eSIMs represent a highly convenient solution for accessing phone data while traveling, eliminating the hassle of dealing with local telcos to arrange a suitable plan.
However, it’s important to note that various eSIM providers catering to travelers offer distinct plans, making it essential to conduct thorough research to identify the most suitable option for your needs.
To assist you in this process, I’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the finest eSIMs available for travelers.
In this guide, you’ll find information on the following topics:
- An introduction to eSIMs and how they work.
- Determining whether an eSIM is the optimal choice for your travel needs.
- A detailed review of the best eSIM providers for travel, including:
- A comparison to using a local telco.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of eSIMs and be well-equipped to select the most suitable eSIM provider for your travel requirements.
It might be hard to believe, but when I began my full-time travels over a decade ago, I embarked on the journey without even carrying a phone.
Having experienced the sense of being tied to my BlackBerry in my previous job, I longed for a life of global exploration without constant digital interruptions. I believed that disconnecting from technology during my adventures would foster stronger connections with the people and places I encountered.
For approximately a year, I successfully lived without a phone before eventually caving in and purchasing an iPhone. Now, as I reflect on those early days, I find it challenging to comprehend how I managed to survive without it. The convenience and versatility that a smartphone offers while traveling have become an indispensable aspect of my journeys.
Having access to the internet on my phone has revolutionized the way I travel, complementing my love for distraction-free exploration. It serves as an indispensable tool, allowing me to discover new destinations with ease. From finding bus schedules and seeking restaurant recommendations to researching landmarks in real-time, the internet enriches my travel experiences, enhances safety, and uncovers hidden gems that would have otherwise eluded me. Embracing technology has become an essential aspect of my journeys, enabling me to make the most of every moment and ensuring a more fulfilling and enjoyable adventure.
What would be the most optimal method for acquiring data on your phone while traveling?
Many travelers are still relatively unfamiliar with eSIMs, despite the technology’s existence for a few years. The adoption has been slow, but now, the best eSIM plans are starting to offer genuinely compelling advantages for travelers, and the benefits are beginning to outweigh the drawbacks.
In this article, I will begin by providing a brief overview of the fundamentals of eSIMs for those who may not have encountered the concept before. For those already familiar with the technology, feel free to skip ahead to my section discussing the best eSIMs tailored for international travel.
An eSIM refers to a phone provider connection that utilizes a built-in chip within your phone, eliminating the need for a physical SIM card insertion. When you purchase an eSIM, you are essentially obtaining a short contract with a telecom company, granting access to this embedded chip in your phone to establish a connection.
Indeed, eSIMs for travelers come with both advantages and disadvantages, and the decision to acquire one depends on individual circumstances. Some of the key benefits of eSIMs include the convenience of not needing to visit a physical store for activation, the availability of a wide range of plans to choose from, the capability to work alongside your regular SIM card, and the potential to provide coverage across multiple countries. These advantages make eSIMs a compelling option for those seeking flexibility and ease of use during their travels.
Absolutely, while eSIMs are available for use in your home country, their most significant advantages are particularly beneficial for travelers. With eSIMs, travelers have the flexibility to choose between purchasing a single-country eSIM for specific destinations or opting for international eSIMs that cover an entire region or even the entire world. This level of versatility allows travelers to stay connected seamlessly without the need to switch physical SIM cards whenever they cross borders. For globetrotters who explore multiple countries or regions, eSIMs provide a convenient and hassle-free solution for accessing mobile data and staying connected throughout their journeys.
Not every phone has the technology to use an eSIM, although most released in the past few years are compatible. Make sure you check your model first. Also, if your phone is locked to a single provider, then an eSIM probably won’t work (just as inserting a different physical SIM won’t work).
If you just want a short answer, I think Airalo offers the best eSIM for international travel. You can see its range of plans here.
WHAT IS AN ESIM?
Despite the common misconception that the ‘e’ in eSIM stands for ‘electronic,’ it actually represents ’embedded SIM.’ An eSIM is a chip that is integrated into your phone, in contrast to physical SIM cards that contain fixed information. The unique feature of an eSIM lies in its ability to be reprogrammed with different information, allowing you to connect to various phone plans globally without the need for any physical card insertion.
Therefore, when you ‘buy an eSIM,’ you aren’t acquiring a tangible card; instead, you are obtaining a temporary contract with a service provider. Subsequently, you can swiftly reprogram the embedded chip in your phone to connect to the chosen service provider, just as if you were inserting a physical SIM card.
If the concept of ‘reprogramming’ seems daunting, no need to worry because it’s actually quite simple. Typically, you’ll receive a QR code or a link that allows you to complete the process automatically within a few seconds.
Here’s how it works: Start by visiting an online retailer and selecting the most suitable eSIM plan for your needs. After purchasing it, you’ll be provided with a link or a QR code along with the receipt. By clicking the link or scanning the QR code, the setup is complete, and you should be connected to your chosen plan in no time!
The first phones to incorporate eSIMs were launched back in 2018, and since then, their popularity has gradually increased. Nowadays, most modern phones support eSIMs, and some iPhone models are exclusively eSIM-based.
However, it’s always a good idea to verify if your device supports eSIMs, and you can check this information on a list of supported devices.
There are eSIM options available that include phone calls and text, fully eliminating the need for a physical SIM card. Nevertheless, currently, many eSIMs primarily offer data services. In this article, we’ll focus on the best eSIMs for international travel, particularly those that cater to data needs.
IS AN ESIM THE BEST OPTION FOR YOU?
For a frequent traveler like myself, the eSIM is a revolutionary invention, ranking up there with other significant discoveries like the wheel and fire. Its introduction has immensely simplified my experiences abroad.
Undoubtedly, using an eSIM offers numerous advantages, which is why I have adopted it as my primary choice in most cases. However, it’s essential to recognize that there are also some drawbacks that require careful consideration. The best eSIM for international travel varies from person to person, as it heavily depends on individual circumstances and needs. Each scenario must be taken into account when selecting the most suitable option.
The primary advantage of using an eSIM is the unparalleled convenience it offers. Unlike physical SIM cards, which necessitate visiting a store upon arriving at a destination to purchase one, eSIMs can be obtained entirely online. This eliminates the hassle and saves precious time during your trip since you can get connected instantly from wherever you are.
The second major benefit is the immediate connectivity provided by eSIMs. By setting up your eSIM beforehand, the moment you land in a new country and turn on your phone, you’ll have access to data services without any delay. This feature proves particularly valuable when you need to get in touch with someone waiting for you at the airport or when you require timely information, such as checking the next train schedule to the city after a long 15-hour flight. Additionally, it allows you to quickly access urgent emails, ensuring you stay connected and informed at all times.
Another remarkable advantage of eSIMs is the flexibility to choose regional or even global plans. This feature proves invaluable for travelers visiting multiple countries during their trip, as they don’t need to go through the hassle of arranging a new SIM card each time they cross a border. While European countries often have some level of SIM card sharing within the EU, this benefit becomes particularly advantageous in regions like Southeast Asia, where travelers frequently move between countries or for those on cruises.
Moreover, the wide array of data plans available for eSIMs is another appealing aspect. Travelers have the freedom to select plans with different durations, gigabyte limits (or even unlimited data), all at various price points. This customization ensures that you only pay for the time and data you require, making it cost-effective, especially for short trips or when phone usage is occasional.
One huge advantage that stands out is the seamless coexistence of eSIMs with physical SIM cards. While using eSIM for affordable mobile data access, your regular SIM card from your home country remains active. This dual functionality allows you to receive phone calls and SMS messages on your usual number, making it incredibly convenient for receiving login verification codes and communications from various organizations.
Indeed, there are some downsides to using eSIMs, and it’s important not to overlook their potential significance for certain travelers.
The first drawback is that the majority of eSIMs primarily offer data services and do not include traditional voice calls and text messaging. While this might not be an issue for travelers who rely on data-based communication platforms like Skype or WhatsApp, it could be inconvenient for those who need local calling capabilities. In such cases, it might require more effort to find an eSIM provider that offers voice and text services, or simply sticking with a physical SIM card might be a better option.
Another minor disadvantage is the potential impact on phone battery life when using both the eSIM and physical SIM simultaneously. The phone may consume more power as it connects to two networks at once. To address this, users can manually turn off one or both networks in the phone settings. For instance, one might choose to disable the physical SIM when not expecting any messages or calls to conserve battery life.
In summary, while eSIMs offer tremendous advantages for many travelers, it’s essential to consider these drawbacks based on individual needs and preferences before deciding whether an eSIM or physical SIM is the better choice for a particular journey.
You are absolutely right; the most significant disadvantage of eSIMs is often the price compared to local physical SIM cards. In many cases, eSIMs tend to be more expensive or offer significantly less data for the same cost when compared to their physical counterparts.
For instance, an eSIM for Italy with 5 gigabytes of data over 30 days may cost around US$13, whereas a local physical SIM card at the same price point could provide more than 50 gigabytes of data over the same period, along with call services.
Similarly, an eSIM for Thailand offering unlimited data over 15 days might be priced at US$20, while a local physical SIM card can offer 5 gigabytes of data over 30 days for approximately US$6 (if purchased from a convenience store).
The discrepancy in value varies significantly from country to country, so it might be less of an issue for certain trips. Additionally, some eSIM providers, like Nomad, may offer cheaper options that could help mitigate this cost difference.
However, if you anticipate using a substantial amount of data and require a larger data plan, the price disparity between eSIMs and local physical SIM cards becomes more pronounced and can be a considerable factor to consider in your decision-making process. Assessing your data usage needs and comparing the cost-effectiveness of eSIMs versus physical SIM cards is crucial to making an informed choice for your travel connectivity.
THE BEST ESIM PROVIDERS FOR TRAVEL
Now, we shall examine the leading eSIM providers, as they each present slightly distinct products. Our focus extends beyond their promises, as we delve into the pricing and reliability aspects as well. In summary, here are the key findings from my research.
The following suggestions are presented in ranked order, with the best option listed first. Additionally, I advise you to consider the type of eSIM you desire, as it should be a significant factor in making your decision.
- Best for general use: Airalo
- Best for unlimited data: Holafly
- Best prices: Nomad
- Best for phone calls: Simify
- Best for occasional use: Drimsim
- Best for the long term: A local telco
Airalo is undeniably one of the most popular eSIM providers, especially favored by travelers, and it happens to be the one I frequently use myself. Its global coverage is exceptional, utilizing major telecommunications companies as its partners in nearly all instances. For instance, it collaborates with Optus in Australia, O2 in the UK, and T-Mobile in the US.
One of the standout features of Airalo is its remarkable flexibility in terms of geographical coverage. You can choose eSIMs based on specific countries, and it also offers regional plans encompassing 39 European countries, 13 Asian countries, and 19 South American countries. Furthermore, Airalo provides suitable plans to cater to your needs if you require global coverage.
The following top eSIM provider, according to my assessment, is Holafly, which offers a notably distinct set of services compared to Airalo.
Similar to Airalo, Holafly is a prominent international retailer that collaborates with major telcos across the globe. It boasts user-friendliness and straightforward setup procedures, making it a hassle-free experience for customers. Additionally, Holafly provides extensive coverage for numerous countries, ensuring that you can find an eSIM solution for almost any destination you plan to visit.
The key highlight of Holafly’s offerings lies in the majority of its eSIM plans, which come with unlimited data. This feature sets it apart from traditional plans where you have to estimate your data usage in advance. With Holafly, you can purchase an eSIM for a specific duration and enjoy unlimited data usage during that period, eliminating any worries about data limits.
Indeed, one drawback to Holafly’s approach is that their eSIM plans tend to be noticeably more expensive than those with a set data limit. Comparing with Airalo’s offering in France, where Airalo provides a 30-day plan with 10GB for US$23, Holafly’s equivalent plan costs US$64.
The significant price difference means that if you don’t anticipate using much data during your travel, it may not be worth paying for an unlimited plan. In such cases, opting for a data-limited plan like Airalo’s could be a more cost-effective choice. However, if you’re a heavy data user and know you’ll require a substantial amount of data over the course of a month, it’s likely more economical to choose a Holafly unlimited plan than to purchase multiple eSIMs throughout the month.
One aspect to consider, though, is that Holafly stands out for its excellent customer service. For some individuals, the added cost may be justified by the peace of mind and comfort that comes with having top-notch customer support at their disposal. This factor can be a deciding factor for those who value reliable and efficient assistance during their travels.
Another noteworthy eSIM provider, similar to Airalo and Holafly, is Nomad. Like the previous recommendations, Nomad offers eSIM plans in most countries and provides good coverage across the majority of them.
While there isn’t a specific standout reason that makes Nomad superior to the other two providers, it is worth noting that I haven’t encountered any negative experiences that would make me consider it inferior either. In terms of service and performance, Nomad seems to be on par with its competitors.
Nomad’s eSIMs often use the same telcos as the other providers and offer the same level of ease when it comes to setup. One distinguishing factor is that Nomad provides both data-limited and unlimited plans for select countries, allowing you to compare and choose the option that best suits your data needs.
In summary, Nomad stands as a solid choice among eSIM providers, presenting similar offerings to Airalo and Holafly while maintaining a level of quality and reliability that makes it a viable option for travelers.
Absolutely, you’ve hit a crucial point. Nomad can indeed be a more cost-effective option in certain cases compared to larger eSIM providers.
By comparing prices for specific countries, like Greece and Thailand, we can observe that Nomad offers a lower cost for 10 gigabytes over 30 days in Greece compared to Airalo. Similarly, in Thailand, Nomad provides a more affordable 10-day unlimited data plan when compared to Holafly, and there’s also a noteworthy deal of 15 days unlimited data with Airalo at a competitive price.
The prices offered by these top eSIM providers can vary from country to country, depending on the deals they’ve managed to negotiate with local operators. As a result, it’s highly advisable for travelers to check the pricing of each provider for their intended destination in order to find the most budget-friendly option and potentially save a few dollars on their eSIM purchase. It’s essential to balance the features, coverage, and prices offered by different providers to make an informed decision that best suits one’s travel needs and budget.
Simify indeed stands out as a prominent provider of physical SIM cards for travelers and has earned a leading position in that domain. Although it has now ventured into offering eSIMs, it might not be on the same level as the previously mentioned providers in terms of eSIM offerings.
For travelers who still prefer to use physical SIM cards or want to compare plans between physical and eSIM options, exploring what Simify has to offer is recommended. However, it’s worth noting that Simify may not have as extensive a range of eSIM plans as those providers dedicated exclusively to eSIM services.
While Simify has a strong reputation and expertise in providing physical SIM cards, its eSIM selection might be more limited compared to the specialized eSIM providers. Travelers interested in eSIM options should carefully assess the available plans and compare them with offerings from other eSIM providers to ensure they find the most suitable solution for their travel needs.
However, what sets Simify apart is its provision of eSIMs that not only offer phone call and text services but also cater to specific data needs, making it a significant advantage for you!
For instance, they provide an excellent Europe & UK eSIM plan with 15 gigabytes of data for 30 days, accompanied by unlimited local calls, all for just US$40. In comparison, Airalo’s offering includes 10 gigabytes of data for 30 days but lacks call services, priced at US$37. Clearly, Simify’s package stands out with an appealing price point.
Another noteworthy eSIM plan from Simify is their 30-day option that delivers unlimited data and local calls within the USA for just US$50. This deal appears to be one of the best eSIM plans available. In contrast, Nomad’s offering at the same price provides 30 gigabytes of data but no call services.
While Simify’s coverage doesn’t extend to as many countries as some competitors, it still shines as an excellent choice for the US, Europe, Japan, and parts of SE Asia.
I must admit, Drimsim isn’t among my preferred eSIM providers either. However, I’m suggesting it here because it brings a unique offering that may be advantageous in certain situations.
Drimsim operates on a different concept compared to other providers. Instead of purchasing an eSIM specifically for a particular country, a fixed time period, or a set data amount, Drimsim takes a different approach.
For a monthly fee of €10, you gain access to an eSIM that works in any country worldwide. The benefit lies in paying only for the data you consume, which is typically priced at €0.01 per megabyte or €10 per gigabyte in most countries.
Let’s consider a scenario: if you only utilize 1 gigabyte of data in a given month, you’ll end up paying €20. This may appear more expensive when compared to other SIM options solely based on data cost, but it could be cheaper than other options when considering the overall duration of use.
In essence, Drimsim’s flexibility might make it a preferable choice for those who require occasional data usage in various countries and don’t want to be tied to specific plans or commitments. However, it might not be the most cost-effective option for heavy data users or those primarily staying in one location for an extended period.
You are absolutely right! Drimsim’s unique advantages shine in specific travel scenarios, particularly when embarking on long-term journeys through multiple countries with minimal data usage needs. It caters well to travelers who might only require occasional access to data for tasks like checking maps or train schedules.
Moreover, Drimsim proves valuable for travelers on cruise vacations where they visit various countries for short periods. In such situations, the ability to connect to networks worldwide and pay only for the data used can result in cost savings and convenience.
Additionally, if a traveler anticipates having access to Wi-Fi most of the time and only seeks phone data as a backup, Drimsim’s pay-as-you-go model becomes an attractive option.
In summary, Drimsim emerges as the best eSIM choice for globetrotters engaged in long-term travel across multiple countries, with minimal data usage requirements. It offers the flexibility of global connectivity and cost savings for those who only need data intermittently.
A LOCAL TELCO
Indeed, the global eSIM providers I mentioned earlier are convenient for international travelers due to their English language support and ease of use. However, it’s essential to note that many domestic telecommunication companies in various countries have also entered the eSIM market, targeting both local customers and travelers.
While some of these domestic telcos may offer packages similar to those available on global eSIM stores like Airalo, they occasionally provide exclusive and more attractive deals with increased data allowances or lower rates.
One challenge with these local providers is that their plans and websites might not be primarily in English, making the process somewhat confusing for international users. Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring their offerings, particularly if you’re planning an extended stay in a single country or require substantial data usage.
If you find yourself in such a situation, researching the local telcos’ eSIM options may lead you to better deals that suit your specific needs and result in potential cost savings. Don’t overlook this option, as it might offer more tailored solutions for your long-term stay and data requirements in a particular country.
Absolutely, the choice of the best eSIM provider for your trip will depend on the unique circumstances and requirements of your journey.
For typical vacations and travel experiences, an eSIM from any of the recommended providers should offer you a reliable connection without much hassle. The convenience of using an eSIM, especially in terms of easy setup and not having to deal with physical SIM cards, makes it an attractive option for most travelers.
When it comes to cost, eSIMs generally offer competitive pricing, and the difference in cost compared to traditional physical SIM cards is usually minimal unless you have high data usage needs.
Before opting for an eSIM, it’s crucial to verify if your device supports eSIM functionality. Not all smartphones are eSIM-compatible, so make sure to check the list of supported phones before making a decision.
Another consideration is whether your phone is locked to your home provider. If it is, you might not be able to use an eSIM unless your phone is unlocked or your home provider supports eSIM services.
Ultimately, by carefully considering your travel requirements and device compatibility, you can confidently choose the best eSIM provider that suits your needs and enhances your travel experience.