Shortly before I began my FinTech & Banking Tour around the GCC, I popped into the Apple AppStore and searched ‘eSim’.
I wondered if someone had easily sorted the roaming-in-a-random-country problem and made it stupid-simple to purchase and install an eSIM for a particular geography.
Turns out, someone has.
I’m sure there are other options out there, but the one I found in the App Store is Airalo, and it’s simply fantastic.
I have used many eSIM services across the years, most of which generally required you to perform an array of digital gymnastics because of the deployment method. That is, after you’d paid, the website would then show the eSIM QR code.
Which, if you’re actually viewing the website on your phone, is a bit tricky to implement. I once remember asking a hotel receptionist to open the screenshot PDF I had created from one of these websites, just so I could then use my phone’s camera to deploy the eSIM. I think that’s how it had to be done back then. Years ago.
Nowadays, well, it’s just astonishingly simple with Airalo.
Here’s how it works:
- Download the app (I did so on iPhone first, but then installed on my Android/Samsung)
- Create an account
- Select the country and precise data plan you’d like
- Use Apple Pay or Google Pay to pay for the plan
- The eSIM is then ready for deployment. Just tap ‘install’ or equivalent. Wait a minute or so whilst the networks do their thing.
- Your eSIM is ready for use
It’s so quick.
I have used this capability so far in:
- Saudi Arabia
I’ll be purchasing for Bahrain shortly.
The service from Airalo has been totally seamless at every point. The bundles I tend to go for are 3GB for the iPhone (usually around $9-$15 USD) and 1GB for my Android (something like $5 USD). The price points vary a little depending on country.
For ease of use, I don’t think you can get better. There might be a slight price advantage to picking up a SIM at the airport or the like, and if you’re looking for voice minutes then you do need to get a guest/tourist sim. However when you begin to factor in messing around with taxis, or standing in queues at the airport operator concession, having to get your passport scanned, fiddle with sim ejectors and all that jazz…. Yeah. No thanks. This is where Airalo really excels.
I’ve taken to buying the SIM in advance of my arrival in the country so that I don’t have to rely on any WiFi at the airport. I just activate the eSIM when I switch my phone off airplane mode when the plane has touched down.
I did actually go and get an actual (eSIM) from the network provider Etisalat in Dubai, but that was a different strategy. Plus, I was able to use my 3 Denmark connections for ‘3LikeHome’ roaming in UAE.
I particularly like how the Airalo team have adopted the Apple Pay/Google Pay standard as the default payment methodology. It means things are incredibly simple and easy. There are a broad range of countries supported by the Airalo service too. I’ve obviously been focused on the Gulf Cooperation Countries but you can get eSIMS for what looks like hundreds of countries – the website specifies 200+.
I did give some thought to getting the Airalo ‘global eSIM’ – for example, they have a 20GB global eSIM that offers roaming in 84 countries over 180 days duration. But I was planning on using a lot more data than that, per country – so that’s why I have been deploying eSIMS in every country I’ve visited.
I had one issue yesterday with my one of my Qatar eSIMs (I’ve got two live at the moment). For some reason my Samsung didn’t seem to activate – I think because I did the activation in Kuwait; that might have complicated things. Anyway, I used the Airalo in-app-chat support function to ask their help and we worked out that the APN hadn’t been automatically set. I changed that…boom. Perfectly fine. It was great that Airalo offered this live chat support option – and also great that they were able to identify my issue quickly.
There is also an ‘Airmoney’ feature – basically, you can build up credit for future purchases every time you buy an eSIM. I’ve almost got enough for a $5 USD sim with my existing purchases.
To that end, if you like the idea of using Airalo – use my referral code (EWAN8753) when you sign up and you will get $3 USD credit… and so will I!
I’d like to hear how you roam – what’s your process? Please add a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.