Staying connected and being able to attend to calls, texts, and access data has long been a challenging aspect of international travel. Even if the country you are traveling to has robust connectivity and an abundance of carriers, getting a local sim is far from straightforward.
It comes with its share of issues, such as being unable to get a connection during the first few hours of your arrival, among others.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could arrive at your destination and then seamlessly connect with a local carrier, paying local rates, without any of the processes and formalities that come with traditional local sims?
Yes, that would be great, and fortunately, there is a solution that offers exactly this and has been around for several years. Enter the eSIM.
Although initially introduced for smartwatches by both Apple and Samsung, this niche technology is increasingly making its way onto the mainstream with the iPhone, iPad, and a host of other devices and OEMs now supporting it.
This innovation adds plenty of value for travelers and threatens to turn the international prepaid SIM and roam connectivity industry on its head.
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What Is An eSIM?
The ‘e’ in eSIM stands for ’embedded,’ thus making it an embedded subscriber identity module. Unlike a traditional SIM, an eSIM is embedded directly into the device, and there is neither a need nor the ability to remove or change, even while switching networks.
The SIM is programmed right at the factory with a unique ID, allowing consumers to add or remove carriers without changing their SIM IDs.
While more and more OEMs have started adopting the eSIM model, with some still featuring slots for traditional SIMs along with eSIMs, it still requires the support of network carriers for widespread adoption. As things stand today, not all carriers are on board.
In many places, eSim technology is not available. So travelers need to check up on availability before making their plans.
An eSIM’s core feature is that it is rewritable, which means you can change your data plan, operator, or any other detail, and all it takes is a phone call.
It works similarly to an NFC chip used by Apple Pay and Google Pay. Thus, it represents a massive potential for additional features, offerings, and integrations with other services that add value for consumers, carriers, and OEMs.
Understanding The Benefits of An eSIM
For travelers, such a concept holds substantial benefits, allowing them to connect to a local carrier at their destination without having to hunt for a store, complete the formalities and buy a SIM card before fidgeting with their minute holders to remove and change the SIM.
It further allows consumers to use multiple networks and numbers, such as one for business, another for personal, travel, and more.
It even allows users to have a separate plan for voice and data, helping them save substantially and allowing consumers to take advantage of deals.
For the discerning user, a simple glance through mobile phone plans on leading comparison sites should unlock opportunities for savings while working around the bundling strategy that carriers have used, turning it into a buyer’s market in the long run.
This further reduces the risks of losing SIMs, which is often the case for individuals carrying multiple SIM cards for different locations, purposes, and plans.
Beyond this, a broad-based transition towards an eSIM saves a lot of space on smartphones, making them lighter while allowing for other features and newer capabilities.
Know Their Limitations
There are certain limitations that consumers, enthusiasts, and travelers especially need to know.
Carriers are still reluctant and unlikely to get on board soon, given how easy it is for consumers to switch between plans and service providers.
The concept of an eSIM can also work against the consumer in that it makes it possible for OEMs and carriers to sell locked devices with the said carrier, as opposed to being open for all.
This makes it possible for carriers to continue their existing bundling strategy to keep competitors out, build broad moats, and reduce value for consumers, which is only possible through competitive market forces.
Another significant disadvantage that travelers must be aware of is that local phone numbers for easy calling and text messages still need to be more distant with eSIMs.
Currently, they are primarily data-only services that allow for VOIP and internet-based communications, so if making and receiving calls from your primary number is essential to you while traveling, something other than this may be suitable.
eSIM Card For Travelers
As discussed above, an eSIM card holds many benefits for travelers, but many promised features are still on the horizon. As a result, travelers should make it a point to understand better the acceptability of eSIMs at their destination among the local carriers.
So far, only AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile support it in the US, and Vodafone, O2, and EE in the UK, with other countries yet to catch up.
Regarding OEMs and devices, the list is even smaller, with Apple, Samsung, and Google’s Pixel 2 being the only significant players offering the same.
This segment will heat up in the coming years, given its undeniable benefits, but for the time being, if you are a traveler, and planning your connectivity and reachability, make sure to keep these concerns in mind to not end up without cell service for days.
eSIMs mark an end to the sky-high roaming costs and the premium charged on traditional temporary SIMs by network carriers. As such, it continues to face resistance from legacy players.
Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, and for eSIMs which have been around for over a decade, the time has definitely arrived, and we are all set for broad transformations in the years ahead.
It’s a shame that staying connected while traveling abroad requires us to jump through hoops and burn a hole in our pockets.
While solutions have long been staring at us, the time is nigh for the next significant upheaval in the global telecommunications marketplace. For frugal frequent travelers, the eSIM is a godsend, allowing for substantial savings and convenience.
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Greg is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) with 22+ years experience in Financial Services. He has held numerous FINRA Securities licenses (series 7, 63, 65, and 66), and is an expert on Investment Products and Financial Planning. Greg has 22+ years experience as a real estate investor and degrees in Psychology and Philosophy.
Greg has been quoted/interviewed in Yahoo Money, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, Authority Magazine, Realtor.com, Business Insider, and others.
Greg is an avid runner, and the father to identical twin girls and their awesome brother. His love of budgeting and his kids led him to join The Great Resignation in 2021.
Disclaimer: Any Financial Tips on ChaChingQueen are general and informational. Speak with a professional about your specific situation.