eSIM cards – The most convenient way to save on internet access abroad

  • 15.08.2023 06:00
  • Bruno Arcos

Instead of having to buy yet another SIM card every time you travel outside the European Union, all it takes is just a few clicks and … you have internet abroad without having to worry about the bill! No more wasting time looking out for sales points, searching for prices online or replacing your regular SIM card. Sounds too good to be true? Then it’s time to put this theory to the test! Let’s check just how reliable it is to buy eSIM cards from all over the world in one single marketplace.

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Whether you need to let your family know of your whereabouts, check public transportation timetables, keep up with your favorite accounts on Instagram or just follow the latest news, there are surely many reasons why one would need to stay connected while abroad. Fortunately, having internet access while out of your home-country is getting less of an expensive luxury and more of a quick, hassle-free procedure.

That being said, throughout this guide we will explain exactly what an eSIM is, where to buy one, how much does it cost, how to activate it and in which countries to use it, all while showing its pros and cons when compared to the more conventional physical SIM cards. But most importantly, we will be answering the most relevant of questions: does it really guarantee a reliable internet connection abroad?

What is an eSIM card and who needs it?

By now, everyone knows that staying connected across the European Union (as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) is a problem of the past. After the EU pretty much abolished roaming fees in between its member countries back in 2015, its citizens can now enjoy the exact same benefits of their regular phone plan all across the union, meaning they can use their mobile data, make phone calls and send texts just as if they were home. However, things get unnecessarily complicated whenever you need to travel outside the EU. Using a personal story as an example, I had a friend who tried to order an Uber while in Asia and ended up paying an additional 20€ on her phone plan. Turns out she thought she was using the airport’s wi-fi network but had in fact forgotten to turn off her plan’s mobile data! Another colleague turned off flight mode on his phone after landing in China, but also forgot to switch off his plan’s internet data. Within a few minutes, notifications from social media alone added up to 100€ on the monthly bill. Ouch!

So, what do you normally do after landing in a country where you can’t use your regular home plan? Most people just look out for a local store where they can buy a physical SIM Card in order to stay connected. We’ve all done that and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. However, technology is ever-evolving and eSIM cards (i.e. the virtual equivalents to the traditional, physical ones) are already well-established within the mobile data market. As a software, eSim cards are “installed” on our devices and therefore do not need to be physically inserted into our phones. It’s a simpler, quicker process – one that we have tried ourselves and can vouch for! However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its flaws!

Difference between eSIM and regular SIM

How is an eSIM card different from a traditional one? Well, think of it in the same an ebook differs from a regular, paper book. However, and this applies to both examples, their purpose is exactly the same, aside from the fact eSIMs and ebooks are purely available on their virtual form. But when it comes to usability and convenience, that’s when you start to see the main differences between eSIMs and physical SIMs. First of all, you do not need to look for a sales point or have local currency at hand. In fact, your eSIM card is only a few clicks away, and you may even buy it long before your departure. You just need to download the app, log into your account, choose the country where you want the eSIM card to work, make the payment, complete the activation and … you’re good to go!

Immediately after installing the app, you will know right away whether your device supports eSIM cards or not, as a pop up will appear onscreen before you complete your first purchase. That means transparency and fairness – and we respect that! Another nice thing is just how easy it is to complete an eSIM card activation. Although the long instructions document with tiny fine print letters might look daunting at first, you will quickly find out it’s all just part of the protocol. In fact, activation is pretty much automatic, requiring that you only press a single button to get things started.

Also, in case you encounter any issues upon installing the app, you can easily find a detailed step-by-step guide for both Android and iOS on Airalo’s website. Plus, you may also rely on their 24/7 support team. However, it’s worth mentioning everything went super smooth during our test.

In our opinion, it is best to buy and activate your eSIM card directly on the app before you leave towards your destination. That way, you can be sure that the internet connection will be readily available as soon as you land/cross the border. However, if for some reason you are not able to do it before your departure, do not panic! You just need to find a reliable wi-fi connection and complete the card’s activation within a few seconds!

It’s also worth mentioning eSim cards don’t necessarily need to be used on one’s phone. You may have them installed on tablet or smartwatches – they will work just as well! On the other hand, if you’re not sure whether your phone supports eSIM cards or not, you may find a full list of the devices that do online.

Where can I buy an eSIM card online?

Ok, but where do you actually buy these things? Well, turns out you can buy your eSIM card on the exact same place where you can buy everything else – the internet!

In fact, we’ve been witnessing a widespread proliferation of online stores selling foreign eSIM cards all over the world wide web. Sure, you have Airalo, but you can also find the likes of Holafly, Travelsim, GlobaleSim, Prepaid Global, eSIMs and others. While each and every single one of these stores is unique in terms of visuals and pricing, they all have the same common goal: to guarantee cheap, convenient internet access while abroad.

How much does an eSIM card cost?

By now, we all already know how much more convenient an eSIM card is when compared to its traditional counterpart… but how much does it cost? Let’s take a look at Airalo for a minute.

With this supplier, the cheapest cards start at 4.50USD. This is how much you would pay, for example, for an eSIM to be used in Turkey, Cambodia or the United States. As for weekly cards, they will set you back 5USD to the UK, 7USD to Brazil or 9USD to Switzerland.

Now let’s take a look at the likes of Dubai, Georgia and Thailand for a proper comparison to what is currently on the market .In Dubai, the DU operator currently offers the cheapest mobile data package for 49AED (13USD), granting you 2GB to use in 7 days. As for Airalo, its cheapest eSIM card for Dubai costs 8.50USD, but with only 1GB for 7 days.

On the other hand, if you look at Thailand, an Airalo eSIM for 8 days with 50gb data will set you back 9,90USD. But if you buy a similar plan at a traditional store, it will only cost you around 8.50USD. In the Thai case, the physical card wins.

Unlike the examples above, in which eSIM is an option to consider due to its ease and simplicity, in the case of a trip to the United States, the price difference also makes it worthwhile, now look: with 10GB of data with Airalo (use the code JOAO9445 to get a $3 discount on your first purchase) costs roughly $26.

A physical card at T-Mobile (usually the most recommended one as it is compatible with European cell phones) with the same 10GB costs $40 without taxes or fees and one with unlimited data costs $60, again, with you still needing to add taxes and fees to that price. If you don’t need the unlimited calls that come with the latter, the eSIM is a really interesting option.

To sum up:

Although these online retailers selling eSIM cards provide great comfort and convenience, bear in mind they are still a novelty, so you still need to conduct your own research in order to assess which solution is the most advantageous for your specific trip. That is, unless you’re solely seeking convenience – in that case, eSIM cards ALWAYS win.

Do you travel regularly? Then you might want to check a global eSIM

Another nice addition, rarely available at your physical selling points, are eSIM cards valid for entire specific regions. Instead of having to use a separate card for each country, you can simply buy one that remains valid across several (sometimes even dozens) different nations. This type of offer includes, for example, a single card for 39 European countries, another for 14 Asian countries, and even an alternative valid across 26 African countries.

For those who basically spend their time on the road, there is also an option to buy global eSIM cards. The most expensive global card available at Airalo covers 130 countries and remains valid for 365 days. It costs 89USD and includes 20GB of data. It may sound expensive but if you’re traveling across many countries in a short span of time, it may actually be cheaper than buying all those separate cards. Once again, you’ll have to look into your specific travel plans.

Are eSIM cards safe? Is there any catch to it?

With all the up-and-coming tech services, we understand there are key questions that need to be addressed. Are eSIM cards safe? Are there any tricks or fine print you should be aware of? Fortunately we don’t have to be the ones testing the waters, because so many before you (or us) have already had the opportunity to give this product a go! After all, Airalo has been operating for several years now and its app has been downloaded over 500.000 times. Better yet, its rates have been consistently high on both Google and Apple app stores.

As for the product’s specs, the most important – at least from our perspective – is that there is no commitment or long-term obligations upon completing your purchase. Each eSIM only includes a specific data package and timeframe. After you run out of data or the plan expires, there are no automatic renewals or subscriptions. You won’t spend any more money if you don’t want to and you may never use that eSIM card ever again. After completing your purchase, the app will also allow you to monitor your data consumption and – if necessary – top up your package with just one click.

Advantages and disadvantages of eSIM cards

To sum everything up, eSIM cards are definitely the future when it comes to fast, convenient, cheap internet access abroad. For now, and although it might still take a while before travelers start adopting them on a mass scale, it is still worth taking a look at what’s available out there when planning your trip. Plus, with the ever-growing number of companies flooding the market and its increasing competition, there is a fairly good chance that prices will only get lower as time progresses. Just keep an eye out!

Advantages of eSIM cards

  • No need to look for stores or any other physical locations;
  • No need to replace the card on your phone;
  • Even if you don’t have a DualSIM slot, the eSIM can still be installed as a secondary card;
  • No plastic waste;
  • The eSIM card can’t be destroyed, broken or damaged;
  • Readily available for use immediately after landing/crossing the border;
  • No PIN code.

Disadvantages of eSIM cards

  • Not all phones support eSIM;
  • No phone calls or text messages included;
  • Smaller selection of packages and networks when compared to tradition SIM cards (for now);
  • Most eSIM cards can only be installed only once. You can still disable them temporarily, but once uninstalled, they will stop working forever.

Download Airalo App and save on roaming (use the code VITALI6517 to get a $3 discount on your first purchase >>

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