With the rise of eSIM over the past few years, mostly as a result of many of the latest flagship mobile devices supporting it, has the technology grown enough to be useful for travel?
In short, the answer is no. While the concept is great; setup a tourist account and download the eSIM to your phone before you even leave home, in reality many countries require that you present in person with your ID before you can get any form of sim. This means you’ll still need to line up at the kiosk counter at the airport when you arrive at your destination in order to sign up for a plan.
There are a few networks offering data services almost globally with varied rates depending on the host country, a quick Google search will show you plenty of options, however if you’re after a local sim with included calls, data and perhaps roaming you’re going to be pressed to do this outside the country of choice.
That’s not to say every network in every country has this restriction. Locally all the Australian primary networks support esim that you can download from their app at the time you sign up for the service, even on a prepaid plan. Same goes for Spark in New Zealand (the only network supporting eSIM at time of writing). T-Mobile in the USA does it best with a tourist app designed to set you up with an eSIM before setting foot on US soil, ready to go for when you land.
There’s the next point that carriers just don’t get. Many carriers only support eSIM for post paid plans. This leaves customers wanting a prepaid service high and dry with a physical sim.
Wouldn’t it be great to just switch eSIMs on your device whenever you land in a new country without a second thought to it? With heavy restrictions on mobile plans across the globe, good luck with this, at least for now.
Is it worth the hype? After all it’s not that hard to get a sim when you land, load it up with some credit and be on your way. Most airports have specialist kiosks just for this and offer a fast, friendly service. It’s worth noting however that even with a physical sim, some networks have time limits for their use (eg. 30 days) and the sim will expire after this and you’ll need to start from scratch next time. Not useful if you want to keep the same number to give out to local contacts.
Then again, maybe it’d just be great if your existing mobile plan served up a good size roaming package that didn’t make your wallet cry. $5 a day sounds sweet, but that’s $150 a month on top of your existing plan. And that’s if your carrier does a $5 a day deal. The carriers that offer up 200mb of a month of data, or even 1gb a month of roaming data, are kidding themselves. You can read more about roaming here.
Hopefully once the current pandemic settles and travel ramps up again more and more carriers around the world will come to the party to make traveling mobile easier.