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Buying an international eSIM data plan for your regular phone instead of a SIM card

I've been doing a lot of research on SIM cards recently, trying to figure out whether I should buy an extra phone and an international SIM card, or bite the bullet and pay for Verizon's outrageous international fees. But then I came across a post here talking about dual SIM phone. It turns out they are fairly common in newer phones and allow you to add an extra SIM card into your phone that can be used interchangeably with your regular provider's SIM card.

Those sounded pretty cool so I checked and it turns my iPhone 11 mini does not have the dual-SIM capacity. However, the technology has advanced and it turns out that most newer phones (post late 2017) have eSIM capability, which is basically a digital SIM that is soldered directly to a device's board, and is remotely reprogrammable through software. Basically, I have the ability to use two different cell phone providers. In my phone, Verizon uses the physical SIM card and the eSIM slot is available for another cell phone provider (either the same one, another US one or an international provider). It is mostly used by people who have 2 phones - one for work and one for home. Having the option of a second SIM (hard or eSIM) allows someone to use the same phone but switch back and forth from one carrier to the other.

I checked through the forums here and there are people who have used the eSIM but in the posts I found, the travelers switched their main provider to the eSIM, and then bought an international physical SIM card. So for example, since I have Verizon, I would need to switch Verizon to the eSIM, which from everything I have heard, may be easy or could take hours, depending on the person you talk to at Verizon. But someone on this forum mentioned buying an international eSIM data plan, which means I can continue keeping Verizon on my physical SIM card, and use the digital eSIM data plan for the other line.

It's a pretty easy process and there is no need to swap out your SIM card on your regular phone or buy a burner phone or use an old phone. You just carry one phone and switch the SIM back and forth. I am planning to use this process for the one month trip to Germany in late April but in the meantime, I have found a lot of resources, so I thought I would share all this information I have in case anyone else is interested.

I don’t know about other phones but if you have an iPhone, you can find out if you have this capability by going to Settings>General>About, then scroll down to the bottom. Under “Physical SIM” you should see your network/carrier listed, along with a string of codes and numbers (IMEI, ICCID, and MEID). Below that, it will say “Available SIM” and have a separate IMEI2 number. I believe that all iPhones from XS and forward have this. But again, the phone must be UNLOCKED.

The following website gave me tons of information about the process and how to find an international eSIM data plan. He describes how it works in detail and tells you how to set it up once you've bought the data plan (along with links to sites that give detailed steps for iPhone, Samsung, Google Pixel, and Huawei phones). https://travelwithbender.com/travel-thoughts/travel-tips/international-esim-travel

Information for iPhone users: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT209044
Information for Verizon users: https://www.verizon.com/support/esim-activation-instructions
One international eSIM plan that was recommended by the Travel with Bender article. https://esim.holafly.com/esim-europe/

UPDATED to include this post from Reddit that gives a list of all eSIM data providers as of Dec. 2021. https://www.reddit.com/r/eSIMs/comments/rrh488/state_of_the_market_list_of_esim_providers_as_of/

Also, here is a link to an Orange plan that a Redditor used and liked. At the bottom, you check a button to indicate if you want a physical SIM or eSIM. https://travel.orange.com/en/detail-all-inclusive/?geozone=EUR&ref=orhldeur20gb

Posted by
1694 posts

Mardee, I have been half-heartedly looking into this when I think about it but it definitely seems like something I want to do, as opposed to continually switching out my home sim (and making sure I don’t lose it). Thanks for the resources!

Posted by
361 posts

Mardee thank you so much for this info. I looked into eSim for our 2020 UK trip that didn’t happen. It is an option on my unlocked iPhone 11. The info and links you’ve posted are very helpful and I’ll pursue for this year’s trip!

Posted by
1841 posts

Good summary, Mardee -- it was me that brought up the eSIM topic, and although there are many other workable methods of keeping your own mobile phone working for you while in Europe (most notably google fi) the dual-SIM functionality built into recent phones is there for this kind of scenario, so why not take advantage of it?
Thanks for sharing these links.

@Aimee - I wish $100 here and $100 there was not a big deal for me, but that's not the way it is.

Posted by
180 posts

Aimee, I don't know why your assumption is that someone is spending $1500 to fly to Europe. While that might be how much it costs you to go to Europe, that has often been more than my entire budget including airfare for me to go to Europe for a week. Adding $150 to my budget is the equivalent of what I spend 3 days on the ground. Last time I was in London and bought a sim I just had to pay 20.99 gbp for unlimited talk, text, and 10gb data for a month and that came with the phone (that's what the 99p was). I much rather that than $150. Some people value convenience I value saving money, so while you don't understand the fuss, I don't understand why you'd want to spend unnecessary money. To each their own.

I appreciate this information and it might be something to look into. I had Sprint (now T-mobile) which includes free international data and texts and it has been so useful over the years in not needing a SIM. Although the internet is only 2G which these days is barely enough for anything, but I can usually pull up maps, get iMessages/Whatsapp etc, and do simple searches which is most of the data I need to use when I'm not around WiFi. I also have a friend who gifted me an extra phone, which for the first time I bought a SIM for this year in Croatia. Its an android and I use iPhone, I got so annoyed trying to learn a different UI that I often just hot spotted my phone with the local sim to my iPhone and used my iPhone like normal. I guess this is another workaround if you happen have an extra phone that has hotspot capabilities.

Posted by
881 posts

Aimee: For me, the cheapest viable option with Verizon would cost around $300 for the 30 days I am gone ($10/day @30 days). The last time I went to Europe in 2018, I had Sprint, which had a wonderful int. plan and was very easy (and cheap). But not now. This makes more sense for me. It may not for everyone.

Averosemail: Thanks! There were several posts and I couldn't remember who posted by the time I got around to writing this. It really does seem to make sense. In fact, I was surprised that the RS website doesn't mention it on their technology tips page - they talk about regular SIM cards but not this.

Posted by
881 posts

Aimee, no, unfortunately there is no cap. It's $10 per day per days used, but I'd be using it every day, I'm sure. It's just irritating and having an eSIM data plan is such an easy fix. Most cost between €20 to €50. And once you use your data cap (or your trip is over), you can hang onto them and top off your data for your next trip.

Last year while in Italy, I relied on my Verizon cell at the cost of $10/day. It was $300 by the time I was done for about 3 weeks of use. It worked well and I was pleased but knew it was pricy.

My geeky son thought it was outrageously expensive. He recommends an eSIM also. Our Apple phones have this option.
For my upcoming trip to Spain, I will consider a Spanish SIM or this eSIM option. I'll likely try the eSIM and if there are issues, switch to a Spanish SIM.

Either way, I'll save.

Thanks for the great research!
Lee

Posted by
2401 posts

I love the elegance of the eSIM. I wish I'd had it when I was working and carrying 2 cellphones to maintain some boundary between personal and professional life.

For my travels, I do carry 2 phones, one of which is an older phone with my "travel SIM" which I load for each trip with an inexpensive 30 day plan. I use my travel phone extensively: travel documents, apps, audio guides, self guided walking tours, transit options, prepaid tickets, reservations and my entire itinerary. Each phone has access and everything is in the cloud.

As I consider the eSIM for future travels, I worry about 2 benefits that I perceive with my 2 phone setup:

1) the 2nd phone serves as a backup; if I lost either phone, the impact to my trip would be negligible.

2) the travel phone does most of the work, my more valuable home phone (used in the hotel on wifi) is less likely to be lost or stolen

I worry that with an eSIM phone, if I lose it while sightseeing, I've increased both the impact to my trip and the value of the loss.

I suppose I could still bring a backup phone, but if anyone thought a 2nd phone was already a waste, I'd be even more likely to agree with you.

Posted by
990 posts

CW - My thinking is the same as yours. I have my previous phone and I'm going to get a physical sim on my next trip. I'll be happy to leave my much more expensive "regular" phone in a safe place and use my slightly outdated older phone for walking around.

I've always used Verizon's international plan but it does get expensive especially when both my husband and I need to have service. I know Verizon is pricey but their coverage area is worth it to us.

Posted by
5774 posts

I finally relented and accepted that I travel frequently, so I need a provider that offers coverage in Europe and Mexico at the minimum. T-Mobile has some plans that do, but I wound up going with Google Fi. For my wife and I, the cost is less than $100 a month, and coverage in Europe costs me no more than here in the US, there are charges for International calls made. All of my apps and history are available, contacts, no need to provide someone with a different number. It has really been great when traveling.

Posted by
881 posts

Paul, I've been looking at Google Fi, but my problem is that we live in a rural area in northern Minnesota and coverage is sparse with certain carriers. So for now, I'm stuck with Verizon. I'm hoping that changes (along with the crappy internet we have).

CW and Celeste, I've had cell phones for 22 years and have never lost any of them (or had them stolen) during multiple trips overseas or here at home. If it was lost, I can track it easily - plus I have travel insurance that covers loss of all electronics (it was a $5 rider). It is also backed up regularly to the cloud, so if I had to buy a new phone, it's easy to get data back in it.

I think the odds of it being lost are slim to none. But that's me. :) I realize it might be a problem for other people and I certainly understand why some people would bring two phones along. I just like not having the inconvenience (and extra weight) of two phones.

Posted by
4939 posts

Mardee, thank you for this. We're planning to be in Europe for about 6 weeks later this year. We have a locked iphone, with AT&T. We could probably go the $10/day route, since we don't expect to use the phone very often, but I'm intrigued with the eSIM option.

So if the phone is locked, BOTH sims are locked? Is that what you're saying? I will be checking with AT&T, but I'd like to have as much info as possible before I call them.

Thanks again for this very interesting, informative, and helpful post.

Edit to add: I just followed the link Mardee gave for iphone users, and indeed, if the phone is locked, the second sim must be used by the same carrier. I guess I'll see if I can get the phone unlocked, but I think we have a few months left on our contract.

Posted by
881 posts

Jane, I checked with AT&T (I'm always curious about other carriers) and they do have a cap as follows:

If you talk, send a text or use data in any of the included countries, you’ll be charged $10 per 24 hours and $5 for each Add’l line on the same account used the same day unless you remove Int’l Day Pass. Charge cap: A max. of 10 daily fees per line, per monthly bill cycle.

So your phone at $10 per day for 6 weeks would cost around $150 with the cap.

One thing you might do is ask AT&T to unlock the phone. If there are only a few months left on the contract, they might be willing to do this in order to keep you as a customer. It wouldn't hurt to try.

Posted by
1087 posts

I, too, am sold on using two SIMs in one phone, but I have T-Mobile so I don't need to worry about getting a second SIM to avoid the high costs.

Here is a caution about using your "home" account as well as a second one while traveling outside the U. S.: You may want to set your home number so all calls are forwarded to voicemail. Otherwise, a call to your home number may ring on your phone while you are in Europe or elsewhere. Even if you do not pick up, your account may be charged for an international call at the high rates for such calls. Think of such a call as being sent from your carrier to your phone in Europe and then back again when it goes to voicemail. If all calls are unconditionally forwarded to voicemail, an incoming call never "left" the U.S.

You unconditionally forward your incoming calls with a setting on your phone or by calling your phone company. It should not affect calling out from your phone and you should get a notice on your phone if someone leaves a voicemail. When I had to use this technique years ago, I would check voicemails later with a wifi call, or even further back in time, with a calling card over a payphone.

Note that forwarding your phone does not stop text messages, so those would still come through at whatever rate your carrier charges.

Posted by
4939 posts

Mardee and Aimee, thank you. There is indeed a cap of 10 days per billing cycle, but that's for postpaid plans. I dug around a bit, and we have a prepaid plan - we got that when we weren't sure whether or not we were going to use the phone at all. Actually, a friend gave us her old phone and set up the plan.

Our phone aged out, and we got a new one in December. We can't unlock the phone until we've had it 6 months, according to the website. I do, however, plan to call them and see what we can do. It looks like we're going to keep the phone - we've had one now for about a year and a half - so maybe we can switch to another plan and get it unlocked.

Thanks. We are savvy on a lot of things, but absolute neophytes about cell phones.

Posted by
153 posts

There shouldn’t be a need to pay Verizon $300 a month. They have a plan for $100 a month - 250 minutes of calls, 1000 sent text messages, unlimited received text messages and 5gb of data, of course, additional charges accrue if you go over, seems like this plan was about $30 a few years ago

There is also a pay as you go rate, use services and pay for each.

And the travel pass plan- unlimited calls and texts, a data allotment at a cost of $10 a day. Ideal for the infrequent and disciplined user

Posted by
31 posts

I will preface by saying I’m a bit technologically inept, but that’s what brought me here searching for exactly this info about eSIMs. My question is how would you know for sure that the data you are using is coming from your eSIM once on travel vs making sure you aren’t roaming from your home provider? Will it automatically just click over to that local coverage once you are there within range? Would I toggle something on once landing in Europe? Seems like a great option that I’m trying to sort out, just really fearful of a massive unexpected bill upon returning home if I mess something up. On my last 2 trips I arranged a set amount of international data with my home provider, ATT, for a month. I think it was an extra $50 and gave me enough data, maybe 5Gb, that was fine for my wandering around usage requirements. I believe I would leave my phone on airplane mode with WiFi on, then manually turn on the cellular as needed. Incoming and outgoing texts from my regular US contacts were treated the same as if I was still physically in the US. I never needed to make any calls. It was easy and convenient but I know definitely not the best value as switching out for a local SIM in Europe or exploring this option, so it got me thinking about other options.

Posted by
256 posts

To piggyback, the 20 pounds for 10gb data SIM, is that typical price for a SIM card?

I too have ATT so it would be max $100 per billing month. I'm staying for 5.5 weeks so potentially could be $200 for my entire trip. I'm a planner so really plan on getting most things done before I even leave the States. Would only use data as emergency, will probably stick to wifi and ironing fine details night before each day begins.

Posted by
3 posts

Great Information. I'm on AT&T Business plan, and unfortunately their international plan, doesn't have the $100 Max charge. I do plan on getting an eSim card for my iPhone 13 thanks to your info.

Posted by
881 posts

My question is how would you know for sure that the data you are using is coming from your eSIM once on travel vs making sure you aren’t roaming from your home provider? Will it automatically just click over to that local coverage once you are there within range?

@kjones, it does NOT automatically switch nor would you want it to. However, it's very easy to manually switch back and forth - if you have an iPhone, you just go to Settings, tap either Cellular or Mobile Data, and then tap the plan you want to use. Then tap Turn On This Line. Simple and easy. It will then stay on that plan until you switch it back.

On an Android phone, go to > Settings > Connections > SIM card manager. Switch on or switch off the eSIM profile on this page, then under the section Preferred SIM Card, select which SIM card you want to use.

So if you're going on trip to Europe, you would switch it once you land, and then just keep it there until you are ready to go back to your regular plan. In my original post is an article that explains the entire process very well - https://travelwithbender.com/travel-thoughts/travel-tips/international-esim-travel

Posted by
881 posts

There shouldn’t be a need to pay Verizon $300 a month. They have a plan for $100 a month - 250 minutes of calls, 1000 sent text messages, unlimited received text messages and 5gb of data, of course, additional charges accrue if you go over, seems like this plan was about $30 a few years ago. There is also a pay as you go rate, use services and pay for each. And the travel pass plan- unlimited calls and texts, a data allotment at a cost of $10 a day. Ideal for the infrequent and disciplined user.

@goanywhere, I am not an infrequent user nor do I want to be disciplined when traveling. I use a lot of data and don't want to have to worry about going over. I'm used to an unlimited data plan. To me it's a no-brainer - buy an eSIM data plan for around €40-50 and not worry about going over, or stick with Verizon and have to constantly monitor my data (plus pay at least $100 or more).

Posted by
3 posts

I am curious. I understand the dual sim cards & having 2 numbers - a US Number & European #.

When I switch to the European service provider & begin using that number, how would I know if I have a voice mail or text with my US based plan with AT&T? Must I switch back & forth to check each carrier? Will texts & voice mails just accumulate until I switch phone back to that service provider to see if I have messages?

Posted by
881 posts

When I switch to the European service provider & begin using that number, how would I know if I have a voice mail or text with my US based plan with AT&T? Must I switch back & forth to check each carrier? Will texts & voice mails just accumulate until I switch phone back to that service provider to see if I have messages?

Well, you could do that - just switch back and forth to see if you have voicemails or texts. It only takes about 30 seconds to switch. Keep in mind that if you listen to voicemails or respond to texts on your US based plan, you might have to pay extra to your carrier for that. It's much easier to just have your friends and family call and text you at the new number. Of course, if you have an iPhone, you can read (and send) your Messages through iCloud, which is an option. And there may be an option for that with Androids. But you will still have to switch over to the US line (unless you are bringing another device, like a laptop or iPad). As long as you are just using wifi, however, you should be okay.

You also might be able to listen to voicemails via the other line, as long as you punch in the correct code. But the easiest thing to do is just have them call and text you on Whatsapp, which is used a lot by travelers and by most Europeans on a regular basis. It's an app that allows calls and texts through wifi. My brother is a pilot for a major airline and regularly flies to China and Korea and other overseas countries. He always uses it for calls and texts. If he gets a call on his phone, he ignores it and then calls the person back on the app.

Posted by
1087 posts

My experience is with an Android phone, not an iPhone. I do not have to switch between numbers to check for text messages or voicemails. Both appear in the notifications as they occur. In other words, both numbers are continuously active. I have the option of setting the phone so it asks me which number I want to use to make a call or send a text.

I don't have any experience yet with a domestic SIM and a foreign SIM so I'm not sure what I would do if I wanted to turn off a number to avoid incurring the steep roaming charges, and especially so with an eSIM that I can't physically remove from the phone. I think I would just suspend one of the numbers in settings.

This issue is just academic for me, however, because I have T-Mobile, which is more international travel friendly than Verizon or AT&T.

Posted by
881 posts

Paul, that’s very interesting. And good to know. I also agree with you about T-Mobile. I almost switched just because of this upcoming trip, but my daughter is on the same plan and it’s difficult for her with her work to switch the plan. So for now I’m stuck with Verizon.

Posted by
153 posts

Re: switching back and forth from esim "mode" to non-esim "mode". I can't find the source but it seems that I read that you can only switch back and forth for 10 times. I'm thinking I read this on the Travelsim site.

Posted by
881 posts

That makes no sense at all and I have not heard that. These plans were designed for people who work and use a separate cell for that purpose. This way they do not need to carry two phones around. it would certainly not be feasible if they limited the number of transfers.

Posted by
1087 posts

I have two accounts on my phone. One is an eSIM and the other a physical SIM. One only has a limited amount of data (it is a low cost number), so I set the phone to use its data first, and then switch to the other SIM when the first one's data runs out. Details are unimportant, but this step saves me a little money on my monthly bill.

The main point, however, is that I switch between the two accounts frequently. There is no limit on how many times I can switch. I am unaware of any limitations on switching between the two lines for any reason.

Posted by
4881 posts

I still have my Dutch Vodafone SIM I bought in 2017 - haven't used it since 2019 but it is still active. It worked great for me on a few trips to Europe for cheap mobile phone use. My Android phone doesn't have an eSIM anyway, but it doesn't seem like a big hassle for me to use the Vodafone SIM. You can't buy a Dutch Vodafone SIM on eBay anymore (as far as I know) - maybe the UK version would work. But, I should be able to cover my phone needs for a 2-3 week trip for about 20 Euros, based on past trips.

Posted by
34 posts

I would love to hear more about:

1) typical data usage of people who use the internet a lot to look up places to eat, research things to do while out and about and have no wifi, maps/directions, etc.

2) what reputable companies to buy a SIM card from before starting travel. I really don't want to wait until I'm there but I guess that's what most people do?

I will be starting my trip in Germany and going through several countries (Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Portugal) so buying on in each country would be annoying to me. Maybe I can get something for all places at the Frankfurt airport?

Posted by
2401 posts

I bought and set up my Vodafone UK SIM in advance of a trip and have used it for trips that included most of your countries: Germany, Poland, Austria and Hungary.

On my 3 week trips, I use about 300MB as I am diligent about using free wifi at restaurants, my hotel, etc.

Posted by
1221 posts

I am following this post with all it's information because I have a trip scheduled to GB in Sept. I have ATT and am very unhappy they did away with their Passport plan for intl as it was one charge per billing cycle ($70 in 2019.) Now, similar to Verizon, they only have a 'day pass' at $10/day and when you reach more than 10 days in a billing cycle, no more charges. But, here is the problem for me. I didn't figure my billing cycle into my planning for the trip. In fact, my billing cycle date is right in the middle of the RS tour portion of my month long trip. In other words, I will end of paying at least $200 for using my phone! That's really an increase since 2019. I am considering switching to T Mobile (Verizon sounds similar and as bad as ATT.) However, I am also considering a Great Britain sim. I am not going to Europe on this trip except for a transit stop in Republic of Ireland. So, thank you everyone for providing all this discussion and information.

I do have one question. If I use my VPN will it use data if no wifi or weak wifi is present? Would leaving my phone on airplane mode prevent the VPN from running on data? I have an android phone and Express VPN. Do I just need to contact the VPN?

Posted by
4881 posts

If I use my VPN will it use data if no wifi or weak wifi is present? Would leaving my phone on airplane mode prevent the VPN from running on data? I have an android phone and Express VPN. Do I just need to contact the VPN?

You use data or WiFi the same whether you use a VPN or not. All the VPN does is direct traffic through the VPN's servers to protect your privacy e.g. on a local WiFi network where you don't trust the security.

Posted by
13415 posts

Not that it matters, but if memory serves me correctly TMobile International is $10 a month (in my plan its free) then another $50 for high-speed internet for the month. With Whatsapp or WiFi calling phone calls cost nothing. Its what I am using right this second in a wine bar in Budapest. Cheers!

Posted by
881 posts

I'm about ready to order my eSIM data plan for my upcoming trip, so I did some additional research, which I've included here.

  1. For those who are wondering how much data they will need, here is a page from Holafly (one of the eSIM providers) that breaks down the cost of data for travelers and gives an estimate of how much you might need. Holafly is one of the companies that provides eSIM data plans. For those who are going to more than one country, you may want to look at one of their European plans.

  2. That being said, I'm leaning towards Airalo - they have European eSIM plans as well but theirs are cheaper. I'm planning to buy the 30 day 10Gb plan, which costs $37. I can get it down to $20 if I only use 5Gb, but I'm not willing to limit data on a trip. I'd rather use Google maps live (especially for public transport) and want to have enough for photos and so on. And for a month, it's a darned good price. It's a simple process to install - you download the Airalo app, pick your plan and then buy it. You must have stable Wifi to activate it, but the clock doesn't start ticking until you turn the data plan on (with a few exceptions). So you could conceivably activate it at home, the turn it on once you land at your destination.

Posted by
1694 posts

Mardee, in Spain I ended up with the Orange Spain plan and it was great - and easy! I looked at a lot of plans and opted for one with minutes and SMS, as well as data.

Although right now I have ended up with a physical Sim for the UAE, I got data only - kind of by plan but also not. And realized I won’t do that again. I don’t need the minutes here, but I think there are going to be a few times that having the ability to get a text to verify something (like changing my WhatsApp # so I can use it with data and not just WiFi) might be useful. Worth a bit more money to me - and it’s not a lot anyway. And worth thinking about.

Posted by
881 posts

@Travelmom, was your Orange SIM an eSIM plan or a physical SIM card? I really do not need phone or text capability while I'm out. For one thing, I will have my laptop so I can get any texts over wifi. And of course, I can get them on my phone just by switching to my regular phone number while I have wifi. I will have call roaming turned off already, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Posted by
1694 posts

Mardee, it was an eSim. And the Orange plan just included data, SMS, and some minutes.

You may not need SMS, but it’s something I am going to watch trip to trip. In Spain I used WhatsApp a lot (my apartments and even restaurant reservations occasionally):- and being able to use it with data instead of WiFi was useful. But to switch to the Spain #, I think I needed to get a text at the new number. So right now, I don’t have SMS and can’t do that. I can WhatsApp but only on WiFi. And I am using a taxi app a lot this trip. Data is fine there - unless I need to communicate regarding exact pick up location or some kind of problem. Then I might need to actually have a conversation. But I won’t be doing that every trip. I love the ease of the eSim and am a convert, but still doing lots of learning regarding actual plans.

James E., unfortunately changing providers would be an ordeal for me right now but T Mobile would probably be a good choice for many reasons otherwise. Changing travel sims, e or physical, is more work but less than changing providers at home right now. Technically a new sim/plan each trip is also a little cheaper, but if I already had T Mobile it wouldn’t be enough to make me change sims each trip. And given the length and extent of my trips this year, I am unwilling to use the AT&T international plan. 🤣

Posted by
881 posts

That's all good info to know, thanks! It will be a learning experience for me, too,

Posted by
881 posts

Rocket, thanks! That's good info to know. I'm getting the Europe data plan on my iPhone 12 mini. It's good to know that you can start it manually - I'll have my laptop with me but it will be a pain to drag it out just to pull up the email. Also nice to know that their customer service is good.

Posted by
41 posts

Hi Mardee TravelMom et al:

Wow lots of information. Just to confirm:

  • I have an iPhone 11 (not Pro): does it support double e-sims?
  • Need an eSim for 30 days in France, checked the "MobiMatter" but plans for France don't include much data
  • How much data do you recommend for 30 days, on a E>W cross country trip? I'm thinking 20 GB (I won't use Google Maps, using HereWeGo for driving instructions etc).
  • Online choices/purchases can be so dodgy, so my plan was to buy a nano-sim at CDG, Relay Store. But the idea of the eSim seems so much easier. Or can you provide a solid eSim source link?
  • What brand of eSim would your recommend? Heard Orange was good. thank you!
Posted by
41 posts

TO MARDEE:
Wow--I've just finished reading just a bit of all the amazing info you have sent: thank you, very important and generous contribution!

About to push the button on an esim: but one more question:
Do e-sims enable calls & texts? The Hoafly site focuses completely on data/web, nothing about cellular. How do make sure I'll be able to make calls & text?
JP

Posted by
881 posts

Josie, yes, it should support an iPhone 11 - see https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT209044

I researched it and most places said that 10 Gbs should be fine for 30 days - that's how much I'm using and I'm gone for a month.

I'm use Airola, which has been good so far but they only provide data plans. There are some that provide phone and data but you will need to check on that. I think Orange does - read Travelmom's report (and maybe send her a private msg as she may not have seen this post). With texts, if you have an iPhone, you can send messages (iPhone's version of texts) via wifi. That's what I'm doing - I just check my emails and messages when I get to the hotel in the evening (or if I've got wifi during the day).

FWIW, I'm loving the eSIM - it's so much easier than a physical chip.

Posted by
1694 posts

Yes, I have been traveling yesterday and today also! Ha! Nearly as exciting a trip as yours, Mardee - but no broken airplanes…. thank goodness.

Yes - the eSim process is the same no matter who you buy from and is far easier to do than to explain. Choosing your plan is where you make decisions between 1) data only - or 2) data, telephone minutes, and texts. And choosing a plan determines which company to use, as many offer their plan via eSim but each company seems to offer only a particular kind of plan.

I used this as a start to research plans. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT209096

I just finished a trip to both Dubai and Jordan and wanted a local sim. ESim ahead of time was not an available option. So I ended up with a physical sim in each country. Having to stay up with my physical U.S. SIM card for 3 weeks and then switch them out on the plane on the way home made me appreciate my Spanish eSim card so much more! And remember, the first time is the hardest - and it really wasn’t hard at all.

Posted by
881 posts

I have not, but have heard good things about it. However, it is pricier than some of the other plans, which is why I decided to go with Airalo (which works great).

Posted by
881 posts

teresa, I think your comment is spam and I reported it.

Posted by
31 posts

Our family of 4 is going on the My Way Alpine Europe tour this year and I am pretty confused about what to do. I know we will all want to use our phones daily while we are there - to look up things, use travel apps, and communicate with one another. It will be me, hubby, and 2 teens. We have Verizon, and I had already researched their international plan options before finding this thread. I had kind of resigned myself to paying $400 for all of us. It's so much $, but I just didn't know what else to do. We've added on a few days and will be in Europe for 15 days total. Figuring out how to do the other sim card thing for all of us just overwhelms me. We all have new-ish phones. I know at least 2 of ours are unlocked but I'd need to check on the others. So I'm guesing it would work but again it just feels overwhelming to figure it all out. Based on what I've said do you guys think it is worth it for me to delve into this for our situation/phones? Or should I just bite the bullet and pay Verizon?

I have also read about people doing the $10/day through Verizon and just being very careful about when the use their phones - not every day - so then they don't get charged every day. But I can't imagine trying to regulate that with my teens.

Posted by
203 posts

@Mardee awesome post. helpful.

@Katie2303: get the Orange e-sim card that Mardee has linked at the bottom for atleast the 3 of you and save 300-60$.

Posted by
13415 posts

A1) You guys are set on buying SIM cards for various reasons and that’s great, but since a lot of people read through the posts I thought I would show another option.
A2) My TMobile Magenta 55 Plan (one line) with International Plus
A3) Phone Calls in Europe $0.25 minute, Texts are free, International Data 50GB, and when that runs out it is still there but it gets choked down to pretty slow speeds
A4) Cost: Magenta 55 = $50.00 / month, International Plus = $25.00 / month (but you can turn that on and off as needed), additional band width when you get choked down = $5.00 per day or 5GB over 10 days for $35 or 15GB over 30 days for $50.00.
A5) I receive a message on my phone when the data limits are close and I can, on my phone at that time while in Europe, decide what to do (a day or 10 days or a month).
A6) So, I leave home knowing that what cost $50 a month at home will cost at least $75 in Europe + any data boosts I need or choose (rarely need it, but it has happened; worst case scenario another $35)

Posted by
31 posts

@Shaun Kel, thank you thank you! A clear succinct "do this" is exactly what I needed! I checked out the Orange link and confirmed that all 4 of us have unlocked phones. 2 of our 4 accept eSim. I think this might be a much better option. I still have a little fear of - will this really work? But feel better about a direction to research now. Thanks again.

Posted by
881 posts

katie2303, it really does work! I'm using it now and it's so incredibly easy. I ordered 5 GB of data for one month and after 19 days, I'm at 2.5 GB, so I should be good.

Posted by
4881 posts

James, I pay only about $15/month for my mobile phone service at home (with Tello currently). Paying $50/month for T-Mobile at home every month doesn't make sense for me just to have free international data (but not free calls) when I travel out of the country. If I traveled often, then I might look into something like Google Fi. Otherwise, for my occasional trip to Europe, my Dutch Vodafone SIM works just fine.

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you Mardee! I wish our phones had dual Sim. Since they don't - basically I won't have access to any texts, calls or voice mails from my other number. Though I'm wondering about forwarding to Google voice while I am gone.

Posted by
881 posts

I wish our phones had dual Sim. Since they don't - basically I won't have access to any texts, calls or voice mails from my other number.

@katie, just about every phone now that is 2018 or older has dual SIM capacity. What kind do you have?

Posted by
13415 posts

B1) Andrew H, just floating it, not promoting it.
B2) I spend 2 to 3 months a year in Eastern Europe and its been fine for me.

Posted by
4881 posts

Mardee, there are still plenty of cheap Android phones that are not dual SIM.

Posted by
11 posts

This is so helpful! Many thanks to all who have shared info.
Two questions:
1) Has anyone used an eSIM in Greece, and in particular the Cyclades? Was the coverage good? My research has led me to think that Vodaphone is the most reliable there (if buying a physical SIM), but I love the idea of an eSIM that lets me keep my US one intact, and keep my WhatsApp number the same. Still, the whole thing is based on it having good coverage, so I want to start there!
2) Of the eSIMs, does anyone have a recommendation of one that does include voice and text? Or can I use data to make phone calls on WhatsApp even if we're not connected to wifi? My tech knowledge starts to fizzle out at this point...

Posted by
4881 posts

Nbpt_traveler, to whom do you want to talk to from Greece? If you want to call home to the US, you can use WhatsApp if the people you are calling have it too. That works when you are on WiFi and/or when you have mobile data through a SIM.

You can also use Google Voice to call the US for free from Greece - to any US phone number including landlines, so the other person does not need any special app on their end. Google Voice supports free texts too. You can use Google Voice on WiFi and/or with Mobile Data.

So your SIM/eSIM need not have any calling option on it, unless you want to call European numbers locally and give out a European number to locals. For most, the big need is mobile data for your phone works when not on WiFi.

Posted by
1694 posts

Nbpt_traveler, Andrew has given you more options. But to answer your question (kind of), last July I used Vodaphone on Santorini and my daughter used it on Naxos - all just fine. We chose it simply because it was the only option when arriving at the Athens airport. I used a physical sim but have since become an eSim enthusiast. So it appears eSim is available for Vodaphone in Greece but it is not as easy as Orange has made it. I would be reluctant to try to give instructions until I have tried it but you can probably have them set it up for you at the airport kiosk, as well. It’s possible you pre-purchase a certain amount of data, minutes, etc., and then top up if needed - as opposed to buying a set tourist plan for a set amount of days (like Orange).,

I hope you will come back and add to the pool of knowledge here! The face of smartphone use is changing….

Posted by
11 posts

@AndrewH, thank you! I don't anticipate wanting to make many calls to either European or US numbers, but there may be times -- calling a hotel to tell them we're delayed, etc., etc., when it's needed. As long as I can use WhatsApp and similar on data (i.e., without wifi) that would solve the problem most of the time, as the majority of places have a WhatApp number.

TexasTravelMom, thanks for weighing in. In a perfect world I'd get an eSIM set up here and not need to deal with it in the Athens airport, but will need to do more research to see if I can set up a Vodaphone eSIM from beforehand. All the resources listed above were for other companies, and I haven't found anything about how well they work in Greece. Certainly they offer a Greece option, again, no idea about coverage on the islands.

I will certainly report out if I go this route! If I can't figure it out I'll just get a physical SIM at the airport, but I really like the idea of keeping my US number. Not only does it mean I can be reached if there's any emergency, but I can also keep the same WhatsApp threads going.

Posted by
881 posts

Someone on Reddit said they used Holafly in Greece and that it worked really well. I'm loving Airalo and it's been great, but that's in Germany. I know they cover Greece but don't know how their coverage is.

Posted by
1694 posts

Nbpt_traveler, if you want to keep your U.S. number and use an international plan from Verizon or AT&T, etc., then a plan like Mardee mentions is probably your best bet: just data, no local number. And that is a lot cheaper. And, like her, you could do that ahead of time via eSim.

Something I learned on my last trip is that, even using local data (or even with a local phone number and sim) you don’t lose any WhatsApp chat ability. I mistakenly thought I had to change my WhatsApp connected number because I had a local Sim and local phone number - either eSim or physical sim. Not the case. Using local data, my WhatsApp continued to work fine although still connected to my home number. I communicated with my driver in Jordan all the time, using WhatsApp and my U.S. number, even though I had a Jordanian sim and phone number and my U.S. sim was tucked inside my passport. No loss of or change in threads. That DOES mean you give your home number to anyone there that you are communicating with, so you have to decide if you want to do that - but it does work. But if you are mainly communicating with people at home, none of that will matter.

Posted by
2080 posts

Love this forum and especially this topic! We recently returned from France and thanks to this post and the one by TexasTravelmom, we were successful first time eSim users. It was so great to use data to find our way around Paris, my husband said he doesn't think he can ever use a paper map again! We signed up with Orange. The only caution......I was wandering around Paris and trying to get back to my hotel, when my map app got very, very slow. It was just not loading. After a two hour search, I found my hotel. Apparently, when you are getting low on data, the data loads very slowly. So I had my husband pay an additional $10 to get more data and then everything worked fine.

Posted by
19 posts

@Mardee
I saw your post about having used ~2.5GB so far - can you give us a picture of what you are using your data for? We will be 3 days in Provence with a rental car so will be using our Maps to get us around. Then while in Paris I'm sure will be using it for directions to and from places on a daily basis. I was originally planning for the Orange Travel card with 20 GB of data, but now thinking 8GB will be plenty for our 14 day trip - plus there will be 3 of us with cards so 32GB combined if we are all together.

Thank you for all of your research....this was the best post so far that I have found on the subject! I ended up making an appt at the Genius Bar with Apple to learn how to turn off the Verizon number and not incur charges while we are traveling.

Frances

Posted by
881 posts

@flsanford, I'm now at 4.2GB and that is on Day 27. Most of the data went for Google maps and Google searches (although I tried to use wifi for that but lots of times, things would come up while I was out). I didn't have a car but use Google maps to find public transport and walking directions. I had it on constantly. I actually brought a power bank with me because I use so much battery charge taking photos and using Google maps. And I took a ton of photos - around 50-70 each day.

I think you will be fine with 8GB for 14 days, and that's probably overkill. I was originally planning on getting 10GB but then read this post from Holafly that listed what most people use when traveling, and I was way over, so I cut it down.

You can track your data, too (which is what I did) - once you start your plan, go to the Cellular Data section in settings (this is for iPhone and just reset the statistics so you know what you are using. That's how I know I've used 4.2GB.

It's very easy to use - I even wound up adding a second eSIM data plan because I decided to go to Copenhagen at the last minute, and my plan was only for Germany. I got 1Gb of data for 7 days for $5 (I was only there for 3 days and had plenty). I just swapped out the Germany plan for the Denmark one, then when I got back to Germany (today, actually), I removed the Denmark one and switched back to the German one.

Posted by
19 posts

@Mardee - this is great info! Thank you so much and glad you are having a lovely trip! Can't wait to get ours started!!
Frances

Posted by
6 posts

New Q: I have a German Telekom SIM Card. I am in Germany. I am trying to call my wife who is also here but has kept her US SIM. All of my efforts have failed. Telekom is like the rest of these rascals and its "helpline" reply is that no one speaks English right now---even on the English language line. I have tried dialling 0, 00 and so on. Any ideas?

Posted by
357 posts

Have you tried this, of course using the actual area code and number in place of the Xs (and your German SIM has both international and local minutes plus data)

+1 xxx xxx xxxx

Posted by
881 posts

New Q: I have a German Telekom SIM Card. I am in Germany. I am trying to call my wife who is also here but has kept her US SIM. All of my efforts have failed. Telekom is like the rest of these rascals and its "helpline" reply is that no one speaks English right now---even on the English language line. I have tried dialling 0, 00 and so on. Any ideas?

What periscope said. But if not, can you reach her via Whatsapp? Or Facetime? Or messaging? Because I have an eSIM data plan, there is no phone involved but I've been able to call people using the above apps.

Posted by
7444 posts

The key thing is to put the "+" sign in before her number, as the poster two posts up said. Forget the zeros, modern cell phones don't need them.

Press on the "0" key for a little longer to get the "+" symbol to come up.

Input the number like this:

+12125551234

(With her area code and number of course,not the dummy fake NY number I used as an example!!)

Posted by
357 posts

"Press on the "0" key for a little longer to get the "+" symbol to come up."

THANKS - I always forget to tell people the part about holding down the 0 to get the +