When traveling to a new country, many of us buy a SIM card as soon as we land—but it often turns into a frustrating experience. You have to find the kiosk, provide the right documents, pay, and then wait for activation. What if you could skip the whole charade and get an instant local connection, and reasonable rates, instead? Enter, travel eSIMs.
What is a travel eSIM?
The “e” in eSIM stands for embedded. Many recent flagship smartphones ship with an electronic SIM card embedded inside. Every iPhone from the iPhone XR and every Pixel from Pixel 2 supports this, as do many Samsung phones. (You can check this list of eSIM-supported devices to see if your smartphone has this feature.)
And, because this is an embedded SIM, there’s no need for a physical SIM card to access a carrier network. It can all be arranged using built-in software (as long as the carrier supports eSIM). This means you can get on a new network, and use it as a data connection, while still receiving calls on your primary number.
How to get an international travel eSIM
There’s no physical SIM card, so all you need is an app, and you need to follow the instructions to add an eSIM connection to your phone (the app you choose will guide you through this process, and as the process can be slightly tricky, we suggest you follow the instructions carefully).
There are multiple apps and services that support this feature, including Holafly, Airalo, OneSimCard, and Surfroam. The rates and support network will depend on which service you use, and which country you’re traveling to.
Airalo, for instance, works in more than 190 countries and has decent data charges. For example, you can get a 1GB data pack for Turkey for $5, and a 10GB data pack for $18, both valid for one month.
Here’s how it works in Airalo: You sign up for an account, choose the country and data pack, then buy the data pack first (it’s a pre-paid card, making it easy to track data usage—plus no sticker shock at the end). Then you’ll see instructions on how to add the Airalo eSIM for the country to your phone, depending on whether you have an iPhone or Android.
Once it’s enabled, you can rename the eSIM connection to make it easier to spot. You can use both connections simultaneously, as well (although that will result in faster battery drain). You can also monitor the data usage in the app. eSIM can be disabled manually from your phone’s settings.
Now that the setup is complete, make sure you disable the data connection on your primary SIM card while you’re traveling. If you run out of data, you can hop back in the app to buy an additional data pack.