eSIM vs. Roaming Plan For Travel: Which Is Better?

Relying on a roaming plan from your provider is one of the most common ways to stay connected when you travel. But is it really your best option? Roaming plans are expensive, offer little flexibility, and keep you locked into an agreement with your mobile carrier. Luckily, you have other options! Let's explore why an eSIM is a more convenient and affordable alternative for your next trip.

What's the Difference Between an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan?

First things first: What's the difference between an eSIM vs. a roaming plan? Here's what you need to know.

What Is an eSIM?

An eSIM is an embedded SIM (that's what the "e" stands for!). It's a reprogrammable chip that's built into your smartphone during manufacturing. Just like a physical SIM card, it identifies you as a mobile subscriber and connects you to a carrier's network. The difference is it works 100% digitally. 

With an eSIM, there's no need to find a local SIM vendor, manage multiple SIM cards, or worry about roaming fees when you travel. Instead, you can purchase a prepaid eSIM plan for your destination, install it on your device, and instantly connect to a mobile network when you land. 

What Is a Roaming Plan?

You can also stay connected when you travel by purchasing a roaming plan from your mobile provider. A roaming plan allows you to use your domestic phone plan abroad for a daily fee. This daily rate includes an allowance for data, calls, and texts. 

On a roaming plan, you operate as a guest of a foreign provider's network. The foreign provider sets a rate for your domestic provider to "borrow" their infrastructure and services. This enables you to call, text, and access data outside their coverage area.

woman taking a photo on a hike

How To Choose Between an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan

You can use an eSIM or roaming plan to stay connected when you travel. But which is better? Let's dig in and find out.

How Much Is an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan?

An eSIM typically comes as a prepaid plan you can use to access data, call, and text services when you travel. Because it's prepaid, you know exactly what you're getting — there are no unexpected charges. And with an eSIM provider like Airalo, you can rest easy knowing you're getting the best rates and service from local providers. We have plans starting at just US$4.50, and you have the flexibility to choose the right plan based on your needs: 

  • How much data you need (e.g., 3GB, 5GB, 10GB, etc.)
  • How long you can use the eSIM (e.g., 7 days, 15 days, 30 days, etc.)
  • What's included (whether it's data-only or includes calls and texts)

A roaming plan, on the other hand, is a daily fee you pay to continue accessing your mobile services abroad. For most North American mobile providers, the daily rate is between US$12 and US$15 per day. The catch: Roaming fees are charged at a premium, and you'll pay the same amount whether you use 1GB or 3GB of data in a day. 

How To Use an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan

Using an eSIM is super straightforward. Since it's built into your phone and works 100% digitally, all you need to do is purchase an eSIM package for your destination, install the eSIM, and connect to a mobile network. 

The catch? You need to have an eSIM-compatible device to do so. Most smartphones manufactured since 2018 support eSIM technology. Still, it's a good idea to check in with your provider to be sure. 

Using a daily roaming plan is also straightforward. You can call your provider before you travel and request they switch you to an international roaming plan during your time abroad. When you arrive at your destination, simply turn on data roaming to continue using your mobile plan. 

The downside: You're locked into the agreement your provider makes with a foreign carrier, which could mean spotty service and limits on data, calls, and texts.

Airalo eSIM app

Where To Buy an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan

You can buy an eSIM for travel from a third-party provider like us! Airalo is the world's first and largest eSIM marketplace, giving you access to affordable eSIMs for 200+ countries and regions worldwide. You can purchase an eSIM from anywhere — here's how:

  • Download the Airalo app (iOS | Android) or visit the Airalo website.
  • Purchase a localregional, or global eSIM for your trip.
  • If you run out of data or switch up your travel plans, purchase a top-up or another eSIM while on the go.

A roaming plan is also easy to buy but requires contacting your carrier to let them know where you're traveling and for how long. But stick to your itinerary — if you extend your stay without informing your provider, you could face a surprise roaming bill when you get home. 

With a roaming plan, you're also limited by the countries where your provider has agreements with foreign carriers. If you're heading to an off-the-beaten-path destination, you may have trouble securing a plan.

How To Activate an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan

Once you've purchased an eSIM, you'll need to install it on your device. Not to worry — this only takes a few minutes and can be done manually, with a QR code, or right from the Airalo app. The choice is yours. 

Your eSIM will activate upon installation or when you connect to a mobile network at your destination. All you need to do is turn on your eSIM line and data roaming (don't worry, you won't be charged a roaming fee) when you arrive. When you return home, just turn it off to switch back to your domestic plan.

A roaming plan from your provider will automatically activate and expire according to the dates of travel you gave your provider. When you arrive at your destination, turn on data roaming and continue using your mobile services. Remember to alert your provider if you decide to extend your stay. You could face additional charges if you continue roaming outside your travel window.

Airalo eSIM app

Which Is Better? Benefits of Using an eSIM vs. a Roaming Plan

We've explored some key differences between using an eSIM vs. a roaming plan. But which is better? To sum things up, this is why we'd choose an Airalo eSIM over a roaming plan:

  • Affordable. Airalo eSIMs start at US$4.50 vs. the $10-$15 a day you'll pay for a roaming plan.
  • Flexible. Purchase eSIMs and top them up on the go — there's no need to contact your carrier if your travel plans change. 
  • Connect like a local. You don't need to rely on your domestic provider to keep you connected. Airalo works directly with local providers to ensure the best rates and service.
  • Store multiple eSIMs on your device. Most smartphones allow you to store up to eight eSIM profiles, which you can turn on or off as you travel.
  • 100% digital. Purchase, install, and activate an eSIM right from your smartphone. You don't need to contact your carrier to sort out your travel connectivity.
  • Coverage in 200+ countries and regions. Find local, regional, and global plans for wherever you travel. 
  • No hidden fees. Airalo eSIMs are prepaid, so you know exactly what you're getting. There are no hidden roaming fees, and you won't be hit by a surprise bill when you return home.
  • Earn rewards with every purchase. Through the Airalo Loyalty Program, you'll earn cashback rewards to apply to future eSIM purchases.

Airalo eSIM FAQ

Have more questions about eSIMs? Here are answers to the questions we get asked most frequently.

How long does it take to activate my eSIM?

It takes no time! Depending on your eSIM's activation policy, it will either activate as soon as you install it or when you connect to a supported network at your destination. 

In both cases, you must turn on your eSIM line and connect to a supported network to use your eSIM data.

Do I need to reactivate my eSIM when my package ends?

No need! Your Airalo package comes with a certain amount of data, calls, and texts (depending on the package you buy). If your data runs out or your validity period expires, you can easily top-up in your Airalo app.

If your eSIM package doesn't have a top-up option, you can download another eSIM package to stay connected. 

What can I do with my Airalo eSIM?

You can do the same things with an Airalo eSIM as you would a traditional SIM, including: connecting to a mobile network, browsing the internet, using your favorite apps, and using internet-based calling and messaging apps (like WhatsApp).

Can I use my SIM and eSIM together?

Absolutely! Most devices will allow you to use multiple SIMs and/or eSIMs at the same time. You can use your home network SIM for calls and SMS, and your eSIM for data.

Ready to purchase an eSIM for your next trip? Browse eSIMs for 200+ countries and regions in the Airalo store

Ready to try eSIMs and change the way you stay connected?

Download the Airalo app to purchase, manage, and top up your eSIMs anytime, anywhere!

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