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Introduction to eSIMs: What is eSIM

A data-driven debunking of top 5 common eSIM myths

· 7 min read

What is eSIM?

eSIM is short for embedded SIM, and is like a digital version of a SIM card that is embedded in your device. It allows you to get connected anywhere, anytime, on (most) flagship devices. With an eSIM, you don't ever have to visit a shop or buy a physical SIM card. As long as your phone is compatible, you’re good to go.

What is the difference between eSIM and Physical SIM?

If you are reading this, you might be wondering what the key differences between an eSIM and physical SIM are, and whether it is worth to make a switch from a physical SIM to an eSIM.

For one - and probably the most obvious one - is that a physical SIM is a physical card that can be inserted and removed from your device; whereas an eSIM is embedded in your device, so it cannot be removed.

Physical SIMs are also tied to specific carriers, and each physical SIM card corresponds to one SIM profile. On the other hand, eSIMs are carrier-independent, and as long as your device supports it, you can have multiple eSIM profiles installed in your device. This is also one of the key advantages of an eSIM over a physical SIM, where you can easily switch between carriers and profiles without having to change out your physical SIM cards.

If you are wondering about whether an eSIM impacts data speed, or how the signal strength of eSIMs performs against a physical SIM, the short answer is that there is no inherent difference in performance between an eSIM and a physical SIM. Using an eSIM does not give you faster or stronger signals; but neither is it slower or weaker.

Prerequisites for using an eSIM

If you were considering a switch to an eSIM, or simply trying to find out if you can use an eSIM, it might be good to check out some of the prerequisites to using an eSIM.

eSIM Compatible Devices

One of the critical prerequisites for using an eSIM is that you need to own an eSIM compatible device. If you own a 2020 or later flagship phone from any one of the big smartphone makers (Apple, Samsung, Google), chances are that your device will be eSIM-compatible. Of course, if you are purchasing the latest flagship models, eSIM compatibility is almost guaranteed.

In fact the list of models is too long to include (list of eSIM compatible smartphones), but as an example: iPhone XR or later, Samsung Galaxy S20 or later, Samsung Galaxy Z series, and Google Pixel 3 or later all support eSIM.

There is a common misperception that eSIMs are only used in iPhones, and that Android phones are not really built for eSIMs. While it is true that all the latest iPhone models are eSIM compatible, and not the same can be said of Android phones, Android phones actually also has a significant place in the list of eSIM-compatible devices. The number of eSIM-compatible Android devices have been increasing over the past couple years, and we will continue to see that number increase as smartphone makers push out new models.

Operator support for eSIM

Simply possessing an eSIM-compatible phone does not necessarily mean you will be able to use an eSIM. The second piece of the puzzle is that your network operator needs to offer an eSIM option specific to your device model. If your operator provides eSIM support for an iPhone 14, it does not automatically mean that you can use an eSIM on a Xiaomi 13 device on that same operator.

However, the fact is that eSIM standards and technology are operator-agnostic, location-agnostic, and device-agnostic. What this means is that if your provider doesn't have eSIM support for your device, all that means is that you can't use an eSIM on that provider -- and yes, it also means that you can use eSIMs on other providers, provided they support it.

If your primary use case for using an eSIM is for international travel, which happens to also be one of the biggest consumer use cases for an eSIM, then you probably need not have to worry too much about local network operators not providing eSIM support for your device. Although there is a chance that local network operators do not provide tourist eSIMs for your device, there exists providers of travel eSIMs that are tailored for the international traveler. These travel eSIMs are operator-agnostic, and will be able to provide you with data connectivity so long your device is eSIM-compatible.

One such provider is Nomad, the world’s first truly global eSIM provider, covering 170+ countries with plans of all sizes at amazing rates. All you have to do is download the app, browse for a plan, click purchase, and you’re connected in 5 minutes. It does not matter which provider or plan you are currently on for your primary line. An eSIM-compatible phone is capable of holding multiple eSIMs and switching back and forth is a breeze.

How to use an eSIM?

With the prerequisites out of the way, let's now take a look at how to use an eSIM. Nothing could be simpler than installing an eSIM. On the Nomad app at least, there are typically just 5 steps (once you’ve downloaded and installed the app for the first time): Browse plans -> Select -> Purchase -> One-click to install the eSIM -> Activate the plan. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes.

How to get an eSIM on Nomad
How to get an eSIM on Nomad

This is the case for pretty much any eSIM app on the market today. You can do this from anywhere your phone has Wifi or data connectivity (you can even purchase an eSIM from your desktop/laptop if you visit our web store. You can buy a plan you like before you travel, install the eSIM, and activate it only when you land in your destination 1 week later.

No more fumbling for change at a foreign airport, trying to figure out which plan is the cheapest. No more digging through your packed luggage for that plastic pin to pop out your SIM card tray. No more losing your current SIM card in the back of a taxi seat! You’ve settled all of that before you even boarded the plane, in the comfort of your own home.

The beauty of it is how flexible the eSIM is. Maybe you’re a completely different type of traveler - you forgot to research or buy a local plan ahead of time and you’ve just landed at 3.00 AM in some airport, all the SIM card vendors are closed and you’re stranded without the ability to call anyone. Just open up the app, choose a plan on the spot, and you’re connected.

For step-by-step instructions on how to install your Nomad eSIM, refer to this blog post.

Debunking eSIM Myths

eSIMs have been around since 2016, but started gaining serious traction in 2018. It’s been around so long, in fact, that a number of myths have sprung up around it. As staunch believers in the incredible flexibility and convenience of eSIM technology, we’re here to debunk some of the most common myths about eSIMs.

Myth 1 - eSIMs are expensive

eSIM is meant to be cheaper, not more expensive. At Nomad, our objective is to get you connected as fast as possible, anywhere in the world, for as cheaply as possible. Because our distribution is digital, the major cost to the consumer is the back-end infrastructure of our global telecom partners. Keeping it simple helps to keep it low cost.

It’s not just us - most eSIM providers are able to offer really good deals on data plans in many countries. Here’s an example for Mexico:

Cheap eSIM plans in Mexico (source: esimdb.com)
Cheap eSIM plans in Mexico (source: esimdb.com)

Getting an eSIM is at least as cheap as, and sometimes cheaper than, buying a local SIM - but at a fraction of the hassle. Which brings us to our next point:

Myth 2 - eSIM is mainly for B2B / IoT / connected everything

Those of us who are more familiar with the technicality of eSIM may believe that the big use case is in B2B, not B2C. This is partly true - there are a ton of interesting use cases in B2B. We believe eSIM will enable the nearly 30 billion IoT devices in 2025.

Operators are indeed focusing on exciting new applications for eSIM in connected vehicles, drones, smart appliances, smart cities and so on. But at the same time, there’s no reason why eSIM won’t take off in the consumer space, and as our rebuttal of Myth #1 shows, that’s already happening.

Get a Nomad eSIM

Nomad's Travel eSIMs

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, Nomad also offers various 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.

How to get a Nomad eSIM?

Getting a Nomad eSIM is very easy. Simply create an account with Nomad, select the plan that you want, and check out! Or, download the iOS or Android app and you can easily purchase and manage your data on the go!

After you purchase your eSIM, you will receive an email containing information on how to install and activate your eSIM. Remember that you will need a stable internet connection to install your eSIM, so It is recommended to install your eSIM.

Don't forget to also activate your eSIM after installation! Activation can be done from the app, and you will need a stable internet connection to do so. In such cases, we recommend that you activate it right before you fly. Depending on the plan you purchase, there may be cases where manual activation is not required, and activation will be triggered automatically after you arrive at the destination - check your email with installation and activation email for more information.

And in the event that you run out of data, don't worry! Some of Nomad's plans come with the option to purchase add-ons. Purchasing add-ons will simply add more data to your existing eSIM plan, so you won't need to install a brand-new eSIM.

Want to learn more about eSIMs? Check out our series of eSIM blogs to help you uncover the world of eSIMs.