Of all the logistics you face when traveling abroad, one of the biggest headaches is securing a data plan for your phone. Your local provider might give you trace amounts of data at low speeds, or gouge you every time you turn off airplane mode. Nobody wants to be hopping from one Starbucks to the next trying to steal WiFi, or relying solely on pre-downloaded Google Maps for directions. Similarly, nobody wants to spend their first hour of vacation in a cell phone store speaking broken Portuguese as they try to buy an overpriced, weeklong, weak-as-hell 1GB data plan.
Airalo is out to change that, by giving travelers easy, affordable access to data providers around the world—all from the comfort of Airalo’s own app. The Singapore-based company launched last year and has secured nearly $2 million in funding. Their angle: Most new phones come with something called an “eSIM” (it stands for “embedded subscriber identification module”), and it allows you to patch various data plans to a single permanent chip in your phone, as opposed to removing your physical SIM card and replacing it with a new one in each country you visit.
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Airalo has built a global network of data providers. You can also quickly toggle between SIM cards with eSIM devices (in your phones’ Mobile/Cellular Settings), in case you want to maintain access to your own homeland data while abroad. For this reason, you can have a handful of eSIMs at the ready, all at once, toggling between them as needed.
Here’s a scenario that many travelers might encounter: Let’s say you’re heading overseas for a couple weeks. You want to buy a data plan for the trip, and your travels start in France. You can check the Airalo site, which currently offers three tiered plans on French Mobile’s network:
France Option 1: 1GB—7 days—$3
France Option 2: 2GB—30 days—$5.5
France Option 3: 5GB—30 days—$9
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For $9 bucks, you can buy 5GB, even if your French visit is just a quick weekend. (You’re not buying a full-on plan here, so it doesn’t renew automatically.) You then download that information into the eSIM chip in your phone, in order to connect to the company’s network.
Now, if you’re visiting multiple European countries, you can purchase a regional eSIM from Airalo. They patch you into the provider Eurolink, with plans ranging from GB to 10GB, from 7 to 30 days, and from $5 to $37. That eSIM covers 34 countries in total. Whichever runs out first—the data or the days—you can instantly buy another plan to “top up” and keep going. Airalo also currently offers similar multi-country plans across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, in addition to data packs from more than 100 individual countries.
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One thing to note is that many of the plans purchased through Airalo do not include an actual phone number; they aren’t phone plans, after all. They’re data plans. So if you want to make phone calls or connect with people back home, just be sure to note whether or not the eSIM you’re buying comes with a number. (Typically it will tell you when it doesn’t include an actual number.) Otherwise, simply rely on apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype to make these “calls.” You do those by using WiFi or data, not by using actual “cellular minutes,” hence the workaround on not needing an actual phone number in any country you visit.
To learn more, you can visit Airalo’s site, or download the app on Apple devices or in Google Play. For a list of eSIM compatible devices, check the up-to-date list in Airalo’s FAQ.
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