If you travel internationally, you have probably heard it is easy to change out your mobile's SIM card so you can continue to use it for calls and internet on the go. With more than 1.5 billion international arrivals logged every year before 2020, cell providers worldwide offer temporary cards targeted to cross-border travellers.
Things get complicated when you deal with one set of cell providers, for instance, in the United States and a completely different set when you pop over the border to Mexico. We have become so reliant on our mobile data that travelling unconnected leaves us feeling vulnerable. If only there was a worldwide SIM card that worked no matter where you travelled!
It is time to meet the eSIM - an embedded SIM built into your device to allow easy connections when you leave home without having to change out a physical card.
But what is eSIM and how do you use it? This guide walks you through the world of eSIM so you can stay connected no matter where you go.
The little plastic and gold card in your phone is named a subscriber identity module (SIM), which has all the information to verify who you are to a mobile carrier. This SIM card tells them you are you and you are authorised to use their network.
Just like we have replaced much of our computer hardware needs with cloud storage, the SIM has moved into a completely digital form. The eSIM is software-based rather than hardware, which opens up a world of possibilities.
The eSIM has been around for a few years, mostly targeted to industry users, who use them for example in RFID or IoT integrations. However, once Apple added eSIMs to the iPhone, others like Google and Samsung began following suit, and we should start to see a wider adoption by mobile consumers.
The majority of mobile phones on the market today do not support eSIM yet, but it is going to change. Motorola issued the first eSIM-only phone available as the Motorola Razr flip a few years ago, while most others went with a dual-SIM option. It is expected that the industry will adapt eSIM-only devices over the next few years, though. Furthermore, It will become increasingly easier to find a device that will let you take advantage of an eSIM, as eSIM smartphone shipments are expected to double this year.
eSIM Devices and Carriers
To take advantage of this new eSIM technology, you must have an eSIM-enabled phone or device. A shortlist of some eSIM phones on the market today include:
- iPhone (11, 11 Pro, Pro Max, 12 Mini, 12, 12 Max, Max Pro, XS, XS Max, XR, SE 2020)
- Motorola Razr 2019
- Samsung Galaxy (Fold, Z Fold2 5G, Z Flip)
- Samsung Galaxy (S20, S20+, S20 Ultra, S21+ 5G, S21 Ultra 5G)
- Samsung Galaxy Note (20 FE, FE 5G, 20 Ultra, Ultra 5G, 20+)
- Huawei P40 and P40 Pro
- Google Pixel (3, 3XL, 3A, 3A XL, 4, 4XL, 4A 5G, 5)
- Nuu Mobile X5
- myPhone Hammer (Blade 3, Explorer Pro)
The adaptation of eSIM in other consumer products is also expanding. You can find eSIMs already in the iPad, Surface, and Apple Watch, along with some newer laptops, including ACER Swift, Dell Latitude, and Lenovo models.
In the short term, it is still relatively difficult to find a mobile network that supports eSIM services. However, more than 200 wireless carriers have done so as of 2020, so it is just a matter of time before it becomes the standard. For example, in the UK, you can choose eSIM from EE, O2, and Vodafone. In the US, AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless all offer eSIM.
You can find services and apps that bring supported carriers together as well to make it easy to get plans from different countries. The simplest way to find them is to search for eSIM or global mobile in the Apple's App Store or Google Play.
Benefits of eSIMs
When you travel, an eSIM can cut down the hassle of dealing with different sets of providers in different countries, not to mention saving precious holiday time from tracking down a roaming card and setting up a plan. This practical convenience is just one of the many benefits you receive from switching to an eSIM. To give you a quick overview of the benefits eSIM offers, we have developed the following list for you:
- Easy to switch between service providers
- Load one number for personal use and one for business
- Keep your main number active when using data with eSIM
- Can be used on tablets, laptops as well as mobiles
- Small size means they are easily used in wearables
- No roaming charges
- No need to go by a provider store to top up your card
- No tiny little cards to keep track of
- No waiting to get a SIM card in the mail if you pre-purchase
- No shipping cost to get a SIM card
- Easy to get it set up and running
These benefits should be universally applicable no matter which device or carrier you choose.
Get Started With eSIM
If you have checked and your device or mobile is enabled for eSIM, you can get started using one right away whether for travelling or everyday service. The process is the same whether you are using a dual-SIM mobile or an eSIM smartphone, tablet or other devices.
The steps might vary a bit depending on the service or app you are using to set up your plans, but the basic ones are as follows:
- Order/choose your plan and eSIM
- Get QR code and/or confirmation code by email or via an app
- Add the plan to your device:
- iOS - Settings → Cellular/ mobile data → data plans
- Android - Settings → Network & Internet → Mobile Network → Carrier → Add Carrier
- Scan the QR code or be guided by your eSIM supported app
- Enter confirmation code if needed for eSIM activation
- Set preferences
You will need an internet connection to do all of the steps above, so it is a good idea to get your mobile set up before you leave home. It is also a good idea to name or label your various eSIMs so you can tell which is for which country, or which is from which eSIM provider. If you use a service that automatically creates the eSIM profiles for you and connects you when you are in your country of destination, then this step would be automatically covered.
eSIM: Ideal to Connect While Travelling
When you travel, internet access is important for looking up maps and reviews, not to mention being able to communicate with your travel partners and your family/friends from home. More than half of us use our phones to check-in for flights or pay for upgrades when we travel.
One of the main reasons travellers switch out SIM cards is to avoid roaming bill shocks, which can be astronomical even for quick tasks. The eSIM could be the answer to a lot of hassles for international travellers. No more wasting time getting a physical SIM card, fighting to get it activated, or buying more data than you need. With an eSIM, you can get your data plan lined up before you leave for a trip and activate them with the click of a button once you land, with the option to pause the data usage and to activate more data plans if you stream a lot.
Holiday Travel Benefits
This is a definite boon for travellers visiting many countries, for instance with cruises that might make port in a different place each day. With the eSIM access, you can stay connected with your travel mates or family members no matter how many locations you visit.
More than 25 percent of business trips are just a day long. When you spend a short time in each place, you do not want to spend time hassling with getting a physical SIM card each time.
You do not need to visit a shop or deal with local restrictions when you are using an eSIM. You might not even have to change the APN codes on your phone, making it easier for the less tech-savvy as well. You get internet access from the moment you arrive and do not have to keep track of different tiny SIM cards or plans.
Business Travel Benefits
If your company does business internationally, an eSIM can keep you or your staff connected on business trips, when visiting clients or company locations. Your mobile devices can be ready to go for each stop on your trip before you leave home or office, and you do not have to keep track of a SIM card for each. An eSIM also provides flexibility when the list of stops on a business route changes and you need to connect from an unplanned location.
Business travellers are also more likely to be carrying tablets and laptops than holiday travellers. Being able to add an eSIM to those devices as well makes it simple and safe to do a confidential video call from your tablet or access your company intranet from your laptop.
Internet on the Go
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, having access to the world around you through your mobile phone or tablet makes your trip less stressful and more convenient. Having the internet on the go as you cross borders reduces the hassles of tracking down a travel SIM card so your phone will work in the new country. Keep your original phone numbers and access data easily through an eSIM plan.
- Zara & Michael @Goodspeed