Do eSIMs Work Abroad?

The idea of an eSIM sounds exciting. Cutting-edge technology that allows you to stay connected without needing a physical SIM card. The first SIM card was developed in 1991, and the world has seen several versions of the SIM card (standard, micro, and nano) since with the advancements of phone technology.

Getting local prepaid SIM cards have been a way for frequent travelers to stay connected while not paying expensive international roaming fees. Instead, you will be enjoying local rates, which, in most cases, is much cheaper than the rates your operator will charge you for international roaming.

With the advancement of eSIM technology, some have been wondering whether eSIMs can be used abroad. If so, how would that work? In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about using an eSIM abroad.

Do eSIMs Work Abroad
eSIM logo by Surfroam

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM, standing for embedded Subscriber Identity Module, is a SIM card that is embedded into a device. It is a hardware piece that acts as a standard SIM card without the need to have an actual physical SIM card.

The SIM in eSIM and SIM card is the same, both meaning Subscriber Identity Module, but you will never hear someone say that in full. Instead, you will hear people say SIM card, SIM, SimSim, or any local variation of referring to a SIM card.

Some incorrectly assume that the e in eSIM standard for electronic, just like with e-mail (electronic mail), but that is not the case with eSIMs (embedded). Moreover, calling an eSIM an eSIM card is also not right because you do not have a real SIM card. Instead, an eSIM is baked into your phone without the possibility of getting rid of it.

This means that instead of having to go to a store and buy a SIM card to use mobile data, make calls, or send text messages, you can alternatively download a profile by scanning a QR code or by entering a code, and you are ready to go.

a QR code shown on a phone

Unlike traditional SIM cards that can only have one plan from one operator active at a time, you can load multiple plans from different mobile operators on one eSIM device.

Those who have a dual-SIM phone have the possibility to use two SIM cards in one phone and can switch which SIM card should be using data with a simple button in your settings page, and can choose with which SIM card you want to make a phone call or send an SMS before doing so.

Changing the Data SIM with one button on a dual SIM phone (OnePlus 7 Pro)

If you have more than two SIM cards and need to use another one for some reason, then you have to eject the SIM card slot, remove a SIM card you do not want to use, insert the SIM card you want to use, and put the SIM card holder back into your phone, and wait for your phone to connect to the network(s) again. All of this can be time-consuming.

Taiwanese SIM Cards (Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, FarEasTone, Taiwan Star, GT Mobile & Ibon Mobile)
Six Taiwanese SIM cards I was testing at the time of writing. I had to keep switching SIM cards because I only have two dual-SIM phones, so I can test only four SIM cards at a time.

With an eSIM device, however, you could, in theory, load six different eSIM plans at the same time, and switch plans with a button without the need to manually remove and insert SIM cards in your phone.

Can eSIMs be used internationally?

You can use an eSIM in the same way as you would use a regular SIM card abroad through international roaming. You can go abroad and purchase a roaming plan or decide to Pay As You Go roam (standard roaming rates). There are no extra steps you need to take when wanting to roam with an eSIM compared to a SIM card.

For example, US Mobile, an American operator, offers international roaming only to those who have an eSIM because they believe that “Getting connectivity through eSIMs is easier and more convenient for a couple of reasons: you don’t have to replace the physical SIM in your phone, and you can use the same eSIM to travel to multiple countries seamlessly!”

US Mobile eSIM Roaming Page

3 Hong Kong has a prepaid eSIM for international roaming, which allows you to roam in various destinations.

3 Hong Kong eSIM Prepaid Roaming Page
Why you should get a 3 Hong Kong prepaid roaming eSIM, according to 3 Hong Kong

However, you do not have to purchase a dedicated roaming eSIM to use an eSIM abroad. The mobile operators that offer eSIMs and allow their customers to roam internationally with a roaming plan will also allow those with an eSIM to roam with such a plan. Just ensure data roaming is enabled in your phone’s settings, and you are good to go!

Interested in learning more about how international roaming works? This comprehensive guide explains it all.

Which Devices Support eSIMs?

The Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch was the first device to implement eSIM in 2016. The Google Pixel 2 phones were the first smartphones to support eSIM (although you had to be a Project Fi subscriber).

Since the initial release of the eSIM, eSIMs have been referred to as the SIM card killer, and many assumed more mobile operators and mobile phone manufacturers would use the eSIM technology. Unfortunately, that is not the case. At least, not yet.

At the time of writing in 2020, 53 devices support eSIM, of which 33 of them are smartphones, according to GSM Arena. The other 20 devices are smartwatches. Do note that GSM Arena does not track tablets or laptops that support eSIM.

Even if you have an eSIM compatible device and your mobile operator offers eSIMs, your mobile operator may still not support your device.

3 Hong Kong, for example, only supports the eSIM function for the Huawei P40, Huawei P40 Pro, Galaxy Z Flip, iPhone SE, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Even then, only specific versions are supported (for example, only the international version of the iPhone XS Max, or only the 2nd generation of the iPhone SE).

Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your mobile operator supports your eSIM compatible device.

Below is a list of eSIM compatible devices:

  • Apple iPhone 11
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone SE (2020)
  • Apple iPhone XR
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Apple iPhone XS Max
  • Apple Watch Edition Series 3
  • Apple Watch Edition Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 3
  • Apple Watch Series 3 Aluminum
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 4 Aluminum
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 5 Aluminum
  • Google Pixel 2
  • Google Pixel 2 XL
  • Google Pixel 3
  • Google Pixel 3 XL
  • Google Pixel 3a
  • Google Pixel 3a XL
  • Google Pixel 4
  • Google Pixel 4 XL
  • Huawei P40
  • Huawei P40 Pro
  • Huawei Watch 2 2018
  • Huawei Watch 2 Pro
  • Motorola Razr 2019
  • Oppo Watch
  • Palm Palm
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch3
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
  • Samsung Gear S2 3G
  • Samsung Gear S2 classic 3G
  • Samsung Gear S3 classic LTE
  • Samsung Gear S3 frontier LTE
  • Xiaomi Mi Watch
  • ZTE nubia Alpha
  • ZTE nubia Watch

Which Mobile Operators Support eSIMs?

The number of mobile operators in various countries around the world has been growing steadily, but not fast enough to make traditional SIM cards obsolete.

Initially, various operators in around 10 countries supported eSIM. Now, the number of countries is more than 50, and more than 100 mobile operators support eSIM technology too.

The Apple Support page keeps track of which mobile operators offer eSIM services. Although there may be operators that support eSIM but none of Apple’s devices, it is still a reliable source because most operators do support Apple eSIM devices.

Below is a table of countries and mobile operators that offer and support eSIM services:

CountryMobile Operator(s)
ArgentinaPersonal
ArmeniaUcom
AustraliaOptus, Telstra,  & Vodafone
Austria3 & T-Mobile
BahrainBatelco, Viva, Zain
BelarusA1
BrazilClaro
CambodiaSmart Axiata
CanadaBell, Fido, Freedom, Koodo, Lucky Mobile, Rogers, Telus & Virgin
ChileMovistar
ColombiaMovistar
CroatiaHrvatski Telekom
Czech RepublicT-Mobile & Vodafone
Denmark3
EcuadorMovistar
EstoniaTelia
FinlandTelia
FranceOrange & SFR
GermanyO2, Telekom,  & Vodafone
GreeceCosmote
GuamiConnect & IT&E
Hong Kong1O1O, 3, csl, China Mobile Hong Kong, SmarTone &
HungaryMagyar Telekom
IndiaAirtel & Reliance Jio
ItalyTIM
JordanOrange, Umniah & Zain
KazakhstanKcell
KuwaitOoredoo & Zain
LatviaLMT
LebanonAlfa
LuxembourgMTX Connect & POST
MalaysiaCelcom, Digi, Maxis & U Mobile
MexicoAT&T
NetherlandsT-Mobile
New ZealandSpark
NorwayTelenor & Telia
OmanOmantel & Ooredoo
PhilippinesGlobe
PolandOrange
PortugalMEO & NOS
QatarOoredoo & Vodafone
RomaniaOrange
Saudi ArabiaMobily, STC & Zain
SingaporeM1
SlovakiaOrange
SpainMovistar, Orange, Pepephone, Vodafone & Yoigo
Sri LankaDialog
Sweden3, Tele2, Telenor & Telia
SwitzerlandSalt, Sunrise & Swisscom
TaiwanAPT, Chunghwa Telecom, FarEasTone & Taiwan Mobile
ThailandAIS, dtac & TrueMove H
United Arab Emiratesdu, Etisalat & Virgin Mobile
United KingdomEE & O2
United StatesAT&T, T-Mobile USA & Verizon Wireless
VietnamViettel

International eSIMs

Just like international SIM cards, there are also international eSIMs. An international SIM card is a SIM card specially made for travelers who want to use one SIM card and phone number when visiting multiple countries without buying local prepaid SIM cards. This way, the traveler does not have to pay (expensive) international roaming rates while still being accessible on one phone number.

International eSIMs work in the same way as an international SIM card works, except for the fact that it used eSIM technology.

The number of eSIM players on the market is still small. However, the rates they charge are significantly less than what many international SIM cards would charge you, which makes international eSIMs interesting and attractive. Moreover, you can load multiple eSIM profiles while having multiple eSIM plans so that you can take advantage of the lowest rates out there.

Airalo eSIMs

Airalo Logo

Airalo is the world’s first eSIM store that offers to access to over 100 local eSIMs with affordable, local rates from around the world, including popular travel destinations like France, Spain, the United States, China, Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Germany, Thailand, and the United Kingdom if you have a supported device.

Airalo recently released Regional eSIMs, which are plans that can be used in multiple countries in a region instead of having to purchase a local eSIM for each country you visit. The current Airalo Regional eSIMs are Africa (up to 14 countries), Asia (14 countries), Caribbean (up to 23 countries), and Europe (41 countries).

Check out Airalo eSIM prices and plans for your destination!

eSIM2FLY eSIMs

SIM2FLY Logo (eSIM2FLY)

eSIM2FLY, also known as simply SIM2FLY, is by far the best international eSIM for those visiting Asia with their Asia Data Package. It comes with 6 GB high-speed data (then throttled to unlimited 2G speeds at 128 Kbps) for 8 days, covering 21 Asian destinations, as long as you have a supported device.

eSIM2FLY is not limited to Asia only. They also have plans that cover other parts of the world, like North America, Europe, and Oceania with their Global Plan.

Check out eSIM2SLY eSIM prices and plans for your destination!

Surfroam eSIMs

Surfroam logo

If you have read any of my other articles on the site, or watch some of my YouTube videos, then you know that Surfroam is my favorite international SIM card. In fact, I take my Surfroam SIM card with me on every trip.

The reason why I love Surfroam so much is that their rates start from €0.01/MB (or €10.24/GB), which is extremely low for international SIM cards. Luckily, those low rates also apply to the Surfroam eSIMs. Additionally, Surfroam covers more than 200 destinations.

A Surfroam eSIM will cost you €20 (the international SIM card will cost you €15). However, you can use the €20 you paid for the eSIM when traveling, so the SIM card is basically free. At the time of writing, I am still using my initial Surfroam credit from my Surfroam international SIM because their rates are so low.

Get yourself a Surfroam eSIM and learn more about the rates for your destination!

Are eSIMs the Future for Travel?

The main reason why many travelers buy local SIM cards is so that they can enjoy local rates instead of dealing with expensive international roaming rates. However, international roaming or using international an international SIM card is much more convenient because you do not have to purchase a new SIM card for each destination you visit.

So frequent travelers should love the idea of eSIMs, right?

The Pros of eSIMs

One thing that can be said is that eSIMs will make the process of getting connected an operator much more convenient. Scan a QR code or enter a code, and you are done – connected. You do not have to queue up at the airport to purchase a SIM card there or go to an operator store to get a SIM card.

Moreover, storing multiple profiles on an eSIM makes the process of switching plans so easy and quick. And you will never lose a SIM card ever again.

For someone like me, who tries multiple SIM cards in each destination I visit (sometimes up to 15 SIM cards, like in Australia), I frequently have to swap out SIM cards on my two test phones to conduct tests. This is time-consuming if I have many SIM cards to test (if there are more than four to test).

The Cons of eSIMs

Although frequent travelers may love the idea of eSIMs, mobile operators are not as excited about the technology yet, let alone smartphone manufacturers.

Since the first eSIM compatible smartphone (2017) until now, not many phones have been created that support eSIM, especially compared to the number of phones that get released each year.

Moreover, the price of an eSIM is usually higher than the price of a regular SIM card. In some cases, they cost double compared to a physical SIM card.

Additionally, even if your supports eSIM, the mobile operator(s) of the visited country may not support your device.

Furthermore, eSIMs are usually offered to those on a long-term postpaid plan. Short-term travelers cannot commit to those plans and are not eligible for them. Prepaid eSIMs are still rare until this day.

Besides, if you manage to find a local eSIM, it may be a data-only eSIM, which prevents you from making calls and sending SMS.

The Future of eSIMs in General

The future of eSIMs for general usage and travel still has a long way to go. However, some are optimistic about the future of eSIMs. Philippe Lucas, Strategy Director, Orange Architecture, and Standardization at Orange, stated In October 2018 that “100% of devices will have eSIM by 2030”.

In two to four years, the first smartphones equipped only with an eSIM should appear on the market. By 2030, all smartphones will be equipped with eSIMs.”

Philippe Lucas, Strategy Director, Orange Architecture, and Standardization at Orange

With the current pace of progress, we will have to see if Philippe’s predictions will be right. However, travelers can expect to see more devices with eSIM technology in the future, and they may not have to hoard a collection of SIM cards anymore in the next decade.

Adu's collection of local prepaid SIM cards in 2020
The SIM cards I have collected and reviewed in 2020.

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Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan due to the current pandemic and does not have any travel plans for after his stay in Taiwan.

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