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What is eSIM, and How Does It Work?

We explain to you what an eSIM or virtual SIM card is, how it works, its main benefits, and which carriers and devices have this technology.

Brenda Beltrán

May 6, 2024

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The eSIM is the future of cellular communication and will replace the old plastic SIM cards. In this article, we describe what they are, how they work, their advantages, disadvantages, and more.


✈️Highlights

  • The eSIM works thanks to a microchip installed on your cell phone.
  • Not all cell phones are eSIM compatible.
  • The main difference between eSIM and SIM cards is that eSIM is virtual.

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM (the short version of embedded SIM) is a virtual or digital version of the traditional data SIM card. Similar to the SIM card, an eSIM card can be used to access mobile data plans.

This works thanks to a microchip installed on your cell phone, which allows you to install several “eSIM profiles,” the equivalent of physical SIM cards, with their respective phone numbers and data plans.

The embedded chip on a compatible phone is smaller than a nanoSIM and allows up to 8 profiles to be stored (depending on the cell phone).

This technology can also be found in various wearable devices such as home appliances, cars, or other gadgets that stay connected to the Internet at all times.

SIM card evolution

>Find out how renowned brands such as BMW include eSIM in their cars.

How Do You Set Up an eSIM?

Setting up a virtual SIM card can be done by the user at home following a process that is almost as simple as taking a selfie: just aim the mobile phone that’s camera to a 2-D barcode (or BIDI code) provided by the operator for the phone to capture the configuration that will be transferred to the virtual card.

Virtual SIM: Instructions for iOS and Android

If you have an eSIM and need to configure it, you can follow these eSIM instructions for iOS and how to set up eSIM in Samsung.

Afterward, depending on the phone and whether you use an Android or iOS phone, the virtual SIM card configuration process is completed by following a series of steps that include choosing whether the virtual SIM card will be used for calls and data or only for data, and also choosing whether the digital SIM will work as a single line or together with another line, either in another eSIM profile or a conventional SIM card.

Difference Between eSIM Card and SIM Card

The main difference between an eSIM and a SIM card is that the eSIM is completely virtual. To use it, you don’t need a physical chip like a traditional SIM card, but you doneed a compatible cellphone.

Usually, only the last-gen devices and smartphones support it.

This means that to get a virtual SIM, you don’t need to wait days at home for the new SIM to arrive or another couple of days for it to be activated. You just need to go to an online store, buy it, and download it. All in a couple of minutes!

SIM card. Source: Unsplash

What is the Disadvantage of eSIM?

  • People must have an eSIM-compatible device.
  • Some eSIMs don’t include phone calls and text messages. Only local carriers with eSIMs and some international providers include these features.
  • You can buy bundles with coverage in full regions like a data eSIM UK or EU eSIM.

eSIM Advantages

For the client

  • No plastic waste. People won’t have to worry about introducing something on their phones.
  • It is easier to change data packages from the carrier you are using. No need to visit a store to ask for a change.
  • Some virtual SIM cards can be purchased from an online store.
  • People have an easier time recovering their information if their mobile gets stolen or lost.
  • The information available on the eSIM remains stored in the cloud.
  • Some virtual SIM cards include phone calls and text messages to improve communication.
eSIM iphone
iPhone is one of the main eSIM-compatible devices in the world. Source: Pexels.

For the manufacturer

Bye-bye, slots. Now, the artists who make your phone look so stylish will have more freedom as they won’t have to design a mobile device without a slot to insert your SIM card.

For the network operator

There will be less paperwork and more space. Operators will not have to worry about providing their customers with SIM cards due to cellphone loss and renewals, among other reasons. With eSIM, the processes and tasks are simplified.

Other Benefits of eSIM: Bye-bye, Data Roaming Costs

With an eSIM, you can say goodbye to data roaming charges.

Using ‘Data roaming’ from your current cellular provider is the traditional way of connecting to the internet abroad. But this method is very expensive. It could cost you up to $15 per megabyte, meaning you could receive a phone bill worth $100 for common internet consumption. 

With an eSIM, you’ll never receive surprise bills. Depending on the carrier, you can even get unlimited mobile data for $6 USD.

Holafly International eSIM store.

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The eSIMs with the Main Mobile Network Carriers in the World

Many network providers now offer eSIM. Let’s take a look at what they offer:

  • AT&T: The main carrier within North America. Access to different data plans and the chance to use an eSIM on Android, iOS, and other devices.
  • T-Mobile: T-Mobile is a pioneer in the eSIM market. This carrier offers different data plans and features that are only available to its users. It also includes an app and roaming services for travelers.
  • Verizon: If you are a Verizon customer and want an eSIM, you can easily do so using the My Verizon App. The company offers different data packages and a wide variety of compatible mobiles. It also includes roaming services worldwide.
  • Vodafone: One of the most important mobile carriers within Europe, Vodafone is part of the list of eSIM carriers you can easily access. Vodafone offers virtual SIM card service on Apple and Android devices while also offering a huge variety of data plans that include roaming for an extra fee.
  • Orange: Orange has become a great option for using virtual SIM cards around Europe and the world. People can easily change their SIM card for an eSIM, and these are all compatible in terms of data packages, roaming, and other major features.
  • O2: This is a great company within the UK that offers the chance to travel the world with its virtual SIM cards. The activation process is a bit more complicated, but the good news is the different data plans and features the company offers to travelers and locals.

eSIM in Smartwatches

Smartwatches compatible with eSIM are perhaps the ones that have had the greatest reception in the market. Several operators have brought eSIM to their customers through these devices.

However, eSIMs in smartwatches still face two major challenges. First, because they are so small and have tiny batteries, GSM connectivity with 4G increases power consumption and lowers their independence. Therefore, it is not surprising that a watch with a Bluetooth connection can be worn for weeks without recharging, whereas a smartwatch with eSIM almost has to be connected to a charger every day.

eSIM Smartwatches
Smartwatches now have access to eSIM and more features. Source: Pexels.

Conclusions of the Virtual SIM

Opinions are divided on this new technology. On the one hand, it eliminates the need for a physical SIM card, a feature which can be convenient and save space on cellular devices. In addition, it allows you to change operators without changing SIM cards. However, the technology is not yet widely adopted by all operators.

In the future, eSIM will surely become more common. So far, it’s been a great addition to the communications industry, but it still needs more improvement to be a complete alternative to the old SIM card.

Using Holafly eSIM in Madrid, Spain.

Frequently Asked Questions about eSIM

Which devices are compatible with eSIM?

Almost all Apple devices and most of Android’s high-end devices support eSIMs. You can see the eSIM-compatible device list here.

Which cellular carriers offer virtual SIM cards?

Almost all operators in developed countries offer virtual SIMs, but not all of them allow you to use any compatible device. For example, Yoigo does not support the Apple Watch. Check the network that supports your device before purchasing, as not all mobile networks around the world are the same.

What does eSIM mean?

eSIM is the short version of embedded SIM.

Can I buy an eSIM from another country?

Yes, in Holafly, you can buy an eSIM from any country you travel to, so you have data without paying roaming charges. You can also keep your domestic phone number if someone calls you (dual SIM). If you need an eSIM for Europe, Australia, or Latin America, Holafly is your go-to.

Does T-Mobile support eSIM?

Yes, if you are a T-Mobile customer, you can get a local virtual SIM card from this provider with a monthly subscription plan at one of their physical stores.

How does dual SIM work?

Some cell phones offer dual SIM options, allowing you to use two SIMs simultaneously: one SIM card and One eSIM or two eSIMs.

Is an eSIM a good idea?

Yes, eSIMs have simplified staying connected and getting mobile internet. The only thing to worry about is having an eSIM-compatible device, which has become a better option for staying connected locally and while traveling internationally.

How do I convert my SIM to eSIM?

To convert a traditional SIM card to an eSIM, people should read about how their mobile carrier works. This will vary depending on the company people are using, as some companies can send a QR code with the eSIM for people to scan it, while others require people to visit a store to activate their eSIM.

Does my physical SIM stop working after eSIM?

Not necessarily. When using an eSIM, the second SIM or card will keep working the same as before. People won’t have to worry about it stopping working in case they need it in the future or something like that. But this might vary from one carrier to another, so it’s always important to ask for extra information about this to the carrier.