What is the Best eSIM for USA?

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The United States has it all – from the bright lights of New York to the quaint French Quarter of New Orleans. From white-knuckle rides at Universal Studios Hollywood to majestic waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.

I have been fortunate to explore much of the United States by road over several trips. My favourite area has to be Utah and Arizona – it’s heaven on earth for nature buffs.

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Regardless of where you spend your vacation, in concrete jungles or untamed wilderness, there’s one thing you should pack before anything else … a reliable mobile internet connection with far-reaching coverage. It’s a fundamental ingredient for a smooth holiday.

However, learning the ins and outs of a foreign country’s telecommunication networks can feel daunting. That’s why I recommend skipping the headaches and arranging a travel-friendly eSIM for the USA before you leave home. 

It’s surprisingly easy and won’t put a dent in your wallet.

Tip: The United States is a very big country, so unsurprisingly you may encounter mobile network dead zones in more remote places. To complement your mobile phone, I suggest picking up an affordable mesh device, such as goTenna Mesh, as a communication tool in backcountry areas. It might just save your life.

eSIM vs Physical SIM?

Embedded Subscriber Identity Module (eSIM) launched publicly in 2017 as the future of mobile telephony. This software-based solution was designed to replace the old physical SIM cards that you’re probably familiar with – and if you’re like me, more than once or twice you’ve wrangled an old twisted paperclip to try and open that annoying slot tray on the side of your phone. 

Instead of buying an old-school plastic SIM card in the USA, you can now browse between carriers on your phone or laptop and make an online purchase with instant delivery and activation. No need to drive to a store, or wait days for a courier. You’ll be online as soon as you step off the plane. 

The increased ease of switching is driving mobile providers to offer more competitive pricing and better service. I won’t complain about that.

Rejoice... no more physical SIM cards!

Why Buy an eSIM for USA?

Chances are if you are located outside North America, your regular mobile provider will charge through the roof for international data roaming. 

A travel-friendly eSIM enables you to keep your “home” SIM active for voice and text while utilising a second active data connection in the United States.

This solution is perfect for vacations anywhere between 3 days and 3 months. Anything longer, and you might be better off picking up a regular local SIM.

Phones Compatible with a USA eSIM

If you’ve purchased a new phone in the last couple of years, there’s a good chance it might support eSIM. Check this page for a comprehensive list of phone, tablet, and laptop models that support eSIMs.

Even if your handset supports eSIM, there’s one more hoop to jump through. Check that your device is unlocked – that means it’s not tied exclusively to the network you’re currently using.

Phones purchased from carriers at a small (or no) upfront cost are frequently locked to the network so the carrier makes a return on their investment in you.

If you’re not sure about your phone’s network lock status, try calling your carrier’s helpdesk or borrowing a friend’s SIM card if they are on a different network. Here are instructions for alternative methods for checking your phone’s network lock status.

Mobile Network Coverage in USA

Coverage is everything. Unlike Europe which has a fragmented mobile market with different providers in each of the 44 countries within the EU, the United States has only 3 main mobile providers – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile (Sprint was bought out by T-Mobile in April 2020).

4G LTE coverage of the country varies greatly with Verizon at 70% and Sprint (prior to the acquisition) around 30%. So be careful – not all networks are the same.

AT&T tends to offer the best balance between value, fast network speeds, and broad coverage. If you’re planning on visiting more remote locations in the US, check out this interactive coverage map

However, purchasing an eSIM from AT&T as a foreigner is a pain in the ass. They aren’t known for wonderful customer service. So, if you choose a travel-friendly eSIM provider that uses the AT&T network, then you can get the best of both worlds – solid customer support AND great coverage. If the eSIM provider does not clearly state which network they use, you can assume they are going to cut corners and you may end up with an inferior service.

Holafly uses the AT&T network, so you’re guaranteed to get extensive coverage all over the United States.

How to Install and Activate an eSIM

Once you’ve checked that your device is compatible, simply follow the checkout steps on the eSIM provider’s website or mobile app. These are pretty standard – providing contact details, phone, email, and then payment details. Within a few minutes, you’ll receive an email that contains a unique QR code. Scan this on your phone and you’re done.

Tip: To avoid wastage, only complete the scan when you’re ready to start using your plan – not before you leave home. Unfortunately, there’s no “undo” button.

Here are detailed step-by-step activation instructions for the most popular handsets: iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, Huawei, Motorola Razr.

Compare the Best eSIM Plans for USA

Congratulations… you’ve got this far! Now we get to the juicy part.

You might assume the “big 3” mobile providers in the US are the best place to start, but that’s simply not true. They’re more geared up towards the domestic market, and compared to their international counterparts, leave a lot to be desired in terms of user-friendliness.

Your best option is a dedicated travel-oriented eSIM specialist which utilises one of the big US networks. I’ve compared the best players in the industry to save you time – combing through their fine print, comparing the depth of support resources, trying out their online purchasing flow, and scrounging through customer reviews.

When comparing USA eSIM plans, the most critical aspect is the amount of data available (measured in GB) and the length of validity (in days). But also remember to check the list of compatible devices.

Here are the best prepaid USA eSIM plans and providers:

Recommended:

Holafly

  • New in June 2022: now supports unlimited data plans & eSIM top-ups (first in the industry!)
  • Includes: data only
  • Compatible with: iOS and Android
  • Hotspot tethering: no for most locations, as of June 2022 due to unlimited plans (see FAQ)
  • Network in US: AT&T

5 days, unlimited: $19

10 days, unlimited: $34

15 days, unlimited: $47

20 days, unlimited: $54

30 days, unlimited: $64

60 days, unlimited: $84

Comment: best balance between data allowance and low pricing, and the only option for power users with unlimited data usage. Don't worry about checking your usage every day. Phew!

Discount: Save 5% on Holafly's eSIMs with our exclusive code "TRAVELWITHBENDER".

Others:

Gigsky

  • Includes: data only
  • Compatible with: iOS, Google Pixel
  • Hotspot tethering: supported
  • Network in US: unclear

1 day, 1GB: $9.99

15 days, 3GB: $24.99

30 days, 5GB: $39.99

Comment: may work for ultra-light data usage, but too easy to run out of data and not compatible with all Android devices

iFree Mogo

  • Includes: data only
  • Compatible with: iOS and Android
  • Hotspot tethering: supported
  • Network in US: unclear

7 days, 3GB: $30

15 days, 5GB: $50

30 days, 10GB: $86

Comment: ok for ultra-light usage over a longer period when promo discounts are active

How Much Data do I Need in USA?

Your mobile phone is an extension of yourself. And when on vacation, it’s no different. 

The way you use your phone will vary from the next traveller. So, when predicting how much mobile data you’ll need, think about how often you use your phone as well as the type of apps used – reading emails (without attachments) uses very little data, but scrolling through TikTok videos chews through a lot of data. 

If you don’t know the difference between a “megabyte” and “gigabyte”, this easy-to-use tool will help demystify the jargon and estimate your usage. 

As a rough guide, most travellers who use their phone each day should aim at 6-10GB per month.

  • Light users will flick through social media and upload the odd image of chowing on a pizza slice in Times Square, New York. 100-400MB of data per day should be plenty.
  • Mid-range users may download large app updates, browse high-resolution photos on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and stream travel videos on TikTok and YouTube, so data usage can add up very quickly. Between 300-500MB of data per day should suffice.
  • Heavy users may setup a hotspot and connect their laptop to download large attachments for work, or run offsite backups. That could drive up data usage to 500-800MB per day.

Important USA eSIM Hacks

Don’t delete eSIM if the data plan expires

Check the provider’s policy on deleting the eSIM. Typically, when your data plan expires your actual eSIM is still valid, at least for a period of time. So don’t delete it in case you want to use it again in the future. Or if you run out of data, many prepaid eSIMs don’t support top-ups like a traditional SIM, but rather offer additional eSIMs to “extend” your service. So, get familiar with the process before you find yourself in that position.

Check the fine print of your home SIM

Avoid “bill shock” and familiarise yourself with your phone so you know how to activate a specific SIM/eSIM. If your home SIM provides cheap (or free) call/text roaming then it would be worth keeping that active while also using your USA eSIM just for data. Follow these steps for configuring multiple SIMs on iOS and Android.

The Bottom Line

The United States is the land of limitless possibilities. And your mobile phone should reflect that.

Wifi hotspot hopping and slow roaming data speeds is sooooo 2012. To get the most out of your trip to North America, pick up a USA eSIM from my preferred supplier, Holafly, and your vacation will be more magical than all the combined fairy dust in Disneyland.

Just don’t tell Mickey I said that.

Reader Comments...

"I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" -

nice

Wick Mar 31st, 2022

Hi, My Name is Rahul Verma Thanks for giving very helpful information Good Work sir keep it up.

Rahul verma Jun 2nd, 2022

Thank you for the great info.

John Jul 27th, 2022

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