Looking for data roaming or an international eSIM to use your phone abroad? Now, I don’t know about you, but I could not travel without my phone. When I’m away from home, it’s nice to know my friends and family are only a WhatsApp away. And that’s not to mention that I need my cell to order taxis, check plane tickets, and post my pictures online.
But here’s the problem: cellular data abroad is notoriously expensive. Just using 1MB of data could cost you $15 – and that’s like paying $15 to watch eight minutes of a Netflix show.
This is called data roaming and used to be the main way to use the internet abroad. Let’s learn a bit more about data roaming, and then find out what could replace it: international eSIMs for travel.
What is data roaming?
Telephone companies offer their users data roaming services so that they can continue using their cell plan abroad. It includes internet, calls and SMS.
You can use data roaming from your current network provider. Let’s say you have a SIM card from AT&T. Well, if you travel to Europe, the SIM will still be able to use your phone for data, texts and calls.
The difference is that you’ll be charged differently. And we’re not just talking a few bucks.
Some travelers go home to find a surprise phone bill totalling hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Would you pay more for your phone bill than for your flight?
So should you ever use data roaming? Well, sometimes. If you’re from Europe, you can use data roaming at no additional cost in the rest of the continent.
This is because the European Union reached agreements to offer free roaming. You can see more details on Roaming, which features comparisons of the service offered by data roaming.
But if you’re not lucky enough to benefit from these deals, data roaming might not be the best option.
How to use data roaming?
Using data roaming is easy.
You can just go to your settings menu, look for an option called “mobile networks”, and turn on data roaming.
Once you do that, the moment you enter a foreign country you will be able to use data there. You might get an automatic text message explaining the rates in the new country.
What is an international eSIM?
So if data roaming is so expensive, what can you do instead? Survive without any internet? Spend the whole trip in cafes relying on free WiFi?
Well, now there’s a way to get online quickly and cheaply when you’re abroad.
An international eSIM works just like a normal SIM card and lets you connect to mobile data. But the process is completely digital – there is no physical card you put in a phone. Just a QR code you scan to download the data plan.
This takes away the hassle of going into a shop, messing around with tiny pieces of plastic and having to sign contracts.
You can buy an eSIM just by giving your email address and within five minutes it will be sent to your email address. There’s no need to even leave the house.
The price of an eSIM is much cheaper than international data roaming, making it a much better option for internet abroad.
So, what’s the catch? Well, being a very new technology, not all phones can use an eSIM. Let’s check out what you need.
What you need to use an eSIM
Not all phones are compatible with eSIM. Apple has incorporated eSIM into every device since the iPhone XR and XS, while other manufacturers have started to include eSIM in their latest high-end devices.
If you have a cheaper phone or one made a few years ago, chances are you can’t use eSIM.
So make sure to check if your phone is compatible before you buy.
Secondly, you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. What does that mean? Well, if you buy a phone directly from a network provider, they might have locked the phone so that you can only use their SIM card.
This means that you can’t connect to any other network, and the eSIM won’t work. If you bought your phone from the manufacturer directly or a reseller, you can probably use it with any network provider, so it will work with eSIM.
How to activate an international eSIM?
To use an eSIM, you must first buy a data plan from an online store. Then you’ll receive a QR code.
Go to your phone’s settings menu, scan the QR code and turn on data roaming – and that’s it. You’ll be connected to the internet in no time.
Most eSIMs come with a specific length of validity and a maximum amount of data usage. So you need to be careful not to use all your data too soon.
Most eSIMs do not allow you to make calls or SMS.
International roaming vs eSIM, which one to choose and when?
eSIMs are the cheapest and most convenient way to connect to the internet. There are only a few occasions where roaming might be better, such as if you’re in the EU or you really need SMS and calls.
Otherwise, eSIM is the right option for you. Let’s remind ourselves why. It offers fast internet at a much cheaper price, and given that you can buy and set it up in just five minutes, it’s become the most convenient option for internet overseas.
Other options for connecting to the Internet abroad
If neither roaming nor an eSIM suits you, here are some other options for internet abroad:
International SIM card:
An international SIM card is just like the SIM you have in your phone right now – but it can be used in any country. This is one for full-time travelers, as the price wouldn’t be worth it for occasional trips.
Local SIM card:
You can also buy internet once you arrive in your destination. Just go to a local network provider’s store and buy a short-term SIM card for the duration of your trip.
This can be a pretty cheap option. The downside might be finding a store or struggling with the local language, especially if you’re in a less touristy area.
Pocket WiFi is a device about as big as your phone, which generates a WiFi connection. You have to carry it with you wherever you go and you can connect multiple devices to it. You often have to pay a deposit in case of robbery or loss.
You may well have free WiFi in your hotel or perhaps in cafes and restaurants you visit. Always remember that public WiFi can be insecure and vulnerable to data leaks. But free WiFi remains an easy option for internet when you’re out and about.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.