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Trying to save money with an eSIM card

Most cellphones made in the past few years allow you to add second or third SIM card, assuming they are unlocked. These are not physical cards, simply software code downloaded that adds an electronic SIM card from another carrier. While I could pay a $10 per day fee from Verizon for cell service and data, I thought I’d try one of the eSIM cards instead. While most of them are for data only, the costs are very low.

I selected the app Airalo that sells eSIMs for most countries around the world. It’s the company that seems to be one of the most popular. I installed their free app and selected an eSIM card for Greece, where I would be visiting. I bought an eSIM with 5GB data for $15. That’s overkill, but the more you buy the cheaper it is. Typically you might use 1GB per week with normal usage.

Once I paid for the eSIM, downloaded began and then a message said to wait while it was activating. But it never did activate. I later learned it usually only activates once you arrive in the country, but that was not made clear. In retrospect that makes sense.

Once the card is installed, even before activation, you can go to Settings/Cellular you’ll see settings to turn on or off your primary card (in my case Verizon) and the new card. Once I arrive in Greece, before I turned off my airplane mode setting, I turned off the Verizon service (both cellular and data) and turned on the new Greece eSIM, which was data only.

A few minutes later I got a cellular signal. I was able to get email (with some challenges), read my news feeds, use Google Maps and other apps that need access to the Internet. But I was unable to do any messaging or use What’sApp, since those are each associated with your cellular number, which in my case is my Verizon number and turned off. For some reason my Gmail client in my iPhone would not work, but Apple Mail, which is a second way I have to get my gmail, did work. Gmail did work on my wife’s iPhone with a similar eSIM.

Service was generally good, often 5G, but on occasion it was the old 3G and too slow for most things. The other caution is if you run into a problem, Airalo’s support is essentially non-existent. I sent a query when I was having trouble activating the card, and heard back 4 days later. In checking other reviews, the ratings seem to be about 2/3 at 5 stars and 1/3 at one star. When people do have a problem with their eSIM working, there seems to be little recourse and most are unable to get a refund. Knowing that I’d buy the minimum amount of data, which for most countries is $5 and give it a try. Once the card is depleted you can top if off. But some complain when they do add more data to their card, it negates the balance left on it before the new purchase.

ESIMS are a great development and should open up new cost-savings options, especially for international travel. But currently they’re a bit cumbersome to use, especially for those not technically proficient. Of course the best solution would be for carriers to copy T-Mobile and allow us to use our phones globally without paying extra.