The reasons why you want to stay connected while traveling are obvious: unless you plan on a In the wilderness style off the grid experience, you probably want to be able to use your data to get around, buy tickets, upload photos to social media, launch that local dating app, or whatever you want to do while abroad.
But international data and calling rates can be a big drain on your travel budget, not to mention roaming costs that vary with each border you cross. Therefore, buying physical SIM cards has been the preferred choice of many travelers until now.
Today we finally enter the era of electronic SIM cards, more commonly known as eSIMs, that store your phone’s data in the cloud and can be installed and swapped virtually. In fact, an eSIM is a SIM card that is built right into your device and can connect to any operator that offers eSIM services. This is good news for travelers as it means you can also buy prepaid cards online for your trip for any country or region you plan to visit. And there are now a number of options available such as Holafly eSIM.
We’ve put together this handy guide to everything travelers need to know about eSIMs in 2023:
The advantages of eSIMs versus physical SIM cards
This is your last chance to join TNW Valencia!
Use “VALENCIA30” to get a last minute 30% discount on your ticket
First and foremost, the biggest advantage of eSIMs is that you don’t have to go to a physical store or even be in the country to purchase your data. Instead, you can shop online, choose a carrier, and install it right on your phone (more on that later). This means you’re connected from the moment you hit the ground, making it easier to order an Uber, navigate a complex conduit system, or just find the nearest bar with a happy hour.
Then once you get back home, you can switch back to your local eSIM in just a few clicks (don’t worry, we’ll share tips on that too).
2. You can use multiple eSIMs
This is also a useful option if you often travel between countries. With iPhones that support eSIM, you can have multiple cards and even use dual SIM cards, meaning you can have two activated at the same time.
For example, if you regularly cross the border, with activated dual SIM cards you can automatically use the SIM card that is locally connected, without having to change your settings. You can also buy an eSIM for an entire region. For example, if you buy an eSIM for Europe, you cover a number of different countries.
3. A future without SIM card holders?
iPhone 14 plans to scrap its SIM card tray in the US, meaning iPhones will not be able to carry physical SIM cards now and in the future.
Of course, while Apple isn’t the only device brand, it won’t be surprising if others follow suit and slim down future smartphone models even further. Thus, cutting SIM trays could become a broader market trend.
4. Don’t lose your data
With an eSIM, there is no physical SIM card that can get lost or damaged. So if your phone is stolen, lost or broken while on holiday, you can still access your data via the cloud and transfer it to your new phone.
Finally, if you want to save as much plastic as possible, why bother with physical SIM cards?
And yes, SIM cards are super small, but it’s like stopping using plastic straws: every little bit counts.
The Disadvantages of eSIMs vs. Physical SIMs
Of course, it’s not all sunshine in eSIM land. There are some drawbacks to consider before choosing this option:
While eSIMs are a growing trend, not all devices or mobile carriers have caught on yet. While most carriers have adopted eSIM, some do not yet or do not yet support all devices.
For example, if you’re heading to Spain, keep in mind that Yoigo doesn’t support eSIMs for Apple Watch. As mentioned earlier, it seems that the overall trend is shifting towards eSIMs, so we’ll see more carriers introduce plans to adopt this technology in the near future.
2. Track location
Since eSIMs are virtually installed on your phone, you cannot remove them from your device like a physical SIM card. This means that you also cannot avoid being tracked by mobile operators/governments. If you are concerned about this in the country you are traveling to, it is better to avoid this option.
How to check your phone’s compatibility with eSIM
Before making a decision, you should first check if your phone is compatible with eSIM. Follow these steps:
- Check the phone’s specifications or manual to see if it supports eSIM.
- Check if your phone has an eSIM tray or has a built-in eSIM chip.
- Check if your phone’s operating system supports eSIM technology. For example, iPhones with iOS 12.1 or later support eSIM.
- Check with your carrier if they offer eSIM service and if your phone is compatible.
Or just check this out List of eSIM supported phones which is regularly updated with all eSIM compatible phones and devices.
One thing you should keep in mind is that just like with physical SIM cards, your phone must also be unlocked to use an eSIM. If you purchased your device directly from the manufacturer, it is likely that it will be unlocked. But if you bought it from a carrier, that may not be the case.
If you have an iOS 14 or newer, here’s how to check if it’s unlocked:
1. Go to Settings
2. Click on “General”
3. Go to the “About” section
4. Scroll to ‘Carrier Lock’ or ‘Network Provider Lock’. If you see “No SIM Restrictions,” your iPhone is unlocked. If not, it most likely means that your phone is associated with a specific carrier.
If you don’t have an iPhone, try inserting a SIM card and see if it works. This will tell you if your phone is locked. Last but not least, call your carrier and they can tell you if your phone is locked.
How to install an eSIM on your phone
Ok, if you’re still reading, it looks like you’re sold on getting an eSIM. Now the question is, how easy is it to set it up on your phone?
The first thing you need to do is add the new data plan by going to:
Settings > Mobile data > Add data plan (steps may vary depending on your device)
Most eSIM providers will send you a QR code that will guide you through a number of steps. Here are some guides on how to set up an eSIM on the most popular devices:
Please note: if you purchase a temporary eSIM subscription for your travels, it is best to set it up just before you leave, as your subscription starts the day you activate it.
Want an even more convenient option for your upcoming travels? The European provider Holafly eSIM recently launched a eSIM app which allows you to install, activate and verify data usage in more than 130 countries around the world. Unfortunately, the installer app is currently only available for iOS, but non-Apple users can still use Holafly’s eSIM services.
The company offers regular data plans in more than 130 countries and unlimited data plans in more than 45 destinations for less than $1.50 per day, including region-wide plans for Europe. They also have 24/7 support in more than 5 languages.
Switch between eSIMs and data sharing
Remember, if you’re traveling the world, you can use multiple eSIMs, but you can only activate one or two (for iOS) at a time. Use the following steps to switch between eSIMs when entering a new country:
1. Go to: Settings > Cellular/mobile data
2. Select the eSIM you want to use (under “Mobile Plans”)
3. Click “Enable this rule”
Do you want to share data between different devices or with your travel companions? Just go to:
Settings > Mobile data/mobile
Then select: Personal Hotspot
Select local providers and unlimited data options
Most major carriers now offer eSIMs, so you’ll probably have plenty of options to choose from, but local carriers often charge high roaming fees when you’re abroad. To avoid that, another option is to choose a prepaid international eSIM that may offer more affordable prices.
If you go that route, you’ll need to figure out how much GB you’ll need for the length of your stay. Of course, this all depends on how much you are going to use your data. If you just plan to use it for Google Maps and occasionally search for local restaurants, you may not need as much as a new travel influencer who wants to upload videos and stream content every day.
Here’s a handy table from Holafly with some calculations average data usage to help you:
The good news is that there are also some unlimited data options, especially if you’re traveling to the US. Please note that this type of subscription does not allow you to share or transfer data with others.
So when you’re ready to head out on your next trip, getting an eSIM can be a hassle-free option to keep you connected, whether you’re going on an adventure across multiple countries or taking a simple business trip abroad.