I’ve been testing eSIMs for a while now because anything that is convenient automatically becomes an interest of mine. If it means not standing in a queue and handing over my passport data when I land in another country, I’m all for it.

You may recall I tested KnowRoaming when it was a sticker on a SIM, and I see they are now offering full on eSIMs. I also have a local free eSIM with Telkom prepaid as my business line, and I’ve been using Truphone for my international trips. But on my recent travel to Rwanda, I decided to try Airalo.

What is Airalo?

Airalo is another eSIM provider that offers connectivity in over 190 countries. An eSIM is an embedded SIM and needs to be supported on a hardware level. Smartphones that support an eSIM include the iPhone Xs upwards, Samsung Note 20 and S20 upwards, Galaxy Z Series, Huawei P40 and Mate 40 upwards. There are wearable and tablets but I’m focusing on smartphones in this piece.

Apart from the instant connectivity globally, it’s transparent, you can see pricing upfront, and they have 24/7/365 support, which is great no matter where you are in the world.

Why an eSIM?

The reason I love an eSIM is that you can set it up yourself within minutes, without interacting with another human being – winning; or handing over sensitive data in a foreign country. The Airalo eSIM is easy to use and requires you to download an app, available on both the App Store and Play Store.

Airalo set-up

Once you download it and create a profile, you can see what options are available to you. The store includes a list of popular countries, regional and global SIMs based on your location. This is what it looks like for me from South Africa:

If you are a frequent traveller covering most regions, it may be worth your while starting off with the Global eSIM. I wanted to go this route but Africa is tricky and Rwanda was not included in the 87 countries supported on this option. I opted to buy a Rwanda eSIM instead of an Africa eSIM because it was cheaper, and I didn’t know what the likelihood of visiting other African countries in the near future was gonna be.

Data costs

There were two options available for Rwanda: a 1GB for 7 days at $9 and a 3GB for 30 days at $24. Given my usage patterns in the past, I chose to go with the 3GB one but only while I was there I realised I wasn’t using as much and then 1GB would have been fine. The reason I didn’t use it as much – I didn’t watch or post Instagram stories while I was there, maybe except on the tail end of my trip, a latergram story. You could use this as an indication of how much data you’d need, we know IG uses a lot.

The Global eSIM for 87 countries costs:

  • $9 for 1GB/7 days
  • $24 for 3GB/15 days
  • $35 for 5GB/30 days
  • $59 for 10GB/60 days
  • $80 for 20GB/180 days

Obviously it makes sense to see where you are going and sometimes, it works out dirt cheap to buy a local SIM. I found this to be the case on a trip to Vietnam and Russia. But for short/business trips, these make the most sense to me. In the past when I went to Spain for Mobile World Congress, we always landed on a Sunday. And you know on Sunday all the stores are closed. Another reason this would have been handy.

eSIM installation

After I purchased the Rwanda 3GB eSIM, I just followed the simple installation steps. I’ve done this before; you are just downloading the eSIM profile onto your handset. Thereafter you activate it. I did this once I landed in Rwanda. But quick tip – don’t forget to turn on roaming so the data will work immediately.

Data settings

It worked seamlessly on my iPhone, I haven’t tried it on Android yet. You go into mobile settings and choose which SIM to use data or calls. Important to note that Airalo is a data eSIM only. It is not for making calls and you can’t receive texts on it, i.e no number assigned to you. But what it does enable you do to is make Whatsapp calls and receive texts there.

Dual SIM

You now have a dual SIM phone. If you’re on a contract or prepaid and turned roaming on, you can receive or make calls on that line, and use Airalo for data. This happened to me when I went to Europe and used Truphone. I was receiving calls on Vodacom prepaid – to my shock (without activating roaming – think this is turned on by default). This could be useful for business travellers. International data roaming via South African mobile networks is ridiculously expensive. My suggestion is to keep roaming on for calls and texts, and use the eSIM for data. Most smartphones will allow for multiple eSIM profiles to be stored but only one can be active at any given time. Upon returning to SA, I deactivated the Airalo eSIM and turned the Telkom one back on.

Why Airalo?

Having used Truphone and Airalo, I prefer the clean interface on Airalo and that data is cheaper. I also love that it lets you share $3 credit if you want to invite family and friends to try it. It’s a great incentive to try it out for them because you in turn also get $3 credit for your referral. That said, if you’re keen to try it on your next trip, please take $3 off with my code: NAFISA1418

You can click the direct link here:

It works in two places: at sign-up or at checkout. But only for new users.

If you try it, let me know what your experience has been like.