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How to use text, picture and data-free messaging

Is your mobile sending expensive texts without you knowing? Are you due free mobile data for WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter? All your questions about texting and messaging on your Virgin Mobile phone, answered.


What is text messaging?

Sending 160 character messages (that includes spaces) from your mobile phone to another – Virgin Mobiles can’t text landlines. Unlimited texts are included on your Virgin Mobile plan – just minutes after you tap Send, they should ping up on your recipient’s mobile. Rarely, texts can take up to 48 hours to be delivered. Some call texting, SMS (short messaging service).


What is a picture message (MMS)?

One that isn’t plain text or included in your unlimited Virgin Mobile text allowance. Adding a photo, video, sound clip or GIF to a standard text message makes it a picture message or MMS (multimedia messaging service). For how to create and send a picture message, please your device guide, covering everything from setting up MMS to switching off photo messaging, plus what to do if Virgin Mobile MMS isn’t working.

You may be told there’s a picture message waiting for you at, though they usually ping up on your phone – to see it, please go to the website and enter the code you were texted.


How much do MMS cost to send?

50p each, everywhere in the world. But if you’re mobile settings aren’t right and you’re out of mobile data allowance, you could be charged £3 for 1GB a day to send a picture message in the UK and EU, more if you’re roaming elsewhere (see: pay monthly tariffs).


How to avoid MMS charges

Rather than using our mobile network to send your photos, videos and sound clips, you could use:

  • Email or Bluetooth.
  • Facebook Messenger, Twitter or WhatsApp (see below: How to get data free messaging).
  • Or choose another mobile messaging app and use your mobile data or WiFi connection to send picture messages. 

For how to switch off picture MMS messaging in Settings, follow your device guide on Virgin Mobile phone support

Or change your picture message to a standard SMS text message, included in your allowance for no extra cost, such as by:


Why do my texts keep sending as picture messages?


Standard text messages that are 3 times too big or 480+ characters are usually converted to picture messages, so they’re easier to send. Your mobile’s specific limit may vary. Before tapping Send, check character counter most phones have above the button. Or go to Settings > Message preferences, than switch off automatic conversion to stop this happening and send long texts as several SMS messages.

Switch off Group Messaging in your mobile’s Settings so group texts aren’t send as photo messages.

Installing your mobile’s newest software should update your keyboard and send emojis as part of a standard text message. Third-party emoji apps and keyboards may always send emojis as photo messages – check the terms and conditions of any you’ve downloaded. 

Are you creating faces from brackets, dashes and colons in your text message? Changing your phone settings should stop your phone sending these emoticons as images. On an older Samsung, for example, you’d open Messaging > Settings > Text > Input Mode, then switch from Automatic to Unicode.

Check your Contacts. Some mobile’s change texts to photo messages if a phone contact’s just an email address, no phone number.

How to get data free messaging: what’s covered and how it works

All our 4G plans for mobile phones and mobile broadband let you send sound clips (voice notes), texts and pictures on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter, without using your data allowance. Upgrade from 3G and you can enjoy all this data free messaging, straight away. Plus, connect to WiFi or dip into your data and you can do voice or video calls on these apps as well.


Only what you agree to share with WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook Messenger. They’ll need your consent to know your location and collect information about you (your search history, contacts, purchases) and your device (the browser and operating system you’re using, for example).

Sure thing – for messaging, not calls. Automatic app updates use background data, mind you – switch these off in your phone’s settings so you aren’t charged for going over your allowance to the tune of £3 a day for 1GB.

Some foreign mobile networks block these apps but, while you’re exploring the EU, nothing changes – messaging won’t use your data allowance (see: fair use limits). International data roaming costs are charged in the rest of the world, for messages on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter. But remember, you could connect to WiFi and avoid these.

WhatsApp’s a free app for sharing encrypted messages and calls with a friend or your group. Only the people you’re chatting with know what you’re sending. But you won’t be signing in and out with a password. Just register your mobile number once and sync your phone contacts, you can share messages, sound clips (voice notes) and photos without using your Virgin Mobile data. If you aren’t connected to WiFi, use your data allowance to have video calls or share a 24 hour Status update on WhatsApp. Available from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Messenger’s a free app for hanging out, one on one or in groups, with contacts in your phone book – plus, your friends on Instagram and Facebook, if you’ve an account. Just search their names or usernames to message without using your Virgin Mobile data – you can add sound clips, stickers and more. Set messages to disappear when read. Or call your mates, watch videos together, have group video chats and gaming sessions, when you’re connected to WiFi or using your data allowance. Available from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Twitter’s a free social media network for sending private messages with friends and sharing 280 character messages (tweets) that the whole world can read and reply to. You can see top trending topics, breaking news headlines, and everyone’s reaction in real-time. You can follow sports teams, celebrities, presidents, family, businesses, charities – all the Twitter accounts you’re interested in. And people interested in you, will follow yours to hear what you have to say. Available from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

What are short code texts or premium SMS?

Some 5 or 6 digit short code numbers let you donate to charity, enter a competition, vote along with your favourite TV show or do another type of one-time payment. 

Others subscribe you to an information or entertainment Payforit service, usually until you tell them to stop. You can buy ringtones, games, apps or videos this way. Regular jokes. News, weather, traffic or sport updates. Use helplines or chat services. Download pictures to your mobile. You could gamble and use adult (18+) services when you’ve registered for access in Your Virgin Mobile Account

Your unlimited text allowance can’t cover these services, which you activate by texting a keyword, contacting a website or calling from your mobile. You’ll be charged for messages you send and receive. Your first message back from the short code number may tell you how much, as well as how often you’ll be messaged and how to cancel.  

To check prices and company contact details for specific numbers, download our list of short codes. Or see our Consumer Code of Practice for more about Virgin Mobile premium text messages, including how they’re charged and regulated.

For general information on what short codes are and how to stop them, check out managing your short codes page. 


How to manage my spending on short code texts 

Your mobile account has limits capping your spending. You can text short code numbers and Payforit services, charging less than £40 a message, until you’ve spent £240 a month – and no more, until your next Pay Monthly mobile bill. 


How can I stop short code messages?

Texting STOP or STOP ALL to the short code may unsubscribe you from messages or you could contact the company’s helpline. If you were charged for messages after you ended the service, it’s them you’ll need to ask for a refund. Messages may have been queued up, ready for you, before you cancelled. 

To block texts from all short code numbers, call 789 on your Virgin Mobile phone (or 0345 6000 789 on any). Texts from unknown senders and more spam, you can forward to 7726 free. You’ll get an automated reply, thanking you for your report, and more instructions if needed.