The latest version of mobile SIM cards make it easy to get data plans around the world through an app – and it may already be built into your phone. eSIMs are the next generation of subscriber identity modules that differ from plastic and gold physical SIMs by being software based.
What this means for international travelers is getting mobile data from country to country is as easy as a few clicks using Airalo.
How eSIMs Work
You’re probably familiar with standard SIM cards, that piece of removable plastic you slide into in a slot on your phone. eSIMs serve the same function – to identify your phone to mobile networks – but eSIMs are physically embedded in your phone’s hardware. When you need to change your SIM, say, for when you’re visiting France from Canada, instead of swapping out a SIM card, all you need to do is open an app.
Benefits For Travelers
Some of the immediate up sides to eSIMs is you don’t need to go to a physical shop or deal with local restrictions. All you have to do is go to an eSIM provider like Airalo, which has plans in over 100 countries worldwide. Set up an account with Airalo, then download their app and choose your next destination. You’ll be presented with a variety of (mostly) data plans, which vary by duration and total data (e.g. 3GB).
You do need to do all of this while you have a wifi connection but otherwise you can get all the cards you’ll need ahead of your travels. Airalo even provides regional eSIM cards such as Europe plus you can keep your original SIM card active if you want, for example, to get calls on one line but use data with the other.
Convenient Service, Quirky Setup
Because eSIMs are fairly new (only working with these latest flagship phones) mobile operating systems make installing an eSIM clunky at best. Once you’ve purchased your eSIM from a provider like Airalo, you’ll be presented with a QR code you need to scan from your phone. In other words, you can’t install the eSIM using only the Airalo app since you need to scan the QR code from your mobile’s cellular settings.
The most obvious options are to point your phone at your laptop to scan the code after logging into your Airalo account. Taking a picture of the code displayed on your phone with another phone (what are travel buddies for) and scanning that, or using two mirrors in a hotel room has also worked for me.
No More Airport SIM Stops
There are other issues like having to change APN codes which will be too much hoop jumping for users who aren’t too tech-savvy. Despite these issues eSIM services are getting better but the technology is already the best option for travelers. You no longer have to wait in airport lines for mobile data when you can have Internet right when you land. Using Airalo is a bit more expensive than purchasing a local SIM and phone numbers aren’t available for most plans; however the convenience means you probably won’t bother with physical cards again.