Airalo eSIM on Android

[A bit off topic for ths blog but as I can’t leave reviews on the Play store and Google are unable to explain why]

For our holiday trip to Montenegro I decided to use an Airalo eSIM for mobile phone access, based on the recommendation of a friend who said she found them easy to use.

My regular mobile provider, giffgaff do not provide any roaming outside the EU. So I needed a local SIM and in theory eSIMs are more convenient to use. In practice I found this to be quite true, but my Samsung E22+ Android phone’s support of multiple SIMs and eSIMs turned out to present a bit of a learning curve. I left my giffgsff SIM in situ and added the eSIM.

An eSIM is a software only SIM with no physical hardware at all. This means its easy to install and use using an app wit no fiddling about inserting the tiny SIM card. In addition, you can easily get hold of a eSIM online before you travel to your destination country. This compares well with the convenience of buying a EU wide SIM that can be used in many countries (and that was was no use to me as Montenegro is not in the EU).

The eSIM setup process is basically really easy:

  • Install the Airalo app
  • Find and purchase a suitable eSIM
  • Install the eSIM
  • Active the eSIM
  • Configure the Android SIM manager
  • Use the SIM mobile services as usual

In reality I hit a few bumps in the road but once set up it just worked.

  • Only a data SIM was available for Montenegro. This seemed fine as we planned no calls or texts. But it turned out our rental car got a flat tyre and we ended up spending a fortune with giffgaff roaming calls in order to get rescued. In retrospect think I might have been able to use my data as the mysterious “LTE data for calls” option was on but another setting may have overridden it. I really am not sure though. Needs research.
  • Installing the SIM was really easy. Although the Airalo app provides loads of documentation for different ways to manually install, confusingly I scrolled down and found a undocumented button called “install” which appeared to just work. I could not test it though. Confusingly the android settings showed the eSIM being O2, giffgaff’s network, not One the SIM I had purchased. I guess it shows whatever it is connected to, which appears to be the case once we traveled. Confusing though.
  • My SIM was described as one that would could be activated but would not start consuming tariff units until it connects to the network. However, I decided to be cautious and activate it when we arrived at our destination. Bad move, as when I arrived I disabled the giffgaff mobile data, and loaded the Airalo app to activate the SIM. The app tries to make a data connection on startup and just gave weird errors. In the end I had to enable the expensive giffgaff data roaming. That appeared to fail too but I think it was just the app giving more weird errors. The moral is make sure you have solid data or WiFi connection before using the app. I’m sure it could do more offline than it does though for a better user experience.

Android includes a SIM manager that works pretty well. It lets you say which SIM you prefer for calls, texts, and data. You need to configure this in combination with possibly disabling your physical SIM and/or eSIM as required. This does offer flexibility at the expense of more complexity.

Annoyingly, when I switch my phone on each morning the SIM manager always gives two annoying prompts. But they’re easy to dismiss.

In the end I didn’t use much mobile data via the Airalo eSIM as we mostly had WiFi and our mapping apps work offline. But it was reassuring. I went for a long term SIM with loads of data to avoid purchasing another while traveling. In retrospect that was unnecessary as eSIMs are so easy to setup and use.

I’ll definitely not hesitate to use an Airalo eSIM next time I travel now I’ve found how easy and cost effective they are.