8-step guide to switching mobile contracts

·6-min read

Thousands of people are overpaying for their mobile phone package. Don’t be one of them.

Shopping around and finding the best mobile contract for your needs, rather than just letting your existing tariff roll over, puts you in the driving seat to get the best mobile phone deal.

1. Check your contract

Whether you can switch mobile tariffs penalty-free, depends on if you are still in your initial contract period.

You can usually see your contract end date by logging in to your online account. Alternatively, you can call your network.

If your contract still has some time to run, you are likely to be charged a fee for leaving early. This fee can be as much as paying off the remainder of the contract, so it could negate any savings you make by switching.

However, there is one situation where you can get out of a mobile contract early and penalty-free. If your provider puts up the price of your contract by more than the rate of inflation, you can switch penalty-free, as long as you do so within 30 days of being notified.

2. Choose the ideal mobile contract for you

There are three main types of mobile phone contract. These are:

  • monthly contract

  • SIM-only

  • pay-as-you-go (PAYG)

A monthly contract means paying a fixed monthly fee for a handset and an airtime tariff. Contracts are normally for 12, 24 or 36 months, and you keep the handset at the end of the contract. The airtime tariff will include a monthly allowance of calls, texts and data. Some monthly contracts have an upfront cost too, especially if you opt for an expensive handset.

SIM-only mobile plans just come with a SIM, not a handset. SIM stands for ‘subscriber identity module’ and is the small plastic card provided by your network that slots inside your mobile phone and makes it work.

With a SIM-only deal, you can either buy a handset separately, or, put the SIM into a handset you already own. The handset will need to be ‘unlocked’ to work on a different network from the one you bought it from originally.

A PAYG deal means you aren’t tied into a contract. You buy a phone and then top it up with credit to pay for call minutes, texts and data. PAYG can be a good option if you don’t use your phone much, are just visiting a country for a short period of time, or don’t think you’ll pass a credit check.

Related: Compare Monthly Contract Phone Deals

3. Analyse your mobile usage

Don’t just pick the cheapest deal when you choose a mobile contract – you need to find one which includes enough call minutes, texts and data for your needs.

If you use more than your allocation, you might end up paying relatively high charges for anything you use over the allowance.

You can look at previous bills to see how much you normally use. Data will be the big decider for many people. This is because we all use a lot of data, often without realising it, and because excess data charges can be extortionate.

4. Think about your travelling habits

An EU rule called ‘Roam Like At Home’ means that mobile networks must charge mobile customers UK prices for calls, texts and data when they go to any country within the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

UK networks are likely to stick to this rule even when the UK has left the EU.

But Brits travelling further afield are at risk of running up big phone bills. Calls and texts cost more outside the EU, but it’s data costs that really add up and often catch people out.

Some networks offer tariffs which allow you to Roam Like At Home in additional countries outside the EU. The number of destinations these plans extend to depends on the network.

5. Check network coverage in your area

If you are switching to a new network, you’ll want to check the network coverage where you live and the places you regularly visit before going ahead.

If you don’t, you may find yourself locked into a phone contract where you get a poor signal.

Most areas will have decent 4G coverage while 5G, the latest generation of wireless technology, is currently being rolled out across the UK.

If you want to use 5G, you’ll need:

  • A 5G-enabled handset

  • A 5G plan from your mobile network

  • To be in an area served by 5G

The UK’s main mobile networks all have postcode coverage checkers which show the 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G signal in each postcode.

6. Compare mobile deals

Once you have decided what type of mobile contract you want, the amount of calls, texts and data you need, and the best networks for your area, you should compare what’s on offer.

If you are looking for a monthly contract which includes a handset, you’ll need to research the pros and cons of the different makes and models of handsets. Some handsets will work with other gadgets or apps, such as Apple watches or Samsung Pay, while others might not.

Mobile phone comparison services can help you find the right handset, network and airtime tariff, at the right price.

There are thousands of deals available so take the time to find the right one.

7. Get your PAC or STAC

If you are moving to a different network and want to keep your existing phone number, you need to get a PAC from your current network. PAC stands for ‘porting authorisation code’.

You can do this by texting ‘PAC’ to 65075. This message will be free. Your provider should reply by text within a minute with your PAC which will be valid for 30 days.

Your network’s message must also include important information – such as any charges that you have to pay if you’re leaving your contract early; or your credit balance, if you’re a pay-as-you-go customer.

You can also request your PAC via your online account on your provider's website.

Some people want to start afresh with a new number when they take out a new mobile phone contract.

To switch and get a new phone number, text ‘STAC’ to 75075. STAC stands for ‘service termination authorisation code’.

8. Contact your new network provider

You then need to give the PAC or STAC to your new provider. It will make sure the switch is completed within one working day and deal with closing things down with your old network.

Whether you have a new number or keep the same one, if you choose a SIM-only deal you'll need to take your old SIM out of your phone and replace it with the new one from your new network.

If you opt for a monthly contract which includes a new handset, your network will send you both a new SIM and the handset.

Related: Compare Monthly Contract Phone Deals