Scotland Bound: Cell Phone Plans

Scotland Bound: Cell Phone Plans

So, you’re wanting to move to Scotland. Good choice, honestly!

But maybe there are a few questions you have before you arrive. We all have questions about places and spaces before we move—so I want to help bridge that gap a little bit. Hopefully, this helps those who are planning on moving for work or to become a student. And if you have other topics you’d like me to cover, let me know!

Today, I’m going to discuss:

It’s one of the simplest things, but one we might not consider until we move abroad. It can be daunting when you’ve just moved and you’re getting settled in—trying to get used to things; not knowing what to eat; getting internet set up; but then to be stuck and needing to make a phone call, or WhatsApp relatives to say you’re safe, and you don’t have a working cell phone.

Luckily there’s a variety of phone plans you can get. The UK is pretty good with cell phone plans that you can either set up a monthly payment plan with or Pay-As-You-Go.

And as an American, I am still shocked at my cell phone bills here in the States. I pay so much, but feel like I get so little back—especially considering I don’t use my phone that much.

But let’s pause that train of thought for a minute, and let me talk to you about the cell phone plan and company I use, and how you can get yourself set up similarly.


GiffGaff is the company whose SIM card I used while living in Scotland and I still use them when I go back on holiday.

I love them and in this entry, I’m not going to cover any other company. This is simply because I’ve had such a good experience with GiffGaff; they’re who I know and feel confident with, more than any other provider. There are others that might be better for your own needs, but GiffGaff is still amazing for getting you what you need and QUICKLY.

I’m also not reviewing other companies because I don’t have as much experience with them. I’ve had plenty with GiffGaff, so it would be unfair for me to judge others at this time.

(Please note: I am not sponsored by GiffGaff. I’ve just been using them for so long that I feel confident in sharing them as a quality provider)

What Do I Like About GiffGaff?

First and foremost, they’ve always been reliable for me. You can quickly add money to your account (Top Up), or throw on an affordable Monthly GoodyBags if you’re going to be in Scotland for a longer stay. I do this in the States before I travel, and I’m able to make phone calls, get Wifi, or play Pokemon GO (very important) as soon I get off the airplane.

This is more convenient (and affordable) for me than trying to set up my American phone plan for international travel. My American phone line isn’t essential for me when I’m in Scotland, but I often need to make phone calls to other Scottish phones—such as to make an appointment or to call up a friend. I can still use my WhatsApp number to keep in touch with people in the States, or FaceTime, or Skype.

But I also love it for the PRICE. Here’s a rough estimate of monthly prices for a GoodyBag with GiffGaff. (I believe that 80GB for £20 one might be a special right now due to COVID-19)

Currently, the pound is worth $1.25. At that exchange rate, you can get 15GB of data, Unlimited minutes and texts for under $20 a month (approximately $18.75). Bounce that up to £25 to keep your data always on, and you’re still only paying $31.25 a month.

Considering my monthly bill is currently $58, and I only get 4GB a month, I’m always floored by these prices.

Monthly Plan or Topping Up?

I mentioned monthly plans above, but let me talk to you a little bit about Topping Up.

Topping Up your phone means you’re adding money, thus data, text, minutes, etc, to your phone. The way you do this is either by adding money to your account on the website OR you can pop into a shop that does Top Ups.

If you go through a shop, make sure that they cover your provider. There should be a Top Up sign in the shop window that shows what providers they cover.

On your GiffGaff account, to buy a monthly Goodybag click “Buy a GoodyBag”, or to Top Up, click “Add Credit”

I know the Coop covers GiffGaff and I’ve been able to go there when I needed a Top Up. You’ll go up to the register and tell them you need a Top Up for GiffGaff, and tell them how much. Depending upon your need, you might say £10 to £20, but do remember that Top Ups can drain pretty quickly. In the times that I was in Scotland for only a week, I could easily go through £40 before the week was up—though, to be fair, I can use my data a lot when I’m there.

If you’re living out there and need something reliable for an extended amount of time, get a monthly plan based on your needs and budget. Your budget can be incredibly important if you’re a student. The Top Up is a great option if you don’t use your phone much, but need something quick, or if you consider this to be a temporary provider for the time being.

Considerations Before You Move

Do you need that SIM card before you move? Or would you be okay getting and managing that SIM card after you get to Scotland?

Let’s think about that now while we’re talking about what we’re needing for moving abroad.

If you want the SIM card before you move, that’s a bit tricky, but I’ll tell you what I did.

Have a UK Resident Order It For You

This was my option when I started going back to Scotland for vacations. I had tried a different Pay-As-You-Go plan, which had left me stranded a few times. In one instance, I couldn’t get WiFi to work. This was awful when I traveled to a new area; couldn’t find my way back to the train station; couldn’t get Maps to open on my phone… and then eventually had to call a friend and ask him to come pick me up. I felt very bad and silly.

This is one of the big reasons I still stick with GiffGaff because I have NEVER had an issue like that with them that I couldn’t figure out.

Obviously, there’s a perk to having friends and family who live abroad. When I wanted to switch back to GiffGaff because I remembered how reliable they were, I asked my friend if I could have a SIM sent to their house.


There is some issue with this, as GiffGaff does require you to put in an address in order to register and activate your SIM. If you do not have a permanent residence yet, that may be an issue.

I was fortunate that my friend was okay with me using his address on my SIM activation. This depends a lot upon your comfort level or how close of a friend/relative your resident assistant is. It’s an option, though it might not be best for everyone.

Buy the GiffGaff SIM from a Shop

This one is VERY handy, as I’ve only started seeing the GiffGaff Sims available in shops recently. When I was living in Scotland in 2012, I didn’t see GiffGaff in shops like I saw O2, Three, or Vodaphone.

Now, I do see them as I go through Tesco, so pop into one of their shops to purchase a SIM. I believe they’re only a £1 for the actual SIM card purchase in the store. Remember you’ll have to either top up the phone or purchase a plan, so while the SIM card itself is either free (if you’re able to have it mailed) or £1 in the store, it’s the money you put onto the SIM that’ll go towards your actual phone usage.

Your Physical Phone

This is an important one. A lot of us might have a phone, but aren’t sure if our phone will work.

I’ve purchased my last two phones from Apple, not through my wireless provider. I am always able to switch out my American provider’s SIM card and put in my GiffGaff card when I land in Scotland, and have 0 issues using my current phone abroad.

When I bought my phones from Apple, I bought them unlocked. An unlocked phone is an important detail to be able to switch out a SIM card.

So if you have a phone in the States, and you don’t want to have the added expense of buying a new phone before you go abroad, you should still be able to take that phone and use it with a UK SIM. If not, there are shops available for you to get your phone unlocked.

OR you can buy a phone, whether online or in a shop. Luckily, we’re living in a digital age, so buying a phone online isn’t too challenging. If you head into the city centre of the area you’re living in, you’re bound to find a Carphone Warehouse or similar where you can purchase a phone, if you’d rather buy in person.

Or you can buy a phone with GiffGaff via their website as well.

In Conclusion

This is an overview how to manage a cell phone plans with GiffGaff while living in Scotland. I hope it’s given you a bit more confidence on a small but important detail of moving abroad.

If you have other questions—whether about this post or other cell phone related details for moving abroad, or something else you’d like me to cover—let me know, and I’ll see if I can assist.

In the mean time, I hope if you’re planning on moving to Scotland soon for any reason, you’re getting excited. I’ll keeping working on different entries here on the website that I hope will help give you more insight into living in a new country, while also maybe giving you some more reasons to look forward to living in Scotland.


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