Staying connected while abroad has been a long-standing challenge for travelers. From the challenges of purchasing a local SIM card to domestic carriers happy to charge an arm and a leg for international service, no good solution seemed in sight.

Except there’s one. In fact, eSIMs have been around for a few years, but they’re just now getting the attention they deserve.

Have you ever wondered just how does an eSIM work? Good news!

Here’s everything you need to know about this wonderful technology that simplifies travel and keeps you connected on the go.

What is an eSIM and Why Does It Matter?

All phones require a SIM card to access mobile data and cell service. In most cases, users must physically insert this delicate piece of hardware into a tray and insert it into their phone. (If you’re using an old phone, you may still have to open up the back and slide it into the socket.)

You know the drill. It can get super tedious when you’re constantly switching one chip from phone to phone … or switching from SIM card to SIM card.

In contrast, an eSIM is an embedded-SIM card – a tiny chip that’s fused directly onto a phone’s circuit board. It provides a smarter and more convenient way to stay connected. Many newer phones have them along with the traditional SIM tray. Check if your phone is eSIM compatible here.

The eSIM has a few advantages over traditional SIM cards. For example:

  • You can store multiple eSIMs: You’re not limited to just one plan as with a physical card.
  • They allow for more powerful phones: An eSIM takes up way less space than a SIM card with its slide-out tray. One of the reasons they’ve become popular is the opportunity it affords manufacturers to increase the size of other components … like the battery.
  • No more fiddling with hardware components: Thankfully, newer phones no longer require you to pry open the backs, exposing components to the elements. Even better, an eSIM gets rid of the struggle of finding a paperclip that fits into the tray’s hole to get it open.

So, How Does an eSIM Even Work?

If an eSIM is basically a physical SIM card gone digital, then does the eSIM work the same?

We get that question a lot. And the answer is: yes.

eSIM allows you to activate a mobile plan without having to use a physical SIM card. It also allows you to store multiple operator profiles on a device simultaneously, and switch between them quickly, though only one can be used at a time. Perfect for travellers and those who like to have flexibility in their network connectivity.

All eSIM compatible phones have an option in Settings to add a cellular plan. (Here are the specific instructions for iPhones.) When you purchase a data plan from Airalo  eSIM store, you’ll receive a QR code  with which you’ll be able to set up a cellular plan on your phone. It just takes a few moments and gives you a certain amount of mobile data for a given length of time.

You should know:

  • The data plan is completely separate from your regular carrier: That means there are no exorbitant international data charges and you can even keep using your phone number.
  • The eSIM connects to local networks: Airalo eSIMs work in 190+ countries, making fast data more accessible than ever.
  • Airalo is contract-free and you can top up your eSIM data plan at any time: It takes less than two minutes to top up a plan or switch out a plan for another one.

Is Dual SIM the Same as eSIM?

Not necessarily.

Dual SIM simply means that a phone is capable of supporting multiple SIM cards. However, that doesn’t mean the secondary SIM card is an eSIM. Many phones, such as Samsung's Galaxy S7, S8, and S9, support dual SIM but not an eSIM. They have two physical SIM card slots – you’ll be able to easily spot these in the tray.

Other phones, like the iPhone XR, support dual SIM with eSIM.

What Phones Can Use an eSIM?

Currently, the Motorola Razr is the only phone out there that’s eSIM only – but probably won’t be for long.

That’s because more and more phones are hitting the market that are dual SIM with eSIM. Here’s a full list of phones that can support eSIM:

  • Apple iPhone 13
  • Apple iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone SE 2020
  • Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone XR, XS, XS Max
  • Google Pixel 4, 4a, 5 (3 and 3XL have limited support)
  • Huawei P40, P40 Pro (not P40 Pro+)
  • Nuu Mobile X5
  • Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold LTE (not Galaxy Fold 5G)
  • Motorola Razr 2019

(Here’s our take on the 12 best phones that can use eSIM.)

Where Can (and Can’t) an eSIM Be Used?

eSIM is definitely a great option for when you travel abroad. Currently, you can get eSIM data plans for over 190+ countries from Airalo eSIM store. eSIMs are generally supported by major network carriers in most European countries, as well as other countries like Canada, Hong Kong, India, Qatar, Singapore, Taiwan, and the U.S.

There’s a good chance that an eSIM data plan will be available wherever you’re going.

Of course, exceptions exist. While eSIMs are super convenient for travelers, it may be surprising to learn that eSIMs are receiving pushback from legislators in many countries. While you might be able to get an eSIM in these countries, it’s worth looking into them before traveling:

  • Mainland China: You will be able to use an eSIM if you’re travelling to China. However, if you bought your iPhone in China, your phone might not be eSIM compatible. iPhones of Chinese market have Dual-SIM capability with 2 slots for physical nano-SIM cards.
  • Egypt: Although eSIM packages do exist, Egypt has extremely strict registration requirements that can make accessing them difficult.
  • Russia: Russia integrated eSIM technology into its infrastructure. However, there are significant concerns about surveillance, data privacy, and facial recognition.

You can also use an eSIM from your existing operator. In most cases, it would be similar to ordering a replacement for your physical SIM card. You'd need to contact your carrier or in some cases go to a physical store so this would definitely take some time.

Adventure Has No Borders – Neither Does Mobile Data with Airalo

There you have it: exactly how an eSIM works. Just remember that they’re essentially physical SIM cards gone digital. As a chip soldered to your phone’s circuit, you’ll never lose it. Plus, you’ll be able to store more than one. That means you get to enjoy access to local data plans (nearly) wherever you go.

It’s a win-win solution for all and is rapidly becoming a mainstream staple for frequent travelers. Adventure has no borders. Now, mobile data doesn’t either.

Still got questions? Contact us. Or explore the eSIM mobile data plans now.