Shopping around for a mobile data plan while you’re abroad is a smart move, albeit a confusing one.

You’ve got options and none of them are terribly straightforward (except of course relying on WiFi hotspots, but even that’s got its pitfalls). Now, we’re throwing another option into the mix: eSIMs. They’ve been around for a while, but smartphones have only started supporting them recently.

But why choose an eSIM when local nano-SIM cards are easy to get and everywhere? There are a few reasons. Here are our thoughts on the eSIM versus nano-SIM debate, plus when you might find one or the other a better option.

The eSIM vs. the nano-SIM: A closer look

SIM – which stands for subscriber identification module – cards have been around as long as cell phones. The first massive mobile phones had credit card-sized SIM cards to match.

Since then, they’ve gotten a lot smaller – nano-SIMs are about 40 percent smaller than micro SIMS and can fit comfortably on your thumb’s nail. Today, the nano-SIM is the smallest SIM card on the market and it’s all but ubiquitous with smartphones … but it’s probably not the final iteration of SIM cards as we know them.

The eSIM is a new type of SIM technology that eliminates the need for a physical card. Rather than requiring users to fiddle with SIM trays and pins, the eSIM operates with firmware installed in a chip that’s soldered into your phone’s circuitry. While some devices have both a physical SIM card tray in addition to an eSIM, some of the newest models have only an eSIM.

Whether one or the other is better largely depends on how you use your device. Here’s a quick rundown of the advantages of each.

Why you might want a nano-SIM card


The first nano-SIM cards hit the scene in 2012. In terms of technology, that’s a long time. It also means pretty much every smartphone uses them. That makes them:

  • Easy to find: The nano-SIM is the standard SIM card in most of the newer devices. That means if you need a SIM card, such as if you’re traveling, you should be able to find one without too much trouble. (The caveat, of course, being scams targeting travelers exist.)
  • Easy to transfer to a new phone: If your SIM card and phone are both unlocked, it’s easy to simply remove your SIM card and insert it into another phone.
  • Easy to get a new number: Some people prefer picking up local SIM cards because it means a local number that they can then use to call people or access apps that require a local number for verification.

The advantages of an eSIM


Whereas the nano-SIM derives convenience from its ubiquity, the eSIM is convenient in other ways. Opt for one when you need:

  • Multiple eSIMs: You can have up to 15 or 20 eSIMs stored on your phone, which makes switching between data plans a breeze.
  • To keep your number: If you’ve got Dual SIM technology on your phone (a physical SIM card in addition to eSIM), you’ll be able to make phone calls with your number. Otherwise, an eSIM data plan will let you make calls using WhatsApp, Telegram, or another popular app.
  • Regional plans: Some eSIM data plans support data coverage in multiple countries, which is super convenient if you’re traveling to multiple destinations. Something you won’t lose: If you lose your physical SIM card, you’ve lost service. In contrast, your eSIM data plan is stored securely on your phone.

What Dual SIM with an eSIM means

You can use an eSIM by itself, but you can also use one alongside a nano-SIM card. When that happens, it’s referred to as Dual SIM. Two types of Dual SIM technology exist:

1. Dual SIM Dual Standby

Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) means that you’ll choose between which SIM makes and receives calls or texts on your phone. In most cases, your actual SIM card both handles data and calls or texting. However, when you travel, you might use the data on your eSIM while reserving your physical SIM for the rare instances you need to receive texts or calls, such as in the case of multi-factor authentication.

2. Dual SIM Dual Active

Dual SIM Dual Active (DSDA) means that your eSIM and physical SIM both receive calls or texts as well as use data. This is a nice feature when you’re in an area where service is spotty because it will allow you to switch between carriers seamlessly. It also lets you have two different phone numbers on the same device (for example, a foreign and a local one). However, this capability depletes your battery much faster.

Stay connected wherever you are: Airalo can help

If you happen to own a phone with eSIM support (or are planning to purchase one expressly for travel), then looking into eSIM is well-worth your time. While a local nano-SIM has a few advantages that might prove useful to you depending on your circumstances, the eSIM is lightweight, convenient, and straightforward. It can give you the flexibility and freedom you need with mobile data when you travel.

Ultimately, when choosing between an eSIM versus a nano-SIM, you’ll need to do what’s best for you. Hopefully, we’ve laid it out in a way that makes sense and helps you stay connected wherever you wander.

Airalo is a marketplace with eSIM data plans for over 190 countries and regions. Get started now by looking at the options for your destination.