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Can you make emergency calls with a data-only eSIM?

Yes, you can. But there are some things to note.

· 3 min read

As you look for options to stay connected when you travel, data-only SIMs and eSIMs are often one of the most cost-effective options. Since these options are 'data-only', they often don't come with a phone number and can't make calls. If you are concerned whether or not this also means you will not be able to make emergency calls, the good news is that you can! But, it is important to note what constitutes emergency calls, and what restrictions there might be.


How do emergency calls work?

Let's first take a look at how emergency calls work.

There is a list of emergency numbers that are embedded in your device. These are usually the 3-digit emergency numbers like 911 or 112 that are used for critical and urgent situations. Note that this does not include numbers to the local embassy at your destination.

When a call is made to an emergency number, this call gets prioritised. It will connect to whichever available network to process the call - even if it isn't the network that you are primarily subscribed to. And in the case where the network is congested, your call will take priority and displace other calls in the network.

That also means that as long as your device can find an available network, you will be able to make emergency calls. (On your device, you will see the “Emergency Calls Only” status). On the other hand, if there are no available networks at all (on your device, it will state “No Service”), then you would not be able to make any emergency calls.

Can I make an emergency call without a SIM card?

The capability to make an emergency call is built into your phone, and is not dependent on the SIM card or eSIM. As long as your phone is wireless and can connect to a cell tower, you technically can make an emergency call even if you don't have a SIM card.

But, there are some countries like Germany and Switzerland that mandate that you will need to have a valid SIM card to make an emergency call. This regulation was introduced primarily to prevent misuse of the emergency numbers.

Making emergency calls with a data-only SIM or eSIM

While there might be a requirement for you to have a valid SIM card or eSIM, this SIM card or eSIM does not necessarily have to be a local SIM with a local number.

As long as you still have your home SIM card or eSIM active, you will still be able to make these emergency calls.

And, even if you were using a data-only SIM or eSIM, you will still be able to make the calls to these emergency numbers!

However, it is important to note that although you can make an outbound call to the emergency numbers, since you do not have a number, they will not be able to call you back in case you get disconnected.

Contacting your embassy using a data-only SIM or eSIM

It is important to note that you will be able to make emergency calls using a data-only SIM or eSIM. However, this is limited to only the list of recognised emergency numbers.

You will not be able to make a call to your local embassy if you were using a data-only SIM or eSIM that doesn't come with call capabilities.

However, if you needed to make a call to your local embassy, there are some ways you can do it:

  • If it is urgent, you can make the call using your primary line instead, but you will need to ensure that your plan allows you to make calls when abroad. Additional charges may be incurred depending on your phone plan.
  • If you have an access to a local line - whether it is a public phone booth or using a phone at your accommodation - you can use the local line to call your embassy instead.
  • If it is less urgent, consider making an appointment online and visiting your embassy in-person instead.

Do not misuse emergency numbers!

It is very important to note that emergency numbers are very resource-intensive and you could end up displacing another person's call so that your call can go through.

Be considerate and do not misuse the number, and call only in times of emergency!

Get a Nomad eSIM for your next trip

Nomad offers data plans in over 165 countries, and you can be sure to find one that is suitable for your travel needs. And if you will be traveling across multiple countries, there are also regional plans available so you can stay seamlessly connected as you hop between countries. Data plans are available from as low as $1.50/GB.

If you are unsure about how much data you need for your trip, Nomad also has a Data Calculator that can help you find the plan that is most suitable for you. Also check out our blog post on data-saving tips when traveling to keep your data usage in check when traveling.