As digital nomads staying connected to the Internet is very important. You can do this by having a mobile phone contract that includes international data roaming with your current provider but this can get pricey for certain countries. There are a few options available to slash the roaming charges though and eSIMs is one of them.
Use a local SIM
So what a lot of digital nomads do is use a local SIM when they arrive in a new country. In some countries like Thailand, you will find many providers at the airport offering you all kinds of SIM deals especially targeted to travellers. You will have to have a phone that is unlocked and if you have a single SIM phone you will have to swap your current SIM out for the local one. If you have a dual SIM phone you can have two SIMs active, both your home country one and the new local SIM which will provide you with cheap data access.
- Cheap data and local call access – you are using the same rates as locals and this means you are getting cheap data access and cheap local calls.
- Physical removal and Insertion of SIM – You will have to swap SIMs a lot and these physical SIM are now so tiny that you can hardly distinguish between them and they get easily lost.
- The main number is blocked on Single SIM phones – you have to swap the SIMs this means you have lost the main number that people used to contact you on.
- Queueing time – I remember in France I had to wait almost one hour to get my sim due to the queue in the shop and all the bureaucracy involved.
- The top process can be complicated – Having used physical SIMs myself in Romania and Serbia last summer I can tell you that the apps you use to top up are not in English, they were only available in the local language. In Vietnam, I always had to ask the mobile phone shop to do the top-up process for me as it was way to complicated.
Use an eSIM provider
There is now an even better option available for international travellers and that is using eSIMs.
What is an eSIM?
The foremost distinction between an eSIM and a physical SIM is that, in contrast with conventional SIM cards, the eSIM is a fixed-location module that can't be removed from any device.
The eSIM number can easily be installed sometimes it is just a phone call or barcode scan you will need to do to get the number activated. No more waiting for a physical SIM to arrive and messing around with the SIM ejector. Depending on your mobile you can have multiple eSIM numbers stored, but only one can be activated.
eSIM run on the same networks as normal SIMs.
Most phones that have the eSIM option have a normal physical SIM card slot and an additional eSIM, this means you can have two numbers active.
The local eSIM should give you an easy and quick way to get local data rates. What should be an easy process of a quick online payment and scanning of a barcode to install the eSIM is in real-life not so easy. The process of getting a local eSIM in most countries is the same for residents as for travellers.
- A lot of eSIMs can not be done online, you have to go to a store stand in the queue go through the bureaucracy.
- You may have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy but now online. I remember applying for an Italian eSIM, which required me to have a Codice fiscale (Italian tax number), passport upload, photo upload, Italian address and a video verification process to get the eSIM activated. It was all online and luckily I have all the documents.
- Still a new concept for telecommunication providers – Some local telcos only give you an eSIM when you want to swap the physical SIM that you have with them for an eSIM. This means you have to visit twice.
- Complicated top-up process – You may have to deal with a top-up process that is complicated in an App that is not in the English language.
A local eSIM is handy for people that use a serious amount of data and need the cheapest rate available. It is also useful for people that go back and forth to the same country a lot of times. You can easily turn the eSIM on and swap eSIM numbers.
If you need a good resource on local eSIM as well as eSIM providers, which I will talk about in the next paragraph check out Roami.
Best eSIM providers for International Travellers
There is a new bread of providers offering eSIMs that work only in a specific country or a number of countries or regions.
Holafly is a company, dedicated to providing travellers with data-only eSIMs that allow seamless access to internet connectivity wherever they are in the world. Their expansive coverage boasts service for over 100 nations on six continents like Europe, Asia, America and Africa and Australia & Oceania – making it easier for people interested in travelling the globe without having their online activity interrupted. I have to state this is a data-only eSIM so you will need a third-party app to make calls like Skype or WhatsApp.
The process of getting an eSIM is simple:
- Go to Holafly eSIM store
- Select the country
- Choose the prepaid plan of days and data
- Checkout and pay
- You will receive a barcode that you can scan and install the eSIM.
YesIM is a provider that allows you to buy data-only eSIMs online via its website and through an app. They have some regional eSIMs for the EU and for the CIS countries (7 countries) and local country-specific eSIMs. In total YesIM covers 125 countries. Make sure your eSIM phone is compatible with their service and you are off to a quick start.
The online buying process is easy and allows for various payment options including the use of crypto through Binance Pay.
GigSky is an eSIM provider which has an app that allows you to choose between country-specific, regional and global data-only eSIM plans. GigSky claims to have coverage of more than 190+ countries. The purchasing of eSIMs can only be done through an app. GigSky seems to be one of the pricier providers out there.
Airalo is another eSIM provider which allows you to select data-only eSIMs through its app or online via the website. There is a large selection of country-specific plans and regional ones. I have personally used this one myself in North Macedonia last summer and it worked perfectly. As soon as I crossed the Serbia / North Macedonia border I was connected and I could contact my Airbnb host to communicate my arrival time.
All these eSIM providers make the process of buying data-only eSIMs very straightforward forward unlike a lot of the local eSIM providers. The pricing is a bit higher than a local telco-provided eSIM or physical SIM but you save time and hassle.