An eSIM can dramatically alter how you use your smartphone. Unlike removable subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, eSIMs are a permanent part of your phone and enable 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 as well.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of eSIMs. The nascent technology has been in the works for over 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 jettison physical card slots, and rumors persist that Apple could be launching an eSIM-only device in the near future.
Quick lingo note: The phrase “physical SIM” often refers to the older card that you pop out the side of your phone. While an eSIM is much smaller, it is not immaterial. The wording “removable SIM” makes more sense in contrast and emphasizes the embedded quality of eSIMs.
Can I Use an eSIM on My Phone?
Is this technology available to you? Sadly for anyone holding on to an antique, like the iPhone 8, eSIMs are only available in newer smartphone models. The iPhone XR through the iPhone 12 have one eSIM built in, and iPhone 13 models have two eSIMs. Other than the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, most recent Samsung phones are eSIM compatible. 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 later.
Unlike removable SIM cards, your smartphone needs to be unlocked in order to utilize an eSIM. Consumer Reports published a great article explaining how to get your smartphone unlocked from major carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Each carrier has a webpage with step-by-step instructions on how to get an eSIM started once the phone is unlocked. Whether you’re going through AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or another carrier, access to Wi-Fi or cellular data is required for the activation process.
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. Then you need to have a secondary line active and ready to go. Reach out to your carrier, and it will provide you with a QR code or link for originating the eSIM activation. iPhone owners can follow the process outlined in this helpful video from Apple Support.
If you are a tablet owner and curious about 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 list of the best tablets. And whether you’re sporting a Samsung Galaxy Watch4 or Apple Watch Series 7, both devices include an eSIM that you have the option to activate.
A smartphone with eSIM connectivity could be used by a businessperson who wants a work number and a personal number tied to the same device. (Although that does sound like a recipe for late-night texting disasters.) International travelers may appreciate being able to bounce quickly between paid services as they cross borders. Videos that describe the new tech as a “travel hack” have been going viral on TikTok.
You may find eSIMs frustrating if you are 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 unabashedly hold on to those metal pokey sticks in your junk drawer. (I am.)
For the majority who rarely think twice about their SIM card after it’s 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 of the SIM swap attacks that threaten your smartphone.