Spoiler alert! eSIMs for international travel, are simply the best invention since
sliced bread roller bags. In this post, get the lowdown on eSIMs: what they are, the pros and cons of using one, and what we thought about our first experience using the Airalo eSIM app and store.
What is an eSIM?
If you own a mobile device, you are probably already familiar with what a SIM card is—that thumbnail or smaller-sized chip that lives in your phone and determines your phone number, carrier and connectivity.
Like many things these days, the physical is giving way to the digital. The digital version of a SIM is called an eSIM, and is programmed into a phone’s software rather than an actual chip.
Why you should consider an eSIM for international travel
Living in the US, I’ve become all too accustomed to having unlimited wi-fi available at every other hotel, restaurant and coffee shop. Even on my annual trip home to Australia, I’m still surprised how little public wi-fi is available. But globally, this isn’t uncommon.
Now, some of you might like the idea of being incommunicado on your vacation and for a long time I relished the digital detox that came with every trip abroad. However, this became increasingly inconvenient for the following reasons:
- Travel tools – More and more ticketing systems and travel tools have become digital e.g. maps, public transport schedules, boarding passes, audio tours, language translators, vaccine passports, weather forecasts etc are largely in digital form.
- Group travel – It’s necessary to be contactable if you are travelling with other people. The old days of “I’ll meet you on this corner at this time” isn’t acceptable anymore. What if you’re late, lost or have to cancel? How will you let your travel-mates know?
- Business travel – As I accompany hubby on business trips, and increasingly work on the road myself, connectivity is essential. Also, since the pandemic, more people will be taking up remote work opportunities. If this is you, consider an eSIM.
Here are just a few benefits of using an eSIM for international travel:
- You won’t need to go to a physical store and purchase a SIM card every time you reach a new country or region.
- There’s no need to remember to pack one of those pins that opens the SIM slot on your device, nor fiddle with those tiny cards that are so easy to lose.
- eSIMs can be set up in advance. Your purchased plan might not activate until you reach your destination and connect with the local network, but you can be set it up ready to hit the ground running prior to your departure.
- You can purchase phone/data plans on the go, right from the device, in your native language.
- You can leave your existing SIM card installed and use your regular number for phone/sms services while the eSIM takes care of data.
- You save money—Whoop! Whoop! Data plans one eSIMS are generally much cheaper than international roaming.
- eSIMS are generally data only. This means you don’t get allocated a local phone number, and you need to use apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook messenger to make voice calls.
- Not all smart devices and models accept eSIMs, so check your particular device’s compatibility first.
- eSIMS aren’t widely adopted yet and some companies over complicate the installation process. This is because eSIMs make it easier for you to change carriers. They don’t like losing out on your business or those exorbitant international roaming fees they’ve been charging.
- You’ll need wi-fi connection to install the eSIM initially.
- If you usually swap your physical SIM card from device to device, this is going to be much more difficult with an eSIM. You’ll have to reactivate it each time, which could be quite complex.
- No internet connectivity, no bueno. If you’re somewhere that doesn’t have good internet connectivity in general e.g. Cuba, then you are not going to benefit from having an eSIM.
Airalo eSIM review
Airalo is an app and marketplace that facilitates the purchase and installation of eSIMS.
We recently travelled to France and England using Airalo to purchase and activate an eSIM for the first time. After much research, we chose Airalo because it offers country, regional and global eSIMs. It also has over one million users worldwide with many favourable reviews from other travellers.
After field testing Airalo, I can honestly say this is one of the best telecommunications tools for international travellers! Though I have no comparison point with other eSIM services, I haven’t felt the need to look for one either.
After downloading the Airalo app, it took a few minutes to purchase and install the appropriate eSIM for our destinations and usage. We chose the Eurolink 3GB data SIM which covers 39 European countries; is valid for 30-days; and cost $13—pretty good value, huh?
We installed the eSIM prior to departure, right before we boarded the plane and while we still had wi-fi connectivity.
The only snag, was that on touch down in France, we had to re-jig a couple of smartphone settings before the eSIM connected to the local network (and remember to turn them back when we arrived home). But that was the hardest part and it was smooth sailing from there.
If you want to try using an eSIM for international travel, you can save US$3 by using my referral code: ZOE8094 when you purchase your first eSIM.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,