is it better to buy a SIM card in Birmingham city or at the airport?
Buying a SIM card at Birmingham Airport is the best option for short-term visitors. If travelling for short work trips (like me), or tourism, it’s hard to beat the value of the SIM cards available at the airport. Buying at the airport is also quick and convenient.
Leaving the airport to buy a SIM card opens up a few more options, my favourite of which is Tesco Mobile. There are many other SIM card choices in the UK (I used to use Vodafone myself, but now switched to EE). While EE is my favourite overall provider for the UK meaning I usually recommend picking it up at the airport, Tesco Mobile can offer good value for the short-term traveller.
Tesco Mobile can be a good choice for those leaving the airport before buying a SIM. It’s widely available at Tesco outlets, the SIM card itself doesn’t cost extra, and there can be good value in the cheaper top-ups. I still recommend EE overall, particularly given the convenience of being able to buy it at the airport.
The best benefit of leaving the airport is that the cheaper options for top-up become available (from all providers, including those sold at the airport). Each provider has a £10 plan which is not always available at the airport, but can be found in their stores.
Tesco Mobile, a good value option
For only £10, Tesco Mobile offers4:
- 4GB of data
- 500 mins of calls to UK phone numbers
- 5000 text messages
There is no additional SIM card fee if buying this from a Tesco shop.
Where to buy Tesco Mobile
Many Tesco stores, including Tesco Express and Tesco Metro (more typically found in city areas) sell the Tesco Mobile SIM card.
If driving from Birmingham airport, there is a Tesco Superstore roughly 10 minutes drive from the airport heading towards Birmingham on Coventry Road. It is open 6am to 12am, except Sundays (10am to 4pm).
If using the Air-Rail Link and heading to Birmingham New Street, there is a Tesco Express inside the train station (after leaving the ticketed area). It is open 7am to 11pm (except Sundays when it opens at 7:30am).
Do I need ID to buy a SIM card at Birmingham Airport?
Identification is not currently required to buy a SIM card at Birmingham Airport, England, or anywhere in the UK.
This part includes:
- Who can roam to the UK with their SIM Card from home - such as with the AT&T roaming passport or any EU SIM card, and
- Where a UK SIM can be roamed to - for those buying a SIM in the UK, where else it can be used (in addition to the EU)
Who Can Roam To the UK
Anyone with an EU SIM card to roam to the UK, at the time of writing. This includes visitors from outside the EU who purchased an EU SIM, and now want to use it in the UK.
Americans who travel frequently and are subscribed to AT&T might also find value in the Roaming Passport. T-Mobile also works in the UK. Anyone else staying more than a few days in the UK and Europe will likely find it better value to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival.
For visitors arriving from the EU: England and the UK are (at the time of writing) part of the EU single digital market and support roam like at home5. This means that European SIM cards should be able to use their quotas for SMS, calls, and data as if it was being used in the home country.
This means that people from outside the EU (such as Americans, Canadians, or Australians) can buy an EU SIM card and have it work in any EU country. If you purchased a SIM card in Ireland, France, or Germany (for example) before arriving in England, that SIM card paid for in Euro will still work in the UK.
- AT&T includes England and the UK with their Roaming Passport for 70 USD per month6;
- T-Mobile includes England and the UK in plans with Simple Global (unlimited 2G data)7.
For Americans not already subscribed to AT&T’s roaming passport, buying a local SIM card seems much cheaper than roaming to the UK.
- Rogers8 and Telus9 charge 12 CAD per day to use your regular quota in the UK;
- Bell charges 12 CAD per day for 500mb and unlimited calls to the UK, and Canada10.
Canadians will likely save significant money by purchasing a SIM card when arriving in Birmingham.
- Telstra charges 10 AUD per day for roaming in the UK11;
- Vodafone charges 5 AUD per day12;
- Optus offers 10GB for 20 AUD lasting 14 days13.
If only staying a few days, Vodafone can be a good option for roaming in the UK. Chances are though that buying a local SIM card on arrival will offer significant savings.
For New Zealanders:
- Spark roaming to the UK has options for 15 NZD including 1GB of data lasting 7 days, or 20 NZD to add on some calls and texts to that data14;
- Vodafone lets customers use their plan quotas for 7 NZD per day in the UK;15
- 2degrees starts from 30 NZD for 500mb lasting 3 days16.
For people with Spark and Vodafone, roaming can be better value for staying a few days in the UK. It is likely a better plan to pick up a local SIM card however.
Roaming with a UK SIM Card to Another Country
Most EU member states have a roaming agreement that allows use of one SIM card throughout. The UK is included in this agreement, and a UK SIM card can be used in much of Europe (at time of writing, pre-Brexit).
A UK SIM card will work in Northern Ireland (e.g. Belfast) and the Republic of Ireland (e.g. Dublin) as well.
Roaming rates are not charged extra, and usually include access to the amount of data and calls already included on the plan (with some quirks).
Calls to UK numbers should be included, but calls to EU numbers are typically charged at international rates.
United States and Canada
EE is very poor value for roaming to the US or Canada. Calls are charged at very high rates and data packs are expensive, 100MB for £7 with 24 hour validity for example.
Tesco Mobile and Lebara do not appear to even offer data packs to destinations outside the EU, so their roaming options are even more expensive.
Vodafone offers the best roaming options I’ve found, but only if you have a pay monthly plan. These plans are still prepaid (I used to use one), but assume monthly billing rather than pay as you go. Costs for pay monthly with Vodafone are similar to EE - roughly £20 for generous calls and data - and can be used for roaming at an extra £6 per day. For travellers spending less than 2 months in Scotland or the UK, this probably isn’t going to be good value; buying a SIM card on arrival in Canada or the States will be easier.
I’ve also written guides for:
If travelling on to Canada next, I’ve recently written some guides for Canadian cities as well:
Written by Chris who travels frequently for work and understands what it can be like to arrive somewhere new and unfamiliar.
I wrote Landing Last Minute to help the hurried traveler get necessary information about any destination.