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eSIM Success & Update for Round 2

I just wanted to add a bit on my experience for the first time with an eSim - easy and great.

I use an unlocked iPhone 12, am tied to AT&T for family reasons, and since 2018 have enjoyed the ease of having local data, text, and calling ability through a local sim when I travel on my own. But I really hate changing fiddley SIM cards myself - even if someone at a store does it for me upon arrival, I have to do it on the plane on the way home.

I used all Mardee’s links to research (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tech-tips/buying-an-international-esim-data-plan-for-your-regular-phone-with-esim-no-more-burner-phones) and eventually just jumped in without a 100% clear idea of how it was going to work, but it couldn’t have been easier.

Since I was going to Barcelona for 10 days, I chose Orange and purchased eSim and 15 day plan for €25 from eSim Holidays Spain. When I purchased it, I told them the activation date I wanted. When that day arrived, I received an email with instructions and an email with a QR code to scan to add the plan.

On my phone it was as simple as adding a Cellular Plan, then naming it. I left my home cell # “on” and that number “off” until I was on the plane (in airplane mode for the flight). Then I simply turned my own # off and my Orange number on. And the reverse for coming home.

I can delete the sim at any time if I choose to. But you can have as many esims as you want on your phone - but can only use one at a time, of course. I figure I have more to learn about the process for the rest of this year’s European travel, since I will be in the UK for a month, and Poland for a month. But it was sure a lot easier than stopping to find a store, etc. And cheaper and better than AT&T’s $10/day International Plan.

Update for around 2 in comments below. :)

Posted by
5309 posts

Wow, thanks Travelmom. I'm bookmarking this for next year. Our phone is locked until June, so we can't use this tip this year, but it sounds great.

Posted by
2287 posts

Jane, it was worth it to me to pay it off early so I could have it unlocked, if that’s an option. :)

Posted by
5309 posts

Travelmom, I don't think so. Our phone is paid for, but we have a prepaid plan that it seems we can't get out of for 6 months from the time we got our new phone. I thought we could get unlocked because we've had the same account for several years, but evidently the restriction is on how long we've had that phone, not the account.

I did ask, when I set up the new phone, if it could be unlocked, and was told specifically "Not until June." So we're exploring other options this year, something like Skype, probably. We honestly don't use our phone much at all, and have never used one abroad. Yet.

Posted by
2287 posts

Well, I truthfully didn’t find myself wanting data available at all times till I started traveling by myself, Jane, so you will be fine. And WiFi is so widely available, it helps. That, Skype, and offline Google Maps are great.

For anyone else reading, I will say on this trip, though, I found a number of restaurants that just used a QR code for menus and museums that preferred you use your own device for audio tours, as well as entrance tickets on your phone. OH - and an apartment that gave us a digital key so late we had left WiFi from our previous night. I have been traveling quite a bit in the last year and have to admit, it definitely felt like an increase in reliance on data.

Posted by
1807 posts

@Travelmom, that's really good to know - thanks so much for posting this! I'm getting ready to order mine for my upcoming trip in a month so I'm glad to know it went so well!

How much data did you get with your plan?

Posted by
8013 posts

This is so interesting, Travelmom. Thanks for sharing your experience !

Posted by
2287 posts

Thanks, Kim! I actually kind of like new technology. Lol.

Mardee, it said unlimited in Spain and 20gigs in the rest of Europe (plus a few countries). However it was for 15 days. And I am not sure how much I used….. What I still don’t know is about keeping the same number/sim for multiple trips in other countries or if I just start fresh each trip; and finding a plan that will give me more than 15 days (since most of my future trips will be longer) or just top up/get a new package.

Posted by
22018 posts

20 GB is a lot of data, I think, as long as you don't stream video or play online video games. I watched my usage during a 2019 trip, and I was under 1 GB per month. I did use hotel Wi-Fi in the evening, so the only cellular-data use was when I was out and about, especially on bus and train rides. I'm sure others might use more data, but I felt as if I was using a lot, just based on how much time I had my phone in my hand. I never tried tethering my tablet to the phone, though.

Posted by
2287 posts

Lol, thanks, Nigel!

acraven, I agree, I didn’t need near that much data. I could have hotspotted my iPad, but just didn’t need to so I never tried. Figuring out where and how to get plans that more nearly meet my usage will be on the learning agenda.

Posted by
2409 posts

Can you tell me how you scanned the QR code since I presume you were on your phone at same time? Or did you print out email or have another device with you?

Posted by
2287 posts

Tammy, I have my email on both my iPad and phone. So I just opened the email on my iPad and scanned the code with my phone. Printing was an option - but more trouble.

Posted by
2409 posts

Thank you! I strongly urge everyone not to use unsecured, hotel wifi or anywhere really. I have made that mistake twice! Never again. My junk mail went up 100%!!! It’s taken months to block all the spam coming in!

Posted by
2287 posts

That sounds awful! I have an old email address that does nothing to filter and it has basically turned into spam. However I find that my gmail does a great job of filtering into either spam or promotions or my inbox. The promotions are usually legit advertising from something I actually used (even if I don’t want it now) and I never even see the spam.

Posted by
87 posts

@Travelmom and @Mardee, in your research did you happen to see what happens with the eSIM if you got a newer phone or had to replace your current iPhone? For example, I am thinking of getting the Orange plan with cellular number (so not just a data eSIM). Eventually I will get a new phone. So will that eSIM number transfer (via backup) or will I be able to add it to my new phone or once I get a new phone will I have to buy another eSIM?

Thanks again for all of your hard work on this. It is truly appreciated and I will come in handy for my trip to Germany this summer.

Posted by
1807 posts

@DB, most eSIM plans (with or without a cell no.) are for limited periods of time. For example, the one I will use is for 30 days. That doesn't mean you can't keep them and then top them off with more data and minutes when you're ready to use them again. Or, as Travelmom mentioned above in her last paragraph, you can have more than one eSIM on your phone. You just follow the same process to add it as the first one.

Posted by
1807 posts

@Tammy and Travelmom, I just researched this because I was trying to figure out where and when to activate it, since you will need wifi when you do that. But it really depends on the provider. I think (and Travelmom, correct me if I'm wrong) that Orange starts the clock as soon as you activate it, so it would pay to wait till you get to your destination. But Airalo, the one I'm considering, lets you activate it, and then when you are ready, you go to their app and turn it on. So conceivably I could activate it at home and then switch it on once I land in Europe.

Posted by
2287 posts

@DB, just echoing Mardee regarding the Orange eSim travel plan. It has a time limit to it but you can extend that if you need to. This was a short trip for me, so I chose to get my QR code the day before travel and activated it from home since 1) I needed WiFi access to initiate it and 2) wanted it useable when I landed. Then on the plane while in airplane mode, I changed which cellular data plan was my primary - turned Orange on and my normal cell # off. Left roaming alone.

Because of the time limit, transferring this plan to a new phone is probably not applicable. But I THINK (not at all sure) that because you activate with a QR code, you could transfer it in the event something happened to your phone mid-trip and you were replacing it.

My goal is to find the eSim and plan so that I can do what Andrew, CWSocial, and a few other do - keep the same # and just top up (or add a plan) each time I travel. Like I said on Mardee’s post, I can’t realistically change my carrier right now - and changing a physical sim means I have to stay up with one on my trips. Right now I am in the UAE and have my home sim taped to a piece of cardboard and have to not lose it. Or drop it when I am taking it out and putting it back in.

But my bigger goal is to find a way to just top up periodically when I get ready to travel - but with the convenience of changing numbers with a couple of taps on my phone. I feel like this option is out there - I just haven’t found it. And the beauty of an eSim is with that same number of easy taps, I CAN use my home number with AT&T’s daily international plan if I really needed to for some reason.

Posted by
32 posts

After reading this post and responses, we went with the Orange plan on unlocked iPhones. We went with the e SIM cards. We activated on March 30th, at home. We didn’t switch from our home carrier until we arrived at LHR. Our Orange phone number was Located in France. We traveled throughout Spain and Portugal and had no issues with service. We topped off at about two weeks into the trip, done online. Great service even in the mountains of Southern Spain.

Posted by
6 posts

Another option for staying in touch while international is Google Voice.

Download their app (free usage) and forward your home cell number to the number
Google Voice gives you. This way your regular number will ring where ever you are
if you have Wifi or data. ( get data from ATT, Verizon or much cheaper from Orange,
Flexiroam or Airalo, etc.)

Turn your phone off for sleeping and in the morning all your overnight texts and voicemails
show up as standard emails on your iPad and cell phone.
Or just answer call / texts when your awake.

Anyone else tried this?

Posted by
87 posts

@travelmom and @Mardee, thanks for the clarification. I was considering buying an eSIM with a phone number and wanted to keep the same number whenever I traveled to Europe (usually every summer). So from what you're saying, I will just buy a new one every time I go over. Thanks.

Posted by
2287 posts

@DB, I feel like it ought to be possible to keep the same number and just top up each time line some others do with their physical sim - but I don’t know how. Yet. :)

Posted by
87 posts

@Travelmom, I would think it would be possible also but I guess this is all so relatively new that no one really knows for sure.

Posted by
31 posts

My question is a little different. I will be using an Orange eSim card with a French telephone # next month when in Europe. When I switch my iPhone from my US # to my European #, what happens to texts sent to my US#? Do they still appear, or do I have to switch back and forth everyday to see the messages?

Posted by
2287 posts

Bill, if you are using your Orange cellular plan, you will not receive texts sent to your home number. I am pretty sure they show up when you get home and turn your home cellular plan back on. And switching back to your home number cellular plan while you are gone defeats most of the purpose of getting a local sim. You then have paid for the local sim plus you would be paying the daily rate (if you have AT&T). But switching does work, if you really need that for some reason.

Depending on who you are communicating with at home, you might want to use a messaging system like WhatsApp - if both parties have it. It will continue to work sent to your home #, as long as you have WiFi or data - either one.

Posted by
31 posts

Thanks TexasTravelMom. Just the info I needed.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi @TexasTravelmom - curious if you have completed your UK travels using eSIM, and if so, which plan you chose and how it worked out.

Also, general question for anyone - do any of the providers offer "family-plans"? I'll be traveling with 2 teen daughters, so absolutely need to have a plan that keeps them happy, or the trip gets unpleasant real fast - lol.

Posted by
2287 posts

Orange eSim update after Trip #2:

I was going to wait to post this after I finished my trip but since jmhiggens2 asked….. :)

I am finishing week 4 of a 5 week trip mostly in Scotland but about 10 or 11 days down into England. For this trip, I purchased the Orange Holiday Europe eSim for all of Europe, but it said it also included the U.K. It cost more at $49. However it had a ton of data, and the promo said I could keep the telephone # for 6 months if I registered it. Great! I am going to be traveling a LOT in the second 6 months of this year.

Installation went just as easily as the time I used it in March, although it was a touch different. The email with the QR code came quickly (and went to my Spam folder) - I was never asked for a beginning date. However I just waited to set it up till the day before I left and turned it off till landing. Again, good for 14 days, but for some reason I thought/hoped I could keep the data going after that, along with the phone #, if I registered it with 30 days.

And I will say it all worked just fine for 14 days. The phone number was French so I had to figure out how to call Edinburgh from France while standing in the middle of Edinburgh. Lol. But it was all fine and I was glad to have it.

After 7 days I began trying to register the number (required by law in order to keep it). I used the link Orange texted me. The first thing it asked for was the sim # - which I had not received in my info emails. So I messaged the help line and was sent the sim number.

However, I tried numerous times for a week and always got the message that the sim # and phone # did not match. I messaged help again (three times). The first time they asked for screenshots, which I sent - and after that just never replied again.

At this point I had access to neither phone nor data. And I had 3 more weeks of trip left. So I did the easy thing and just bought a 30 day Airalo data package of 3 Gigs for $13 (via WiFi at my B&B) and wrote off the wasted money as “research”. Ha! It installed just as easily. So I have been without a phone number for 2 weeks, but had plenty of data. Tomorrow morning will be the first time I miss the phone but I can work around it.

Conclusion:

  • the Orange eSim worked for 14 days just fine, just like the first time.
  • It does say data expires after 14 days, so that was my misunderstanding.
  • The smaller plan would have been cheaper and reasonable, included a set number of minutes both within Europe and to the U.S. if needed, plus data, and supposedly the telephone number could be kept for 6 months if registered. Same as the more expensive plan.
  • All plans seem to allow for tethering (hotspotting).
  • So, I am still on the hunt for what I want - an eSim that gives me data and a phone number that lasts more than 14 days.

I am going to write a different post trying to consolidate info on phone use and possibilities and parameters and why I like this route - but not tonight. Ha! I did get and bring a gif gaff sim that I could have bought an inexpensive bundle for and used - but right now, my priorities put not having to stay up with that little physical U.S. sim card over having a phone number.

jmhiggens2, I have not come across anything that indicates a family plan, except for the ability to tether for data use. And I don’t think that’s what you want. My suggestion for the girls would be a smaller Airalo data package for each of them, as long as their phones are unlocked and have eSim capability. They can stay up with home and you and each other with that. And yes, they will be happier. :) And you can either add data or just buy a new package if needed.

Posted by
28841 posts

TexasTravelmom, I'm sorry you have had frustration and have to wear a badge that reads, "Mrs Grumpy".

I wish it had all worked out for you... it started so well....

Posted by
2287 posts

Hahaha, Nigel! Me wear a name tag saying Ms. Grumpy when I am in the UK for 5 weeks? Not a chance! 🤣

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you @TexasTravelmom - looking into Airalo now and does seem like a smart choice. I really appreciate the detailed response.

Posted by
1807 posts

jmhiggins, I agree that there are no family eSIM data plans but the plans are so cheap that you really don't need one. Follow TxTM's advice and get some cheaper plans for your kids.

Posted by
108 posts

Fantastic post thank you very much, the orange e-sim seems like the perfect option for my trip.