eSIM vs. SIM Card for Travel

How does eSIM stack up for travel against SIM

Authored by Jim Li, Growth PM at Nomad

August 20, 2021

Read Time: 5mins

Since the 2000s, SIM cards have been the preferred choice for calling and connecting to the internet. They are easy to use and have truly revolutionized the field of digital connectivity. However, these days eSIM has been creating quite a buzz by offering even better features and plans compared to the traditional SIM cards. Thus, while both have their pros and cons, travelers need to know which will serve their best interests in the most affordable plans. 


Understanding a SIM card 

SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module. In the earlier days, it was only through a SIM card that a mobile device could be connected to a cellular network. An individual could subscribe to any of the telecom providers in his region and choose a Talktime/data plan according to his needs. While this technology has dominated the market for almost 3 decades since its inception in 1989, SIM cards eventually paved the way for an upgraded version called eSIM. 


What is an eSIM? 

With time, as mobile companies kept cutting down the size of a mobile device, a need was felt for smaller SIM cards. This led to the development of an eSIM which is short for embedded SIM. The idea was simple yet quite breathtaking. Developers started imagining a mobile device where the chip could be directly fixed to the mobile's motherboard, thereby freeing space for other components. This meant that the module could no longer be changed but even then the profiles could be switched. 


eSIM vs SIM 

The following comparison clarifies major differences between an eSIM and a traditional SIM card: 

1.Size matters: eSIMs have a better edge when it comes to size as they are smaller than SIM cards and are available in all the latest devices. 

2.Ease of use: Traditional SIM card users need to keep a box of cards especially if they travel frequently between different countries. On the other hand, eSIM saves time and effort as they are already built-in and you can switch between different profiles on the go. 

3.Data Security: While a SIM card could be lost or stolen while traveling, eSIMs are immune to such risks as they can only be swapped using a password and keep all your data safe and secure. A drawback with eSIMs is when a person is not fully aware of how to upload different profiles on iCloud and may face difficulties in restoring profiles to a different/new device.  

4.Range of compatibility: Traditional SIM cards still enjoy a wider range of compatibility whereas for eSIMs it is still limited to select smartphones.


Now comes the real question, which one is better when it comes to traveling?  

In simple words, both of them come with their own set of pros and cons. However, there is a major difference that sets them apart. Unlike SIM cards, eSIMs are programmable. This means that you can use it to save many profiles. For example, when you are traveling, you don't need to carry a travel SIM with you, instead, you can save that particular profile on an eSIM. This allows you to activate it whenever the need arises. 


How to use eSIM when traveling? 

It is an easy 2-step process. In your eSIM enabled phone, choose your desired plan via app or scan QR code. The details for the new profile can be entered manually as well on both Android or iOS. 

For eSIM-compatible iPhone: 

  • Go to settings
  • Open Connections 
  • Select SIM card manager
  • Select Add Mobile Plan in eSIM 
  • Scan QR code 
  • Follow the further instructions as directed 

Similar instructions can be followed in Samsung Galaxy devices as well.


How to get data when traveling? 

To buy cheap international data plans, you can enquire about them from your local stores before traveling. These days, many international SIM cards come with wide-ranging plans and benefits. For eSIM, you can browse the available data plans from the Nomad App. An international SIM card is preferable if you are a frequent traveler as their plans and data work in almost 80+ countries and are far cheaper than switching to roaming services.


Conclusion

When it comes to choosing between a SIM card and an eSIM, what matters is the type of device you operate. That's why we consider both the kind of SIMs equally fit to be recommended while traveling. eSIM is still limited to the latest devices from Apple or Samsung. While they come with many benefits and also a flexible range of plans, the only drawback is that eSIMs still have a long way to go when it comes to wider adoption. So, abandoning your traditional SIM card is still not a wise decision. 

Hence, we recommend that it is far wiser to choose a device that still supports both kinds of SIMs. You never know which one could come in handy.