eSIM vs. Physical SIM for International Roaming: What's Best For You?

eSIM vs. Physical SIM for International Roaming: What's Best For You?

eSIM vs. Physical SIM for international roaming

WRITTEN BYDuane Cuaresma
PUBLISHED ONMay 16, 2024

Uninterrupted communication is a vital part of any travel experience. Users have two options to achieve this: eSIMs and physical SIMs. eSIMs are newer and offer more technical capabilities, while physical SIMs are familiar and popular.

Mobile connectivity and data transmission can be achieved by either eSIM or physical SIM — but which is better for international roaming?

While the two are functionally similar, travelers need a constant and cost-effective data connection. Today, we’ll compare roaming costs associated with eSIMs and physical SIMs, as well as other features and considerations, to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding eSIM Technology

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM, or embedded SIM, is a built-in digital version of a traditional SIM card. Unlike regular SIM cards, you don't have to handle an eSIM physically. You activate it online. This is useful for people who travel often or want a more flexible and easy way to use their phones.

eSIMs can have multiple profiles, and you can switch between them without changing cards.

Since eSIMs are digital, they use advanced encryption to keep your data safe. You can manage your subscriptions through software, so you won't risk losing or damaging a physical SIM card. This also makes travel and everyday use safer and more accessible.

How does eSIM differ from traditional SIM cards?

To give you a better understanding, here’s a comparison table highlighting the differences between eSIMs and traditional SIM cards:

AspecteSIMTraditional SIM Card
Physical FormEmbedded in the devicePhysical card (plastic SIM in various sizes)
Activation ProcessPre-installed or downloaded remotelyRequires manual insertion into the device
ManageabilityEasily switch between network providers or eSIM plans without swapping cardsRequires physically replacing the SIM card
Multiple ProfilesCan store and switch between multiple profiles (e.g., for different countries)Typically supports only one profile at a time
Travel ConvenienceIdeal for travelers (switch profiles without changing cards)Requires physical card swapping, which can be inconvenient
DurabilityLess prone to damage as it's embeddedMore susceptible to damage due to physical handling
Storage CapacityLimited storage capacity (holds essential information)No storage capacity beyond the card
Environmental ImpactMore environmentally friendly (no plastic cards)Requires plastic production and disposal

What are international roaming costs?

International roaming charges are fees that service providers charge when using a non-local SIM card in their native country. If you use a physical SIM card, these fees can add up fast. They apply to phone calls, texts, and data you use when you travel.

Travelers are often willing to pay the price because they must stay connected while traveling. This can be hard for people who travel a lot, like business travelers, who need constant data usage.

The expensive cost of international roaming with traditional SIM cards can limit how much they can use their phones unless they arrange a cheaper international plan in advance. Even then, they may still encounter hidden fees.

Roaming costs on physical SIMs vs. eSIMs

Using a physical SIM card while traveling abroad can get expensive.

These fees can vary depending on your phone company and where you are. For example, data roaming can cost $10 to $20 per megabyte in some places, quickly becoming expensive if you use GPS or social media a lot. These extra charges can quickly take up much of your travel budget, leaving you with less money for other enjoyable experiences.

eSIMs, however, provide a more affordable option for frequent travelers. With eSIMs, you can choose and pay for international data plans before your trip. You don't have to change your phone number or physical SIM card. This way, you can easily manage different plans on one device and minimize data costs.

Other benefits of eSIMs

  • Cost-effectiveness: eSIMs help you save money on roaming charges. You can choose data plans that fit your travel needs, often costing less than traditional roaming services.
  • Coverage: Instead of juggling physical SIM cards, eSIMs let you store profiles for different carriers you might use while traveling. This allows you to easily switch to a local carrier for better rates or coverage in a specific country.
  • Convenience: eSIMs are easy to activate right away. You don't need to buy or swap physical SIM cards. Travelers can manage their plans directly from their mobile devices. You can switch between networks or change plans as your travel plans change.

These benefits make eSIMs an excellent choice for international travelers. You can save money, get better coverage, and enjoy a hassle-free experience.

eSIMs and the future of connectivity

eSIM technology changes how we connect with mobile devices and networks worldwide. Experts believe eSIMs will soon be standard in smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices. In other words, connectivity will be completely seamless.

eSIMs are changing the telecommunications industry with better coverage and lower costs for customers. Companies can offer more personalized services, while customers can access eSIMs whenever and wherever they need to.

Tips for adopting eSIM

  • Compatible Devices: Most new smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches use eSIM technology. Popular devices include the latest iPhones, Samsung Galaxy, and Google Pixel models.
  • Activation Process: Activating an eSIM is simple. Choose a plan, and your provider will send you a QR code. Scan the code with your device to install the eSIM profile and start your service.
  • Troubleshooting Common Issues:
    • If you have issues with your eSIM, like activation or data problems, check if your device's software is up-to-date.
    • Reset your network settings if needed.
    • If problems continue, contact your provider for help.

Other ways to improve your travel experience

Pack smart

Pack efficiently by using packing cubes. These help keep your luggage organized and compact. Bring versatile clothes that you can mix and match. Carry a portable charger to keep your phone and eSIM active.

Secure travel insurance

Get travel insurance to cover medical costs and trip cancellations. This will also provide additional protection for lost luggage.

Use travel apps

Travel apps will be extremely valuable throughout your adventure. Use apps to locate tourist hotspots, download maps, and translate day-to-day conversations with locals.

Get an International Driving Permit (IDP)

Car rental companies often require an international driving permit to rent a vehicle. An IDP lets you drive in many countries. It translates your local driver’s license into different languages and is often required by car rental agencies.

Get an IDP from the International Drivers Association (IDA)

The International Drivers Association (IDA) provides a quick and easy process for obtaining an international driver’s permit. IDPs from IDA validate your driving credentials and are accepted in over 150 countries.

Final thoughts

When you go on vacation, the last thing you should do is worry about accumulating roaming fees. Instead, you should be focused on activities like enjoying beautiful views, shopping at local markets, or trying new food.

An eSIM lets you stay connected with affordable data plans without worrying about high roaming charges or complicated setup processes. On the other hand, an IDP allows you to drive legally in many countries, giving you complete freedom to explore.

Together, these will help you stay connected and travel without worries. Use them wisely to minimize stress and make the most of your trip.


Can I use an eSIM while traveling internationally?

  • Yes, eSIMs are great for traveling abroad. You can easily switch to local data plans or use multiple profiles to avoid high roaming costs.

How do I switch from a physical SIM card to an eSIM?

  • First, check if your device supports eSIM. Then, contact your mobile provider to transfer your service from a physical SIM to an eSIM. You may need to scan a QR code to set up the eSIM.

Is eSIM technology available on all mobile networks?

  • eSIM technology is becoming more common worldwide, but only some carriers support it. Check with your provider to see if they offer eSIM services.

Can I have multiple eSIM profiles on one device?

  • Yes, you can store multiple profiles on one eSIM. This lets you use different cellular networks or plans without swapping SIM cards.

How do I apply for an International Driving Permit?

  • You can apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) through organizations like the International Drivers Association (IDA) or similar groups in your country. You'll need to provide a valid driver's license and a passport photo and pay a small fee.

Is an International Driving Permit necessary for driving in all countries?

  • Not all countries require an International Driving Permit, but many do. It is equivalent to a license and is recommended for driving in other countries.

Is an International Driving Permit the same as a driver's license?

  • No, an International Driving Permit translates your current license but doesn’t replace it. You must carry your original license and the IDP when driving abroad.

Are there any age restrictions for obtaining an International Driving Permit?

  • Yes, you need to be at least 18 years old to apply for an IDP, but this can vary by country. Check the guidelines in the country where you plan to drive.

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