The 6 Best eSIMs For International Travel
Table Of Contents
- About international eSIM cards & how they work
- What are international eSIMs
- How eSIMs for international travel work
- How to download and activate eSIMs for international travel
- The benefits of an international eSIM
- Phone requirements to get eSIMs for international travel
- The 6 best eSIMs for international travel
- FAQ for international eSIMs
If you head abroad for a work trip, to digital nomad, or even just for a vacation - it's time to get an eSIM for international travel. Gone are the days of popping your national SIM card out, popping an international SIM card in, and promptly losing your national SIM card (they're so small!).
But eSIMs can be confusing, especially if you've historically just tacked on an international package to your domestic plan when you went abroad.
Here's the deal - eSIMs are going to save you money, save you time, and are just flat out easier than buying a physical SIM card for that trip abroad or buying an international package with your domestic provider.
So - here's what eSIMs are, how to use them, and the 6 best eSIMs for international travel.
About eSIM Cards For International Travel And How They Work
What Are International eSIMs
International eSIMs are virtual SIM cards that are tied to a local national carrier, which means you'll get mobile data in the country you're visiting. The main advantage of these eSIMs is getting local mobile data in whichever country you're visiting.
This means while some eSIMs for international travel offer a local number, that's not as common. And if you're not living in the country longterm, you probably don't need a local number anyway.
How International eSIMs Work
International eSIMs (and all eSIMs, for that matter) are available on apps like Airalo, Holafly and others. On these apps you buy packages that range anywhere from 1 - 30 days, and these come with a set amount of data.
You can download an international eSIM before you enter or while you're in-country, although most eSIMs won't activate until they connect to cell tower in the local country.
This means you can buy a 7-day data eSIM for Japan (or any other country) well before your trip, because the eSIM isn't activated until it connects to a local cell tower.
How To Download & Activate An eSIM For International Travel (iPhone)
Step 1: Download your preferred eSIM app and create an account.
Step 2: Select your country and then the package that best suits you.
Step 3: Now to activate, most apps will guide you through the activation process step by step.
Step 4: During this activation flow, you'll be asked to select which line you'd like for your Cellular Data. Make sure to set "Cellular Data" to the local line you're activating.
Step 5: If for some reason your local line isn't activated, go to Settings>Cellular and tap your freshly activated line (example below).
Step 6: Activate data roaming
Once you've confirmed your international eSIM is active, make sure you enable "Data Roaming" (example below). This is important!
The Benefits Of An International eSIM
- No Data Roaming Fees: Traditional domestic providers like Verizon would LOVE you to turn on your data while you’re abroad. They’re able to hit you with huge data roaming fees and other charges.
- Convenience: eSIMs eliminate the need for physical SIM cards. You simply scan a QR code or download a mobile plan without the hassle of swapping cards or buying data packages in a foreign language.
- Multiple Plans: eSIMs allow users to store multiple plans/profiles on a single device. This is perfect for digital nomads who want to use their US number to receive OTPs and 2FAs, as well as those who need to switch between their local country's phone service and international plans.
- Increased Connectivity: The ability to hotspot from anywhere means you'll stay connected regardless of power outages (digital nomads know this can be a huge problem in more isolated areas).
Phone Requirements For International eSIMs
- Your phone must support eSIM technology.
- Here's a full list of phones that support eSIMs.
- Your phone must not be carrier locked
- To check if your iPhone is carrier locked, go to Settings>General>About, then scroll down to "Carrier Lock".
- You should see "No SIM restrictions".
- If you see anything other than this, contact your carrier to have the lock removed.
The 6 Best eSIMs For International Travel: Pros & Cons Of Each Option
The 6 services below are basically apps or websites that provide you with a QR code you scan that automatically downloads local eSIMs for you. You can then purchase data packages through these services.
Airalo is a popular choice for short-term travelers due to its wide-ranging coverage and affordability for short stints.
Does Airalo Have An App?
Yes, available on both iOS and Android platforms.
Where Is Arialo Based?
What Countries Does Airalo Cover?
Airalo is one of the most comprehensive esim providers on the market, offering coverage in 200+ countries
How Fast Is Airalo's Data Speed?
Airalo is generally reliable for everyday tasks like Google Maps or browsing social media. You would not want to rely on esim providers like Airalo to hotspot for large data uploads/downloads, as it's just not designed for that.
Which Phones Are Compatible With Airalo?
Airalo works with almost any smartphone and tablet that supports eSIM technology. Just be aware that each device (smartphone, tablet) needs its own esim.
Airalo Pros & Cons
- Instant activation
- Wide coverage in multiple countries.
- Affordable short-term data packs.
- Very easy to track data usage in Airalo the app.
- Not many longer-term packages to pick from.
- Airalo provides only data sims, which means you won't have a local phone number to receive calls/texts.
Holafly is tailored for travelers looking for unlimited data and who are heading to major destinations.
Does Holafly Have An App?
Yes - you can purchase data packages through the app
Where Is Holafly Based?
What Countries Does Holafly Offer Coverage?
Holafly offers coverage in over 160 countries, but it's primarily focused on tourist-heavy regions, so it might not offer as broad of a coverage as some competitors.
How Is Holafly's Data Speed?
Holafly typically offers fairly good data speeds in their coverage regions.
Which Phones Are Compatible With Holafly?
Holafly works with almost any smartphone or tablet that supports eSIM technology.
Holafly Pros & Cons:Holafly Pros:
- Instant activation
- Holafly offers unlimited data packages
- Holafly actually gives you a local phone number to make/receive calls in-country
- Holafly is pricier than competition due to unlimited data packages and the fact that you receive a local phone number, which may or may not be a con depending on what you need it for.
Simcorner stands out with its no-expiration policy on credits and a single esim option supporting multiple countries.
Does Simcorner Have An App?
No, but you can purchase and manage plans through the website.
Where Is Simcorner Based?
Where Does Simcorner Offer Coverage?
Simcorner offers coverage in 100+ countries, but it's coverage is much more limited than others on this list. Coverage doesn’t include Africa or the Americas (except for USA, where there is coverage offered).
How Are Simcorner's Data Speeds?
Reliable, but the speed may vary based on the local carrier.
Which Phones Are Compatible With Simcorner?
Simcorner is compatible with any device that supports eSIMs.
Simcorner Pros & Cons:Simcorner Pros:
- Simcorner's data packages don't have an expiration date
- Keeps things simple by offering packages that support multiple countries with a single eSIM card
- Higher upfront cost
- While Simcorner is great for travelers who need a "no expiration" policy, selecting a policy and activating your esim is simply not as convenient as competitors.
Onesim provides affordable local and regional eSIM card plans.
Does Onesim Have An App?
Yes, available on both iOS and Android.
Where Is Onesim Based?
New Mexico, USA
Where Does Onesim Offer Coverage?
Onesim offers data coverage in over 75+ countries
How Are Onesim's Data Speeds?
Onesim's data speeds are generally reliable.
Which Devices Are Compatible With Onesim?
Onesim works with most eSIM-enabled devices.
Onesim Pros & ConsOnesim Pros:
- Solid speeds in covered areas
- Affordable plans
- Very limited country offerings
- No local phone number
Nomad eSIM Service Overview
Nomad offers transparent pricing and certain plans with data rollover, catering mainly to the European region.
Does Nomad eSIM Have An App?
Yes - for both iOS and Android.
Where Is Nomad eSIM Based?
Santa Clara, CA
Where Does Nomad eSIM Offer Coverage?
Nomad offers extensive coverage in 165+ countries.
How Is Nomad's Data Speed?
Nomad's data speed is pretty reliable in its covered regions.
Which Devices Is Nomad eSIM Compatible With?
Nomad supports devices that are eSIM compatible.
Nomad eSIM Pros & ConsNomad eSIM Pros:
- Transparent pricing
- Data rollover on certain plans
- Good variance of data package selections
- Limited offerings in select countries
- No local phone number
Nomad eSIM Pricing
Gigsky offers flexible plans and decent coverage, especially in North America and Europe.
Does Gigsky Have An App?
Yes, available for both iOS and Android.
Where Is Gigsky Based?Gigsky is based in the USA.
Where Does Gigsky Offer Coverage?
Gigsky offers extensive coverage in 190+ countries, with the most affordable coverage in North America and Europe. They also offer a “World Plan” which you can take to most countries in the world and get instant service.
How Are Gigsky's Data Speeds?
Gigsky's data speeds are fairly good, an it's generally consistent.
Which Devices Are Compatible With Gigsky?
Gigsky eSIMs are compatible with most eSIM-capable devices.
Gigsky Pros & Cons:Gigsky Pros:
- Flexible plans
- Solid coverage in North America and Europe
- Their World Plan is very convenient for anyone who wants to "set it and forget it", and get service anywhere in the world.
- While Gigsky's North America & Europe plans are great value, their Asia and Africa plans can be pricey.
FAQ About eSIMs For International Travel
Q: Do I Need An eSIM For International Travel?
A: While an eSIM for international travel is higher on the convenience scale, you don't need an international eSIM. You have the option of buying a physical SIM card on arrival to a country, buying a data plan and popping that SIM into your phone.
Q: Can I use an eSIM if my phone supports dual SIM cards?
A: Yes. And if your phone supports dual eSIM cards, you'll be able to have multiple eSIMs installed (although you'll only be able to activate two at a time).
Q: What's the difference between an international eSIM and an international plan?
A: These two are very different; an international eSIM means you're buying an eSIM specifically to get data in a certain country/region outside your home country. An international plan means you're just buying an "international data package" from your current provider. More on these below.
eSIMs For International Travel
Getting an eSIM for international travel means you're downloading an app like Airalo and purchasing a local eSIM for 1-30 days with a local data package so that you have local data in the country you're visiting.
Keep in mind this means you will not be able to make or receive calls to your US number during this time. But as long as your US number is an eSIM, or you have the physical SIM for your US number in your phone, you should be able to receive SMS for verification codes.
When doing this, make sure to turn off data roaming for your domestic line.
This consists of you contacting your domestic carrier and asking them to give you their international package. While this is a more expensive option, with this you should be able to send and receive calls and texts to and from your US number, and you'll also have local data.
Opting for an international plan over an international eSIM is ok for short-term trips (less than a week), but anything longer than that and you'll probably want to switch to an eSIM to avoid huge charges from your carrier.
Q: Can eSIMs be used internationally?
A: Yes, in fact that's what many eSIMs are made for. But to be clear, the "e" in eSIM doesn't make it an international tool. The provider you buy that eSIM from gives you the power to use your phone internationally.
Final Thoughts On eSIMs For International Travel
eSIMs are absolutely the way of the future, and the technology has reached a place where there’s no excuse not to be using them.
But whether you use an eSIM for your US or local number depends on how many eSIMs your phone can handle, and whether you need to use your US number while you’re abroad. There’s no one-size-fits-all here, so you should pick whichever one fits your situation best.
Travel well! And if you want to travel better, check out our 2-in-1 laptop case that improves your posture.