eSIM vs. SIM card: Which is better for travelers?


By Heather

Travel & Tech Writer


If you’ve heard about eSIM technology but you still aren’t clear on what it is (or if it’s something you should care about), you’re not alone. 

Summer’s here, and people are eager to start traveling. But when it comes to staying connected away from home, there are lots of questions about the more efficient way to keep those phones and tablets humming along: eSIM or SIM?

Back in the olden days (okay, it actually wasn’t that long ago), you had three options when you traveled with a device … 

  1. Stick your device on airplane mode (no incoming or outgoing calls or texts) and use it only on Wifi. (It’s basically like being an eight-year-old kid with a parent’s hand-me-down phone and no service plan.)
  2. Use your device normally, and pay a painfully high mobile bill the following month. Those roaming charges are brutal, right?
  3. Buy a physical SIM card in your new destination, and swap out your usual SIM card. This would turn your phone into a “local” device, but you’d have no access to your real number until you switched back.
None of these options sounds very good at all, and that’s why eSIM technology was invented. Our devices are meant to keep us connected — at home and while traveling — so we deserve a system that makes it easy and fast to get the SIMsational coverage we need.

So eSIM or SIM card? Which is better for the modern traveler? 

First up, what’s a SIM card?

A SIM card is a little piece of plastic programmed with your phone’s unique details (serial number, authentication key, etc.) Without some form of SIM, you can’t make any calls (except for 9-1-1) on your device.

Now, what’s an eSIM?

eSIM stands for “embedded SIM.” It means that instead of a physical SIM card, you’re using a software-based version that works the same way. (Your device is probably already eSIM-compatible, but we’ve got a full list if you want to check.)

Do eSIMs and SIMs work differently?

They actually do the same job — keeping you connected by enabling you to make calls and send texts on your device — but what’s different is how they look, and how you get them. 

A traditional SIM card is tangible. It’s a bit of plastic you can hold in your hand, which means it must be purchased in person and physically inserted into your device so it can do its job. Because it’s an object (and a small one, at that), there’s always the risk you might drop it and lose it.

An eSIM is software-based. You can’t see it or touch it — it’s all a bit of digital magic, happening within the inside of your device. They’re smaller, more reliable, and more protected than a traditional SIM. You simply buy an eSIM plan and activate it, and then it’s ready to be used whenever you want it. You can’t drop it, lose it, or have it stolen. Think of it as the merry twinkle in your device’s eye. 😉

Are eSIMs more convenient to buy while traveling?

Absolutely, because eSIMs are more convenient to buy anywhere. The beauty is that you don’t have to visit a store at all — you can shop for eSIM packages and activate them right on your device, whether you’re lying on the couch or strolling down to baggage claim at your destination airport. The transaction is also contactless, which is a nice benefit these days.

If eSIMs are so great, why hasn’t my mobile carrier told me about them?

This is a pretty common issue with mobile carriers. The idea that you, their loyal customer, could SIM-hop to other providers means that many of the big mobile players aren’t on board yet. They want you in the store, in person, so they can try to hang onto your business.


But we’re starting to see more carriers understanding the demand and convenience of eSIMs, so it won’t be long before traditional plastic SIM cards aren’t around anymore. (Which will be much better for the environment, too.) eSIM technology is already available in almost 200 countries and counting.


How do eSIMs and SIMs get switched out when I’m back at home?

If you’ve been using an eSIM during your travels, switching back to your primary SIM is easy. Just a few taps on your screen, using our instructions.

If you’ve been using a new SIM card on your trip, you’ll want to carefully remove it, store it somewhere safe, and pull out your original SIM card. Slide your original SIM card back in, and your device should be working normally again.

So in the debate of eSIM vs. SIM card, it’s clear where we stand. Ready to hit the road (or the sky)? Here are our five easy steps to using eSIM while traveling.

Curious about how eSIM technology could work for you on your next trip? Check out aloSIM for local and regional eSIM plans.