apple: International iPhone e-sim for travel

Well, there was a time when international roaming was a real hassle. You had to find a store (typically at the airport, then get a new sim, you had to bring a separate phone to make this all run).

The move to eSims: From iPhone X to iPhone 14

iPhone lets you use two SIMs lines simultaneously starting with the iPhonse Xs and XR. That means that they have built a UI where you can say which is for data and also when you are texting which line is used. It is a little clumsy but is great for those cases where you are in two countries alot or have. a work and personal number. The iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 has a single active e-sim, so you can have up to eight e-sim, but you can only use one at a time. This was really nice because an esim doesn’t require a physical slot. It also has a physical sim slot, so you can have active a physical sim (which you can use for roaming) if you put your main line in an e-sim.

With the iPhone 13, you can use two eSims simultaneously rather than just an esim and a physical sim in the iPhone 12. And it has the same eSim limit and this is the first time, you can roam to different countries easily without ever swapping things.

With the iPhone 14, they actually dropped the physical sim slot, so you can’t just stick one in, instead, it supports up to 8 eSims, so this shouldn’t be a problem. So you need to be all esim anyway.

T-Mobile Data Passes Are Expensive

The other options are that you can get a T-Mobile plan with 5GB of 5G and then fall back to 256Kbps 3G. I have this one for some wonderful reason but the 256Kbps is pretty useless, so you need to get more.

OK, there are two simple things that you can do, carriers like T-Mobile offer a convenient data pass, the nice thing is that for most users, you don’t have to do anything special, but the rates are pretty high but they allow full hot spotting:

  1. 1 Day 512MB. $5 for this one
  2. 10-day 5GB. $35 for this one
  3. 30-day 15GB. $50 for this.

Another option that is pretty simple is GoogleFi, which has $10 for 1GB anywhere in the world, if you have simply unlimited for $40 each, then you just get data in Canada and Mexico. The Flexible is $10/GB for 200+ destination. Alternatively, for $55 per month, you can Unlimited Plus which allows Unlimited which is pretty great.

Google Fi Unlimited Plus: $110 for 2 Unlimited in 200 Countries

The nice thing about Unlimited Plus is that you can turn this off and on, so pretty valuable and a good deal if you have two devices, but you can pause either, so you can manage it, but for $110/2 devices per month, you get free unlimited 5G in any of 200 countries which is pretty useful.

So this is most useful if you have two people with iPhones and they both travel overseas together, then for $110, they get unlimited data. Then you just pause the service (which lasts for 90 days) and it works great.

They also have a plan called Simple which is $10/1GB plus $35/2 lines base which is actually not that interesting compared with these other plans.

Prepaid eSIMs: Many Options

If you don’t want an long term plan, the other solution is to buy a prepaid SIM (iPhone X to iPhone 13) or a prepaid eSIM (iPhone X and later) so that you can just get going for a low price, but here are some solutions:

  1. Discover Global e-sim Card. This is 20GB of data for 180 days which is great for coming to the US for $89 is a pretty good deal (although I use data like crazy and often burn 15GB a month!) but the maximum speed in many countries is 3G, so if you have T-mobile not that useful
  2. Sim Options. This is a marketplace for eSims where you can type in the name of the country and see what is cheapest
  3. Orange Holiday Europe. $30GB for $49.90, It is a physical SIM that works for 14 days. Note that this is data-only so you can’t get local calls.
  4. Orange Holiday Europe eSIM. Same thing in eSIM format 30GB for 14 days
  5. Surfroam eSim. This is a pay-as-you-go esim card, so you pay for the data that you actually use. The system is Euro/MB, so for instance Italy is. Note though that fakespot says watch out for this site lots of scams. So beware and it gets you to the same $11/GB that Google Fi does in its simple plan

An Example: Croatia, Germany and the Netherlands via SimOptions

So using SimOptions, let’s just study one case, roaming in Germany, Croatia and the Netherlands. These are all in the EU, so it’s pretty easy to look at plans across them all. And it also tells you in a popup (its hard to find!) next to Data that tells you if it is 3G, 4G or 5G

There are two strategies here, look for eSIMs which are cheaper and don’t roam, this isn’t that appealing because the data is small, but it is inexpensive, but the European plans look better

  • Croatia 3GB. Just $13 for 3GB in 14 days 3G/4G or $4.33/GB, this actually doesn’t seem like a great deal, but can be good if you really are only there for a short while.

Look for simplicity which is a single eSIM that can work across the EU, assuming you have a relatively short stay less than 14 days, here is a stack rank of choices

  • Bouygues Travel Basic+. $22 for 15GB 4G for 15 days. This is a good choice for a short trip and is a reasonable $1.49/GB. So a good choice for short trips.
  • Bouygues My European eSIM. $45 for 30GB 4G lasting 30 days. This is cheaper than Orange and lasts longer or $1.50/GB. It’s also more likely you would actually use this much data.
  • Orange Holiday Europe eSIM in two variants, 30GB for $50 for 14-days and 4G maximum and 50GB for $60 5G for 28 days. In most cases 5G won’t be much faster than 4G, so that’s not that big a deal. These are $1.66/GB and $1.20/GB which isn’t bad and if you are there a longer time the 50GB is pretty attractive but remember what matters is what you actually use, so the real cost is likely to be higher as using 50GB is actually pretty hard.
  • Orange Holiday Zen. $30 for 12GB 4G lasting 14 days or $2.50/GB, but this works if you are not a big data user.
  • O2 Go Card eSIM. $25 for 10GB 5G lasting 30 days. This is actually not a bad deal if you throttle your usage a bunch. And 30 days is nice.

I’m Rich & Co.

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