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Why eSIMs are an International Travel Game-Changer

Why eSIMs are an International Travel Game-Changer

When I took my first trip to Europe—2005—WiFi was barely anywhere. Smartphones didn’t exist; if you did send a few pictures or texts back over the pond, you could be looking at a cell bill several times your normal month’s. The only realistic solution? If your hotel didn’t have an ethernet connection, using a public computer at an internet cafe.

Throughout the 2010s, of course, wireless internet started appearing some places and then most places and then everywhere; even poor people in poor countries had iPhones or their low-cost counterparts. So too did changing your SIM card in every country become in vogue—well, assuming your phone was unlocked. Mine (usually) was.

I bring this all up not to call attention to how old I am, but to put what I’m about to say into perspective: The advent of the eSIM for international travel is one of the biggest game-changers that’s come along since I started traveling internationally almost two decades ago.

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How Does a Travel eSIM Work?

As is the case with an ordinary eSIM, a travel eSIM works by using bits of code to connect your phone to a cellular data network, rather than a physical card with a chip. Conveniently, you can typically connect by scanning a QR code, although if for whatever reason the QR code doesn’t work, the company you purchased the SIM from can give you instructions to manually activate it. 

The advantages to this are many. First, you can have multiple SIMs “installed” on your phone at the same time. With physical cards, on the other hand, you’d have to change them out and make sure not to lose them between trips. Moreover, since you typically buy eSIMs in advance of travel, you can enjoy the convenience of being connected the moment you arrive.

Top Countries and Regions for International eSIM



The good news? Based on recent legislation, even tourists who buy prepaid SIM cards are able to take advantage of EU-wide roaming with a SIM card from any member nation. The better news? It’s now possible to order an eSIM for Western Europe or eSIM for Eastern Europe, as opposed to a single-country one like an eSIM for Italy, which is great if you’re planning a multi-country Eurotrip (and I usually am!).



Although the UK is no longer part of the EU thanks to Brexit, staying connected in the British Isles is much easier than understanding the political mood them. Before departing Paris or Brussels for London, for example, you can buy and activate your eSIM for UK. That way, the moment you get through the Chunnel and begin speeding across UK soil, you can start plotting your next move.



I sure wish I’d been able to purchase an eSIM for Thailand back when I first visited the country in 2010. At that time, getting connected to a mobile network required having to make a bee line for one of three SIM counters and hoping there wasn’t a long queue! I love being connected ASAP in Thailand so that I can use the awesome local Grab application to get a ride to my hotel (and avoid Bangkok’s scammy taxis!).



Did you know that foreigners weren’t able to purchase Japanese SIM cards until just a few years ago? Indeed, although I could never have foreseen that it would be possible to buy an eSIM for Japan, I’m certainly grateful for it. Japan is a super type-A country, so being able to be connected and plan your day out hour-by-hour is indispensable to having an authentic experience.



Australia is another country where being connected can make or break your trip. On my first trip there, I mistakenly thought my phone was unlocked (it wasn’t), and had to spend over a month search for unsecured WiFi networks. Not fun! Thankfully these days, you can purchase and activate an eSIM for Australia before your flight to Sydney or Melbourne even takes off.

Which is the Best SIM for International Travel?

The short answer is that the best eSIM is the one you can obtain the most easily and cheaply. Unlike physical SIM cards, which are tied to one mobile network, eSIMs generally allow you to connect to whichever network is strongest in a given part of a given country. In Thailand, for example, you may connect to the True network in some places, while you use AIS in others and dtac in still others.

Another key factor for which international travel eSIM you should buy? Once you can buy and install on your phone now so that it’s ready to go as soon as you arrive in your destination country. While many local cell companies now offer eSIM installation upon arrival, this leaves you without a reliable connection for minutes or even an hour after your plane lands. Moreover, these eSIMs may see you stuck on just one network.

Other FAQ About International eSIM

How do I buy an eSIM for international travel?

Typically, the best way to buy an eSIM for international travel is to order it online in advance, which also allows you to install it on your phone before you travel, an also to troubleshoot if necessary. However, you can sometimes also buy an activate an eSIM upon arrival in a destination.

How much is an eSIM for international travel?

Travel eSIM prices very depending upon which provider and destination you select, but are generally cheaper than “international data pass” options your home country carrier offers for travelers who are roaming overseas. You can sometimes get packages for as cheap as 5 USD per week of travel, but obviously this can vary substantially. 

Is eSIM good for travel?

An eSIM is fantastic for travel, assuming yours works overseas. Do keep in mind that some eSIMs only work in certain countries, while others are functional across regions, continents or even globally. However, if you choose the proper package for your trip, I’d say an eSIM is by far the best and easiest way to stay connected. 

The Bottom Line

Once you find the best eSIM for international travel, you’ll never look back. And it’s not just that you don’t need to physically install a SIM card into your phone, although that does make things a lot less complicated. Most importantly, eSIM technology means that you can be connected and ready to go the moment your plane touches down, which can be huge: You can plot your way from the airport to your first destination before you’re even through immigration, leaving more time for you to actually enjoy the place once you get there. Have a big trip coming up? Then I encourage you to browse international eSIMs today.


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