What Is an eSIM? 5 Things To Know

When Apple released the iPhone 14 earlier this month, many people were surprised to learn that it doesn’t include a physical SIM card. Instead, it uses an eSIM to connect you with your carrier.

Apple actually isn’t the first company to begin shifting toward eSIM technology, and it certainly won’t be the last. Fortunately for consumers, eSIMs make switching carriers and adding second lines easier, which is excellent for traveling or grabbing the latest cell phone plan deal.

In this article, I’ll take a close look at what you need to know about eSIMs before you upgrade your phone or switch to an eSIM carrier.

5 Things To Know About eSIM

You’re most likely aware of the physical SIM card (pSIM) that your phone uses right now (unless you’ve already grabbed up that new iPhone). It’s a small removable card that stores your customer information (including your phone number) and connects your device to your carrier.

An eSIM, or embedded SIM, does everything that your physical SIM card does only it’s embedded into your phone’s hardware. It’s smaller than a physical SIM card, and it isn’t removable. Instead, carriers can activate and change your service remotely.

While you aren’t able to remove your eSIM or switch it between different phones, you are able to use more than one phone number (from the same carrier or different carriers) on an eSIM. That means you can have both your personal and business phone number on the same device and easily switch between the two. If you travel, you could also easily add an international line.

Unfortunately, eSIMs aren’t perfect. In addition to not being able to remove or transfer an eSIM, you can’t yet use an eSIM phone on every carrier.

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Below, you’ll find additional information on eSIM cards including whether or not your device supports eSIM technology and what the move toward eSIMs means for consumers.

Which Phones Support eSIM?

If you’re interested in switching to an eSIM or moving to a carrier that supports eSIM, you may be wondering whether or not your device will work with eSIM technology.

At the moment, the Apple iPhone 14 series are the only devices to completely rely on eSIM technology without an option to use a physical SIM card at all. However, these aren’t the phones that dog work with an eSIM.

The following devices are reported to support eSIM capabilities (US models):

Manzana Samsung Google other
iPhone 14,
iPhone 14plus
iPhone 14 Pro
iPhone 14 ProMax
iPhone SE (2nd & 3rd generation)
iPhone 13
iPhone 13mini
iPhone 13 Pro
iPhone 13 ProMax
iPhone 12
iPhone 12 mini
iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 12 ProMax
iPhone 11
iPhone 11Pro
iPhone 11 ProMax
iPhone XS
iPhone XSMax
iPhone XR
S20+
S20 Ultra
S21+ 5G
S21+ Ultra 5G
S22
S22Ultra
S22+
Note 20
fold
Fold 3
ZFold3 5G
Z Flip3 5G Fold
ZFlip
Pixel 6
Pixel 6Pro
Pixel 6a
Pixel 5
Pixel 4
Pixel 4XL
Pixel 4a
Pixel 3
Pixel 3XL
Pixel 3a
Pixel 3a XL
Pixel 2 (Google Fi only)
Motorola Razr (1st and 2nd generation)
Sony Xperia 20 III Lite
Sony Xperia 1 IV
Sony Xperia 10 IV

Although each of these devices have the capability to support eSIM, the feature may not work with every carrier. In August 2022, I wasn’t able to use my Apple iPhone 12 with an eSIM from Spectrum Mobile. Other reports across the web have confirmed similar issues with Samsung Phones (specifically the Samsung Galaxy S20, Note 20 series, Z Fold 2 and S21).

To find out if your phone will actually support eSIM technology, have your phone’s IMEI number ready and contact your carrier to see if your device will be compatible with eSIM.

To find your phone’s IMEI number, you can either go to your phone’s settings, select “general” and “about,” or dial *#06#.

You can learn more about using eSIMs on Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones and Google Pixel phones online.

Which Networks Support eSIM?

In addition to having a phone that supports an eSIM, you’ll have to be on a carrier that offers eSIM as well.

According to Apple, the following wireless carriers support eSIM in the United States:

Additionally, the following worldwide service providers also support eSIMs. With these carriers, you can purchase an international plan before traveling:

Before you switch to an eSIM-compatible carrier, be sure to contact the carrier with your phone’s IMEI to make sure that your phone will be compatible with an eSIM.

How Much Does eSIM Cost?

eSIMs are already built into compatible phones, which means you won’t have to order a new SIM card if you’re switching to a carrier that supports eSIM.

While many carriers offer free SIM cards with activation, some charge up to $2 for a physical SIM card. Fortunately, eSIM is completely free (or at least included in the cost of your device).

Additionally, eSIM offers nearly instant remote activation. That means you won’t have to worry about shipping or additional taxes on a physical SIM card when you activate service with an eSIM.

Of course, eSIM-compatible devices may not be the cheapest phones on the market. However, you may be able to get a deal on older unlocked models.

Still, I wouldn’t worry about upgrading your current phone to an eSIM-compatible device just for that perk alone. There’s no guarantee that your “eSIM compatible device” will actually work with an eSIM in practice with the carrier of your choice. The only way to find out for sure is by contacting your carrier with a device’s model or IMEI to verify eligibility.

Can I Convert my SIM to eSIM?

Whether you’re moving to a new carrier or sticking with your current service provider, you may be curious about converting your physical SIM card to an eSIM.

In general, you should be able to convert your physical SIM card to an eSIM as long as your device and your carrier both support eSIM technology.

There are a few ways that you can do this including remote carrier activation, quick transfer, scanning a QR code, using a carrier app or manually entering eSIM information.

To find out how to best convert your physical SIM card to an eSIM, contact your carrier directly. Some carriers can do this for you while others can walk you through the process of doing it yourself.

For example, if you’re converting a physical SIM to an eSIM on an iPhone, you may be able to covert it yourself if your carrier supports this type of eSIM activation. Here are the steps:

  1. Open “Settings” and go to “Cellular.”
  2. Tap “Convert to eSIM.”
    If you don’t see this option, your carrier may not support this method of activation. Contact your carrier for more information.
  3. Tap “Convert Cellular Plan” and “Convert to eSIM.”

Once your eSIM is activated, your previous physical SIM card will be deactivated. You can remove it from your iPhone and restart the device to complete the conversion.

You can learn more about eSIM on iPhones on Apple’s website.

T-Mobile also offers a helpful step-by-step guide for converting your physical SIM card to an eSIM on T-Mobile’s network that you can do yourself at home:

  1. Go to “Settings” and “Connections.”
  2. Choose “SIM card manager,” and “SIM 1.”
  3. Click “Convert to eSIM.”
  4. Log in with your T-Mobile ID and enter a verification code texted to your phone if prompted.
  5. Follow prompts to complete activation including confirming the changes, then return to the Home Screen once your pSIM has been converted to an eSIM.

of course, it’s still best to contact your carrier before trying to convert a physical SIM card to an eSIM. This way you can easily avoid frustration ahead of time if there are any compatibility or support issues.

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons

eSIM is something you’ll likely start hearing about more often, however, it isn’t something that you have to jump on right away.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should convert your physical SIM to an eSIM or are considering buying an eSIM-only device (like the new Apple iPhone 14 series), here are a few of the biggest pros and cons to keep in mind.

Pros:

  • Instant remote setup. Carriers that support eSIM often offer instant remote activation. You won’t have to wait in the mail or go to the store and pick up a new SIM card every time you want to switch carriers.
  • Multiple numbers. With an eSIM, you can have multiple phone numbers on one device. You can switch between your business and personal number without having to keep track of two physical SIM cards. Travelers can also add international lines from home.
  • Seamlessly switch carriers. This is a “con” for carriers, but a huge “pro” for consumers! Whenever you see a better phone plan deal, you can easily switch between carriers. The eSIM makes the process easier by removing the need for a carrier-specific physical SIM card.

Cons:

  • Lack of carrier support. Cell phone service providers have been reluctant to support eSIM technology. While that’s slowly starting to change, you may find a lack of carrier support for eSIM right now.
  • No switching between devices. Unlike a pSIM that you could remove and put in another unlocked phone, you won’t be able to remove the eSIM at all. That means you won’t be able to use one plan on different devices.
  • Problems in practice. Even if eSIM works in theory on your device model and preferred carrier, it may not work smoothly in practice. I wasn’t able to use Spectrum’s eSIM on my iPhone 12, and additional reports across the web reveal similar problems with other “supported” phones and carriers.

Despite the current issues with eSIM technology, it’s likely where we’re headed in the future. Overall, this is good news for consumers for the reasons listed above. However, many carriers are just starting to support and market this option, which means you may run into some initial frustration.

What are your thoughts on eSIM vs. physical SIM cards? Let us know in our Clark.com Community or check out the latest conversations around cell phones.

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