You can get mobile data abroad 6 to 20 times cheaper by using a travel eSIM. In this post, I cover the most common questions about eSIMs when you travel, including step-by-step guides on how to install and activate them.
Forget about roaming or local pre-paid SIMs
A common trick when you traveled few years ago was to get a local prepaid SIM card once you landed and top it up. It was much cheaper for mobile data than buying a roaming package from your operator. Of course, you couldn’t take phone calls on your number, so it wasn’t an option for business travellers. Plus, there was the inconvenience of finding an SIM store, activating it and topping it up, ugh.
Now that’s over. eSIMs were introduced on iPhones and Android phones a couple of years ago, and now you just need to download a SIM card and install it to start using it.
What you need to know about eSIMs (FAQ)
eSIMs are new and can be tough, I get it. I have compiled a list of the most frequent questions I received recently, straight to the point.
What is a travel eSIM?
An eSIM is a digital SIM that allows you to use a cellular plan from your carrier without a physical SIM. Travel eSIMs are eSIMs sold to travellers in order to get mobile data at local rates or even a second phone number while you are abroad, avoiding expensive roaming from network operators.
Are eSIMs better than a physical SIM card?
There are a number of advantages of eSIMs: they make it really easy to switch careers, you can have more than one number, they are easier to activate, and they take up less space inside your phone (which means smaller phones, or better battery life)
Normal physical SIM cards are inconvenient. You are stuck to that piece of plastic, you can lose them or break them, and it needs a tray and a reader inside your phone to make it work. Security aspects are also outdated since they cannot change the physical technology very often.
Some recent phones, like the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, will only come with an option for eSIMs, and will not come with a physical SIM tray. You will only be able to install and use eSIMs.
What is the difference between eSIM and Dual SIM?
Dual SIM refers to a device capable using two SIM cards simultaneously. eSIM is just a digital SIM card. If you phone is dual SIM, it means it can use two SIMs at the same time, typically one physical SIM and one eSIM. Most phones supporting eSIMs these days are also dual SIMs.
Why are eSIMs useful for travel?
The fact that you can have multiple phone numbers and simultaneous data plans makes eSIMs a perfect fit for travel. You can get a local phone number and a local or regional mobile data plan, which means much cheaper rates, saving you money while being connected.
Imagine you travel from Europe to the United States or Asia. If you have to use internet from your provider, it can be very costly.
My experience: Telia charged me 275 SEK for 1GB during 1 week in the US, and then 20 SEK per MB I exceeded. Insane! Using an eSIM from Airalo, I got to pay 45 SEK for 1GB and 7 days. That’s 6x cheaper.
Should I use an eSIM instead of traditional roaming?
There are some situations where roaming is needed anyways. If you are a business traveler, or you have an activity where you depend on your phone number to take calls, then you need to activate roaming. Your provider will charge you extra for this service, which is usually quite expensive. Network operators make a lot of money from this.
Still, an eSIM can help you big time. There are other ways of taking phone calls on the road while keeping your phone number. For example, you can get an eSIM for data during your trip and then just use WhatsApp, Telegram, or even FaceTime for your call.
Where can I get the cheapest eSIMs?
Check out Airalo, one of the cheapest marketplaces for eSIMs. Use the code GERMAN3600 to get $3 discount.
How many eSIMs can I have installed?
On iPhones, you can have eight or more eSIMs, and use two phone numbers at the same time. Starting with iPhone 13, you can have two active eSIMs at the same time. If you have a previous iPhone starting from XR, then you can use an eSIM with your physical SIM at the same time.
Under Settings > Cellular > SIMs, you can see your eSIM collection, just as if you had all those physical SIM cards in your pocket 🙂
How do I install an eSIM on an iPhone?
Follow these steps. You need to buy an eSIM before; check Airalo for the cheapest eSIMs.
How to install an eSIM on an iPhone?
On your iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular
Under SIMs, tap on add eSIM
You will see a “Set Up eSIM” prompt. You can transfer from another iPhone or select Other Options.
Tap on Other Options > Use QR Code
Scan eSIM QR Code. Alternatively you can enter details manually
Choose the preferred default line to call or send messages
Choose the preferred line to use with iMessage, FaceTime and Apple ID
Choose the eSIM plan as your default line for Cellular Data and do not turn on “Allow Cellular Data Switching” to prevent charges on your other line.
Your eSIM has been installed!
To access data you need to continue this steps
- Select your eSIM under Cellular Plans
- Make sure that “Turn On This Line” is on
- Go to “Network Selection” and select the supported network
- Turn on Data Roaming
That’s it! Here are a few images of all the steps:
How do I install an eSIM on Android?
- Go to Settings on your device
- Tap on Network & Internet
- Tap the Add or + icon next to Mobile Network
- Tap Next when asked, “Don’t have a SIM card?”
- Scan your QR code and add the confirmation code if prompted
- Go back to your “Install eSIM/Access Data” screen.
- Turn on eSIM under Mobile Network
- Enable Mobile Data
- Enable Data Roaming (Please turn off your primary line to avoid roaming charges from your carrier provider when overseas)
- Go to Network & Internet and tap on the Mobile network to set the correct network preferences listed in the Additional Info which is at the bottom-right of the selected data package page.
- Set up an APN(access point name) on your device if required.
Can I have an eSIM and a physical SIM simultaneously active?
If your phone is dual sim, yes. Confused? Don’t worry, if your phone supports eSIM, then it is very likely that it is dual SIM.
Can I turn off the eSIM after I installed it?
Absolutely. After you install an eSIM, you can chose to activate or deactivate it whenever you want. The same with your physical SIM card. Most phones show a list of the SIMs installed and a way of activating them in a straightforward way.
Does my phone support eSIM?
Apple iPhone: iPhones XS, XS Max, XR or later support eSIMs and are dual SIM. iPhone 13 can have two active eSIMs. iPhone 14 in the United States will only ship with eSIM support, you won’t be able to insert a physical SIM card.
Android Phones: Dial *#06*. In case your device is eSIM capable you should be able to view your device’s eSIM unique identification number (EID).
Will I loose my phone number if I install an eSIM?
No! You can install an eSIM while keeping your physical SIM card working with no change. After you install your eSIM, you can decide when you want to use that. The most typical combination is to have eSIM for mobile data, and your physical SIM card for voice calls and text messages.
Your phone number will still work and you can decided how and when to use it after you have added your eSIM card.
Can I use my phone from my SIM and data from my eSIM?
Yes. This is probably the most common case for eSIMs, especially when you are travelling. By installing a local eSIM along your physical SIM card, you are able to add another phone number or an extra data plan to surf the internet while you are abroad, at local rates.
My experience: I have used Airalo to buy a local SIM card from both Spain and the United States for my past two trips. I kept my Swedish phone number active in case I received calls or text, but mobile data roaming turned off. In parallel, I had an Airalo eSIM installed that I was using for the mobile data, which turned out to be much cheaper (unlimited data), and even faster (supporting 5G) on my iPhone 13.
What is Cellular Data Switching?
Some of the most recent phones, like the iPhones, have something called cellular data switching. If you have more than one data plan active, and you have this option enabled, your phone switch automatically between SIMs depending on the coverage (which one has better signal, or which one is faster).
For example if you have a physical SIM and an eSIM active, and you enable cellular data switching, your phone can decide to change from one to another SIM whenever it wants, to keep you with the best data rates. This can be dangerous when travelling, since it can incur international roaming charges for data.
My advice is that you turn cellular data switching off when you are abroad and you are using eSIM.
Using an eSIM affects my battery life?
Totally. You will see a decrease in battery life on your phone when you are using two cards. Most recent phones (under 2 years) have improved quite a lot their dual SIM technology and we have seen dramatic improvements. However, it still drains more battery than using a single line.
Can I uninstall or delete an eSIM after I installed it?
Yes. You can delete an eSIM installed at any time. Be careful, you cannot recover some eSIMs after you have uninstalled them! This means that if you have purchased a data plan and you still have leftover data to use, uninstalling it will result in losing the entire data plan, and you will have to buy it again.
How to uninstall an eSIM on iPhone:
- Go to Settings > Cellular > SIMs
- Tap on the SIM you want to uninstall
- Select the option Delete eSIM
Can I have more than one eSIM installed at the same time?
Yes. You can have eight or more eSIMs installed but one activated (sometimes two, depending on the phone). iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 allow two eSIMs activated at the same time.
How can I manage multiple eSIMs?
Most phones that support eSIM show all the installed eSIMs as a list under the cellular network configuration. You should be able to see all of them, turn them on and off (activate and deactivate lines), as well as deleting them.
On iPhone, you can do this by going into Settings > Cellular > SIMs.