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Ultimate Guide to the Best eSIM for European Travel

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Phone plans can be one of the trickiest parts of traveling. This is especially true if your trip involves multiple countries, like when traveling through Europe.

Take it from me; I’ve been navigating international phone plans for five years. While staying in touch with loved ones at home is a top priority, it can be challenging to understand the ins and outs of SIM cards to use while abroad. Enter eSIMs – a foolproof solution for staying connected during your European travels. Furthermore, eSIMs are rapidly emerging as the most cost-effective solution for mobile plans while traveling.

There are many eSIM plans to help you transcend country boundaries and keep you covered while traveling through Europe. No more hunting down physical SIM cards in each new destination and paying a tourist premium.

As someone who lives in Europe for six months out of the year, I can’t emphasize the ingenuity of eSIMs enough. Instead of constantly swapping out my physical SIM card, I never have to worry about phone coverage, even when crossing country borders.  

In this extensive guide, I cover the benefits of eSIMs, compatible phones, buying considerations, and the best eSIM plans for European travel. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about phone coverage for your upcoming Euro trip.

Quick Answer: What is the best eSIM plan for Europe?

Best Overall Plans for Data-OnlyAiralo
Best Plans for Data, Calls, and SMSSimOptions
Best Provider for User InterfaceNomad

What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is a special SIM card that’s digitally embedded into a device through a smartphone application. Unlike traditional phone plans, eSIMs eliminate the need for physical SIM cards, which makes it much easier to stay connected while traveling abroad.  

The main benefit of using an eSIM is that you don’t need to locate and purchase a physical SIM card in each country you travel to. This is especially handy while traveling in Europe because eSIMs often work throughout the geographic continent or countries belonging to the EU. This differs from some physical SIM cards, which are country-specific.

With a European eSIM, you can stay connected while exploring the continent without the hassle of changing phone plans for each leg of your trip. In the next section, we will explore the benefits of using eSIMs in more detail.

Benefits of Using eSIM Cards for European Travel

There are five main benefits of using an eSIM for European travel:

  1. Eliminating the need for physical SIM cards
  2. Instant delivery
  3. Dual SIM capabilities
  4. Simple to top up
  5. Wide compatibility with smartphone models

Let’s delve into these benefits in detail to understand why choosing an eSIM for Europe travel is truly worthwhile.

Eliminates Physical SIM Cards

The biggest draw for eSIMs is it eliminates the need for physical SIM cards. If you’ve ever traveled internationally, you’re aware of the hassle involved in tracking down a store that sells SIM cards and deciphering unfamiliar phone plan options, all while trying to avoid being overcharged in the process.

The reality is that most of the time, travelers get conned by international SIM cards riddled with high fees and bad deals. Especially those who don’t speak the local language or are inexperienced travelers. And the worst part is, if you’re traveling in Europe, you may have to go through this process in each new country you visit because physical SIM cards do not always transcend borders.

Eliminating the need for a physical SIM card is the main benefit of eSIMs. Instead of being caught up in the common tourist trap of purchasing physical SIM cards, eSIMs give you instant access to a phone plan at the click of a button. No human interactions or visiting storefronts are required!

Instant Delivery

Instant delivery is another major benefit of eSIMs. All travelers must do is download an eSIM app like Airalo or SimOptions, choose their desired plan, and the eSIM will automatically be loaded onto the phone. After you land in Europe, simply follow the company’s activation instructions, and the plan will be up and running as soon as you hit the ground. 

In other words, eSIMs allow you to skip the waiting times and shipping fees while giving you an instant mobile connection. This is especially handy if you’d like to pre-purchase a phone plan, which you can do with an eSIM but rarely with a physical SIM card. 

Dual SIM Capabilities

Since an eSIM is run through a mobile application, removing the physical SIM card from your home country is unnecessary. As such, you can still access your regular phone number easily while using your European phone plan.

With dual SIM capabilities, you can toggle between your domestic number and your eSIM for access codes and even for checking iMessages. This is especially handy if you have two-factor authentication on your banking or social media apps.

Easy Credit Top-Up

An eSIM makes the process of topping up your phone plan seamless. If you run out of your data or want to extend your plan, all you have to do is log onto the app or website, select the additional credit you’d like to purchase, and it will be instantly added to your account. This removes the need for finding a physical shop to top up your plan, allowing you to purchase more data with the tap of a button.

Wide Compatibility With Smartphones

Finally, European eSIMs are compatible with most smartphones, making it a simple solution to staying connected abroad.

Compatible Phones for eSIMs

Here’s a quick breakdown of the phones that are compatible with eSIMs. 

Compatible iPhone Models

iPhones compatible with eSIM cards include the iPhone XR and any models released after this phone. This does not include the iPhone X. 

Here’s a complete list of iPhones compatible with European eSIMs:

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS and XS Max
  • iPhone SE (2nd and 3rd generation)
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max

Compatible Android Models

If you’re rocking an Android, these are the most common models compatible with European eSIMs:

  • Samsung Galaxy A34 5G, A54 5G, S23, S22, S21 5G, S20
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20, Note 20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy Fold, Z Fold 2, Z Fold 3 5G, Z Fold 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, Z Flip 3, Z Flip 4
  • Google Pixel 4, 4a, 4XL, 5, 6, 6a, 6Pro, 7, 7a, 7 Pro, Fold
  • Huawei P40, P40 Pro, Mate 40 Pro
  • Nokia G60, X30
  • Oppo Find X3, X3 Pro, X5, X5 Pro, N2 Flip, Reno 5 A, A55s
  • Xiaomi 12T Pro

Roaming Charges and Their Impact on Travelers

You may wonder why you shouldn’t use your domestic SIM card while traveling in Europe; the answer is roaming charges.

Roaming charges are when a phone provider bills you for using your SIM card outside the specified area – typically, the country where you bought the SIM card. Roaming charges are also significantly more expensive than standard phone use charges and can be activated simply by taking your phone off Airplane mode when you land in a new country. 

While you can certainly get hit with roaming charges from your domestic SIM provider (e.g., if you use your American SIM card in Europe), you may also face steep roaming charges if you use a physical European SIM card outside of the European country you bought it. 

For example, if you buy a physical SIM card in France, you may pay hefty roaming charges if you use it in Spain, Greece, Germany, or anywhere outside your specified coverage area. That said, some physical SIM cards work for the EU or the entirety of Europe.

In summary, choosing the right eSIMs helps avoid roaming charges by providing coverage throughout the entire EU or geographic continent rather than a single country. 

Data Speed and Network Quality

When choosing an eSIM plan, it’s important to take note of the data speed and network quality. Since most of the best European eSIM plans do not include calls or SMS texting, you’ll be relying solely on data to keep in touch. Choose a plan with fast data speeds from a reputable carrier to maximize network quality.

Flexibility and Customization of eSIM Plans

Flexibility is one of the most important benefits of eSims. This is especially true if you’re unsure which plan or how much data you’ll need.

Generally, the best eSIM cards will allow you to add more data as needed. For example, if you have an Airablo eSIM and max out your data, you can choose a new plan to top up with, ranging from 1 GB to 20 GB of data. This ensures you stay connected at affordable rates, giving users plenty of flexibility and customization with their plans.

Multi-Country eSIM Plans for European Travel

While some eSIMs are country-specific, the best eSIM plans for Europe cover multiple countries, making them an ideal choice for travelers moving around. 

There are many advantages to purchasing a multi-country eSIM plan, the biggest being that your phone coverage transcends country borders. This reduces the hassle of changing plans and providers whenever you land in a new place.

You can also purchase multi-country eSIMs at a flat rate. This means you only have to pay for your SIM once rather than several times throughout your trip. Say goodbye to steep roaming fees!

The only major downside is that multi-country eSIMs vary in their coverage. While some multi-country eSIMs only cover 20 countries, others (like SimOptions) can cover up to 50 countries. This is why it’s important to read the country-specific details of your eSIM for Europe to ensure you’ll have coverage everywhere on your itinerary. 

Emergency and Customer Support Services

eSIMs should work flawlessly. But if you do run into any issues, it’s important to choose an eSIM that includes great customer support.

SimOptions, for example, has 24/7 customer service through email or telephone. Airalo has a support contact form and an extensive collection of self-service troubleshooting articles to help you independently work through any quick technical issues.

The last thing you want is to be caught high and dry without cell service, especially in an emergency abroad. This is why it’s essential to choose a reliable eSIM provider that will help solve any problems that may arise.

Using eSIM for Travel Outside of Europe

If you’re searching for an eSIM that works beyond European borders, there are many international eSIM options or country-specific eSIMs for destinations worldwide.

Airalo offers local eSIMs for different countries, regional eSIMs for continental use, and global eSIMs that cover 84 countries worldwide. Airalo’s global eSIM is an innovative, cost-effective way to use an eSIM for travel outside of Europe. 

Best eSIM Providers for European Travel

On the hunt for the best eSIM providers for European travel? Here are our top three providers for cellphone coverage in Europe. 

1. Airalo Eurolink Plans for Europe

Airalo is my favorite provider for an eSIM card while abroad in Europe. The company provides a wide range of eSIM plans for traveling that suit long-term nomads and short-term vacationers.

Airalo’s European eSIMs take the form of ‘Eurolink’ plans, which cover 39 countries throughout the continent. There are six Eurolink plans available, offering different amounts of data and time period validity.

Here’s a quick breakdown of Airalo’s Eurolink plans:

Eurolink Plans Available from Airalo

PlanAmount of DataValidityPrice
Plan 11 GB7 Days$5 USD
Plan 23 GB30 Days$13 USD
Pan 35 GB30 Days$20 USD
Plan 410 GB30 Days$37 USD
Plan 550 GB90 Days$100 USD
Plan 6100 GB180 Days$185 USD

Airalo has plans suited to a huge range of trip lengths and budgets. If you’re traveling Europe for a month or less, the Eurolink plans offer the most economical options for international phone coverage.

The one downside to Airalo plans is they’re data only, which means you get no calling or SMS. This is fine if you plan on using Whatsapp, but it may deter some users who are looking for more than just mobile data. 

If you run through all of your data, topping up is flexible, as you can choose one of Airalo’s plans to add to your initial choice (e.g., if you only need an additional 1 GB of data, you can top up with the 7-day Eurolink plan). 

2. SimOptions eSIM Plans for Europe

SimOptions does eSIM plans for Europe a little differently than Airalo. Instead of putting together their own plans, SimOptions aggregates different eSIMs from providers across Europe. The result is the best-prepaid deals without having to sift through all the phone companies alone.

European Plans Available from SimOptions

Here’s a quick breakdown of the best European eSIM plans from SimOptions.

PlanAmount of DataCalls & SMSValidityPrice
Europe 5GB (SimOptions)5GBNot included15 Days$17.90
Travel Basic + (Bouygues Telecom)15 GBUnlimited15 Days$21.90
Go Card eSIM (O2)10 GB$2 phone credit, no SMS30 Days$24.90
Holiday Zen eSIM (Orange)8 GBUnlimited14 Days$29.90
My European eSIM (Bouygues Telecom)30 GBUnlimited30 Days$44.90
Holiday Europe eSIM (Orange)20 GBUnlimited14 Days$49.90
Europe 50 GB (SimOptions)50 GBNot included60 Days$99.90

The plans offered by SimOptions can cover up to 52 European countries. Many also offer talk and text, a major plus compared to other eSIM providers. 

One drawback is the longest plan only covers 60 days whereas Airalo’s EuroLink, which is valid up to 180 days. That said, SimOption is still a dependable and affordable option for short-term travelers headed to Europe. 

3. Nomad eSIM Plans for Europe

A third option to consider is Nomad. Nomad offers two tiers of European eSIM plans: 30 countries and 35 countries. Like most other eSIMs, you can choose the amount of data and term within these plans. 

The 30-country plan includes locations like Iceland and the United Kingdom, which are not included in the 35-country plan. However, the 35-country plan offers coverage in Gibraltar, Holy See, San Marino, and Sweden, which are not covered under the 30-country plan. It’s essential to view the country lists of each plan to ensure you’ll have coverage in all your trip destinations. 

The 30-country eSIM is powered by multiple providers to ensure you get the best service wherever you are. On the other hand, the 35 country plans are powered by Truphone.

It’s worth noting that regardless of which plan you choose, all of Nomad’s European eSIMs are data only, which means there’s no calling or SMS. 

European Plans Available from Nomad

Here’s a quick look at the Nomad’s European eSIM options. The first table compares the different 30 country plans available. 

30 Country PlansAmount of DataValidityPrice
30 Country Plan 120 GB30 Days$35 USD
30 Country Plan 215 GB30 Days$29 USD
30 Country Plan 310 GB30 Days$22 USD
30 Country Plan 45 GB30 Days$14 USD
30 Country Plan 53 GB15 Days$12 USD
30 Country Plan 61 GB7 Days$7 USD

And here’s the table for the different 35-country plans available.

35 Country PlansAmount of DataValidityPrice
35 Country Plan 140 GB30 Days$90 USD
35 Country Plan 230 GB30 Days$70 USD
35 Country Plan 320 GB30 Days$45 USD
35 Country Plan 410 GB30 Days$25 USD
35 Country Plan 55 GB30 Days$15 USD
35 Country Plan 63 GB30 Days$13 USD
35 Country Plan 71 GB7 Days$8 USD

As you can see, the 35-country plans are slightly more expensive than the 30-country plans to reflect the additional coverage areas. 

One aspect that puts Nomad on this shortlist is its ease of use. The application’s interface is super intuitive, along with clear instructions. It also makes it easy to track the data usage of your eSIM right from the app. 

Activating and Using an eSIM Data Plan in Europe

The following step-by-step guide will walk you through activating and using eSIMs to stay connected wherever your adventures take you.

Step 1: Purchasing an eSIM Data Plan

The first step to using an eSIM is to purchase a plan. 

At a minimum, you should select an eSIM data plan that lasts the duration of your trip and has enough data to keep in touch while on the go. As someone who has extensively traveled in Europe, I also suggest considering a plan that includes basic SMS and calling functionality. This will enable you to stay connected with anyone you are traveling with.

To do so, visit websites such as Airalo or SimOptions. These platforms offer a wide range of plans, allowing you to browse and find the most suitable option.

When it’s time to purchase an eSIM, it’s as simple as choosing a plan that suits your needs and then filling out personal and payment details. You can expect an email with activation instructions shortly after processing your payment.

Step 2: Checking Email for QR Code

Once you pay for your eSIM plan, you’ll receive an email from the eSIM provider. The email will generally contain a QR code that allows you to access the carrier’s app and activate your eSIM plan. 

If you’ve purchased an eSIM before arriving in Europe, it’s important to save the QR code for future use.

Step 3: Installing the Carrier’s eSIM App

To scan the QR code, pull up the email on your computer or a friend’s phone. Then, scan the code with your phone’s camera. Alternatively, there’s typically a quick link for direct download. Both options will take you to the download page for the carrier’s eSIM app. 

Follow the download instructions to access the app to activate your Europe eSIM.

If you’re downloading the app ahead of your trip, it’s essential to wait until you land in Europe to activate your eSIM.

Step 4: Activating Service in Europe

Once you land in Europe, open the app and activate your eSIM. Most eSIMs have a limited number of days available. So, to avoid losing days on your plan, you should not activate your eSIM before your trip.

For example, if you choose a fourteen-day plan and activate it a week before your trip, you will end up losing an entire week of cell coverage when you land in Europe.

To connect to a mobile network in Europe, all it takes is activating your eSIM. However, you may need to wait a few minutes for the service to take effect. If you have any issues connecting, restart your phone.

How Much Mobile Data Do You Need for European Travel?

According to a study on mobile data traffic, North Americans used, on average, nearly 20 gigabytes (GB) of data monthly in 2022. If you’re going to Europe for two weeks, you should be able to easily make do with 10 to 20 GB of data to last for the duration of the trip. 

However, the more data your eSIM plan contains, the higher the price. Since there’s quite decent WiFi coverage throughout Europe, you can definitely opt for a lower amount of data on your eSIM plan, especially if you keep social media scrolling to a minimum. 

It also helps to download an offline map ahead of time so you can navigate without using data. The same goes for music and movies, especially to get you through long travel days without draining your entire plan.

eSIM Support in European Countries

eSIMs are quickly becoming more prominent in Europe, even among the locals themselves. As such, eSIMs can be used in just about every European country.

Here’s a list of the most common European countries that support eSIM cards in alphabetical order:

  • Austria 
  • Belarus 
  • Belgium 
  • Croatia 
  • Czech Republic 
  • Denmark 
  • Estonia 
  • Finland 
  • France 
  • Georgia 
  • Germany 
  • Greece 
  • Hungary 
  • Italy 
  • Latvia 
  • Luxembourg 
  • Moldova 
  • Montenegro 
  • Netherlands 
  • Norway 
  • Poland 
  • Portugal 
  • Romania 
  • Russia 
  • Slovakia 
  • Slovenia 
  • Spain 
  • Sweden 
  • Switzerland 
  • Ukraine 
  • United Kingdom

While all these countries support travel eSIMs, you may experience a slight difference in coverage. Because the eSIM carriers differ from country to country, some may provide better service than others. 

In my experience, the carrier Orange is the most reliable regarding support while traveling around France and Spain. Vodafone is also dependable, especially in the U.K., Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. 

Additional Tips for Using eSIM in Europe

An Unlocked Phone is Key

To use the an eSIM, it’s essential that your smartphone is unlocked. Unlocking your smartphone means it is not tied to a specific carrier. This enables you to use both eSIM cards and physical SIM cards.

To check if your phone is unlocked, visit your settings and check carrier options under the cellular or networks menu. 

On an iPhone, the cellular menu will display a ‘Cellular Data’ option, which means the phone is likely unlocked. 

On an Android, visit the Networks menu inside the Connections setting and check the available ‘Network Operators.” If your phone displays multiple available networks, it’s likely the Android is unlocked.

To be sure about the status of any phone, the best way to test it is by inserting a new (activated) SIM card and making a call. If the call goes through with the new SIM card, your phone is unlocked and compatible for an eSIM. 

Use WiFi as Much as Possible

The best way to make your eSIM plan last for your trip is limit your data usage when WiFi is available. WiFi is abundant throughout Europe – you’ll find it at your accommodation, many restaurants, and even on some public transportation. Connect to WiFi as much as possible, ultimately saving your precious (limited) data. 

Manage App-Specific Data Usage

It also helps to manage app-specific data usage. For example, watching short videos like TikToks and Instagram Reels uses more data than visiting simple web pages. It’s best to save social media scrolling for WiFi.

Some apps are also available offline, so you can use them without data. These apps include Google Maps, Spotify, and even Netflix, which allow you to download media on WiFi ahead of time to save your data when you use these apps while out and about. 

Pack a Portable Charger

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, as valuable as a portable charger on trip abroad. Long days exploring or lengthy trips mean dead phone batteries by midday. Keep your devices fully juiced up with a portable charger to make good use of your eSIM while in Europe. 

Download WhatsApp Before Your Trip

Most people in Europe use WhatsApp to communicate, so it’s wise to download it before your trip. It’s also worth downloading WhatsApp if you’ve chosen an eSIM that’s data only. Since WhatsApp allows you to message, call, and even video chat, it’s a smart way to avoid having a phone number while traveling. 

Aside from connecting with fellow travelers, many hotels and tour companies in Europe communicate exclusively through WhatsApp, so it’s worth making a profile ahead of time so that you can contact any of your bookings. 

Final Thoughts on the Best eSIMS for Europe

At the end of the day, an eSIM is truly the easiest, most affordable, and most convenient way to get cell coverage while traveling Europe. Instead of stressing about connecting whenever you arrive at a new destination, the appropriate eSIM will ensure you have coverage across country borders.

For a hassle-free and flawlessly connected journey, eSIMs for Europe travel are the way to go. 

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