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eSIMs vs Physical SIM: Which is for you?

What's the difference, and which to use?

· 4 min read

In the ever-evolving landscape of mobile technology, the introduction of eSIMs has offered users with a new option. Are you one of the many who are considering your options — should you stick with the traditional physical SIM card, or would a switch to eSIMs be better for you? And would the answer be different for a primary line and for travel? Let's take a look.


eSIMs vs Physical SIMs: What is the difference?

First, let's go back to basics and explore the difference between eSIMs and physical SIMs.

At the core of it, both eSIMs and physical SIMs carry out the same functions. There is inherently no difference in performance and minimal impact on battery usage.

The fundamental difference is that traditional physical SIM cards are…a physical SIM card that you can actually see, touch, and insert into your device. On the other hand, eSIMs are virtual and you can't actually see it.

In the most technical sense, an eSIM is actually a chip that is embedded within your device, embedded within your device - but that chip alone isn't able to help you get connected to any network. For your eSIM to work, you will need to download and install an eSIM profile. The eSIM profile will contain the information that is required for you to be able to connect to the network.

Physical SIM cards or eSIMs: Which should I use?

Before you consider which you should use, the first thing you probably should ask is whether your device is eSIM-compatible and if your carrier supports eSIMs for your device.

Most modern flagship devices today are eSIM-compatible, but if you were using an older device, it is still best to confirm if your device supports eSIMs. If your device is not eSIM-compatible, then physical SIM cards would be your answer!

Conversely, if you were on an eSIM-only phone, then your only option would be to use an eSIM.

Now, assuming you have a device that can support both physical SIM cards and eSIMs, then you might wonder which you would use.

We wished there was a straightforward answer, but it ultimately really depends on what matters to you.

For your primary line

Let's first take a look at what it means to use a physical SIM or an eSIM for your primary line, on the pretext that your carrier provides eSIM support for your primary line and device.

One of the biggest advantage of using a physical SIM card is in the case where you want to change phones. Simply remove the SIM card from your old phone and insert it into your new device, and you're set to go.

On the other hand, with eSIMs, transferring of eSIMs across devices might not be straightforward. While both iOS and Android devices are moving towards supporting transfer of eSIMs across devices, telcos may not always support it. If your telco does not allow you to simply transfer your eSIMs, then each time you change devices, you will need to call up your telco and get them to make the switch for you.

Now, if you were to use a physical SIM on your device for your primary line, that also means that you would be using up one physical SIM slot. Which, in case your device has a dual SIM slot, it might not be a big deal.

But, if your device only has a single SIM slot (as with iPhones and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip phones), then your primary line will be taking up that sole SIM slot. What that also means that if you wouldn't be able to have 2 lines (assuming both are on physical SIMs). It also means that if you were to get a local prepaid SIM card when traveling, you will need to remove your primary SIM card from your device and you wouldn't be able to have your primary line active.

For traveling

eSIMs have been a very convenient and increasing popular option for travelers, for the simple reason that it is very convenient.

With physical SIM cards, you will have to be physically present at a store to purchase the physical SIM card - or you will have to order them in advance and have them sent to you. Either way, this means time spent waiting for you to get your SIM card.

If you were using an eSIM, you can simply purchase online, get the installation code, and install it on your device. The whole process would take less than 5 minutes.

If you were using eSIMs for your travels, it also means that you would be able to still keep your physical SIM card in your phone and active. You don't have to fumble with your SIM tray or risk losing your physical SIM card - assuming you had one.

Another advantage of eSIMs for traveling is that it is easy for you to switch between eSIMs if you're traveling across countries. Instead of constantly changing SIM cards, you can switch between eSIMs in just a few taps of your device.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But, here's the catch. Not all telcos offer eSIM options for prepaid or tourist plans. That essentially means that if you wanted to get an eSIM from a local operator, it might not always be possible. In such cases, your options will be to either get a physical SIM card or a travel eSIM from a provider of travel eSIM.

Travel eSIMs vs local SIM cards

If you are down to deciding between travel eSIMs and a local physical SIM card for your travel, here are a few factors to help you decide.

  • Convenience: If you only need data and value convenience, travel eSIMs are often a much better decision.
  • Service: Travel eSIMs often only include data and no local number. So if you need a local number, then a local SIM card might be what you are looking for.
  • Price: The prices could vary. In some destinations, travel eSIMs are more affordable than getting a local SIM; and in other destinations, a local SIM is cheaper. Check out the different telco websites or travel blogs to help you make a price comparison.

Get a Nomad travel eSIM for your next trip

Nomad offers data plans in over 170 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.

The networks that Nomad's eSIMs use for each plan are stated on the plan details on the web store and apps, so you can check which networks are supported before buying your plan.

And, 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.

Nomad also has a 24-hour customer support team. So, in the event where you face difficulties while using your eSIM, rest assured there will be someone available to help you resolve your issues!