What is the Difference Between a SIM Card and an eSIM?

If you are not very familiar with the way that your phone works you could have a tougher time getting coverage abroad. That is why we have decided that it is a good idea to talk about this subject. For those of you who are very much aware of what we are talking about you could be thinking about how it could be possible that someone who uses a cellphone can’t tell this difference. The simple answer is that a SIM card is an actual “card” that you are going to be inserting into your phone. This “card” can be taken in and out of the phone. What this card essentially does is give the mobile services company a way to transmit a signal to you. Without a SIM card or an eSIM, you can’t have mobile coverage on your phone. You could potentially have wifi coverage though, and we will get to that shortly.

An eSIM is basically the same exact thing except that it is now programmed into your phone. This means that you won’t need to actually insert anything into your phone in order to get service from a provider. Now, although the difference can seem simple enough, there are a couple of things that you would do well to know. So that you can get the most of your current phone or plan. Also, there are implications on this whole ordeal that could have an impact on the way that you use your phone while abroad. That is, of course, the main focus that we are going to have for this particular article.

  • The current limitations of an eSIM
  • Dual-SIM capabilities of newer phones
  • Which phone will be better to take while traveling?
  • Are eSIM cards more expensive than regular SIM cards?
  • Will we be seeing regular SIM cards disappear?
  • Can phones that run on an eSIM be unlocked?

The current limitations of an eSIM

Are there any real limitations to current eSIM technology? There is no evidence to suggest that there is an ongoing issue with eSIM cards. In a sense, they can pretty much do the same exact things that a regular SIM card can do at this point. In a lot of ways though, people are sort of looking for something more. Is this technology just going to rid of us of plastic SIM cards and that is it? Ideally, an eSIM is set to serve multiple purposes. For mobile service providers and phone developers, it is essentially a way to considerably cut costs. Just the fact that you won’t have to produce millions of mini pieces of plastic that are then usually laid to waste is a green initiative all in itself.

Here we are basically back to square one. Why hasn’t eSIM tech taken over the industry completely? As of the time of writing of this article, there are still being phones made that run solely on regular SIM card technology. The estimate that people in the industry have is that all phones are going to run on eSIM technology by 2030. This could really vary depending on where you travel. That is why at this point in time if you are looking to purchase a foreign SIM card to be able to get coverage abroad you may want to look for a phone that runs on a regular SIM. This is something that we, of course, going to get to in a bit.

Dual-SIM capabilities of newer phones

Dual-SIM capabilities is one of these features that is being heavily advertised for most of the phones that include it. It promises to be the best thing to happen to travelers since low-cost flight! Is it that big of an advantage though? The answer has to be yes and no. As was mentioned before at this point in time, having a phone that solely runs on an eSIM would not be a great idea. As most of the “travel-focused” foreign SIM card plans are still only accessible with a normal SIM card. That being said, pretty much all of the phones that run on an eSIM today do have the ability to hold regular SIM cards. In the end, you are most likely going to be able to house the two SIM cards simultaneously.

This is one of those things that seems a lot better in theory than it may actually end up being. The thing is, to be able to avoid any fees from your regular service provider you would have to effectively turn off that data that you would get from your regular SIM. Otherwise, you may end up being stuck paying for the local SIM card and the international fee on your regular plan. In most scenarios, this is just not something that is going to make a lot of sense.

The biggest benefit that you are able to get from these types of phones right now is the chance to switch SIM just by adjusting your settings. This can be great if you are traveling from country to country in just a couple of days. It is going to allow you to always have service no matter where you are. Without having to remove the SIM card and risk the data loss that comes with it. To be able to fully take advantage of these benefits though, make sure that you are working with an unlocked phone. Otherwise, you are going to run into more trouble than you probably anticipated.

Which phone will be better to take while traveling?

Without a doubt, if you have a phone that can run on a regular SIM card it is probably going to be the best bet for you to take while you are traveling. This is going to obviously make it easier for you to find a foreign SIM card in order to get proper coverage abroad. There is another side to this though. Essentially all of the phones that run on an eSIM will give you the option to insert a regular SIM. All in all, it really seems like you can take pretty much any phone abroad. Also, the method that you chose to be able to have coverage is more likely to determine which phone fits you best. At the end of the day, you are going to have two options really. Either you decide that you want to adapt to the type of phone that you have. The other option is to go ahead and buy a travel phone so that it can make it easier for you to buy a foreign SIM card and get coverage abroad.

Are eSIM cards more expensive than regular SIM cards?

This is going to depend a lot on how you actually obtain the SIM card. If you have a phone with your regular service provider chances are the cost of having a phone activated on a regular SIM versus activating it on an eSIM card is going to be exactly the same. This is not something that you should have to worry about. Especially if you get the phone directly from your mobile service provider. We know that getting your phone directly from your mobile service provider is something that we have highly advised against in the past. Yet, a lot of people still continue to do it so, that can be a benefit. You are not going to have to worry at all about the cost of your SIM card. If you are talking about purchasing a foreign SIM it would make a lot of sense for an eSIM to be less expensive than a regular SIM card. Essentially all that you would need is to scan or input a code to be able to download the eSIM. At least this is the way that eSIM cards are being activated these days. Therefore, you are taking the cost of the chip and the plastic card out of the equation.

This is all just speculation, but there is a good chance that when we actually start seeing eSIM technology available with most of the common foreign service providers getting an eSIM is going to be more expensive. This is speculation, it is one of the few things that we have said on the site that has essentially no backing to it. Yet, the idea is that people with phones that run on eSIM at this point in time have more money to spend than people that use the more conventional methods. So, even if producing an eSIM would see less expensive than producing a regular SIM the eSIM could turn out to be more expensive. Again, this is just a hunch based on how most of these companies operate. It is by no means a fact. At least not at this point as the technology is actually quite scarce. There is a good chance though, that eSIM cards will be more expensive. At least at the start of it all.

Will we be seeing regular SIM cards disappear?

When new technology is developed as seemingly an upgrade on what is used at the time more often than not the new tec just takes over and things end up being “different”. There are examples like DVD taking over the VHS market and iPods taking over for CDs where this is the case. There are other cases, where new technology and the old ways co-exist. There is reason to believe that this could be the case for regular SIM cards. That could be something that becomes very important in the coming years for traveling. As was mentioned in the previous paragraph this information is based on speculation.

The thing is, there are certain countries like the United States, Japan, Korea, and other countries in Asia where mobile phone tech is at its peak. This is where we are seeing most of the development coming from and where we are excited about having widespread 5G connection. For most of the other countries in the world technology, at least technology in and around mobile phones takes some time to get there or at least by widespread. Look at it this way, even in countries like Mexico you are not going to be able to find a stable 4G network across the whole country. A reliable 5G network may be already in the works. Yet, it is probably going to take some time to be fully developed. If you go to other places in South America and Central America the situation is even worse. If you have a reliable 3G network in these places you may be lucky. This is not meant as a way to put these places down or not encourage you to pay them a visit. It is just the reality of how things are.

How does all of this relate to eSIM card usage? We set up this scenario to sort of justifying we happen to believe that eSIM technology is not something that is going to become widespread overnight in many countries. Many countries throughout the world may still be using regular SIM cards years and years after they have been discontinued in the United States. That is why it may become important for avid travelers to have a phone that is capable of running on a regular SIM. What is funny about all of this is that there is no talk about creating a global network that will make SIM swaps and all of the things that we essentially talk about on this site obsolete.

Can phones that run on an eSIM be unlocked?

We need to make this very clear. If you want to insert a new SIM card, whether it be an eSIM or not you need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. A lot of people think that just because you have a phone with dual SIM capabilities that you are not going to have any problems. If you buy the actual phone from your regular service provider chances are you are going to have to get the phone unlocked. Otherwise, you are not going to be able to take advantage of the dual SIM capabilities of your phone. Therefore, it is a good idea to think about what you are going to be using your phone for before you buy it.

A lot of times on the site we have covered this topic. If you are an avid traveler or you are looking to become one an unlocked phone should be just as essential as a valid passport really. This is going to give you options. Which, is essentially what we are looking to provide on this site. In a lot of ways, eSIM cards are meant to make your life easier since all you are going to need to do is adjust your settings to move from one service provider to the next. For those people that for years have been used to almost taking their phone apart every time they have to make that switch, it is a true blessing. Some of the negative sides of obtaining coverage from two different providers though remain. Just make sure that you have an unlocked phone. The best way to be totally sure is to buy the phone directly from the manufacturer and not your mobile service provider.

Recapping The Difference Between a SIM Card and eSIM

As we have mentioned in essence a SIM card and an eSIM are the same thing. It is just that a SIM card is an actual plastic card that you are going to have to insert into your phone in order to get service. With an eSIM, you are essentially just getting a code that you are going to be inputting into the phone in order to get the same service. There has certainly been a bit of speculation over whether or not eSIM cards are going to just take over the market and become the new norm. As long as eSIM cards are able to effectively and consistently provide service to customers there is no reason to think that this won’t be the case. Having said this, one of the most important points in the article is that regular SIM cards are probably not going to go the way of the dodo just yet. Especially in countries where this type of technology is not as flushed out.

In a lot of the other articles on the site, we talk often about having a travel phone. This is essentially a phone that is separate from the one that you use on a daily basis. In which, you can insert a local SIM card from wherever you are traveling without the fear of data loss or anything like that. There is a chance in the upcoming years this could be a good idea as a way to have something that will run on the local tech if eSIM cards become the norm, yet are nowhere to be found in the country that you happen to be traveling to!