In the not-so-distant past, keeping connected while traversing the globe meant a dance of swapping SIM cards, wrestling with varying network compatibilities, or, dare I say, forgoing connectivity altogether.

These days, however, staying connected is easier than ever, thanks to the eSIM – an innovative solution allowing travelers to switch mobile networks without the need to physically change SIM cards.

As a seasoned traveler who once gallivanted the globe with a phone that didn’t even have access to the Internet, I’ve grown to really appreciate being able to stay connected on the road. Having access to Internet data wherever I go means I can use maps to find where I’m going, look up the best restaurants, book my hotels and update my Instagram without having to worry about finding Wi-Fi hotspots. As a solo female traveler I also feel a lot safer knowing I can share my location and contact my friends and family from anywhere in the world.

eSIM providers allow you to get cheap mobile data packages in the countries your visiting, meaning you can access the Internet while traveling without paying hefty data roaming fees. Since there’s no need for a physical SIM card, you can purchase data online and instantly be connected as soon as you touch down in a new country.

In this blog post, I’ll dive deep into the world of eSIMs, detailing what they are, their advantages and disadvantages, installation procedures, and key considerations when choosing an eSIM provider. Plus, I’ll spotlight some of the best eSIM providers for travel, including Airalo, Holafly, aloSIM, Nomad, Saily, and Drimsim.

What is an eSIM?

Short for “Embedded Subscriber Identity Module” (not “electronic SIM” as I once thought!), an eSIM is essentially a programmable SIM card that’s built directly into your device. Unlike traditional SIMs, you don’t physically swap out an eSIM card; instead, you download the eSIM profile directly to your device. This technology offers a reprogrammable option, allowing you to switch carriers without switching cards.

eSIMs facilitate a more seamless and flexible way to switch between networks and plans, ideally suited for global travelers seeking hassle-free connectivity.

Most newer phone models have eSIM and Apple completely got rid of physical SIM card slots altogether. As a traveler I’m very grateful eSIM, since it makes life a whole lot easier. I don’t know about you but I always found changing SIM cards really finicky. Trying to find a safety pin or something small and pointy to fit in that little SIM card hole was annoying. And I’ve definitely lost a few SIM cards in my time because they’re so small and easy to misplace.

Do I Need an eSIM for Travel?

Before setting off on your trip, make sure you look at what your regular phone carrier charges for data roaming.

For example, I’m on T-mobile’s Magenta plan here in the U.S.

With that plan I get unlimited text and up to 5GB of high-speed data in 11 countries, then unlimited data at up to 256kbps in 215+ countries and destinations. If I was to opt for their Go5G Plus or MAX plan, I’d get 5GB of high-speed data in more than 215 countries and destinations at no extra charge.

So most of the time I don’t need an eSIM because my U.S. carrier already gives me free data. Google Fi is also a great option for travelers. The Unlimited Plus plan comes with data in over 200 countries.

If you’re on Verizon or AT&T’s cheapest plans then it may cost you $10 per day for a travel pass. In that case you may want to consider an eSIM from one of the below providers. So always check the costs with your regular provider first before deciding whether you need an eSIM.

Another thing you will need to consider is your phone model. If you have a newer model then it’s likely you’ll have eSIM. However older phone models may not have the embedded chip. Make sure you know if your phone is eSIM compatible first.

Advantages and Disadvantages of eSIM

So what are the pros and cons of eSIM? Let’s take a look.

Advantages of eSIMs

Convenience: Forget about hunting down a local SIM card shop upon arrival. With an eSIM, you’re connected as soon as you land, providing immediate access to essential services like maps, translation apps, or immediate accommodation bookings.

Multiple Plans: Most devices allow you to store multiple eSIM profiles at once, enabling quick switches between networks or countries. iPhone 15 models, for example, support storage for 8 eSIMs, and two can be activated at any given time. This means you can keep your regular sim card activated from your home country, AND use a local SIM card for the country you’re traveling to.

Space-Saving: eSIMs leave your physical SIM slot (if you have one) open for a local SIM if necessary, offering the best of both worlds – global coverage without losing your primary number.

Immediate Connection: Arranging your eSIM before departure means you hit the ground running. This instant connectivity can be a lifeline, especially in emergencies or when navigating unfamiliar territories.

Avoid Hefty Data Roaming Charges: Using an eSIM allows you to experience a destination like a local. If your carrier in your home country charges expensive roaming fees, these can be avoided by having a local eSIM. With an eSIM you don’t have to worry about racking up huge phone bills or having slow data roaming speeds. It’s prepaid, so you know how much you’re spending.

A Secure Connection: Accessing public Wi-Fi can be risky. An eSIM provides a secure, private connection, giving you peace of mind as you access banking services, make online reservations and keep tabs on work.

Disadvantages of eSIMs

Device Compatibility: Not all smartphones and devices support eSIM technology yet.
Availability: eSIM services might not be available with all carriers or in all countries.
Data-Only: Many eSIM plans are data-only, leaving you to rely on VoIP services for calls and texts.
Cost: Depending on the country, an eSIM plan can be pricier than traditional SIM cards for the amount of data you receive.
Complexity in Setup for Some: While designed to be straightforward, the setup process can vary between providers and might confuse some users.

How to Install an eSIM

Verify Compatibility: Ensure your device supports eSIM technology.
Choose a Plan: Select an eSIM plan that meets your travel needs.
Scan QR Code: Most eSIM providers will give you a QR code to scan with your device.
Follow Instructions: Your device should guide you through the rest of the setup process.
Activate the Plan: Once set up, you might need to toggle a switch in your device settings to activate your new plan.

Things to Consider When Choosing an eSIM Provider

Coverage: Look for global or regional reach depending on your travel itinerary.
Data Plans: Assess the data packages—look for fair pricing and generous data allowances.
Reputation: Read reviews and testimonials from other travelers.
Customer Support: Ensure they offer timely and helpful support.
Price: Consider setup costs and overall plan pricing, balancing budget with your connectivity needs.
Check your regular plan: Check to see if your regular provider in your home country offers free data roaming for where you’re going. For example, T-mobile offers free roaming in lots of countries. In that case, you don’t need an e-SIM.

Now, let’s explore some of the leading eSIM providers for travelers:

The Best eSIM Providers for Travel

Best eSIM overall: Airalo
Best for unlimited data: Holafly
Cheapest prices: Nomad
Best in-app support: Saily
Best for occasional use: Drimsim
Best for long term travel: A local telecom

Airalo

Airalo is the world’s first and leading eSIM provider, with over 5 million customers worldwide and an astounding range of plans across over 200+ counries. They offer 24/7 customer support and the data packages are easy to set up through the user-friendly app. Airalo isn’t necessarily the cheapest on this list (it’s about average) but it is available in a wide range of countries and is a generally very reliable company.

What sets Airalo apart is that the company offers regional and global passes too. So if you plan to travel to multiple countries on your trip, you can get regional passes for places like Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

They also offer global passes, with or without calls and texts. Most eSIM providers only offer data, but with Airalo you can order a global pass that includes texts and calls and works in 125 countries.

Example plan: A 1GB eSIM for Portugal valid for 7 days costs $4.50. A 20GB Portugal eSIM with 30-day validity costs $32.

Holafly

Holafly has carved its niche by specializing in unlimited data plans, a godsend for data-hungry travelers. Their straightforward, no-frills approach to connectivity ensures you’re never counting gigabytes, whether you’re navigating the streets of Paris or capturing the Northern Lights in Iceland. If you’re traveling to a European country, Holafly will also give you a local phone number to make and receive calls within Europe.

I don’t know about you but I consume a lot of data since I’m always editing Instagram reels, uploading content, using Google maps and looking things up on the Internet. If you need a lot of data then Holafly may be for you. If you don’t use much data, then this might be an overly expensive option. It’s also important to know that you won’t be able to share your data plan as a hotspot with other devices.

Example plan: An unlimited plan for Croatia costs €19 for 5 days, €27 for 7 days or €47 for 15 days.

aloSIM

aloSIM prides itself on offering flexible data plans without contracts or hidden fees. With coverage in over 170+ countries, aloSIM is a robust option for travelers who value simplicity and transparency in their data plans.

Like most eSIM providers, aloSIM offers tiered plans valid for 7, 15 or 30 days and data plans start at $4.50 per week, which is on par with other providers. The company offers both country and regional plans. Regional plans include Scandinavia, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean etc.

Whether you’re a digital nomad or a casual traveler, there’s an aloSIM eSIM plan for you. From short-term, high-data packages to longer, more economical options, the flexibility allows you to tailor your mobile services to your travel itinerary.

Example plan: An eSIM for France costs $4.50 for 1GB and is valid for 7 days. Meanwhile a 20GB eSIM for France costs $36 and is valid for 30 days.

Nomad

Nomad might be your ally if affordability tops your list. With competitive pricing and transparent plans, Nomad caters to those who seek reliability without breaking the bank. They’re particularly known for offering some of the most economical options in the market.

The company offers data plans at local rates in 170+ countries and also offers “small region plans” for places like Africa, North America, Europe and Nordic countries. For multi-country plans the eSIM connects automatically to a local carrier as you move from country to country.

What’s cool about Nomad is that even their lower GB data plans are valid for 30 days and not just for 7 days, like with some other providers.

Example plan: A 3GB, 30-day plan costs $12, while a 15GB, 30-day plan for Italy costs $27 USD. A multi-country Europe plan costs $29 for 15GB of data and covers 30 countries.

Saily

Although newer to the scene, Saily is quickly making a name for itself with its affordable and flexible eSIM solutions. Catering to budget-conscious travelers, Saily is a go-to for finding cost-effective data packages. Saily is available in 150 countries and offers 24/7 support, which means you’ll always be able to get hold of someone if your eSIM isn’t working.

Interestingly Saily was created by Nord Security – the company behind NordVPN and NordPass. I currently use NordVPN as my main VPN provider and with a strong track record, this company can be trusted to provide reliable eSIM service.

Example data package: An eSIM for Spain starts at $3.99 for 1GB of data with 7-day validity period, going all the way up to $22.99 for 20GB of data with 30-day validity period.

Drimsim

Drimsim offers eSIMs for 190 countries and has explored popular destinations to make sure Drimsim prices do not exceed the rates of home providers in these countries.

The difference with Drimsim is that there are no monthly fees or set data packages – instead you pay for the data you use. You can keep track of expenses and data usage using their app – but it could be a bit intimidating if you’re not sure how much data you’ll actually burn through.

In addition to expense tracking, the app also comes with a built-in travel assistant which allows you to do things like rent a car or check restaurant reviews.

If for some reason, connection fails on your trip, Drimsim promises to refund the balance of your eSIM.

Example data package: An eSIM for Greece costs 0.01 €/MB

A Local Telecom Company

Sometimes, opting for a local telecom company’s eSIM can be the most viable option. It ensures robust local coverage and can be cost-effective, especially for longer stays. However, researching ahead of time is crucial to ensure compatibility and understand the registration process.

Conclusion

Whether it’s staying connected for safety, convenience, or sharing our adventures in real-time, eSIMs have become an indispensable tool in the modern traveler’s kit. Any of the above eSIM providers should work for your next adventure, but it’s always best to take a closer look at the packages and prices that each one offers.

Just remember, not everyone can use an eSIM, so make sure your device is compatible first before ordering. If you’re traveling for a few days or a few weeks, then an eSIM is usually the most convenient option and better than using a physical SIM card.

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