Cheap eSIM Data Plan Providers for International Travel

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Roaming vs. Cheap Data Plan While Traveling

Did you just book your trip or vacation to a different country? Or maybe it’s your first trip since the pandemic? If so, a huge congratulations to you! Aside from accommodation and transportation at your destination, have you thought about how you can continue using your cellphone while abroad? Most cellular service providers allow you to roam in two ways: 1) a roaming fee to use your local plan’s minutes, text and data or 2) charge pay-per-use roaming rate. Depending on the length of the trip and your usage, the roaming charge could add up quickly. Roaming while travelling is quite expensive but yet the most convenient option for using your cellphone abroad.

However, if your cellphone is “unlocked”, and you can survive with data only plans while in a different country, then this article is written for you. To save you time and money, we have chosen 6 cheap eSIM data plan providers for your consideration.

 

Traditional Travel SIM Card Strategies

The main reason you are able to use your cellphone for calls and texts is because of that little chip inside your cellphone. The chip is a SIM card (stands for Subscriber Identity Module). The SIM card contains your account info and allows a cellphone to connect to your nearest provider’s network.

The same principle applies when traveling outside of your country.  If you are not roaming via your own carrier, you will need a travel SIM card that works with your destination’s cellular network. You could get a travel SIM card in a couple of ways. (Again, your cellphone must be “unlocked” before you can use a SIM card from another carrier.)

  • Pay for a travel plan and have a travel SIM card mailed to you before your trip or,
  • Buy a prepaid SIM card at the destination airport or any store that sells them or,
  • Although not a SIM card option, renting a cellphone is possible in some countries.

After getting the travel SIM card, you would need to swap out your existing SIM card (unless your cellphone has two SIM card slots a.k.a. Dual-SIM). The next step is to configure your cellphone so it works with the travel SIM card (typically updating the APN setting). You are usually good to go after the SIM card is setup on your phone. Quick tip: if you are buying a prepaid SIM card from a store, make sure the SIM card is setup and fully functional before you leave the store.

As you can see, it’s kind of a hassle buying and installing another SIM card while traveling. Not to worry though, a better way is available and we will discuss it shortly.

 

Is a Data-Only Prepaid SIM Card Enough While Travelling?

Your ability to call, text and use data depends on the travel plan you purchase. Our default plan is “data-only” because it’s cheaper. Also, keeping in contact with your friends or families is easy if you all use the same messenger App. Messenger Apps such as WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime Audio need only cellular data or Wifi to work. Therefore, a data-only travel plan or prepaid SIM card is sufficient for communication while travelling.

 

Roam Mobility

A popular Canadian travel SIM provider ceased their operation as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pre-pandemic, Roam Mobility specialized in travel plans for Canadians visiting the United Stated. They were one of a few if not the only SIM travel plan providers who offered a cheap alternative to roaming in the United States. We were among many Canadian travelers who enjoyed their service whether is was a day-trip, weekend getaway or a long vacation. It’s unfortunate that Roam Mobility decided to shut down their business. Thankfully, Canadians now have many cheap travel eSIM providers as alternatives to Roam Mobility.

 

SIM Card vs. eSIM for Travelers

SIM card has been around since 1991 and has gotten more advanced and smaller over the years (the 1st SIM card was as big as a credit card). After quarter of a century, an eSIM standard was finally released in 2016. Since then, some cellphone manufacturers started to embed the SIM card directly in their phones (hence called eSIM = embedded SIM card).

Without getting into eSIM’s Pros and Cons, an eSIM’s ease of activation is the best feature for travelers. If your phone supports eSIM, you can say goodbye to a physical SIM card because you can activate the eSIM travel plan in three easy ways:

  • Installing an App (from the travel plan provider) or,
  • Scanning a QR code or,
  • eSIM provider sending you a notification to install their plan.

As you can see, an eSIM travel plan could be activated remotely, so the hassle of having to purchase, install a physical SIM card and configure your cellphone is gone. In fact, you can even set up an eSIM travel plan before your trip. This way, your cellphone will start working as soon as you arrive at your destination. Its mind-boggling it has taken this long for the industry to offer this convenient feature but it’s better late than never.

 

Which eSIM Travel Plan Provider Should I Choose?

Given there are many eSIM providers to choose from, we have done our homework on which eSIM travel plan providers are worth considering.

We created three basic criteria to narrow down the eSIM travel plan providers. Please keep in mind no formal reviews were conducted. Therefore, performances such as cellular coverage, data speed and reliability were not factored into our consideration.

  • Cost per GB (we used 1 GB plan as the base plan so the cost comparisons are fair)
  • Website Ranking (may not reflect the performance but gauges the popularity of the eSIM provider.)
  • App Reviews and # of Reviews (Note: not all eSIM providers have Apps)

Based on the criteria above, we compared 25 eSIM providers that offer travel plans and 6 made the cut (in no particular order):

Note: 4 out of 6 eSIM providers above show pricing in their websites except for GigSky and DENT Wireless. You need to download and install GigSky and DENT Wireless Apps for pricing

On paper, Airalo blew past the competition because it has the best App reviews; highest number of reviewers; highest amount of website traffic and greatest in number of countries served. In addition, Airalo’s 1GB US travel plan is among the cheapest in our comparison (only KnowRoaming charges less at the time of this writing.)

KnowRoaming and GlobaleSIM don’t have Apps because they use QR codes for their eSIM activations. However, they are Canadian eSIM providers and have competitive pricing and website ranking. They are good Roam Mobility alternative if you wish to support Canadian business.

Again, our list of eSIM travel plan providers is strictly based on criteria stated above and available online information gathered at the time of this writing so they are subject to change without notice. You would use the providers’ services at your own discretion and risk.

 

Final Thoughts

Given how connected we are nowadays, having data-on-the-go while abroad has become essential. Aside from showing off your trip on social media, travel data plans can provide numerous uses such as hailing for a ride; using your cellphone as a GPS; searching for restaurants, purchasing tickets to attractions or events, using messenger Apps, etc.

The arrival of eSIM technology is a blessing for international travelers due to its remote activation. Hopefully our list of travel eSIM providers can save you both money and time. Just an important reminder that your cellphone MUST be unlocked and eSIM compatible for eSIM travel plans to work.

Finally, if you are truly concerned about missing a call or text sent to your regular cellphone number while travelling, paying for a roaming package is the most convenient choice but also quite expensive. For us, we prefer eSIM travel plan’s low-cost and ease of enjoying cellular data while abroad. We can’t wait to use an eSIM travel plan for our upcoming trip!


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