How to Use eSIMs While Traveling (iPhone + Android Guide)

Imagine this: You land in a new country, and instead of looking for a store to buy a SIM card, you tap a few buttons on your phone, and you’re connected to the local network. It would be nice, right?

This isn’t a dream - it’s real, and it’s called eSIM technology.

An eSIM is a digital SIM card that’s already in your phone, waiting to be activated. No tiny plastic cards, no poking your phone with a paperclip. It’s all digital and can be set up to stay connected wherever you go easily by tapping or scanning a code. It’s a traveler's best friend, making it easy to stay connected wherever you go.

But how does it work?

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the easy steps to use international eSIMs while you’re traveling. We’ll cover how to set it up on iPhones and Androids and share tips for using eSIMs abroad. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or just planning your next trip, this guide will help you stay connected the simple way.

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is like a regular SIM card but without the plastic. It's a small chip inside your phone that helps it connect to your mobile network.

Unlike a regular SIM, you don’t have to insert an eSIM - it's already built into your phone!

How Does an eSIM work?

Activating an eSIM is easy. Instead of swapping out physical cards, you can just scan a code or enter some information into your phone. This tells your phone which network to connect to and your phone number.

It’s especially handy for people who travel a lot like us because you can switch to a local network without needing a new SIM card.

Are eSIMs Better Than Physical SIM Cards?

person using esim on phone

Both have their good points - it really depends on what you need!

eSIMs are great for making things simple and easy, especially when you’re traveling. You won’t lose it and can switch networks without needing a new card. But physical SIM cards are good, too, because you can move them from one phone to another. So, if your phone’s battery dies, you can use your SIM on a different phone.

We personally travel a lot, so we prefer avoiding the switch as we might lose our SIM card from back home, and we also prefer to get internet as soon as we land, but it's really up to you what works best for you.

Now that we have a clear idea of what an eSIM is, its benefits, and why it's a great tool for us as travelers, let's see how you can activate one both on iPhone (iOS) and Android phones.

As there are many eSIM providers out there, we will use Holafly as it's one of our go-to eSIM options during our travels.

We also have a special discount for you with Holafly: if you use the exclusive coupon code FREAKINGNOMADS, you'll get 5% OFF on all their eSIM plans and top-ups!

You can also check our hands-on Holafly review below to learn more about this eSIM provider:

Holafly eSIM Review (Tried and Tested): Is It Reliable?
Explore our in-depth Holafly eSIM review: global coverage, flexible plans, unlimited data, and top-notch support for travelers.

How to Use eSIMs on iPhone

Do you have an Android instead? Jump right to the eSIMs for Android section.

Which iPhones Use eSIMs?

eSIM technology isn’t available in all iPhones. Only certain newer models have the built-in chip that lets them use this technology. But if you have any of the iPhone models below, you will be able to activate an eSIM:

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone SE 2 (2020)
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 Mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13
  • iPhone 13 Mini
  • iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone SE 3 (2022)
  • iPhone 14
  • iPhone 14 Plus
  • iPhone 14 Pro
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max
  • iPhone 15
  • iPhone 15 Plus
  • iPhone 15 Pro
  • iPhone 15 Pro Max

If you have an older phone or a model that is not on the list, you’ll still need to use a traditional SIM card.

Be aware that eSIM on iPhone is not offered in mainland China and that in Hong Kong and Macao, only some iPhone models feature eSIM.

How Many eSIMs Can Be Used on iPhone?

While iPhones allow you to store up to 20 eSIMs, the usage is limited to one at a time or two in the case of Dual SIM models.

The Dual SIM feature, available on a wide range of iPhones, enables you to use a physical SIM card and an eSIM simultaneously, providing the convenience of having two distinct numbers on a single device - perhaps one for personal calls and another for work.

How To Set Up an eSIM on iPhone

Once you've bought your eSIM from an online eSIM provider like Holafly, you can install the eSIMs on your iPhone using mainly two methods:

Method 1: Using a QR Code

  • Go to your iPhone’s Settings.
  • Tap on Cellular.
  • Choose Add Cellular Plan.
  • Use your iPhone to scan the QR code provided by your carrier.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to finish setting up.
Quick tip: If you have IOS 17, with Holafly, you can easily select the QR code from your gallery and won’t need a second device!

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Method 2: Using an Activation Code (Manual Setup)

  • Head into your iPhone’s Settings.
  • Select Cellular.
  • Tap Add Cellular Plan.
  • If you can’t find a QR code or are having trouble scanning it, choose Enter Details Manually at the bottom of your screen.
  • Enter the Activation Code provided by your carrier and follow the steps on your screen to complete the setup.
When it comes to Holafly, you will receive both the QR and the Activation Code via email, so look for them in your inbox after the purchase.

How to Turn an eSIM On and Off on iPhone?

If you want to control whether your eSIM is on or off on your iPhone, simply:

  • Navigate to Settings on your iPhone.
  • Tap on Cellular.
  • You’ll see your plans listed. Select the one you want to manage.
  • Toggle the switch to turn the plan on or off as needed.

This way, you can choose when to use your eSIM and when to rely on your physical SIM so you can manage your connectivity and control costs while traveling.

How to Check if an eSIM is Activated on iPhone?

Here's how to check whether your eSIM is activated and how to keep track of it:

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone.
  2. Click on Mobile Data.
  3. Review the SIMs category, and locate the label for Primary or Secondary which indicates your current active plans.
  4. If the eSIM is not activated, you'll see a label such as "No Service".

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You may also be interested in:

How to Set Up and Manage an eSIM on iPhone
Learn the essentials of setting up and managing an eSIM on your iPhone with easy-to-follow steps and practical tips for a seamless experience.

How to Use eSIMs on Android

Which Android Phones Support eSIMs?

Many Android phones, like some of the Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel models, support eSIMs. But because Android is an open-source system and lets phone makers and mobile carriers make their own changes, whether your Android phone can use an eSIM might depend on the model, where it was made, and your carrier.

The easiest way to check is to ask the company that made your device, the place where you bought it, or your carrier.

You can also check your phone’s settings to see if it can use an eSIM. Here's how:

Checking if a Samsung device supports eSIM:

  • Go to your phone’s Settings and then Connections.
  • Tap SIM Card Manager.
  • If you see Add eSIM, your phone can use eSIM.
Be aware that some phones (e.g., some Samsung models) support eSIMs in theory, but they don't in practice due, unfortunately, to carrier resistance towards this technology. This is particularly true in the US.

Checking if a Google Pixel device supports eSIM:

  • Go to Settings and then Network & Internet.
  • Tap eSIM Cards.
  • If you see Download a SIM instead? under Connect to a Mobile Network, your phone can use eSIM.

Checking Other Android Phones:

  • Open Settings and tap About Phone.
  • Tap Show EID.
  • If you see a number next to EID, your phone can use eSIM.
Remember, this is a general guide; for the full details, it’s always a good idea to check with your phone’s manufacturer or carrier. You can also check out an extensive list of supported phones here.

How Many eSIMs Can Be Used on Android?

Android phones can store multiple eSIMs (generally five to seven eSIM profiles), but similar to iPhones, they can only use one at a time.

Some Android models also support the Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS), allowing you to simultaneously use two numbers, one through a physical SIM and the other through an eSIM.

How To Set Up an eSIM on Android

Similarly to iPhone devices, once you've purchased your eSIM plan from an eSIM provider like Holafly, you can select one of the two methods to install your eSIM on Android:

Method 1: Using a QR Code

  • Go to Settings and tap on Network & Internet.
  • Tap on Mobile Network.
  • Tap Download a SIM or eSIM Manager, depending on your device.
  • Use your phone to scan your QR code, which you'll get from your carrier.
  • Follow the prompts on your screen to complete the setup.

Method 2: Using an Activation Code (Manual Setup)

  • Navigate to Settings and select Network & Internet.
  • Tap on Mobile Network.
  • Select Download a SIM or eSIM Manager, depending on your device.
  • Instead of scanning a QR code, select Enter details manually.
  • Input the information provided by your carrier and follow the on-screen instructions to finish the setup.
As per the iPhone setup, with Holafly, you will receive both the QR Code to be scanned or the Activation Code to be inserted in your Android phone via email.

And voila! Your eSIM is set up and ready to keep you connected on your Android device.

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How to Check if an eSIM is Activated on Android?

If you want to ensure that your eSIM is active on your Android device, this can be done in a few steps:

  • Head to your Settings and select Connections.
  • Tap on SIM Manager.
  • Here, you’ll see your available networks. An active eSIM will have a toggle button in the "on" position.

If the eSIM is inactive, it might show as Inactive or No Service.

How to Turn an eSIM On and Off on Android?

Managing your eSIM’s activity is crucial, especially when juggling between different networks. So here’s how you can turn your eSIM on or off on Android whenever you wish:

  • Go to Settings then Connections or Network & internet, depending on your phone model.
  • Tap on SIMs or SIM card manager.
  • You will see a list of SIMs on your phone, including the eSIM.
  • To turn the eSIM on or off, toggle the switch next to it. You may need to confirm your choice by tapping Activate or Deactivate.
  • You can also change the preferred SIM for mobile data, calls, and messages by tapping Preferred SIM or Primary SIM and selecting the eSIM or the physical SIM.

What Are The Benefits of Using an eSIM for Travelers?

Using an eSIM while traveling can offer many benefits for travelers. Here are a few reasons why you should consider using an eSIM on your next trip:

  • International Compatibility: With an eSIM, you can travel internationally with your iPhone or Android phone and enjoy greater security, flexibility, and reduced costs. It's like having a global passport on your mobile device!
  • Switch Plans Easily: Depending on the country, you can conveniently switch between different calling or data plans, giving you the power to find the option that suits your needs best.
  • No Physical SIM Switching: You could say goodbye to the hassle of switching to a physical SIM when traveling to different countries. With an eSIM, you can download a new profile remotely and use it instantly.
  • No Store Visits: No need to scramble around a foreign city looking for a store to buy a physical SIM. Purchase an eSIM plan from providers like Holafly, follow the steps to install your eSIM, and voila! You're connected to a local network.
  • Keep Your Number: With an eSIM, you can keep your number and use it abroad with the same phone, making it easy to stay connected with your loved ones back home.
  • Security: You don’t have to worry about your eSIM being lost or stolen as it functions virtually. It's like having a SIM card that's always safe and sound.
  • Two Active eSIMs: On supported iPhone and Android models, you can have two eSIMs active simultaneously. Imagine having one eSIM for your home and another for your visiting place, all in one device! Cool, isn't it?

BONUS: 6 Tips for Using an eSIM While Traveling

person that uses an esim on a phone in the underground

If you're a digital nomad, a frequent traveler, or someone who loves exploring new places, then an eSIM (electronic SIM) is your new best friend. Gone are the days of worrying about switching physical SIM cards when traveling to different countries. With an eSIM, you can easily and conveniently switch between plans and stay connected wherever you go.

But how exactly can you use an eSIM while traveling? Here are 5 tips to help you make the most out of this amazing technology on your iPhone and Android devices:

1. Know Your Device

First and foremost, make sure your device supports eSIM functionality. Currently, iPhones from the XS and newer models support dual SIM (eSIM + physical SIM), while Android devices such as Google Pixel 4 and newer models also have this feature.

2. Purchase an eSIM Plan Before Traveling

Before traveling, research and purchase an eSIM plan from a reliable provider that offers coverage in the countries you visit. This will save you time and hassle upon arrival and potentially save you money compared to purchasing a physical SIM card.

3. Activate Your eSIM as Soon as You Arrive

To ensure seamless connectivity, activate your eSIM as soon as you arrive at your destination. This will help avoid any potential issues with network settings or compatibility.

4. Choose Wisely Between Regional Plans vs. Individual Country Plans 

When choosing an eSIM plan, consider whether a regional or individual country plan would be more beneficial for your trip. Regional plans offer coverage in multiple countries, which is convenient if you visit different locations within the same region. However, individual country plans may offer better rates and coverage if you only visit one specific country.

5. Be Mindful of Data Usage

While eSIMs can make it convenient to switch between plans, they also require careful data management. Monitor your data usage and consider purchasing an additional eSIM plan if you need more data during your travels.

6. Be Prepared for Technical Difficulties

As with any technology, there may be technical difficulties when using eSIMs. Make sure to have a backup plan in case your eSIM does not work in a particular country or if there are issues with your device recognizing the eSIM.

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Ready To Use Your eSIM For Your Next Trip?

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We'll see you there, Freaking Nomads!

Hey, just a heads up that this is a sponsored post in collaboration with Holafly, and it contains affiliate links. But don't worry; we always strive to share information that we think could be useful and only promote products we would use ourselves.