eSIM can dramatically change the way you use your smartphone. Unlike removable SIM cards, eSIMs are a permanent part of your phone and allow you to use two different numbers on the same device. You can use an eSIM to add cellular connectivity to tablets, smartwatches, and other devices.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of eSIM. The nascent technology has been in the works for more than a decade, but only became available to the general public a few years ago. It’s possible that Steve Jobs wanted the first iPhone to ditch physical card slots, and rumors persist that Apple may launch an eSIM-only device in the near future.
A quick lingo note: The term “physical SIM” often refers to the older card that you pop out of the side of the phone. Although the eSIM is much smaller, it is not insignificant. The term “swappable SIM” makes more sense in contrast and emphasizes the built-in quality of eSIMs.
Can I use an eSIM on my phone?
Is this technology available to you? Unfortunately for anyone holding onto antiques like the iPhone 8, eSIMs are only available in newer smartphone models. iPhone XR up to iPhone 12 have one eSIM built in, and iPhone 13 models have two eSIMs. Except for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the latest Samsung phones are compatible with eSIM. Google phones released after the Pixel 3 work with an eSIM unless you’re on Verizon, in which case it’s the Pixel 4 and up.
Unlike removable SIM cards, your smartphone must be unlocked to use an eSIM. Consumer Reports published a great article explaining how to unlock your smartphone with major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Each carrier has a website with step-by-step instructions on how to activate the eSIM after the phone is unlocked. Whether you use AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or another carrier, the activation process requires access to Wi-Fi or cellular data.
How to use two numbers on an eSIM
Here’s how to activate two phone numbers on the same smartphone. First you need to make sure that your device has two eSIMs or a combination of one eSIM and one removable SIM card. Then you must have a secondary line active and ready to go. Contact your carrier and they will provide you with a QR code or link to initiate eSIM activation. iPhone owners can follow the process described in this helpful video from Apple Support.
If you’re a tablet owner and interested in cellular connectivity, the Apple iPad (2021, 9th Gen), Apple iPad Air (2022, 5th Gen), and Microsoft Surface Pro 8 are eSIM compatible and on WIRED’s Best Tablets list. And whether you’re wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch4 or an Apple Watch Series 7, both devices include an eSIM that you can activate.
A smartphone with an eSIM connection could be used by a business person who wants a work and personal number linked to the same device. (Though that sounds like a recipe for late-night texting disasters.) International travelers might appreciate the ability to quickly switch between paid services while crossing borders. Videos describing the new technology as a “travel hack” have gone viral on TikTok.
You may find eSIMs frustrating if you’re an edge-case user who switches between multiple devices. Lucky for you, we’re still years away from eSIM-only smartphones being the exclusive choices available for purchase. So you can keep those metal sticks in your junk drawer without shame. (I’m.)
For most who rarely think twice about their SIM card once installed, converting to an eSIM is also a smart decision in terms of privacy. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s website, eSIMs provide “significant security benefits.” Using an eSIM protects against some SIM swapping attacks that threaten your smartphone.