The Digital Nomad's Guide to International Phone Plans and eSIM Cards
Landing in a new country is always stressful—especially if you’re unable to use data roaming to find out where you need to go and how you can get there. Landing, immigration, baggage claim, customs, currency conversion, rental cars, taxi apps, yellow cabs, tuk-tuks, trams, trains, and buses. The list goes on. But there’s one vital piece of the puzzle that always causes a little more stress than you expect—picking up a local SIM.
Without a local by your side or data in your devices, it can sometimes feel like you’re getting a bad deal for your travel SIM—even when you aren’t. Countless kiosks all promising the best possible data deal can be overwhelming and time-consuming, not ideal when you’re hoping to be checked into your hotel or Airbnb by 2 p.m.
But there’s one fantastic travel hack that we always recommend before traveling to a new country that skips over the new SIM shuffle. Buying an eSIM a day or two in advance.
READ MORE: The Best Digital Nomad Technology
What is an eSIM?
An eSIM is very similar to a standard physical SIM, which allows users to activate a mobile data plan from their network provider in a digital space. The new technology allows users to operate their SIM without a physical card and use multiple numbers at the same time from a single device.
Users with iPhone devices can install as many as eight different eSIMs, although only two numbers/plans can be used at any one time. The majority of Android devices allow for between five and seven different eSIMs to be installed at once. Again, a maximum of only two numbers can be active at any one time.
What Are the Benefits of an eSIM?
The freshly launched eSIM may feel like progress for the sake of progress—but there’s more to them than meets the eye. There is a range of benefits that make an eSIM a handy travel hack that you’d only have hoped for sooner:
- No need to swap SIMs to accept calls, use the internet, or receive pesky verification SMS
- Impossible to break or lose when changing
- Can store up to eight different eSIMs in a single device
- Can use dual-SIM technology to use two numbers/packages at once
- Allows for slimmer, more compact devices
- Greater security for users
The new eSIMs are a welcome change to the traditional physical SIM (no matter how small they’ve become) and are a perfect solution for digital nomads.
Is My Phone Compatible with an eSIM?
An eSIM is a relatively new technology and not all mobile devices currently support electronic SIM cards. Find out whether your device can support an international eSIM, check out the brand-by-brand guide below.
Travelers using an Apple iPhone will find eSIM availability for use on iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, and all later models. The user’s iPhone must, however, be unlocked when looking to use an eSIM.
In the United States, all iPhone 14 models sold are eSIM only and do not offer the hardware for a physical SIM card. This makes picking up a local SIM upon arrival at either the airport or a convenience store impossible.
Travelers with Samsung devices are required to view their mobile settings to view compatibility with an eSIM. The following breadcrumbs should be followed: Settings> Connections> SIM card manager> Add Mobile plan. If the “Add Mobile plan” section is available, the device does support the use of eSIMs.
Google Pixel users are also required to view their device settings to determine whether or not their device is compatible with an eSIM. To begin, the following breadcrumbs should be followed: Settings >> Network & Internet. Once in the Network & Internet section, users should click the ‘+’ sign over the SIMs section. If the “Connect to Mobile network” page displays the “Download a SIM instead?” message, this confirms that the device is compatible with an eSIM.
Other Android Devices
One of the fastest ways that other Android users can determine whether or not their device will support an eSIM is by simply dialing “*#06#” before pressing the call. If your device is eSIM compatible, a unique eSIM identification number, known as an EID, will be shown.
Alternatively, a full list of compatible devices can be found via the website of the eSIM of choice, for example, via Airolo.
Adam Mace is Nurall's Lead Contributing Writer and a full-time digital nomad in search of the best hikes, unique stays, and local delicacies. When he’s not exploring far-flung places he can..
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