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The GSMA originally developed eSIM technology all the way back in 2012, but like all new tech, it's taken a little while to gain a foothold. Samsung's Gear S2 Classic 3G smartwatch kicked off the consumer eSIM revolution in 2016, with Apple following suit in 2017 with the Apple Watch Series 3. These days, most Android smartphones have eSIM compatibility as standard.

If you're wondering what eSIMs are all about and how to use them with your Android phone, look no further. We have the definitive eSIM guide - what they are, their benefits, and how they'll work on Android.

What is an eSIM?

Embedded SIMs or eSIMs differ from traditional SIMs because there's no physical card. An eSIM is digitally encoded on your phone. With an eSIM, there's no scratching around for an eject tool or losing the SIM tray down the back of the couch; you can't lose it because you can't remove it from your phone.

You can also store more than one eSIM profile on your phone, meaning you can access multiple carriers with the tap of a screen. The number of profiles you can access varies from model to model, but it's generally at least five. In addition, devices running Android 13 or above can have two eSIM profiles active simultaneously, giving access to two networks at once - perfect for those who want a business and personal line on one device.

What are the benefits of an eSIM on Android?

As well as being entirely digital, eSIMs have several other benefits over physical SIM cards.

  • They're great if you travel a lot - If you travel internationally, an eSIM makes switching between operators simple. To reduce roaming costs, you can store multiple profiles and switch to a local operator's plan with a few screen taps.
  • They're smaller than physical SIMs - At roughly half the size of a nano-SIM, eSIMs take up much less space than a physical SIM card, which means manufacturers can add features, larger batteries, or shave precious millimetres from their smartphones' chassis.
  • They can't be lost or damaged - Nano SIMs are pretty easy to lose. Since you can't remove an eSIM from your Android phone, you can't lose or accidentally damage it.
  • You can have more than one number - Multiple eSIMs mean you can have access to different phone numbers. You can easily switch eSIM profiles with a few taps, allowing near-instant access to a different number and operator plan.

How does eSIM work on Android?

Most recent Android smartphones offer eSIM compatibility alongside traditional SIM card trays. Most phones will allow you to connect an eSIM whilst also having a SIM card installed, or you could do away with a physical SIM card altogether and have multiple eSIM profiles loaded on your device.

How do I know if my Android phone is eSIM compatible?

Different manufacturers have different combinations of menu options to discover whether devices are eSIM compatible. Still, there's one universal set of keystrokes that will show you whether your Android device can use eSIM.

Here's how to find out:

  1. Open your Phone app
  2. Dial *#06# and hit call
  3. If you see an EID number, your device is eSIM compatible

How do I set up an eSIM on Android?

Once you've signed up for an eSIM plan, you can add it to your Android phone. There are two ways to add your eSIM on Android.

  • Scan a QR code - Your carrier may have sent you a QR code. Scan the code and follow the instructions to add your eSIM.
  • Use an activation code - If you have an activation code, you can manually add your eSIM to your Android phone.

Which carriers offer eSIM services?

US carriers:

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Verizon
  • Google Fi
  • Mint Mobile
  • Visible
  • Tello
  • US Mobile
  • UScellular
  • Xfinity Mobile
  • Spectrum Mobile
  • FirstNet

UK networks:

  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Vodafone

So, with the added flexibility eSIM offers - not to mention the cost to carriers of sending physical SIM cards in the mail - we expect to see more networks offering plans for eSIM-enabled Android smartphones soon. It might not be long before we wave goodbye to physical SIMs forever.