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Article: A Few eSIM Uses

by on March 10, 2022

While I’d suspect most people who read this site have an iPhone and a plan that includes voice calls, text messages, and some amount of data (maybe even unlimited for all three), I dug into a few neat uses for the eSIM capability on recent iPhones that can pair nicely with your current service.

What is an eSIM?

Before we start, it’s important to understand what an eSIM is—on iPhone XR, XS, 11, 11 Pro, 12, 12 Pro, 13, 13 Pro, 2020 SE, and 2022 SE models, you can use a physical SIM card for service, just as most iPhones have done since the original. In addition, you can use the eSIM, which is an embedded SIM that can be electronically programmed to change based on the provider. In most cases, this can be set up with an app that loads the profile, a QR code that is scanned to push the profile, or manually entering a string of text. Recent iPhones can have multiple profiles, so you could actually keep multiple services on standby, too. In the case of all models except the 13 and 13 Pro (and maybe the newest 2022 SE), you can only have the physical SIM and one eSIM profile active at once. On the 13 and 13 Pro (and possibly new SE), you can have the physical SIM and one eSIM profile active or two eSIM profiles active. Keep in mind that only one line can be the active data line, and when in a call, only data on that particular line will work.


Visible is a touted as an inexpensive $40 unlimited plan that runs on Verizon’s network and gets cheaper in two ways. One, if you join a “party” (that is your line and at least 3 others), service drops to $25/month. The idea behind this is that people who are saving money and helping others save money are a little more likely to stick around. The other is through referrals—currently, if you refer someone, you both get service for $5 for the next month.

As mentioned, the service is unlimited everything on Verizon’s network, but data isn’t as fast in some areas as Verizon’s top-tier postpaid services, due to deprioritization and running through Visible’s experimental cloud-based infrastructure. In addition, support is only via chat, as opposed to a phone number or stores. Nonetheless, it’s a great value and can be a primary service or pair nicely as a secondary line. They even offer a free trial. Finally, a little outside of the scope of this article, the service is also available as a physical SIM.


Airalo is a unique product in that it’s designed for international travel. Rather than pay your carrier absurd international roaming rates, you can simply buy a data-only SIM for your destination and load it on your device as an eSIM profile. It can also be a good addition if your carrier has a limit of “fast” roaming in a particular area or prefers to roam on a carrier with lousy coverage. Rates vary based on time and amount of data, but they seem rather reasonable in many places. This can also pair nicely with a service like Visible, which does not offer international roaming.

While there isn’t free trial, you can always try the eSIM for your particular country (I did that with the United States, which roams on AT&T and T-Mobile) to see how it all works. You will need to pick up one for each country you visit unless you buy one of the regional ones. Finally, if you use referral code ERIC470, you’ll get $3 off your first one.

T-Mobile Connect

T-Mobile has been eSIM-friendly for many plans early on. One such pairing are the Connect plans, a pair of affordable plans launched in March 2020 that grow 500MB every March for five years. Both include unlimited voice minutes and text messages, and have a finite amount of data (after it’s used, it stops for almost everything, except a few Apple-related services). The cheaper plan is $15 and started at 2GB (now 2.5GB, soon to be 3GB within a few weeks), while the more expensive plan is $25 and started at 5GB (now 5.5GB, soon to be 6GB within a few weeks). Prices are guaranteed to stay the same through 2025 and you can change between these and the more expensive prepaid plans (10GB or unlimited data) with the online account management. Finally, in terms of data priority, these are the same as even the highest-tier postpaid plan, which is a nice contrast from something like Visible.

The Connect plans are available on physical SIMs, but can also be activated directly from the T-Mobile Prepaid eSIM app. One design quirk is that the plan list is scrollable, but doesn’t appear as such, if you’re looking for the $15 plan.

PSA: When signing up for any T-Mobile prepaid plan, make sure you pick a six-digit PIN only. When the billing system connects with the account management system, that’s the expected length, otherwise it will error out.

Stupid T-Mobile Tricks

While the Connect plans are a great value and easy to set up, there are two other options worth mentioning, but require a bit of work:

$3/month PayGo Plan

This plan is technically unavailable, as it has been outsourced and replaced by the Ultra Mobile PayGo plan—which is really nice in its own right. The T-Mobile version of the plan included 30 “units” every month, which could be used for texts or voice minutes and anything over would be 10$cent; each. Data was not included, but 1GB passes can be purchased. On the other hand, Ultra includes 100 minutes, 100 texts, and 100MB of data every month, so the replacement is objectively better.

However, Ultra doesn’t support eSIM yet, so there are two ways to still get the $3/month PayGo plan, at least as of March 2022. In both cases, it’s easiest to sign up for the $15 Connect plan on an eSIM and then load an additional $3 on the account.

The first method is relatively straightforward, call customer service at 611 and ask a representative to put you on the grandfathered $3/month PayGo plan. It can be done immediately or for the next billing cycle and will use the remaining $3 on the account immediately.

The second method is a bit more time consuming, but follows along with the fine print on the main page of T-Mobile’s prepaid site:

If balance is insufficient to renew all lines on your account for 120 days, all lines will be suspended for 30 days. If you have an account balance, all lines will convert to Pay As You Go for 30 day increments with $3/mo. for 30 voice min./SMS messages.

In this case, you just have to wait and wait (120 days after the first failed renewal) and as long as you have that $3 on your account, the $15 Connect plan will eventually turn into the $3/month PayGo plan. Keep checking, as a plan with a $0 balance gets canceled.

Personally, I’ve done both and have run this plan on both physical SIMs and eSIMs and it’s a great option for a second line if you want something for a few calls or SMS verification codes.

Mobile Internet

In general, most cellular providers are very particular about phone-specific plans being used in phones and data-only plans being used in tablets or hotspots. Even for postpaid, T-Mobile enforces this by throttling lines used in the wrong device. For prepaid, it seems to be more laissez-faire. The Mobile Internet plans are data-only plans, ranging in price from $5/500MB to $50/50GB and have all calls and texts blocked (other than service messages and you can set up iMessage and FaceTime on that particular number).

As these are on the same billing system as the Connect and Simply Prepaid plans, the easiest way to set up these is to sign up for the $15 Connect plan on eSIM and then change your plan to the amount you want for the next billing cycle. In the future, they can always be changed back to a voice plan if necessary.

More to Come

These are only a few ideas for eSIM on iPhones, but some of my favorites so far. In the coming months and years, I suspect we’ll see plenty of more services like Airalo (there already are others), and more carriers embrace eSIM as a low-cost, low-risk way to allow people to try service. For consumers, it’s great as it allows you to switch providers relatively easily, and mix and match services to best fit your needs.

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