Install an international travel eSIM and pay less for data roaming

There's no need to turn off data roaming to avoid high carrier charges once you've switched to using a low-cost international travel eSIM.
19 February 2024

Business travelers could learn a thing or two from digital nomads.

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If you’re not making use of your smartphone’s multiple eSIM capabilities to save money on international roaming charges, then it’s time to change that. Digital nomads have long known the secret to paying less for mobile internet – as countless travel vlogs reveal. However, many business travelers are still paying over the odds for mobile access to email and other internet services overseas. Activating an international travel eSIM on your smartphone could massively reduce your data roaming charges, based on research by TechHQ.

For example, customers can face network access charges of more than USD $8 per day if they use their national data plans overseas. But what subscribers may not realize is that they could activate an international travel eSIM instead and switch seamlessly to a data provider offering much more competitive roaming rates at their destination.

Of course, one way of avoiding high data roaming charges is to simply turn off data roaming on your phone. But it’s a big sacrifice to make. You’ll be missing out on all of the benefits that the internet brings to international travel. Having live maps and travel tips at your fingertips makes getting around much easier and – for business travelers – having cellular data will keep you in touch with colleagues and clients while you’re on the move.

How to activate an international travel eSIM

The good news is that not only is an international travel eSIM much more affordable than using your national data plan overseas, it’s straightforward to set up too. In fact, it may be as simple as scanning a QR code using your smartphone camera and applying a couple of device settings.

Today, there are numerous international travel eSIM providers to choose from (see examples in the list below) and users can select travel eSIM plans for an individual country, groups of destinations, or even products with global coverage. Plans are competitively priced by duration – for example, 5, 10, 15, or 30 days – and by the amount of data that customers expect to use.

Also, if users underestimate their mobile data roaming needs, it is straightforward to top up and purchase additional capacity. Travel eSIM customers can log into their accounts and access a dashboard that shows how much data they have consumed so far, the amount remaining, and its expiry date.

Examples of international travel eSIM providers –

Once the eSIM has been added to the mobile device, it needs to be activated, which will require internet access. Typically, travelers will make use of free Wi-Fi at their destination – for example, at the airport. However, you can skip having to search for an access point and avoid the security concerns of using free Wi-Fi by activating the travel eSIM the day before you travel when connected to a trusted router.

Naturally, the smartphone will report that its unable to connect to the target cellular network (because you are at home and the mobile network partner is only active at your destination). But the travel eSIM will now be active and ready to connect to the local cellular data provider as soon as you arrive. The only penalty for doing this is that your plan will now be running, depending on the start date that you’ve selected.

Check that your phone is unlocked

If your smartphone is tied to a specific carrier then you’ll likely run into problems when trying to setup your international travel eSIM. However, it’s easy to check whether your device is unlocked or not. On an iPhone, simply navigate to Settings>General>About and scroll down to the panel containing ‘Network Provider Lock’ information.

You’ll want to confirm that there are no SIM restrictions in the Network Provider Lock box before going ahead and purchasing an international eSIM. And if your device is carrier-locked then you’ll need to contact your mobile network provider to get that SIM restriction removed.

Once you can see the new eSIM listed – having either scanned a QR code using your smartphone camera or entering the respective codes manually – you’re ready for the final setup steps.

You may want to keep the default voice line to ‘Primary’ (your original device SIM) as this will mean that you can receive SMS alerts from your bank, which can be useful. Although note that making and receiving calls could still incur a charge from your national provider, if you choose this option.

Switching our attention to data roaming, it’s important to turn this option off for the ‘Primary’ SIM and to turn it on for the newly added international travel eSIM. This means that smartphone will default to the more affordable travel eSIM line for data usage, saving you from the higher cost of using your Primary SIM.

If users have their Primary SIM selected for voice and regular SMS, and a travel eSIM selected for data roaming, they’ll notice a double set of signal strength bars.

Once you’ve got into the swing of using an international travel eSIM there’s no going back to those high data roaming charges. And although devices such as Apple’s iPhone can only have two SIMs in use at one time, it’s still possible to have up to eight registered on the device.

Business travelers can simply switch their installed eSIMs on and off as they make their various journeys. Deleting an eSIM means that you’ll need to scan a new QR code to continue using that data roaming service. Also, it’s worth paying attention to the terms and conditions as some travel eSIMs allow tethering and some don’t – if you’re planning on sharing your data roaming allowance with other users.