Using an eSIM profile on your non-eSIM phone

Use of eSIMs has been discussed on these forums, but this is a bit of a different angle on the subject.

I figure that the technical level on this forum being higher than average, this could be a useful bit of information.

First: What is an eSIM?

An eSIM is an embedded Subscriber Identity Module. Is it essentially a software-programmable SIM that is built in to the phone. Newer phones have started coming with eSIMs the ability to download one or more eSIM profiles into them. This has generated an industry in specialized phone plans that you can buy over the internet and enable without needing to buy a local SIM and install it in your phone. You can buy a week or two or a month of phone and/or data service in your target area at lower costs than have been readily available otherwise.

Now, if you don’t have a phone with an eSIM, this usually would not help you. However, as has been known to happen, a group of Germans came up with an interesting idea. Telco Village GmbH has produced a SIM card that can act as an eSIM, allowing those without eSIM enabled phones to take advantage of the technology.

I had previously covered this in a topic about data roaming in Canada, but I figure not everyone has read that. The title of this post is likely to attract the attention of more of those who might benefit from the information here. This post is also a bit better organized as it is not a response chain.

Given that this is a short-term bridge technology, is is probable, but not impossible, that no one else will create a similar device, as there is only around a 5 to 8 year window where old phones will still be lurking around in reasonable quantities.

The web site for the esim.me module is https://esim.me. (Auto-linking will have links everywhere in this post.) The cost varies on a few factors to be addressed later.

To find out if your phone is compatible with the esim.me software, either use the compatibility tool on the website, or go to the Google Play store (I don’t know how this would be handled on Apple, but those with iPhones can check the App store) download the app, and start it up. The app will tell you if your phone is compatible, and on multi-SIM phones, which slots can be used. If your phone is not compatible, all may not be lost.

My daily driver phone is not compatible with esim.me software, but I am able to use eSIM profiles on my phone. I just had to MacGyver things. This is not as bad as it sounds, I did the up front fiddling and can just give directions here.

If your phone is compatible: Buy an esim.me card, check the web site for which specific options you may want. Take care to verify your address before finalizing the order. They mangled my address in a way that should not have been deliverable. Props to the Postal Service for managing to deliver it anyway.

If you have a single slot phone, make sure you are on WiFi and swap in the esim.me card. If you have a dual SIM phone, put the esim.me card in the slot previously specified by the software. Open the software and register your card. At this point, you can choose to find a service provider and buy an eSIM profile for your destination, or wait until you arrive. You will need WiFi at your destination if you plan to buy a profile on arrival. If you are on a single-SIM phone, you can treat the esim.me card like any other SIM, and swap it in and out. Just don’t dispose of it when you run out your profile. You can erase expired profiles and install new ones.

On a dual-SIM phone, you have more options, but depending on your travel plans and how your carrier handles international travel, you may want to remove your regular SIM and treat the esim.me card as a local SIM, again, just don’t dispose of it when the profile expires, you can erase and re-install new profiles.

Now, if your phone is not compatible, there are still options. In my case, I have an old phone lying around that is compatible with esim.me software. If you have an old compatible phone lurking about, or a family member or friend with a compatible phone, you can still take advantage of eSIM profiles.

The reason for this is that the esim.me card, when not in programming mode, is just another SIM. On a compatible phone, you download a profile, set it as the default, and the card reboots into regular SIM mode, presenting the default eSIM profile to the phone. On non-compatible phones, it is a little harder. You use a compatible device to download the profile and set the default, then swap the esim.me card into your device. That’s it. The practical upshot of this is that you will probably want to buy your profile before you leave on your trip, otherwise you have to have your compatible phone with you to install profiles.

I can report firsthand that this Rube Goldberg method of using an eSIM profile works. My phone is not compatible with the esim.me software, but I was able to use my older phone to register and program the esim.me card, and swapped it into my #2 SIM slot. I have been testing it before I depend on it for data in Canada. I bought a North American data-only plan good for 3GB /30 days (at a converted cost of $12.32) as the provider charges the same for the regional plan as the Canada-only. I have been using that profile on the esim.me card and it works. Some of my apps are blocked by the provider, but the really important stuff works. Waze, my voice/text chat apps, Firefox, my Canadian phone app, my location based game apps, and a smattering of less-vital apps. This provider uses 4G on the Verizon network on the US, I’ll find out about Canada when I get there. I did this voice/data split because I have Mint Mobile as my primary carrier, and while 6 cents/minute for voice isn’t too bad, 6 cents/megabyte is just evil. (This works out to $60/GB. Ouch!) The prices are set by Mints’ roaming partner so I suspect I’ll not see changes anytime soon. If I use the entire 3GB on the eSIM profile, I’ve paid a bit less than half a cent per megabyte.

Be aware that the esim.me cards do have a caveat to watch out for. The cheapest card can only hold two profiles at once and the software is locked to the first phone you use it on. As the prices go up, so does the capacity and the number and variety of phones you can use to program the card. The most expensive card allows 15 profiles and you can use any phone that is compatible with the software. You can pay to migrate lesser plans to new phones.

While there are a few hitches here and there, generally you can buy profiles from any provider, and input it by QR-Code or typing a code string to the esim.me app.

Hopefully this helps some people out with international travel.

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