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Communications for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: September 2013

When moving to a new country, it is important to research the telecommunication services which are being offered so as to be able to make an informed decision as to what best suits you. The mobile industry in the UK has networks which may be considered as some of the world’s best service providers, as they boast nationwide coverage and many service options are provided at relatively affordable rates. As there are many options, you should try to determine beforehand what you will need your cell phone for and which services you will need.

The main mobile phone networks in the UK include Three, Orange, O2, Vodafone and T-Mobile. In addition to these networks, there are several others which are owned by one the aforementioned networks and operate using a different name, with an example being Tesco which operates using the O2 network. Each of these providers offers different services, rates and phone options. When selecting a network, you should ensure you’ll receive good signal strength in your area, especially if you are in the countryside or rural areas of Wales and Scotland which are prone to limited network coverage. You can find coverage information on each network’s website, but it’s also good to solicit the views of friends or colleague who may be able to testify to mobile signal strength.

Additionally, before you sign a mobile contract, you should gather information on services you might be charged for. When choosing a price plan, one of your best options is to use a comparison website such as U-Switch or Money Super Market to narrow down your options. Generally there are two principal service contracts:

  • Mobile phone contracts (post paid) – a fixed monthly amount is paid which covers your phone services (and handset cost), for 12 to 24 months. A monthly fee (and any charges outside of your bundle) are taken by way of direct debit. You should pay special attention to the terms of the contract, so as to avoid hidden fees or paying for services you may not use.
  • Pay-as-you-go – you pay for you mobile phone services in advance and you are not tied to paying for a fixed amount of calls or text each month. Credit can be easily purchased at most corner shops.

Like many other parts of the world, most mobile phone companies in the UK operate using the GSM standard. If your mobile phone is GSM compatible, you can travel to the UK without having to worry about getting a new one. All you will need to do is purchase a SIM-card (prepaid or post-paid) then you will be automatically connected to the UK network and be able to make calls and texts. Mobile phones which operate on other standards are not compatible with GSM and vice versa; however, they might be able to be unlocked by a service provider, making them operate on GSM. If you are posted in London, be sure to visit Tottenham Court Road which is a main area for electronic devices, in particular mobile phones. You may be able to have your current phone unlocked for under a tenner.

If you want the option of landline telephone services, this option is available to you in the UK. For many years, British Telecom (BT) was the sole home phone provider in the UK, but recent years have seen many more options and a wider range of packages. Availability varies from region-to-region, with other popular providers including Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk. Many offer special talk plans under contracts which usually last bout a year. Due to the high volume of providers, several ‘compare deal’ resources have been developed to located and compare provider plans within different areas of the UK, with examples being Home Phone Choices and Utility Warehouse. Additionally, you can obtain information on switching providers, or have this service done for you, along with information on Business Lines from the Home Phone Choices website.

Internet access is widely available in the UK with very few exceptions for some rural and depopulated areas. In most cases, broadband internet is offered by most landline service providers including the ones listed above. You could also ask about bundle packages which may provide you with discounts if you are thinking of choosing a single provider. To see a list of Internet providers within your area, and also compare their packages, the Broadband Choices website may prove useful. Additionally, like in many other countries, there are public areas such as coffee shops or restaurants which offer free Wi-Fi services.

 

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