Travelling has changed in many ways in recent years for better or worse but one thing that I feel is for the better is smart phones. While having the world unable to contact you while you are gone has its merit, smart phones offer numerous tools that take a lot of the frustration out of travel. Phones help us navigate, translate languages, and give us a heads up before eating at terrible restaurants. The problem however is that many of these tools require some sort of connectivity. In the past, connecting to foreign cellular networks has been a hassle when it was even a possibility but this too is quickly changing. One new piece of technology that helps with this is e-sims.
The term e-sim does not stand for electronic sim, it actually means embedded sim. Therefore if your phone has an e-sim, it means there is a physical sim card embedded in your phone. The great thing about this is that if your phone has a standard sim and an e-sim, the e-sim can be assigned to different cellular plans both at home and around the world.
In 2018, Rachel and I upgraded our phones for the first time in about six years to an iPhone Xs and an iPhone Xr. The second sim was a feature which excited me as it meant that when we travel we don’t need to go through the hassle of replacing sim cards when we reach our destination. At the beginning of February we gave the e-sim a shot as we travelled through Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Before leaving I tried to do some research to learn about e-sims and how to properly use them but information was lacking so I stumbled through as best as I could and it was actually quite easy. For a provider we used GigSky which walks you through most of the steps quite simply. If you want to give them a try, all you need to do is download their app on a phone with the e-sim and purchase a plan (feel free to use the code RIED100 and you will save 5$ on a plan and I will too!). Be aware however that as far as I can tell, GigSky only offers data plans but using apps we were still able to call and text whoever we wanted using data only.
When you purchase a plan, it will likely come as part of a bundle which can be used in numerous countries. We only had to buy one and as we traveled between countries we were always connected. Select your countries and make the purchase. At this point the app will tell you all of the steps you need to take to activate the plan. Fortunately, the plan doesn’t begin until it connects in one of the countries on the list so you can purchase it ahead of time. Just follow the steps and you will be connected.
That was simple. However, be aware some people have still had issues with their home plans connecting while they were away and racking up bills back home and that kind of defeats the purpose. There are ways to avoid this however. When we left Canada we went into our settings and turned “data roaming” off, turned off our primary plans, and as an extra measure accessed our Telus plans and deactivated data while we were gone. This was overkill however and you should be fine if you just turn data roaming off and don’t send sms messages or make phone calls (receiving either of these should not result in a charge). This was confirmed by us as Rachel had to turn her primary plan on mid trip to receive some text messages and we were not charged. Alternatively, you could just remove your sim card before the trip and just use the e-sim but then you may as well just buy a sim when you arrive.
After arriving in Hong Kong and activating our plans, it is worth noting that it took about a half hour for our phones to establish a normal connection. After this time, everything worked as expected.
As there is not much info out there yet please let me know if you have had other experiences or if you would like to offer tips of your own in the comments, I am sure that they would be very helpful to others.