Travel Internet, simoptions esim

What is an eSIM, and How Does it Work?

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For the past few years, eSIMs have been becoming more popular. This newer SIM card format, which is 100% digital, can be installed on any mobile device that’s compatible with eSIM technology.

If you aren’t familiar yet, an eSIM card works the same way as a conventional SIM card, with the main difference being that it’s totally virtual. This makes installation much quicker and easier. Plus, you can have multiple eSIM cards installed on your device at one time. Virtual SIM cards also reduce plastic consumption and shipping costs, making them a more environmentally friendly option.

All the major U.S. telephone companies already support eSIM technology, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Also, there are international SIM cards that use this format, such as Holafly, which offers unlimited data in almost every country and different plan durations.

Holafly logo

5% OFF your international eSIM card

Keep in mind that regular SIM cards will eventually disappear. We’re already seeing this with Apple, as the latest iPhones don’t even have SIM slots anymore, and some Android devices are following suit. While not all devices are compatible with this technology yet, in the future, it will be the norm.

If you want to get ahead of the game, keep reading to learn all about what an eSIM card is, how it works, and where you can get one.

What is an eSIM? – Embedded SIM or virtual SIM card

An eSIM, also known as a virtual SIM card, is the digital version of a physical SIM card.

The name eSIM is short for Embedded SIM and refers to the card’s hardware, which is integrated into the mobile device. So, if you have a smartphone that’s compatible with eSIM technology, all you have to do is scan a QR code to install the configuration and start using data. There’s no need to insert a physical card or remove your usual SIM.

ESIM card, electronic sim iphone

What is an eSIM? – Embedded SIM or virtual SIM card

What is an eSIM for?

Since eSIMs work just like conventional SIM cards, you can use them the same way you would with your regular SIM. Depending on the plan you choose, you can make and receive calls, send texts, and use mobile data.

Most international plans only include mobile data, as I mentioned in our guide to the best international eSIMs. However, having Internet while traveling is the key thing when abroad, so even if you choose a data-only eSIM, you will be fine.

eSIM vs. physical SIM – Key differences

The main difference between an eSIM and a traditional SIM is that the former is virtual and the latter physical.

While an eSIM is simply a digital SIM card, a conventional SIM card comes in various formats: Mini, which is the largest; Micro, and Nano, which is the smallest. The Mini, also known as the Standard SIM card, is no longer integrated into new mobile devices.

When comparing an eSIM vs. a physical SIM, the main difference is the configuration. All traditional SIM cards require physical manipulation since you must insert them into the device to activate them. On the other hand, an eSIM is configured completely through software.

Holafly eSIM, does my phone support esim

Key differences between an eSIM vs. physical SIM

Another thing to consider is that not all phones have eSIM technology, so depending on your phone model, you may not be able to use an eSIM card. As for physical SIMs, any phone can use one of the three sizes, although the latest phone models that are coming out do not have SIM card slots, so they only use eSIMs.

In the near future, all phones will use eSIM cards exclusively since they’re cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and don’t require physical shipping to customers.

This chart gives you a better understanding of eSIMs vs SIMs:








• Mini SIM
• Micro SIM
• Nano SIM



SIM card slot


You can install multiple eSIMs simultaneously

Maximum one SIM card per slot


• Doesn't require physical installation
• It's integrated directly into the device
• Configuration through software
• Integrates into smaller devices, including watches
• More environmentally-friendly

• Requires physical installation
• Must be physically inserted into the device
• Very simple installation


New mobile phones only

All old mobile phones and most new phones



Which is better, an eSIM or a traditional SIM?

When it comes to functionality, eSIMs and physical SIMs work the same way. If your device is compatible with eSIM technology, then a virtual SIM card is much more convenient and practical.

For example, installing an eSIM is simple since you don’t need to insert anything into your phone. You can buy the eSIM online from the comfort of your home. After purchasing, you’ll receive an email with a QR code for configuring and activating the eSIM.

You can also have several eSIM cards installed on your device simultaneously. This is ideal for having a personal number and a work number or for traveling abroad and using an international SIM card.

Advantages and disadvantages of eSIMs

An electronic SIM card comes with its benefits and drawbacks, so you might be unsure about choosing between an eSIM vs. physical SIM. To help you out, here are the pros and cons of a digital SIM card:

  • You don’t need to alter your device or any physical card
  • It’s impossible to lose or misplace
  • You can install several cards at the same time (personal, work, international, etc.)
  • You can buy it online
  • It instantly arrives in your email
  • It’s more sustainable and eco-friendlier
  • Many devices are still incompatible with this type of technology
  • There are still telephone companies that don’t offer eSIMs
  • Installation isn’t as fast compared to a traditional SIM (but it’s close!)

After considering the advantages and disadvantages of an eSIM, I think that it’s worth getting a virtual SIM card. Just make sure your phone is compatible with this technology, and check if your phone company offers these types of cards.

How does an eSIM work?

If you’re not sure how to use an eSIM, don’t worry. These cards work the same way as a physical SIM card, containing information such as your phone number. Once you configure the eSIM, you can use mobile data on your device to connect to the Internet. In some cases, you can also connect to the local telephone network to make and receive calls.

These cards are designed to link users with a phone carrier, but even if you change telephone companies, you won’t have to change your card physically. You’ll just have to install a new configuration, which takes just seconds. However, if you use a conventional SIM card and want to switch from one phone provider to another one, the process is longer since you will need to get a new SIM card.

Companies with eSIMs in the USA

All the major telecommunications companies in the U.S. support eSIM technology and offer these digital cards to customers.

The T-Mobile eSIM is available to existing T-Mobile customers who have an eSIM-compatible device. New customers can sign up for T-Mobile and register for a prepaid or postpaid eSIM plan.

To change a T-Mobile SIM card to an eSIM, download the eSIM configuration, then go into the phone’s Settings menu. Click “Connections” and use the SIM card manager to convert the SIM into an eSIM.

AT&T is another major carrier that offers eSIMs for new and returning customers. Order an AT&T prepaid eSIM on the website and wait 3-7 days for the eSIM activation card to arrive.

When you purchase an eSIM from AT&T, you’ll receive an eSIM activation card with a QR code. Scan the QR code and follow the prompts to install the eSIM. Existing customers who want to replace their AT&T eSIM card can do so by accessing their myAT&T account.

Verizon welcomes users to switch to a Verizon eSIM, whether they’re existing customers or not. Individuals can bring their own devices to Verizon with or without an eSIM and enroll in a Verizon plan or add a new line to an existing account.

The Verizon eSIM card is compatible with iPhone and Android and works abroad.

Mint Mobile’s eSIM plans work for iPhone and Android. Customers can activate the eSIM via the Mint Mobile app or by scanning the QR code. New customers can switch to the eSIM with Mint Mobile by registering for an account and using the Mint Mobile app.

With the eSIM, you can have two phone numbers on one device. You can get five free eSIMs with your paid plan for the first year. Then, it’s $3 per eSIM.

The Google Fi eSIM works on Google Pixel 2 and all models after that. Customers can use the Google Fi app to download the eSIM to their devices. If they have an iPhone or other Android device, they can check their phone’s compatibility on the Google Fi website or app.

New customers can get a 7-day free trial of Google Fi, followed by a $50/month Simply Unlimited plan.

Spectrum Mobile is an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that works with Verizon’s phone network. The Spectrum Mobile eSIM supports several iPhone and Android devices, so customers can bring their eSIM-compatible phone to the company or buy one of its eSIM-compatible devices.

If they bring their own device, customers will receive a free eSIM, and Internet plans range from $14 to $40/month.

US Mobile is another MVNO that uses Verizon’s network. Its prepaid plans start at $5/month, and when you sign up for a plan, you can request an eSIM card. You’ll immediately receive a QR code that you can scan to start using data.

UScellular is a regional company, but it’s the fourth-largest mobile network operator in the U.S., covering the mid-Atlantic, New England, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.

Customers can transfer an existing line to an eSIM by accessing their account and activating the digital card. Or they can bring their own compatible device, sign up for a phone plan, and install an eSIM through their account dashboard.

Visible is owned by Verizon and works as an app-based wireless carrier. Its plans are prepaid and offer unlimited data, talk, and text starting at $25/month.

You can bring a compatible device to Visible, or buy a phone from Visible and download the eSIM. A 15-day free trial is also available.

Holafly, the best international eSIM

The conditions and roaming charges are the same whether you go abroad with a physical SIM or an eSIM from your regular phone company. However, with a virtual SIM card, you can install different eSIMs at the same time, allowing you to keep your usual SIM card while using a travel eSIM.

Of all the international eSIMs on the market, I recommend the ones from Holafly. We always use Holafly when we travel since their eSIM cards have unlimited data in almost every country, and they’re very well-priced.

Plus, you can get your Holafly eSIM at a discount.

Holafly logo

5% OFF your international eSIM card

These eSIM cards are super useful if you’re going overseas. Besides, you can buy the eSIM from Holafly before your trip or even if you’re already abroad since it arrives instantly via email. Once you get it, just scan the QR code to activate it. This is super quick and convenient, especially since you can keep your regular phone number. Stay in touch with loved ones via messaging apps like Messenger, Telegram, and WhatsApp, and use social media, Google Maps, and other apps worry-free, thanks to unlimited data.

The Holafly card is considered the best eSIM for travelers because it’s much cheaper than roaming, and there are different plan durations for each country, so you can choose the one that suits your trip. Of course, you should check here that your device is compatible with the Holafly eSIM before purchasing. And if you have any questions or run into any issues, Holafly’s 24-hour support team is available.

eSIM price

Most telephone companies in the U.S. offer eSIMs for free if you’re a new customer. If you already have a phone plan with the company, you can usually switch from a SIM card to an eSIM for free, but there may be a charge if you’re upgrading your plan.

Travel Internet, what is an esim

eSIM price comparison

eSIM-compatible phones

Today, one of the main problems with virtual SIM cards is compatibility. If you have an older phone model, you won’t be able to use an eSIM.

Below, you can see eSIM-compatible phones for Android and iOS users.

iPhone devices with eSIM technology

The latest iPhones are compatible with eSIM technology. This includes the iPhone 15 Plus, Pro, or Pro Max; iPhone 14 Plus, Pro, or Pro Max; iPhone 13 Mini, Pro, or Pro Max; iPhone 12 Mini, Pro, or Pro Max; iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max; iPhone XS, XS Max or XR; or iPhone SE from 2020 or 2022.

Other eSIM-compatible devices

Some Samsung phones are also compatible with eSIMs. These include the Galaxy S23, S23+ or S23 Plus; Galaxy S22, S22+ or S22 Ultra; Galaxy S21, S21+, S21 Ultra or 5G; Galaxy S20, S20+ or S20 Ultra; Galaxy Note 20, Galaxy Z, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or Galaxy A54 5G.

Some Google Pixel phones also support eSIM technology, specifically the Pixel 2 and 2 XL; Pixel 3, 3 XL, 3A, and 3A XL; Pixel 4, 4A, and 4 XL; Pixel 5 and 5A; Pixel 6, 6A and 6 Pro; Pixel 7, 7A and 7 Pro; and Pixel Fold.

If you want to use an eSIM on Android, you should check that the device is compatible before making a purchase. As you can see, Apple is betting heavily on this type of technology, which is why it’s easy to find eSIMs for iPhones. In the case of Android devices, eSIM compatibility is becoming more popular, especially if you get a newer model.

How to activate an eSIM

To activate an eSIM, just scan the QR code that you received after purchasing the eSIM card. You should print it out or download it to another device with a screen so that you can scan it on your phone. If you’re switching from a physical SIM to an eSIM card, you can contact your telephone company with any questions or concerns. In some cases, you can even go to one of the official stores for help with installing and configuring the eSIM.

Keep in mind that you’ll need Internet access for the eSIM activation. If you’re already traveling, connect to the public Wi-Fi at the airport, your hotel, or a restaurant. Once you download the configuration, activating the eSIM is super simple.

In cases of travel cards, the QR code can only be scanned once, so make sure you’re in a location with stable coverage before proceeding with the installation.

If you have an Android device, here’s how to activate an eSIM:

  • Go to Settings and click on Connections > SIM Manager > Add SIM.
  • Scan the QR code, which you should have printed or downloaded to another device.
  • Follow the instructions and steps that will appear on the screen.
  • Open Settings again and tap Connections > SIM Manager.
  • In preferred SIM, click on Mobile data and select the eSIM you want to activate.

For those with an iOS device, the eSIM activation process is similar:

  • Go to Settings, tap on Mobile network, and select Add data plan.
  • Scan the QR code from there. Remember to print it out or download it to another device.
  • Follow the instructions and steps that will appear on the screen.
  • Open Settings > Mobile network again.
  • Select the eSIM you want to use.

Final thoughts on eSIMs and virtual SIM cards

Now you know what an eSIM is, I’ll share my thoughts. I think these types of cards are super convenient and practical, especially if you have different phone numbers, such as a personal one and a business one, and you want to have everything in a single device without having to manipulate physical cards or SIM slots. It is also very convenient for travel, as it allows you to keep your regular card plus your travel eSIM cards activated.

I believe that in the near future, all phone models will be compatible with electronic SIM cards, and eventually, physical SIMs will disappear. We’re already seeing that happening with Apple, as some of their latest iPhones don’t even have SIM slots for traditional cards.

FAQs – eSIMs and virtual SIM cards

Finally, here are some common questions about international eSIMs:

Yes, eSIMs are safe and secure, even more so than a traditional SIM card, since you don’t have the risk of losing a virtual SIM.

If you lose the phone that has the eSIM card in it, you should contact customer service as soon as possible. Request that they block the card and ask for a new eSIM.

You can use at least two digital SIM cards per device. Some iPhone models can support eight or more eSIMs at one time.

If you keep the QR code for the eSIM, you can change the eSIM from one phone to another. Make sure you delete the eSIM profile from the old device before activating it on the new phone.

With some eSIM cards, such as the ones from Holafly, the QR code can only be scanned once, so you can’t switch it from one device to another.

It’s likely that eSIMs will completely replace physical SIM cards in the future. However, there are still many devices that aren’t yet compatible with eSIM technology. That said, all newer phone models have this technology integrated into the device.

Switching from a physical SIM to an eSIM card with your telephone company can cost around $5, but the price varies depending on the provider. You can usually request an eSIM for free if you open a new line. Remember, the price of the eSIM depends on the data plan you want.

Yes, you can change carriers with an eSIM.

Once you purchase the eSIM, you’ll receive it immediately.

No, resetting your device doesn’t delete data from your eSIM.

Some eSIMs allow data sharing, but others, like the ones from Holafly, do not.

With that, you have all the information you need to buy an eSIM. Of course, if you have any other questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I’ll help you in any way I can!

Enjoy your trip!

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Hey there, I'm Ascen, your personal trip planner on a mission to help you craft the most incredible adventure of your life. While I'm based in Las Vegas, you won't find me there often. As a full-time traveler, I'm always on the go, exploring new destinations and capturing the world through my lens. From the enchanting shores of Almeria, Spain, where I grew up, to the far reaches of the globe, I'm here to provide you with detailed travel guides and practical tips to make your trip planning a breeze. Find out more about me here.
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