A Complete Guide to e-SIM Cards for Travelers

JUAN MARTINEZ

March 12, 2024

A Complete Guide to e-SIM Cards for Travelers

Whether it’s a remote country in East Africa, Europe or the USA, e-SIM cards have become essential for any of my recent travels abroad.

Let me give you my best tips on how you can maximize their potential too.

Getting a SIM card after arriving in a new country is a routine for frequent travelers. Traveling with constant internet is no longer just for those who do not want to disconnect when traveling, but for those who want to travel smart.

An UBER ride from the airport, a last-minute booking, Google Maps. These are all apps that make traveling less complicated and help me enjoy more time in a country and less time figuring out logistics.

“Today, around 80% of my trips are done only with e-SIM cards

I do get a SIM card in most countries I travel to. However, e-SIM cards started to play a big role in my travels too. Countries like the Bahamas where a SIM card costs 50 USD or Germany, where you need to consent to so many policies and wait a few days to activate your SIM, make me choose an e-SIM overall.

Today, around 80% of my trips are done only with e-SIM cards, and while there is not a single provider to pick because it is the best, I found a combination of providers and options that help me maximize my budget for internet abroad and make my travels more comfortable.

These are my top picks for e-SIM cards and how I use them for traveling to popular countries, but also remote and isolated places.

Best e-SIM Cards in a Nutshell

  • My favorite one: Airalo
  • The most convenient one for airport transfering: Flexiroam
  • My favorite for global plans: Flexiroam
  • The most convenient for single regions/countries: Airalo
  • The cheapest one: Depends, but Airalo is quite good if you don’t want to research for hours
  • The one I want to try more: Drimsim
e-sims for USA, Europe and for travel
I use several e-sims in over 80% of my travels. Flexiroam and Airalo are the programs I use the most.

Flexiroam – My top choice for Global plans

When it comes to global connectivity at unbeatable prices, Flexiroam takes the crown. At first glance, Flexiroam doesn’t seem like the cheapest program on the market (country packages are cheaper with other companies). However, with great high volume Global Plans (69 USD for 20 GB), Flexiroam is the most budget-friendly option on the market for those who are constantly on the go. 

Flexiroam is ideal for short trips to remote countries or for someone with layovers at multiple airports, Flexiroam ensures you’re always connected, no matter where your adventures take you. 

If you already know Flexiroam – Get here your Flexiroam Data Plan

when do I use Flexiroam e-sim
Flexiroam is perfect for travelers constantly on the move.

When do I use Flexiroam

Flexiroam’s Global Plan is simply the best right now. They provide internet in over 140 countries, and the signal works in the most remote places on earth. I have used Flexiroam in northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the mountains of Laos without any problem.

For those spending a good amount of time in airport transfers, I find Flexiroam the best plan right now. I often have transit in Turkey, UAE, Qatar, or Ethiopia, and Flexiroam works perfectly during those two or three hours I need to kill.

Pros: +140 countries in Global Plans. It is one of the most affordable Global Plans today in the market. Flexiroam automatically selects the quickest connection.

Cons: It may not be as cost-effective for long-term stays in single countries. Flexiroam is not available in a handful of countries, such as Zimbabwe. 

Get your Flexiroam Data Plan here

How to activate an e-SIM from Flexiroam:

  1. Verify if your phone is e-SIM compatible (just Google your phone model and the word “e-SIM”).
  2. Download the Flexiroam app and create an account.
  3. Buy a Global Plan here (or a country plan, but it tends to be more expensive if you’re traveling to different countries).
  4. You will receive a code at your email.
  5. Open the app and open the section “Activate Code”
  6. Provide the code of your Global Plan and activate the plan before you travel.

Airalo – The Giant in e-SIMs

This is a name that every frequent traveler knows or heard about. Airalo is the largest e-SIM provider right now and probably the one that markets itself the best.

I tried Airalo for the first time after I found that the Flexiroam Plan for the USA is way too expensive, and Airalo offered a cheaper and more convenient alternative. Now I’m in love with them, and while in their Global plans, Flexiroam still takes the price, for single destinations like the USA, UAE, or Europe, where obtaining a traditional SIM card can be pricey or inconvenient, Airalo steps in as the ultimate solution. I found Airalo the best option for an e-SIM in the US. I paid 16 USD for a 5GB plan I used while I was traveling for 15 days in the US. It was easy to install, simple, and worked immediately. 

If you already know Airalo.
Get your e-SIM with Airalo here!

Airalo e-sim
Airalo is perfect for travelers who settle down for longer periods (not longer than 3 weeks) in Europe or USA.

Airalo offers plans starting at just 5 EUR for regions renowned for their high connectivity costs. I find them the best option for those traveling in the USA, Turkey, Europe, and the Arab Peninsula. This was my Go-To plan during my USA trip, and I’m completely satisfied while totally recommending it as the best available option.

I also think Airalo is the best e-sim for Europe, especially if your trip starts in Germany or Austria, where getting a regular physical sim-card is really a pain in the ass. 

How to get an e-SIM from Airalo:

  1. Verify if your phone is e-SIM compatible (just Google your phone model and the word “e-SIM”).
  2. Download the Airalo app and create an account.
  3. Buy a plan here (it can be a country or regional plan – The best plan for Europe is the EU Plan)
  4. Activate your e-SIM. (Activation can take up to 10 minutes. Don’t panic!)

Get your e-SIM with Airalo here!

Pros: Easy interface and good prices for single countries and regions.

Cons: There are way better plans for global coverage. Prices can be too expensive in countries that are a bit off-the-beaten track.

Airalo vs. Flexiroam: which provider is the best?

This is a question that I saw a few times online, and instead of seeing Flexiroam and Airalo as competitors, I see them as two providers that compliment each other. I have both e-SIM cards installed on my phone, and depending on where I am, how long I need to stay, and how much data I need, I check which one of them offers the best option.

My recommendation is to have both providers installed and just check for yourself which one is the best for your needs.

In my opinion, single regions like USA or the EU are better with Airalo, and Global coverage is better with Flexiroam.
Compare the prices for an e-SIM with Airalo here!

e-sim in remote countries
I have used Flexiroam in Pakistan and it was the best decision ever.

What about other providers

Right now, there are dozens of new e-SIM providers online. Unfortunately, I have not tested them all, but after doing some research, these are some that are getting quite a reputation right now and might be worth a try.

Drimsim

Pros:

  • Global Coverage: Drimsim offers coverage in 197+ countries.
  • Pay-As-You-Go: No long-term commitments; pay for what you use.
  • Free Incoming Calls: Incoming calls are free in most countries.
  • Data Packages: Offers various data packages at competitive rates.

Cons:

  • Limited Voice and SMS: Focuses primarily on data, with limited voice and SMS options.
  • No Local Number: Assigns a European phone number.

Get Drimsim and benefit from their global coverage.

Try an e-SIM with Drimsim here

Surfroam

Pros: 

  • Pay-as-you-go model provides flexibility without long-term commitments or excessive fees; coverage in over 200 countries and regions.

Cons: 

  • May not offer as many bundled data options as other providers; may be less cost-effective for heavy data users.

GigSky

Pros: 

  • Offers comprehensive e-SIM solutions tailored for international travelers; provides extensive coverage in over 190 countries and territories; includes high-speed data, voice, and text options.

Cons: 

  • Pricing may be higher compared to some other providers; limited flexibility in terms of plan customization.

Truphone

Pros: 

  • Known for its excellent customer service and reliable connectivity; offers competitive rates for international roaming; available in various countries and regions.

Cons:

  • Limited availability compared to larger providers; may not offer as many bundled data options.

Ubigi

Pros: 

  • Provides e-SIM plans with global coverage; offers flexibility to top up data as needed; includes a convenient app for managing account and data usage.

Cons: 

  • Limited coverage in some regions; pricing may not be as competitive as other providers for certain destinations.

Keepgo

Pros: 

  • Offers affordable e-SIM plans with global coverage; provides data-only plans suitable for travelers needing internet access; features an easy-to-use management system.

Cons: 

  • Limited voice and text options compared to other providers; may not offer as many features for heavy data users.

Note: I recently discovered an e-SIM provider called Instabridge. The prices seem too good to be true, and I’m considering giving it a try on one of my upcoming trips.

Why should you get a e-sim
In the next months, I will try several other plans and try to review which ones work the best and which ones not.

E-Sim vs Physical Sim. What about conventional SIM cards?

While global e-SIMs offer unparalleled convenience, they can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. Fear not, savvy travelers, for there’s a cost-effective solution at hand: pairing global e-SIMs with local SIM cards. For example, Airalo’s 20GB plan in Colombia is priced at over 120 EUR—an extremely expensive option. Even with Flexiroam’s Global Program, the price remains quite high.

Now, by complementing it with a local SIM, I traveled to Colombia with the same amount of data for just 4 EUR. This strategy allows you to strike the perfect balance between affordability and accessibility, ensuring you’re always connected without compromise.

INSIDER TIP:
In addition to the services that I listed above, try also paying attention to Drimsim. Although the service offers not a virtual, but a real SIM card, it is not tied to any specific operator. This way, you can travel to multiple countries and your Drimsim card will immediately adapt to a new location.

Read more: How many blank passport pages do you need to travel to each country

esim vs physical sim
Getting a physical sim is still a must in many countries.

Upon arriving in Colombia, I used Flexiroam’s global plan, which provided enough data for essential tasks like using WhatsApp, getting an Uber, and making calls. Once settled in Bogota, I purchased a local SIM for extended internet access at a lower cost.

This approach was also my preferred option when traveling in West Africa and Southeast Asia, where SIM cards are almost free, and internet access is affordable.

During a two-week trip around the Caribbean, I encountered varying prices for internet plans. While some countries like Trinidad offered very affordable options, others had expensive rates. Ultimately, I decided to use Flexiroam’s Global Plan and purchased 5 GB for 35 USD. This was more than enough to cover the whole two weeks. Keep in mind, that I was also very cautious with my video streaming consumption. 5GB is not much when you are streaming Netflix or YouTube constantly.  

INSIDE TIP:
The cheapest internet provider I’ve seen was in India. Here I paid 30 EUR for 40 GB. During my time there, I used my SIM card on my phone as the internet provider for my laptop.  

Read more: 10 steps for finding the cheapest flight tickets

E-sims in the Caribbean
For my Caribbean trip, I found the best decision to use Flexiroam and no physical SIM card.

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