Setting Up Cell Phones in Durham

This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University.  To read more posts like this, see our list here.


Mobile phones are widely used in the UK and can be quite affordable.  As it turned out, our contracts for our AT&T phones were ending when we left the USA.  We asked the company to unlock our iPhones for us as we left.  This took AT&T a matter of weeks to accomplish.  This gave us a chance to know the phone terrain, as it were.

While we waited for our iPhones to be unlocked, we bought a simple “bar” phone for about £1.  We set it up for month-to-month, no contract service for about £10/month.  When our iPhones were unlocked, we set them up on a similar plan.  We first needed to purchase a SIM card for 99p.  Then we started a similar month-to-month, no contract service.  We are happy with the “good deal” and the service coverage.  The key to the good deal is topping up your account each month.  With regular top-ups of £10/month we get about 300 minutes, unlimited text messages and 1GB of data a month.  With consecutive top-ups you get bonus minutes and data.

There are many good services providers around here.  We have had success with service from Orange/EE.  It has pretty good service in and around the Theology Department and St. John’s College.  The service has also been quite reliable as we have moved about the UK.  Since we have plenty of data, we have been able to use our phones as data hot spots. Incidentally, we have found that most people prefer to text over talking.  You can usually send a text without fear of being too informal or intrusive. We feel like we have gotten more service for our money with the mobile phone service here in the UK.

There are several shops around Durham where you can find service.  The service providers have stores where you can sign up.  There are also stores that offer several providers.  We had success at Tesco.  When it comes time to top up our phones, we use our Tesco loyalty card.  This gives us points that you can redeem for groceries, merchandise, meals out, and all sorts of things.  I love getting free stuff for buying the stuff I need!


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