How Does an International eSIM Work? Your Complete Guide

If you’re looking to stay connected but don't want to fuss with a physical SIM card, look no further. eSIMs give you global traveling abilities without the hardware.

An eSIM is a fast, lightweight solution to access mobile data on demand, whether you’re abroad or unable to access a physical SIM card. With an eSIM, you can purchase a mobile data plan through the Airalo app and use a QR code, manually download, or directly install it to your eSIM-compatible device.

It’s that simple – but when was anything ever that simple, especially with international travel?

We get it. Smartphones with eSIM support have only existed for a few years. If you want to know how your international eSIM works, you're in the right place. We’re taking a closer look at this fantastic new technology to shed some light on it.

What Is an eSIM for International Travel?

If you’ve been looking into phone service options for your next trip abroad, you’ve probably noticed they’re limited. Many carriers charge exorbitant international rates (or offer free global data at glacial 2G speeds). Perhaps you thought about circumventing this by simply hotspot hopping with Wi-Fi, but that carries its own security risks – not to mention Wi-Fi isn’t always available everywhere.

However, if you’re using a relatively new phone, you may have a better option: eSIM.

An eSIM, or "embedded subscriber identity module," is a chip that’s embedded within your phone’s circuitry. It replaces the traditional SIM card by relying on software to deliver data service to your phone.

Since eSIMs are software-based, you can switch carriers or plans quickly and often instead of the service being hardwired into a SIM card. Go to an eSIM data plan marketplace like Airalo and pick out a package that meets your needs during your travel, no matter how short or long it is.

An eSIM is particularly handy for international travel because it doesn’t require removing your SIM card. While traveling, your primary SIM card will be disabled (unless you use it with Dual SIM Standby mode). You can immediately resume using your primary SIM card when you return home. Here’s a handy list of smartphones and other devices with eSIM compatibility.


How does an International eSIM work?

An eSIM is a lightweight solution to getting international data without the excessive fees some carriers charge and the difficulties of finding a physical SIM card at your destination. Rather than purchasing a physical SIM card that you swap out with your regular SIM card, you’ll pay for a data plan through an app like Airalo. Then, you’ll follow a few simple steps to activate the data plan on your phone.

The eSIM connects with local service providers and towers offering prepaid eSIM plans. The providers already offer these — Airalo puts them all in one convenient place for you to discover.

On your end, an eSIM is just like having a local SIM card, except you’ll still use your regular number (if you have Dual SIM Dual Standby enabled – most devices with eSIM do). If you don’t have Dual SIM tech, your phone will function as a data-only device, but you can still text or place calls through services like WhatsApp or Telegram.

Why Is an International eSIM Better Than a Local SIM Card?

Local SIM cards are one of the most popular options for travelers when they go abroad. However, they aren't the only option travelers are interested in. According to a 2019 survey, 60 percent of consumers would opt for an eSIM service if it was available to them.

An international eSIM has a few distinct advantages over a local SIM card. Those include:

  • Data plans for regions rather than specific countries: If you’re traveling to multiple destinations abroad, you’ll need to purchase a new SIM card every time you reach another country. In contrast, a regional eSIM data plan will let you enjoy service over your entire trip.
  • Clearly articulated local plans with local prices: An eSIM marketplace like Airalo lays out what you’re getting and what it costs. That might not always be the case in person, even if you’re interacting with an authorized dealer at an airport.
  • The ability to purchase data plans ahead of time: Rather than stressing yourself out by making phone service your priority when stepping off the plane, you can activate your eSIM data plan on your phone, and you’re ready to go.
  • Multiple eSIM plans stored on one phone: Most devices allow you to store multiple eSIM data plans on one device. That’s much easier than keeping track of numerous physical SIM cards.
  • Flexible plans for days, weeks, or months as you need: Many prepaid local SIM cards require you to pay for an entire month of service. However, that may lead you to overpay if you only need service for a few days or weeks. In contrast, eSIM data plans are flexible, and you can purchase the exact amount of data or duration you need.

Roam Your Way With an International eSIM

Now that you know how an international eSIM works, you’ve got one more tool at your disposal the next time you travel. An eSIM means mobile data freedom without headaches, connection uncertainties, or painful bills. Connectivity has never been more effortless, with over 200 countries and regions available in the Airalo marketplace.

Are you planning your next big trip? Check out the Airalo store right here to see what possibilities await.

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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