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Best eSIM For Europe Travel | Everything You Need To Know About European Prepaid eSIM Data Plans

A guide to everything you need to know about using eSIM data plans while traveling through Europe.

phones and technology

When most people want high-speed mobile data for their phone while traveling to Europe they’ve traditionally bought a physical SIM card. However, many newer phones have an embedded electronic SIM (i.e. eSIM) that allows you to connect to European mobile carriers without needing to install a physical SIM card. These new eSIM data plans offer travelers a ton of convenience but there are a few quirks as well. That’s why in this article I’m going to cover everything you need to know about eSIM data plans in Europe—including tips for finding the best eSIM for Europe travel.


What You’ll See In This eSIM Guide


Do You Need Mobile Data In Europe?

Backpacking Europe packing list - Rain Jackets

Honestly, yes, you need mobile data on your phone when traveling to Europe. Sure, you can sometimes find free wifi hotspots but that’s way more difficult than you’d think (I know from experience).

And so much of modern European life requires high-speed mobile data—train tickets are digital, Google Maps needs reliable data, sporting event tickets are digital, restaurant menus are accessed via QR codes, Uber/rideshare apps require data, some restaurants now want you to pay via your phone, accessing real-time public transportation info relies on mobile data, and the list goes on.


Can You Use Your Mobile Provider’s International Data Plan?

International Data Plan for Europe
AT&T International Day Pass is $10/day but speeds are downgraded to 3G after 2GB of daily data.

US/Canadian/Australian domestic mobile providers often offer an international data plan (either free or for an extra charge) but they all come with a few major drawbacks:

  • They’re expensive: Expect to pay $10-$20/day
  • Slow speeds: You’re often downgraded to 2G/3G speeds so even opening basic webpages could take forever to load (if it even loads). Many apps won’t function. Google Maps won’t work. Forget about social media.
  • Data caps: These plans might start you off with standard 4G/LTE speeds but once you hit 1-2GB of data you’ll be downgraded to nearly-unusable 3G/2G speeds.
  • Auto Enrollment: Some plans automatically enroll you in their international data plan the moment your phone tries to access data—which is just about every phone since smartphone apps are constantly running in the background.

For example, the AT&T International Day Pass costs $10/day. They also have their AT&T Passport plan, a monthly plan that’s either $70/month for 2 GB of data or $140/month for 6 GB. Then they charge an insane overage of $30 per GB. Verizon also has a $10/day pass but they knock you down to 3G speeds after 2GB each day.

And many T-Mobile customers get free “unlimited” international data but you’re only guaranteed 2g data speeds after you hit a total usage of 5GB of data… which will struggle to load Google Maps or even email. T-Mobile gives you the option to pay more to get 5GB at better speeds but then you’ll be charged a premium.

These “international data plans” are 5X as expensive as buying a prepaid eSIM data plan from a third-party provider—for example, eSIM data plans from Orange or Holafly will cost you around $2-$4/day.

So do yourself a favor and buy a European mobile data plan.


What Is An eSIM?

In short, an eSIM is an embedded/digital version of the traditional physical SIM card. So instead of installing a physical SIM card to change your mobile provider, you simply connect to a new mobile data service provider using an app.

This is great for international travel because you no longer have to hunt down a new SIM card when you change countries. You simply activate the eSIM service and you’re online in seconds.

Many new phones are dual SIM so you can still use your physical domestic SIM card while also using the eSIM so you can switch back and forth between your mobile data providers.

Some phones are also moving to eSIM only—the USA versions of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 (and future generations) no longer feature a SIM card slot but do support dual eSIM.


The Benefits of eSIM Mobile Data Plans

Below are some of the many benefits of using an eSIM data plan while traveling.

No Searching For SIM Cards

The biggest benefit of an eSIM is not having to track down a physical SIM card. All you have to do is install the mobile provider’s app to activate the eSIM data service. This means you can order your eSIM, and download the app before you leave. and then activate the service when you arrive at your destination.

Instant Delivery (No Shipping Fees)

Since eSIM cards are all digital you don’t have to pay shipping fees if you want to pre-purchase a European data plan before arriving in Europe.

For example, you can buy a plan from SimOptions or Holafly and they’ll email you a QR code or link to activate the service.

Dual eSIMs Allow You To Use Two Data Plans At Once

Another big benefit to using an eSIM is that you can seamlessly switch between your domestic plan (via the physical SIM) and the travel plan (via your eSIM). In fact, some phones let you have up to 5 eSIM data plans on a single phone—which is overkill for most people but it’s still an option.

Another huge benefit to having dual SIM cards is that many services will send you texts for things like two-factor identification or your bank might text you with fraud alerts and these won’t come through if you don’t have your home plan’s physical SIM card installed.

No Need to Remove Your Current SIM Card

Removing the physical SIM card is a hassle. First, you need the little tool to pop the SIM out of the phone (which is easy to lose). Then you also have to remove your phone case. You also have to keep track of your original SIM card so you don’t lose or damage it (you’ll need to reinstall it to get your service back).

Easier To Add Credit To Your Account

All eSIM data plans require you to download the service provider’s app to activate the service and most allow you to easily add credit to your account via the app.


What iPhones Use eSIM Cards?

Not all iPhones have built-in eSIM compatibility but essentially all iPhones made since 2019 should be eSIM compatible—i.e. they’re Dual SIM so they have both a physical SIM and an eSIM.

UPDATE: All iPhone 14 (and newer) sold in the UNITED STATES are eSIM-only so there isn’t a physical SIM Card slot anymore. However, all iPhones sold outside the US have dual SIM with physical SIM and eSIM.

eSIM Compatible Phones:

  • iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR under iOS 12.2 at least
    • (The base iPhone X and anything older is not eSIM compatible)
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, 12 Mini & iPhone SE 2020
  • iPhone 13, 13 Pro, 13 Mini
  • iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone SE, etc.
  • iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max, iPhone 15, and iPhone 15 Plus

What Android Phones Use eSIM Cards?

Again, just about every Android sold since 2020 is eSIM compatible.

  • Samsung Galaxy Fold & Galaxy Fold 2 / Galaxy Z Flip & Z Flip 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 Ultra / Galaxy Note 20
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 5G, S21+ 5G, S21 Ultra 5G
  • Google Pixel 3, Pixel 3XL, Pixel 4, Pixel 4XL, Pixel 4a (4G), Pixel 5 (5G), Pixel 6, Pixel 7
  • Huawei P40 and P40 Pro & Mate 40 Pro

The Best eSIM Data Plans For Europe

How to buy a SIM card and data plan in Italy

A great thing about traveling to Europe is that the EU outlawed mobile data roaming fees so any EU data plan will work anywhere within the UE—i.e. you can buy a French eSIM and use it in Italy, Germany, Poland, etc.

That said, I recommend sticking with the major European carriers since they’ll have the most comprehensive networks and the fastest mobile data speeds.

NOTE: The UK and Switzerland aren’t in the EU so not all plans will work there (but many still do)—check each plan to see if they cover these countries.

Orange Holiday Europe eSIM 50GB: $59.90

  • Price: $59.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 50GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 120 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 1000 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 28 day
  • Data Tethering: Allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM plan comes with a French phone number that can still be used anywhere in Europe
  • Service works everywhere in the EU

Need tons of data? Consider the newly released Orange Holiday Europe 50GB eSIM data plan which is a beefed-up version of the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM. It has 50GB of data and it’s valid for 28 days (compared to 14 days with the Orange Holiday Europe plan). This eSIM also comes with many features you don’t find with other plans—including international voice calling and texts (it gives you an actual French phone number that works anywhere in Europe).

The Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan also allows you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot so you can put that extra data allowance to good use. Orange is also one of the largest mobile companies in Europe so you’ll always get great coverage and high data speeds.


Holafly Europe eSIM with Unlimited Data: Starting at $19.00

Holafly is a new Europe-based eSIM provider that I used in Italy—the service was great and I got very fast data speeds (read my Holafly eSIM Review to learn more). They sell both country-specific and Europe-wide data plans.

Unlike other mobile data companies, Holafly gives you unlimited data and a local phone number with 60 minutes of credit for making/receiving calls from European numbers (with a few exceptions). I also like how Holafly’s plans come in durations from 5 to 90 days—so you don’t have to over/underbuy for your particular trip.

  • Prices For Unlimited Data (Check Holafly for details)
    • 5 Days: $19
    • 10 Days: $34
    • 15 Days: $47
    • 20 Days: $54
    • 30 Days: $64
    • 60 Days: $84
    • 90 Days: $99
  • Service Speed: 5G/4G/LTE
  • Call Coverage: 60 minutes of credit to make calls from all of Europe—except Iceland, Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Turkey. Comes with an Austrian phone number.
  • Texts/SMS: None
  • Tethering: No


Bouygues My European eSIM: $44.90

Bouygues My European eSIM

Bouygues is a major French telecommunications company and they’ve recently released their own prepaid eSIM data plan to compete with the popular Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan. I used a prepaid Bouygues SIM card on a previous trip to Europe so I’m glad they’re finally offering an eSIM.

There’s a lot to like about the Bouygues My European eSIM plan—especially since it comes standard with 30GB of data and unlimited calls within Europe. I also like how this Bouygues eSIM plan is valid for 30 days so it’s a great option for longer trips.

  • Price: $44.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 30GB
  • Data Tethering: Allowed
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe
  • Credit validity: 30 day
  • Phone Number: This eSIM card comes with a French phone number
  • Coverage: Anywhere within the European Union (except Switzerland)

Check out my Bouygues European eSIM review for more information about this plan.


Orange Holiday Europe eSIM 30GB: $49.90

  • Price: $49.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 30GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 120 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 1000 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data tethering allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM card comes with a French phone number

The Orange Holiday Europe eSIM data plan is another excellent eSIM plan because it comes with 30GB of data and many features you don’t find with other plans—including international voice calling and texts (it gives you an actual French phone number that will work anywhere in Europe). The Orange Holiday Europe eSIM plan also allows you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot.

Orange is also one of the largest mobile companies in Europe so you’ll always get great coverage and high data speeds.

The potential downside to the Orange Holiday Europe eSIM is that it’s only valid for 14 days once activated so it’s not great for longer visits (but you can always buy a second plan).


Orange Holiday Zen eSIM: $29.90

Orange Holiday Zen eSIM | Best eSIM For Visiting Europe
  • Price: $29.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 15GB (recently upgraded from 8GB)
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: Unlimited within Europe and 30 min outside of Europe.
  • Texts/SMS: Unlimited within Europe and 200 outside of Europe.
  • Credit validity: 14 day
  • Data tethering allowed
  • Usable on any device (phones, tablets, hotspots…)
  • This eSIM card comes with a French phone number

The Orange Holiday Zen plan is a top pick for travelers for a few different reasons.

First, Orange is one of the largest mobile networks in Europe so they have great coverage basically everywhere in Europe and you won’t have to worry about slow speeds.

Second, Orange Holiday eSIM data plan gives you unlimited calls and texts within Europe and limited (yet still ample) credit for calls/texts outside the EU. A majority of eSIM plans from other providers don’t give you any (or very limited) credit for calls or texts.

This plan comes with 15GB of mobile data which should suffice for most travelers who aren’t heavy data users.


Smart Comfort X eSIM: $17.90

  • Price: $17.90 (Check SimOptions for details)
  • Data: 5GB
  • Service Speed: 4G/LTE
  • Calls: None
  • Texts/SMS: None
  • Credit validity: 30 day

The Smart Comfort X eSIM is a budget data-only eSIM plan option that gives you 5GB of data but no calls or texts (you can still send iMessage if you’re sending messages between iPhones and make calls/texts via WhatsApp, etc.).

Smart Comfort X eSIM is also what’s considered an “international eSIM” so it’s not backed by a specific data provider (i.e. Orange, O2, etc.). That means it will connect to a specific partner provider in each country—for example, France (Bouygues), Germany (O2), Italy (WIND), Spain (Telefonica), etc.

Because of its limited data limits, the Smart Comfort X eSIM plan is best for light data users.


Do European eSIM Plans Come With A European Phone Number?

Some European prepaid eSIM plans come with a European phone number but many prepaid eSIM plans are data only. You probably don’t need a European phone number but it can come in handy for calling restaurants, hotels, or Airbnb hosts (many use WhatsApp—which only requires a data connection).

Recommended Prepaid eSim Plans with A European Phone Number:


How Much Mobile Data Do You Need When Traveling Europe?

Studies show that the average American uses about 5-7GB of mobile data every week but your rate will vary.

You can easily hit 15GB/week if you’re a heavy user but it’s fairly easy to keep your mobile data usage under 2-3GB/week if you stick to basic web browsing, limit your social media use, and keep app usage to a minimum (or save your heavy usage for when you’re on wifi).


How To Activate an eSIM Data Plan

Activating an eSIM is relatively simple.

Step One: Purchase Your Data Plan

I highly recommend purchasing your eSIM before you leave because you’ll need data/wifi to complete the setup.

Step Two: Check Your Email For The QR Code

You’ll get an email from the seller as soon as you make your purchase.

This email will include a QR code that you can scan so you’ll want to be in front of your computer so you can scan the QR code from your screen.

Step Three: Install The Carrier’s eSIM App

The QR code will lead you to download the carrier’s eSIM app. Just follow the directions they send you.

IMPORTANT: Don’t fully activate your eSIM data plan until you’re in Europe. Most data plans only have a validity period of 14-30 days and that countdown begins the second you activate the service.

So, for example, if you activate the service a week before your trip then you’ll have lost a full week from your service length (even if you haven’t used any data).

Step Four: Fully Activate Service Once in Europe

Finish the activation process. Your phone should automatically connect to the local data network (it might take a few minutes to get fully activated).


Buying an eSIM in Europe

The beauty of eSIM plans is that they’re completely digital so you can buy them online anytime, anywhere (see all the above eSIM options).

Every European country has its own domestic mobile carriers and each is starting to offer its own prepaid eSIM data plans. However, carrier-specific eSIM mobile packages aren’t quite widespread in Europe yet so not every mobile carrier will have options—therefore, not every retailer will have them (or they’ll have a very limited selection).

Furthermore, many European carriers only offer “postpaid” eSIM plans so they’re generally not conducive to short-term visitors and tourists. That’s why I recommend buying one of the eSIM plans I mentioned earlier in this article.

What Countries in Europe Support eSIM?

While not every mobile carrier in Europe has an eSIM mobile plan, there are carriers in every European country that accept eSIM technology—therefore, your phone will automatically connect to a provider (no matter what eSIM plan you’re using).

Simply put: Your eSIM data plan will work anywhere in Europe.

Coverage Note About Switzerland (and Possibly the UK): Switzerland is an outlier because they’re not technically part of the EU so some providers don’t work there. For example, the Orange Holiday plans work in Switzerland but the Smart Comfort X plan won’t work there. There are also rumors that the UK also has (or will have soon) the same issues because of Brexit.

Learn more on our Guide on How To Use Data Plans and Smartphone Phones Abroad


More Tips For Using An eSIM Data Plan in Europe

Here are a few more tips for getting the most out of using your high-speed eSIM mobile data plan while traveling around Europe. If you want to learn more, check out The Savvy Backpacker’s Guide to How To Use Data Plans and Smartphone Phones Abroad

You Need An Unlocked Phone

You need to make sure your phone is unlocked before you can install both a SIM card or eSIM—many American mobile carriers use software to “lock” their smartphones to their network so the phone won’t work if you install a SIM card from another company.

However, you can unlock your phone by calling your mobile carrier and asking them to unlock it because you’re going to travel abroad (you might need to visit a store to get it unlocked).

BUY A PORTABLE BATTERY CHARGER

Using apps like Google Maps and taking photos kills your phone battery so a portable battery is a must-have. I use Anker PowerCore 10000 because it’s tiny and affordable but there are multiple options.

Save Heavy Data Usage For When You’re On Wifi

It’s extremely easy to unknowingly burn through a lot of data—especially when you’re using data-hungry apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Therefore it’s highly recommended to save your heavy data usage for when you’re connected to wifi.

USE AIRPLANE MODE AND BLOCK DATA TO SPECIFIC APPS

I’ll put my phone in Airplane Mode because that disables all data (but GPS still works in Airplane Mode). You can also go into the settings and disable data access to each individual app.

DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS

Google Maps lets you download entire city maps so they can be used offline. As an added bonus, GPS doesn’t use data so offline Google Maps works fairly well (but not all functionality works). Here is a good YouTube video that explains everything.

Download WhatsApp

WhatsApp is an excellent app for free calling and text messages—I’ve found that many Europeans exclusively use WhatsApp to communicate (including many Airbnb hosts).


Get More Europe Travel Tips From The Savvy Backpacker

Are you heading to Europe soon? Here are some more helpful articles I’ve written to help you plan your European travels.

James Feess
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