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UK Mobile phones for Foreigners FAQ

Version 0.5, 20 January 1997.

Disclaimer: I have no commercial connections with any entities described here. These tips are purely my opinion, and does not constitute legal advice. So use them at your own risk.

Can I buy those cheap GSM (ie. GSM900) mobile phones in the UK and use it in my own country?
The short answer is YES, you can do it. But is it worth it? The mobile phones in the UK are cheap because they are tied to a minimum contract of 12 month with some UK GSM provider. This basically means you at least have to pay 12 months line rental, even if you do not make any calls during that 12 months. Another problem is that the providers think that you will run away with the phone, run up huge bills and not pay them, so they do a 'credit check'. And sometimes the provider will put a 'SIM Lock', which means you can't use a different SIM card than the one provided. But the credit check thing and the SIM lock can be avoided.
OK, so how do I know if it's worth the hassle then?
Personally, I can think of only one situation where this is true: You are coming to the UK and stay for at least a year. This means that at least you can use the phone while you're here, and when you come back to your country, you return the UK SIM card, go home, and buy your home network's SIM card. For me, this calculations works out because the total cost of the phone plus one year's line rental in the UK is the same as the price of a phone back home.
What do I need to look out for in buying a mobile phone?
You need to keep the cost low, and avoid any extra fees later on. So here are some of the things to look out for:
  1. Make sure that the phone is not SIM locked. An ideal way is to have a working SIM card from your own country's network and try that in the phone.
  2. Currently the best minimum contract is 12 month, with one month's notice that can be given after the 11th month, know as a '11+1' contract. Some suppliers still have the '12+3' contract, which effectively ties you for 15 months. Keep clear from these suppliers.
  3. Make sure that there are no 'termination' or 'disconnection' fees at the end of the contract.
  4. Avoid the so-called 'mandatory' itemised billing, which costs about 2 pounds/month. Itemised billing should be optional and cheap. The cheapest rate I know is 99p/month (inc VAT)
  5. Avoid other 'mandatory' extras such as deposits, handset insurance, etc. Besides your line rental, nothing should be mandatory.

What about the credit check?
The easiest way is to find a supplier that allows you to do these :
  1. Have a (working) BT landline telephone in your accommodation. You can use the bill (with your name on it, of course) as a proof of address.
  2. Pay your one year's line rental in advance. This sounds bad, but some suppliers give you lower line rental and call charges if you do this.
  3. You also need a bank account, because they're going to direct debit your call charges.

So what are the essential costs then?
  1. The handset. Sample January 1997 prices: Nokia 8110 - 140 pounds, Ericsson GH388 - 100 pounds, Nokia 2110i - 70 pounds.
  2. The one-time connection fee. About 35 pounds, and some providers have special offers that waive this fee.
  3. One year's worth of line rental. Currently (January 1997) Cellnet charges 170 pounds for 12 months (inc VAT), and gives you reduced call charges as well. This works out to about 14.2 pounds/month, compared to the usual 17.63 pounds/month when paying monthly.

Which suppliers meet the above criterias?
I don't have a comprehensive list at the moment, but one example is:
Anyone who have good experience with another supplier (or even any supplier can provide the above!) can contact me via e-mail or send SMS from my page.

Go to Nokia 8110 FAQ

© 1997 Perry Ismangil