March 29, 2023

The reasons you’ll want to stay connected while traveling are pretty obvious: unless you’re planning an Into the Wild style off the grid experience, you’ll probably want to be able to use your data to find your way around, buy tickets, upload photos onto social media, fire up that local dating app, or whatever you like to do while abroad.

But, international data and calling rates can place a hefty burden on your travel budget, not to mention roaming fees which vary with every border you cross. That’s why buying physical SIM cards has been the option of choice for many travellers, until now.

Today, we’re finally entering the age of electronic SIM cards, better known as eSIMs, that store your phone’s data in the cloud and can be installed and switched virtually. Basically an eSIM is a SIM card that’s embedded directly into your device and can connect to any operator offering eSIM services. For travellers, this is good news because it means you can also buy prepaid cards for any country or region you plan to visit online before your trip. And there are now a number of options available such as Holafly eSIM.

We’ve compiled this handy guide with everything travellersneed to know about eSIMs in 2023:

The pros of eSIMs vs physical SIM cards

1. Convenience

First and foremost, the biggest benefit to 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 provider, and install it directly onto your phone (more on that later). This means that the moment you hit the ground you’ll be connected, making it easier to order an Uber, find your way through a complex tube system, or just find the nearest bar with a happy hour.

Then, once you’re back home, you can just switch back to your local eSIM in a few clicks (don’t worry, we’ll share tips on that too).

2. You can use multiple eSIMs

This is also a convenient option if you travel between countries often. iPhones that support eSIM allow you to have multiple cards and even use Dual SIMs, meaning you can have two activated at the same time.

For example, if you’re crossing borders back and forth on a regular basis, having Dual SIMs activated would allow you to automatically use whichever SIM is locally connected, without having to change your settings. You can also buy an eSIM for an entire region, for example, buying an eSIM for Europe will cover a number of different countries.

3. A future without SIM trays?

iPhone 14 is planning to axe its SIM tray in the US, meaning iPhones now and in the future won’t be able to carry physical SIMs.

Although, of course, Apple isn’t the only brand for devices, it won’t be surprising if others follow suit and slim down future smartphone models even more. So, cutting SIM trays could become a wider market trend.

4. Don’t lose your data

With an eSIM, there is no physical SIM card that can be lost or damaged. So if your phone does get stolen, lost, or broken while on vacation, you can still access your data via the cloud and transfer it to your new phone.

5. Sustainability

Finally, if you’re looking to cut down on plastics as much as possible, why bother with physical SIM cards?

And yes, SIM cards are super tiny, but it’s like quitting the use of plastic straws: every bit counts.

The cons of eSIMs vs physical SIM cards

Of course it’s not all sunshine and daisies in eSIM land. There are some drawbacks to consider before going for this option:

1. Compatibility

Although eSIMs are a growing trend, not all devices or cellular carriers are up to speed yet. While most carriers have adopted eSIM, some still haven’t or don’t support all devices yet.

For example, if you’re headed to Spain, keep in mind that Yoigo doesn’t support eSIMs for Apple Watch. However, as mentioned before, it seems the general trend is moving towards eSIMs so we’ll see more carriers introduce plans to adopt this technology in the near future.

2. Location tracking

As eSIMs are installed virtually onto your phone, you can’t remove them from your device like a physical SIM. This means you also can’t avoid the possibility of being tracked by mobile carriers/governments. If this is a concern for you in the country you’re traveling to, then you might want to avoid this option.

How to check your phone’s compatibility with eSIM

Before making any decisions, you first need to 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 if it has an embedded eSIM chip.
  • Check if your phone’s operating system supports eSIM technology. For example, iPhones running iOS 12.1 or later support eSIM.
  • Confirm with your carrier if they offer eSIM service and if your phone is compatible.

Or simply check out this eSIM supported phones list which is regularly updated with all eSIM compatible phones and devices.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that, just like with physical SIM cards, your phone also has to be unlocked to use an eSIM. If you’ve bought your device directly from the producer, it’s likely it’ll be unlocked. But, if you bought it from a carrier, it might not be.

If you have an iOS 14 or later, here’s how you can check if its unlocked:

1. Going to Settings

2. Click “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, then it most likely means your phone is tied to a specific carrier.

If you don’t have an iPhone, try putting a SIM card in and seeing if it works. This will tell you if your phone is locked. Last but not least, give your provider a ring and they can tell you whether your phone is locked.

Driving in a car with phone navigation on