Best eSIM For Europe Travel | Everything You Need To Know About eSIM Data Plans

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When most people want high-speed mobile data for their phone while traveling to Europe they’ve traditionally bought a physical SIM card. However, many newer phones have an embedded electronic SIM (i.e. eSIM) that allows you to connect to European mobile carriers without needing to install a physical SIM card. These new eSIM data plans offer travelers a ton of convenience but there are a few quirks as well. That’s why in this article I’m going to cover everything you need to know about eSIM data plans in Europe—including tips for finding the best eSIM for Europe travel.


What You’ll See In This eSIM Guide


Do I Even Need Mobile Data In Europe?

Honestly, yes, you need mobile data on your phone when traveling to Europe. Sure, you can sometimes find free wifi hotspots but that’s way more difficult than you’d think (I know from experience).

And so much of modern European life requires a high-speed mobile data—train tickets are digital, sporting event tickets are digital, restaurant menus are accessed via QR codes, many restaurants want you to pay via your phone, real-time public transportation info relies on mobile data, and the list goes on.


Can I Just Use My Mobile Plan’s Internation Data Plan?

US domestic plans often offer an international data plan (either free or for an extra charge) but they’re all terrible—even the expensive paid plans.

We’re talking like 2G speeds (3G if you’re lucky) so even opening a basic webpage could take forever to load (if it even loads at all). Many apps won’t function. Google maps won’t work. Forget about social media.

So do yourself a favor and buy a European mobile data plan.


What Is an eSIM?

In short, an eSIM is an embedded/digital version of the traditional physical SIM card. So instead of installing a physical SIM card to change your mobile provider, you simply connect to a new mobile data service provider using an app.

This is great for international travel because you no longer have to hunt down a new SIM card when you change countries. You simply activate the eSIM service and you’re online in seconds.

And most new phones are dual SIM so you can still use your physical domestic SIM card while also using the eSIM so you can switch back and forth between your mobile data providers.


The Benefits of eSIM Mobile Data Plans

Below are some of the many benefits of using an eSIM data plan while traveling.

No Searching For SIM Cards

The biggest benefit of an eSIMis not having to track down a physical SIM card. All you have to do is install the mobile provider’s app to activate the eSIM data service. This means you can order your eSIM, and download the app before you leave. and then activate the service when you arrive at your destination.

Instant Delivery (No Shipping Fees)

Since eSIM cards are all digital you don’t have to pay shipping fees if you want to pre-purchase a European data plan before arriving in Europe. For example, you can buy a plan from SimOptions.com and they’ll email you a QR code or link to activate the service.

Dual SIM Cards So You Can Use Two Data Plans At Once

Another big benefit to using an eSIM is that you can seamlessly switch between your domestic plan (via the physical SIM) and the travel plan (via your eSIM). In fact, most phones let you have up to 5 eSIM data plans on a single phone—which is overkill for most people but it’s still an option.

Another huge benefit to having dual SIM cards is that many services will send you texts for things like two-factor identification or your bank might text you with fraud alerts and these won’t come through if you don’t have your home plan’s physical SIM card installed.

Not Having to Remove Your SIM Card

Removing the physical SIM card is a hassle. First, you need the little tool to pop the SIM out of the phone (which is easy to lose). Then you also have to remove your phone case. You also have to keep track of your original SIM card so you don’t lose or damage it (you’ll need to reinstall it to get your service back).

Easier To Add Credit To Your Account

All eSIM data plans require you to download the service provider’s app to activate the service and most allow you to easily add credit to your account via the app.


What iPhones Use eSIM Cards?

Not all iPhones have built-in eSIM compatibility but essentially all iPhones made since 2019 should be eSIM compatible—i.e. they’re Dual SIM so they have both a physical SIM and an eSIM. For example:

  • iPhone XS, XS Max and XR under iOS 12.2 at least
    • (The base iPhone X and anything older is not eSIM compatible)
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, 12 Mini & iPhone SE 2020
  • iPhone 13, 13 Pro, 13 Mini

What Android Phones Use eSIM Cards?

  • Samsung Galaxy Fold & Galaxy Fold 2 / Galaxy Z Flip & Z Flip 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 Ultra / Galaxy Note 20
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 5G, S21+ 5G, S21 Ultra 5G
  • Google Pixel 3, Pixel 3XL, Pixel 4, Pixel 4XL, Pixel 4a (4G), Pixel 5 (5G) and Pixel 6
  • Huawei P40 and P40 Pro & Mate 40 Pro

The Best eSIM Data Plans For Europe

How to buy a SIM card and data plan in Italy

A great thing about traveling to Europe is that the EU outlawed mobile data roaming fees so any European data plan will work anywhere in Europe—i.e. you can buy a French eSIM and use it in Italy, Germany, Poland, etc.

That said, I recommend sticking with the major European carriers since they’ll have the most comprehensive networks and the highest data speeds.

Orange Holiday Zen eSIM: $29.90

Orange Holiday Zen eSIM | Best eSIM For Visiting Europe
  • Price: $29.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 15GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 30 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 200 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data tethering allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM card comes with a French phone number

The Orange Holiday Zen plan is a top pick for travelers for a few different reasons.

First, Orange is one of the largest mobile networks in Europe so they have great coverage basically everywhere in Europe and you won’t have to worry about slow speeds.

Second, Orange Holiday eSIM plans give you unlimited calls and texts within Europe and limited (yet still ample) credit for calls/texts outside the EU. A majority of eSIM plans from other providers don’t give you any (or very limited) credit for calls or texts.

This plan comes with 15GB of mobile data which should suffice for most travelers who aren’t heavy data users. Heavy users should use the Orange Holiday Europe which has 30GB of mobile data.

Orange Holiday Europe eSIM: $49.90

  • Price: $49.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 30GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 120 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 1000 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data tethering allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM card comes with a French phone number

The Orange Holiday Europe plan is a beefed-up version of Orange Holiday Zen (see above) so you get double the data allowance (30GB vs 15GB), more international phone minutes, and 1000 non-EU texts.

If you’re a heavy data user then you might want this 30GB plan since you won’t have to worry about hitting your data cap quickly as you would with the Orange Holiday Zen plan.

O2 Go Card eSIM: $24.90

  • Price: $24.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 10GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Includes $2 of credit to make calls within Europe
  • Texts/SMS: Includes $2 of credit to send/receive texts within Europe
  • Credit validity: 30 day
  • This eSIM card comes with a Czech phone number

The O2 Go Card Plan is on the O2 mobile network (the largest mobile network in the UK) so the service quality will be good.

And while it’s slightly cheaper than the Orange Holiday Zen plan, you get less mobile data and you don’t get the benefit of any international calls/texts—you also get a very limited amount of EU calls/texts.

Smart Comfort X eSIM: $17.90

  • Price: $17.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 5GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: None
  • Texts/SMS: None
  • Credit validity: 30 day

The Smart Comfort X eSIM is a budget data-only eSIM plan option that gives you 5GB of data but no calls or texts (you can still send iMessage if you’re sending messages between iPhones and make calls/texts via WhatsApp, etc).

Smart Comfort X eSIM is also what’s considered an “international eSIM” so it’s not backed by a specific data provider (i.e Orange, O2, etc.). That means it will connect to a specific partner provider in each country—for example, France (Bouygues), Germany (O2), Italy (WIND), Spain (Telefonica), etc.

Because of its limited data limits, the Smart Comfort X eSIM plan is best for light data users.


How To Activate an eSIM Data Plan

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Activating an eSIM is relatively simple.

Step One: Purchase Your Data Plan

Start by purchasing an eSIM data plan (like at SimOptions).

I highly recommend doing this before you leave because you’ll need data/wifi to complete the setup.

Step Two: Check Your Email For The QR Code

As soon as you make your purchase you’ll get an email from the seller.

This email will include a QR code that you can scan so you’ll want to be in front of your computer so you can scan the QR code from your screen.

Step Three: Install The Carrier’s eSIM App

The QR code will lead you to download the carrier’s eSIM app. Just follow the directions.

IMPORTANT: Don’t fully activate your eSIM data plan until you’re in Europe. Most data plans only have a validity period of 14-30 days and that countdown begins the second you activate the service.

So, for example, if you activate the service a week before your trip then you’ll have lost a full week from your service length (even if you haven’t used any data).

Step Four: Fully Activate Service Once in Europe

Finish the activation process. Your phone should automatically connect to the local data network (it might take a few minutes to get fully activated).


How Much Mobile Data Do I Need When Traveling Europe

Studies show that the average American uses about 3GB of mobile data every week but your rate will obviously vary.

You can easily hit 15GB/week if you’re a heavy user but it’s easy to keep it under 1-2GB/week if you stick to basic web browsing, limit your social media use, and keep app usage to a minimum (or save your heavy usage for when you’re on wifi).


Buying an eSIM in Europe

You can also buy an eSIM mobile data plan once you’re in Europe by visiting a mobile phone shop or SIM Card seller. However, eSIM mobile packages aren’t quite widespread yet so not every mobile carrier will have options—therefore, not every retailer will have them (or they’ll have a very limited selection).

Then you’ll still need to find a wifi connection to activate your service so you might as well skip the step of hunting down the eSIM retailer and just buy it online.

What Countries in Europe Support eSIM?

While not every mobile carrier in Europe has an eSIM mobile plan, there are carriers in every European country that accept eSIM technology—therefore, your phone will automatically connect to a provider (no matter what eSIM plan you’re using).

Simply put: Your eSIM data plan will work anywhere in Europe.

Coverage Note About Switzerland: Switzerland is an outlier because they’re not technically part of the EU so some providers don’t work there. For example, the Orange Holiday plans work in Switzerland but the O2 and Smart Comfort X plans don’t work there. Learn more on our Guide on How To Use Data Plans and Smartphone Phones Abroad


More Tips For Using An eSIM Data Plan in Europe

Here are a few more tips for getting the most out of using your high-speed eSIM mobile data plan while traveling around Europe. If you want to learn more, check out The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide to How To Use Data Plans and Smartphone Phones Abroad

You Need An Unlocked Phone

You need to make sure your phone is unlocked before you can install both a SIM card or eSIM—many American mobile carriers use software to “lock” their smartphones to their network so the phone won’t work if you install a SIM card from another company.

However, you can unlock your phone by calling your mobile carrier and asking them to unlock it because you’re going to travel abroad (you might need to go visit a store to get it unlocked).

BUY A PORTABLE BATTERY CHARGER

Using apps like Google Maps and taking photos kills your phone battery so a portable battery is a must-have. I use Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s tiny and affordable but there are multiple options.

Save Heavy Data Usage For When You’re On Wifi

It’s extremely easy to unknowingly burn through a lot of data—especially when you’re using data-hungry apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Therefore it’s highly recommended to save your heavy data usage for when you’re connected to wifi.

USE AIRPLANE MODE AND BLOCK DATA TO SPECIFIC APPS

I’ll put my phone in Airplane Mode because that disables all data (but GPS still works in Airplane Mode). You can also go into the settings and disable data access to each individual app.

DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS

Google Maps lets you download entire city maps so they can be used offline. As an added bonus, GPS doesn’t use data so offline Google Maps works fairly well (but not all functionality works). Here is a good YouTube video that explains everything.

Download WhatsApp

WhatsApp is an excellent app for free calling and text messages—I’ve found that many Europeans exclusively use WhatsApp to communicate (including many Airbnb hosts).


Get More Europe Travel Tips From The Savvy Backpacker

Heading to Europe soon? Here are some more helpful articles I’ve written to help you plan your European travels.

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This article was originally published by Thesavvybackpacker.com. Read the original article here.

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