How to set up and use an eSIM for international travel

How to set up and use an eSIM for international travel

How to set up and use an eSIM for international travel

As the holiday season approaches, now is more than ever a good time to grit your teeth and get to grips with a smartphone feature that many of us have ignored for years: eSIM, the digital version of the SIM card. which has your phone number.

Among many benefits, eSIM technology is a boon for travelers, and soon we will all be using it because the physical SIM card will be gone. Let me explain.

Last year, Apple removed the SIM card tray from the iPhone 14 to free up space. This means that the SIM card, which acts as a key that connects your phone to cellular networks, is being phased out for Apple phones.

Where Apple leads, others usually follow, so you can expect handset makers like Samsung and Google to also use eSIM – a digitized SIM card built into the phone’s computer chip that you can activate with the service plan of any cellular network.

“Whether we like it or not, it happens,” Roger Entner, telecommunications expert and founder of research firm Recon Analytics, said of eSIM technology.

But this decision is not really about Apple. The Federal Communications Commission also favors eSIM technology because it makes it easier for people to switch to another carrier using software instead of going to a store for a physical SIM card. And the technology has security benefits: if your phone is stolen, thieves can’t remove an eSIM to hijack your phone number and commit identity theft, like they could with a physical SIM card.

More importantly, the experience of using eSIM data plans for travel has improved significantly. About five years ago, eSIM data plans for international roaming were too expensive and cell service was sometimes unreliable. But over the past year, I’ve tested a few eSIM services when I left the country and found them to be cost-effective and fast.

As is always the case with new technology, there are downsides. Activating a data plan on a foreign network with an eSIM isn’t as easy as sticking another SIM card in your phone. The process is especially challenging for those less tech-savvy, requiring more tech-savvy companions to help them make the switch.

There are also privacy issues. Many eSIM service providers offer apps that collect your data for tracking purposes.

You can use my experience as a template to navigate the inevitable transition to eSIM. Recently, I tried eSIM data plans when traveling with several family members and acted as a technical sherpa during the switch.

The main reason to use eSIM services for traveling is to save money. Major US carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, offer international roaming options, including $10 day passes for using your phone in foreign countries. The costs add up quickly for a two-week family trip.

In contrast, an eSIM data plan that can be used for your entire trip costs a few dollars. The tricky part is choosing an eSIM service provider, as there are so many out there, and most are unknown brands like Airalo, GigSky, and FlexiRoam. (Apple provides a list of eSIM service providers on its website.)

On a recent week-long trip to Montreal, I researched travel blogs and picked Nomad, which offered a gigabyte of data that could be used for seven days in Canada for $7. I had the option of activating the plan with the Nomad app or by following the setup instructions on the company’s website. The app had high reviews in the app store so I clicked the download button.

One good thing about eSIM is that you can buy a plan and set up the service on your phone well before a trip, then activate it when you arrive at your destination. After purchasing a plan, the eSIM service provider sends you a list of instructions.

The Nomad app showed a list of steps. In the iPhone settings app, I clicked on the cellular menu, clicked “Add eSIM” and entered an activation code. As I was crossing the border into Canada, I went back into the cellular settings, selected the Nomad phone line, and enabled the “Enable this line” option.

(If you’re still using a physical SIM card for your home phone line, you don’t need to remove it. In the phone’s cellular settings, just disable the service for your primary line to avoid roaming charges .)

After choosing this eSIM plan, I shared the Nomad app with my wife and brother-in-law, who each followed the instructions to set it up on their own. I didn’t know how to advise my mother-in-law, who never downloads apps, how to set up the plan, so I did it for her.

Herein lies the real problem: people who are less tech-savvy probably won’t know how to use eSIM services. When my mother-in-law went on a trip to Hong Kong alone and I wasn’t nearby to set up the service for her, I told her to pay for AT&T’s international roaming plan and find a store more late to buy a SIM card from a Hong Kong telephone company.

Terry Guo, chief product officer of LotusFlare, the company that developed Nomad, agreed that the main demographic of travelers using eSIM service plans are younger, more tech-savvy people.

“We’re doing a lot of work in the app to make that easier,” he said.

Another disadvantage of eSIM services is related to privacy. All of the eSIM service providers that I researched in the Apple App Store stated in their app descriptions that they track users across different apps and websites.

Toni Toikka, managing director of Alekstra, a company that helps companies reduce their wireless bills, stressed the importance of protecting eSIM providers’ personal information. He said many of these companies, known as mobile virtual network operators, had struggled to turn a profit.

“One way they think they make money is to sell your information,” Mr. Toikka said. “That’s why you should always turn off all tracking. You shouldn’t sell yourself for pennies on a dollar.

Guo said the Nomad app contains Google’s analytics technology to see how people use the app, and people who log into the app with their Facebook accounts can also be tracked by Facebook.

A simple solution to data collection is to avoid logging into an app with third-party sites like Facebook and Google. Apple users can also click “Ask app not to track” when first opening an eSIM app.

Android users don’t have the option to ask apps to untrack them, so their best option is to purchase the eSIM plan from the company’s website and set up the service without downloading the app. .

Overall, the pros of eSIM outweigh the cons. Traveling with a smartphone with SIM cards wasn’t relaxing as you had to wear a pin to eject the card tray; Plus, you had to make sure you didn’t lose the tiny SIM card.

When returning from a trip using eSIM services, simply return to the phone settings app and reactivate your home phone line. This simplicity and peace of mind makes the eSIM worth it.


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