When you purchase a phone with a contract, you pay a monthly fee and in return receive a certain allowance of usage. A typical contract is usually (but not always) 24 months. You’ll need to check the length of the contract with your phone provider.

A smartphone on a table
During the contract you pay a monthly fee. It is important to note that the monthly fee you pay includes both the phone and the usage. In essence, you do not own the phone until the contract is finished.

The usage allowance usually contains three elements:

  1. Phone calls (minutes)
  2. Text messages
  3. Mobile Data (if you have a smart phone that connects to the internet)

1. Phone calls (minutes)

These are the amount of phone calls you can make in the month and are measured in minutes.

Only phone calls to any mobile or landline in the UK are counted as part of this. You will pay extra if you call a number located in another country (mobile or landline) or calls to special numbers such as 08 or 09 numbers. If you make more calls than your allowance, then you also pay extra.

This is only refers to outgoing phone calls, so received calls do not count.

2. Text messages

These are the amount of text messages you send during the month.  Only texts sent to a UK phone number are counted.

You will not be charged to receive text messages, but there are exceptions such as competitions (including TV, radio or magazine competitions) or marketing text messages. You will need to check the terms and conditions of the competition to find out how much you will be charged.

If you send more than you text message allowance, then you are charged extra per text message.

3. Data allowance

This is how much of the internet you use in a month. It is measured in either Megabytes (MB) or Gigabytes (GB). There is approximately 1,000 MB in 1 GB.

Your smartphone receives an internet connection via one or two methods:

  1. Mobile phone signal
  2. Wi-Fi

If you phone is connected to a Wi-Fi spot (such as in your home, or in a café), then your phone will use this as the internet connection.  Any internet you use does not count towards the allowance.  Only internet that you use through your mobile phone signal counts towards the allowance.

If you are just beginning to learn to use a smartphone, then a small amount could be best for you such as 250 MB or 500 MB. This would be sufficient for a small amount of use of the internet, such as Siri, Google Assistant, Email, Directions and Maps. If you read news from the internet or use additional apps and features of the phone, consider 500 MB or 750 MB.

If you like to listen to music while you are out and about, then consider some of the bigger allowances, such as 2 GB or 5 GB. If you want to listen to audio books, then choose an allowance around this figure.

If you watch TV or stream films when you are out and about, then it is best to consider a larger allowance such as 8 GB or more.

Features and benefits

With a phone contract, you can get a good handset as part of the package which may be harder to afford if buying the phone up front. You won’t have to worry about topping up (as is done with Pay as you Go).

When your contract is up, you can try to renegotiate with your provider to pay less at the end of your term. Or you could take out a new contract and get a brand new phone handset.

Your provider should deliver great support and customer service when you have a contract, because it is also in their interest to try to keep you signed up when your contract is up.

Anything else?

There are certain things to be mindful of.

When you are on holiday, you’ll have to pay extra to make phone calls (even if they are normally included in your allowance).  If you are going abroad for any reason, it is always best to check with your provider what extra charges you could incur.

To ensure you don’t get a surprise when you receive your phone bill, your provider could set a spending limit on your account or block the ability to make or receive calls when you are abroad.

If you are abroad and send or receive texts then you may also be charged. Even at home, text messages sent to numbers in another country are usually charged.