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eSIM vs Physical Sim Cards – What’s the Difference? | TravelSim

eSIMs vs Physical SIM Cards – What’s the Difference?

As eSIMs become more widely used, more and more people are asking exactly how they’re different from traditional SIM cards. You may already have a preference for one or the other, or be looking for information on both. Here at TravelSim we have the easy explanations you need to help you pick a winner of the eSIMs vs physical SIM cards debate.

Understanding SIM cards

A SIM card is a memory chip made of plastic and various metals. In the past, they have been made as big as credit cards, but are now often no bigger than your fingernail. 


SIM cards were created in 1991 in Munich, developed by Giesecke and Devrient for the Finnish network provider Radiolinja. Subscriber Identity Modules (to use the SIM card’s full name) store the necessary information to identify and authenticate someone’s phone, and grant them access to a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM).


As well as being a way of identifying individual users, SIM cards also store data, including phone numbers, texts, and small applications. This means that this information can be moved from device to device. Before SIM cards, phones were large and cumbersome, with subscriber information hardwired into them which meant changing phones was very difficult. The portability and security elements of SIM cards made them very popular, and they quickly became a vital part of mobile communications.

Introducing eSIMs 

You might have heard of eSIMs before, but still not be entirely sure of how they work. An eSIM is a SIM card already embedded in a device, built into the hardware during manufacturing, and activated digitally. Due to how easy they make it to switch between user profiles and providers, they’re becoming more and more popular for communication for both travel and business.


Historically, network providers have been resistant to promoting the use of eSIMs due to how easy they make it to switch to a new supplier. However, as their usefulness is becoming more apparent, it seems to be a case of either embracing eSIMs or being left behind.


For more info see our full breakdown of what eSIMs are and how they work.

eSIMs vs physical SIM cards


Features eSIMs SIM cards
Form Embedded component Removable card
Size Standardized Variable
Activation Digital (via QR code) Physical (buy & insert card)
Compatibility Compatible with most modern devices Must be the correct size for the chosen device
Environmental impact Reusable and can’t be discarded separately from its device Contributes to electronic waste when changed and discarded

The benefits of eSIM over physical SIM

There are a few ways in which eSIMs trump physical SIM cards. For example, for those who find handling small electrical components difficult, an eSIM is far easier to activate and use. There is also the fact that up to 10 eSIMs can be installed on one phone, allowing for multiple user profiles in a way that a single SIM card can’t compete with. 


Some might argue that SIM cards are more secure, as they can be removed and either kept safe or destroyed, along with all of the data they store. However, they are also susceptible to theft and duplication, unlike eSIMs, which cannot be separated from their device. 


Environmentalists will be pleased to hear that a widespread rollout of eSIMs, and a corresponding reduction in the use of SIM cards, would also mean less mining for the precious materials SIM cards are made from. Also, due to the fact that eSIMs are activated digitally, there is no need for any delivery logistics. This means that eSIMs will be better for the environment in the long term. 

How to activate an eSIM

While the method may vary slightly depending on your eSIM provider and your device, activating an eSIM is usually very straightforward and will most likely follow a version of the following steps. To activate your eSIM you must add your chosen plan through your device’s settings, and select your eSIM as your provider. Then you will most likely have to scan a QR code sent to you by email and follow the instructions provided.


You don’t need to add or remove any physical elements to your phone’s hardware, or make any physical changes to your device at all. Everything is done digitally.

The future of eSIM

There’s no doubt about it – eSIMs are the future, and the many applications of this technology are only just starting to be realized. There are lots of places where eSIMs can make life easier, from personal uses to the role they could play in various industries, such as keeping those working in marine services connected. 


More and more smartphone manufacturers are expected to start producing eSIM-only devices, following the example Apple has set with the iPhone 14. One way this might impact our smart devices is that we may see them get smaller and slimmer, as the need for a removable SIM card tray disappears. It will also become easier to switch between networks, making providers up their game when it comes to targeting and keeping their customers. 


In the meantime, eSIMs will continue to rise in popularity among those looking for cheaper ways to stay connected while traveling. If you’re one of those travelers, you’re in the right place.

Get in touch to get in touch

Planning a trip for business or pleasure and looking to keep connected on the road? If you haven’t tried an eSIM before, now is the perfect time. Ready to give it a try? Configure your data plan here.