eSIM for Travelling

My wife and I are heading abroad in Sept (from Canada to the United Kingdom/France). I have a 15 Pro Max and my wife just got a 15. When setting up her phone it asked if we wanted to transfer her cell account to an eSIM. I did, she’s up and running. Point is, we both have eSIM capabilities, though I’m still rocking my physical SIM card.

I mostly understand all of this as a “tech person”, but a few things still don’t quite make sense.

  1. It looks like Airalo offers “European” SIM cards which should cover us in both UK and France. Since eSIMS are not really a thing for tourists just yet (or so I’ve read), this makes Airalo a good choice. I think?
  2. Is there any advantage to just buying physical SIMs instead?

But my MAIN question, the one that eludes me…
Say I buy an eSIM through Airalo for Europe. In order to ensure I don’t incur any roaming charges with my home provider, I can turn roaming off for that account. But what happens if someone back home texts my home cell number? Does that then trigger data for my default account thereby charging me as roaming or will it just not work since I have roaming turned off? Or since iMessage is data driven, it just auto routes texts to my home number through the internet which my European SIM covers anyway.

In short, I want to make sure I don’t get pegged for international roaming through my home provider, but I still want people who might message my home number to get through to me.

iMessage will work over whichever data connection is available (it does not care which line it is, or even if it’s over WiFi while cellular data is completely off) – so you’ll get your messages from your primary iMessage account while you are using an eSIM for data overhere in Europe.

Tip of the day: after setting up a new eSIM, go through the Message settings and make sure that iMessage is still active as before, including the numbers (and email addresses) still being properly marked as active. I’ve had issues with that in the past when using multiple eSIMs, sometimes the iPhone tends to make changes on its own.

Facetime will also work this way.

How are you rocking a physical SIM card with an iPhone 15 Pro Max? Aren’t those 2 eSims?

Not in Canada. Canadians still get physical SIMs on their iPhones.


First, just doubling wht @dario already wrote.

I’m not sure why you think e-Sims are not popular with tourists, or why that’s relevant to your use case. At any rate, I’ve seen plenty of folks use e-sims in travels.

I use Ubigi. It’s been outstanding for me. I know others like Airalo. Although both are inexpensive (Airalo seems cheaper for the U.S., Ubigi cheaper for Europe.) and so price may not be a big issue. More on Ubigi here:

Just make sure to install the e-Sim while still in your home country. At the airport switch from your physical SIM to your e-SIM.

I know of no advantage of purchasing a physical SIM.

I’ve used Ubigi in England, France, Netherlands, Singapore, and South Korea with no problems.

While this is probably obvious, just to add that you should only turn off data roaming on your Canadian SIM and set up your eSIM as default for cellular data, but leave your primary SIM in the phone.

(Otherwise you’ll get an iMessage warning saying that iMessage will be disabled in 30 days on that number as it detects that SIM was removed. I sometimes see that when switching SIMs between phones.)

Sorry – not that they weren’t popular with tourists. I just read that it’s hard to get an eSIM in Europe as a tourist. Maybe that’s fake news but some travel blogger had said that.

I suppose it depends on where you are going in UK and France, but in UK free WiFi is pretty much available at every hotel, coffee shop, airports, trains, city-wide sometimes, etc. I assume same for France but been a while since I was there. I go to Italy often and I turn off data roaming (saving lots of money) and I’ve never been short of a WiFi connection when wanted. With a VPN can be as secure as it can be. I don’t bother with the hassle and extra cost of juggling SIMs. Use WiFi for voice calling via Facetime, WhatsApp, etc. I put a greeting message on my phone number to ask people to send an email if they really need something. Most everything can be resolved with an email or two, and if a phone call required, then use the phone.

True. I just converted mine from physical to eSIM a few mins ago however.

… get your e-SIM in your home country. Almost all of these companies (especially good ones like Airalo and Ubigi) do their business online. So you can take advantage of them anywhere.

The key is to download their respective app and set up an account. Purchase the actual e-Sim close to departure. They come in 7-day, 15-day, or month long flavors typically. Then you “activate” the e-Sim on your way to the destination or even a day or two or three before departure. If you go to Settings > Cellular > eSims then you’ll see a list of esims and you can turn each one on or off as needed.

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eSIMs are still not widely supported on prepaid plans in Europe which is why they are sometimes difficult to get for visitors but it’s getting better.

For the UK specifically, if you’re spending more time there, you could consider getting a giffgaff SIM as that’s probably going to be cheaper for data than Airalo. You can buy a physical SIM almost everywhere (newsagents, supermarkets etc.) and then use the giffgaff app to convert that to an eSIM if you want.

I’m using giffgaff when in the UK. They also allow hotspot tethering.

Their prepaid plans:

The last plan is essentially unlimited data for £25.

I know there may be a difference of opinion, but …

  1. I find e-sims, by far, the easiest way to take care of this need. (As one person noted … not needed for a hotel.)
  2. I don’t know about the prices of physical sims but on Ubigi I can get 10Gb of data for $19 that is valid for 30 days. If that’s too expensive for someone then they need to get a better paying job! Or a side hustle.
  3. I disagree about the whole Wifi is everywhere comment. Yes, I can find wifi free in London if I need to. Ditto with Paris. But it’s not so easy all the time. Again, if you are going for 1 month and paying $19 for that month is too expensive for you … then see point 2. The convenience of using e-Sim far outweighs any negatives.
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The first time I set up Ubigi the process was confusing to me. Not because of Ubigi, the limitation was myself. But once you have things set up … if you want to add data for a new trip, or more data to an existing trip, it’s super easy. Typically takes me less than 60 sec.

You have 2 places to “work” with Ubigi.

  1. Ubigi app

Using the app I can choose a new plan. Super easy to do. The app already knows what to charge (in terms of credit cards and the such).

  1. Cellular Setting

This is where you go to turn on/off your eSim options.

To recap: first time setting up Ubigi probably took me 30-40 minutes as I was unsure about what I was doing. All subsequent times (in terms of new plan, or activating a plan on/off) took less than 60 sec.

I’m sure Airlalo works in a similar fashion.

I take international trips 5-6 times a year. For various reasons I can’t afford glitches. I need an approach that works simply and works reliably.

I agree with this. The hassle of finding/connecting to Wifi all the time isn’t worth the trouble for me. I’d rather spend $30 or $40 and be connected all the time and not worry about it.

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Just to clarify, even if I set up a European eSim for an upcoming trip to the UK, I can still receive iMessages sent to my US number? I assume, however, SMS will not arrive if I set my US SIM to turn off roaming?

I’m intrigued with eSIMs maybe making it a bit cheaper to travel. Ages ago I’d swap in a UK SIM for trips, but lately I’ve been just enabling international service on my Verizon account…but that’s $10/day per phone. Looks like for a 10-day trip I can do that for a lot cheaper.

Yes. iMessages will arrive as long as you have any sort of a data connection active, which will be your eSIM with a data plan for Europe while you’re here.

Apple’s iMessage servers really only care that the iMessage account is active on the device itself (in Settings/Messages). This is why you can use iMessage if, for example, in airplane mode but connected to WiFi. In essence, this is no different to e.g. using WhatsApp, Signal or any other messenger, once the service is active for your number, it does not care how it gets the data connection.

Text messages to your US number will also continue to arrive because the option to turn off data roaming on your US SIM does not affect regular cellular usage, meaning calls and texts (SMS). You remain available for calls and regular texts on your US number (unless, of course, you entirely turn off that line in Settings).

Just make sure that you assign your data eSIM as the default cellular data line, and that you disable data roaming for your US number (all these options are under Settings/Mobile Service or Mobile Data but you need to have two SIMs/eSIMs on the phone to see the default line and default data settings), and you should be good to go.

Thank you for that explanation — it was very helpful!

I think if I was truly trying to save money, I’d have to turn off my US SIM (it’s $10/day if the phone activates on a foreign carrier) which would turn off text/call but most of our family/friends use iMessage anyway so that’s not that big of a deal.

Oh, I didn’t get that it’s $10 per day for only having the roaming service active (that’s expensive – especially from a European perspective!).

I believe Airalo only supports data on most of their eSIM plans so if you need to make some local calls while in the UK buying a local SIM probably still makes sense. You could perhaps get a prepaid eSIM on LycaMobile in the UK, for example (eSIM Card, Pay as You Go eSIM, UK eSIM Providers – £10 for 20 GB on 5G and with calls included seems like a great deal).

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I find eSIMs very useful—although I concur with others that setting them up for the first time is something that has to be taken slowly and carefully. It’s better once you get used to it.

I’d add only the following points:

  • Take care to note, when buying, the date the eSIM will activate. Some activate when installed (so you obviously don’t want to install until you reach your destination) but many activate only when the installed eSIM connects to the supported network at the destination (so you can install in advance).

  • If you’re able to install in advance don’t at that time set up data roaming on the eSIM—because it will then try to connect to a partner network of one of your destination networks, the eSIM will then be activated and your time period will start running. (I learned the hard way!)



We have used Airalo and it works fine.

Once you have added more than one eSIM to your iPhone you can set the default “Mobile Data” and “Default Voice Line” under the Mobile Service settings on your iPhone.

Once you did that you can also find various settings with regards to roaming etc.

Transition all your regular contacts you have conversations with in Blue from using a phone number to the email address associated with the Apple ID.

Settings > Messages:
Send & Receive: Check all your email addresses and phone numbers + Start new conversations from your email address not your phone numer.

Return to Messages delete the previous conversation(s) and start a new one deliberately choosing the others Apple ID associated email address (Blue).

It’s the standard way to communicate in Europe. Everyone including businesses and hotels are on WhatsApp.
Please mind that this service is owned by Facebook….

Hope this helps…

Just to make everyone jealous:
We recently moved from the US back to the NL and have a Odido (T-Mobile) business account. I now send family who visits us an e-Sim with unlimited data and voice throughout Europe. And 45GB of data per month in the US and other countries for less then $25 per month…