Traveling to Africa: pros and cons of eSIM vs physical SIM

Are you headed out on a trip to Africa soon? Chances are you are wondering how to stay connected with home during your time away, and that you’re worried it’s going to cost you.

No one wants to be glued to their phone during their vacation (ESPECIALLY on a trip to Africa), but it can be a huge relief to know your phone has a steady connection if you ever need to use it. This is why so many have turned to swapping SIM cards on their travels, or have used their carrier’s travel plans.

There’s a better alternative that’s easier to use, and it’s called an eSIM. This digital SIM card uses prepaid data, and will connect you (without swapping out your physical SIM) to local data networks at affordable rates around the world, including in Africa.

Many tourists are now using this game-changing technology during their international travel. Let’s look at eSIM vs physical SIM cards, and which will work better for you on your trip to Africa.

What is an eSIM?

Let’s start with explaining what an eSIM is. It’s a digital version of the physical SIM that’s inserted into your phone to connect with local networks (that tiny thing you use a pin to remove). Because it’s digital, it’s embedded into your phone—this means you never physically swap it in or out.

Will it work with my phone?

Like a physical SIM, an eSIM connects your phone to local networks. Most newer devices (phones and tablets) support eSIM, and we have an eSIM device checker that’ll help you confirm if your device does too.

Your eSIM will then connect you to local data in your destination. When you buy an eSIM for Kenya, for example, it connects you to data networks locally within Kenya.

Is it really cheaper than my carrier’s travel plan?

It absolutely is! An eSIM will save you a ton while keeping you connected. Carrier travel plans can cost over $100 per week (often $15 per day, for only 1 GB of data). eSIM data from aloSIM, by comparison, starts at just a few dollars per week.

This isn’t the only way to save more with eSIM vs physical SIM. It’ll save you from roaming fees too, when you switch off your physical SIM. More on this in a minute. 

How and when should I install my eSIM?

Installing your eSIM is easy, especially with our detailed eSIM installation instructions. We always recommend you install your eSIM a few days before you leave for your vacation, and that you have a strong internet connection during the install.

But if you’re already at your destination, that’s ok too. Just make sure that your internet connection is strong during your install, and later when you activate.

But before we talk about activating your eSIM, let’s analyze the pros and cons of eSIM vs physical SIM.

eSIM pro #1: Install and activate easily. While physical SIM requires that you buy a SIM from a local store, your eSIM is installed online (or via our free app) at home before you leave. And as soon as you activate, your data will start flowing seconds later.

eSIM pro #2: It’s super cheap. You buy data for a few bucks, and can top up whenever you need (there are no contracts either).

eSIM pro #3: No SIM swapping. There’s zero risk of losing your physical SIM: this is likely the biggest pro of using eSIM vs physical SIM. Another pro of eSIM vs physical SIM is installing a new eSIM if your trip will span several countries (aloSIM, for example, offers eSIM data in 150+ countries).

eSIM con #1: no phone number. eSIMs do not come with a phone number, but you can still use your physical SIM. Just know that this can sometimes cause roaming fees.

Physical SIM pro #1 Your previous experience. You may feel more at ease using a physical SIM if you’ve swapped a different one in before. There are also fewer settings to navigate when you swap your physical SIM.

Physical SIM con #1: Risky swapping. Taking your physical SIM in and out puts you at risk of losing it. It’s an extremely small piece of plastic that holds a LOT of your information, so we advise caution if you choose to only use physical SIMs when traveling.

Physical SIM con #2: Purchase process. When you buy a local physical SIM, it can be hard due to a foreign language, and paperwork you may need to fill out. It can also be hard to find a store to buy it from, depending on where you’re traveling.

Using your Africa eSIM while traveling

How will I activate my data package once I’ve arrived in Africa?

When you arrive in Africa, you’ll activate your eSIM using our instructions for iOS users (or this how-to video), or these instructions for Android devices. You’ll need about a minute to complete the steps, and your data will start flowing right after.

How will I avoid roaming charges?

We also have instructions for iOS devices or Android devices on navigating your settings, and ensuring your carrier won’t charge you for data roaming on your next phone bill.

Can I use my phone number?

When using an eSIM, vs a physical SIM, you can leave your primary line on during your trip, if you need to text or call during your time away. As eSIMs don’t come with their own phone number, leaving yours active enables you to use it during your trip.

Remember that your carrier may charge you for active calling minutes, AND individual texts that come through while you’re away.It’s a good idea to contact your carrier and ask about their pay-per-use rates so you can make an informed decision.

And if you don’t mind being without your primary phone number during your trip, there are so many other ways to call and text affordably with a data-only eSIM during your time away. One way is to use a temporary phone number from our sister app, Hushed.

How do I get more Africa data if I need it?

Another benefit of eSIM vs physical SIM is topping up on data, anytime you want. You can buy more data either in the aloSIM app (available for download in the App Store and Google Play) or online at

And there’s more great news where that came from! If your Africa trip will span several countries, here’s where aloSIM can keep you connected:

  1. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  2. Ghana
  3. Guinea
  4. Guinea-Bissau
  5. Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire)
  6. Kenya
  7. Lesotho
  8. Mayotte
  9. Mozambique
  10. Nigeria
  11. Réunion
  12. Rwanda
  13. South Africa
  14. The United Republic of Tanzania
  15. Uganda

With 150+ countries to choose from, including 15 in Africa, aloSIM data will keep you connected during your trip to Africa. Your eSIM data will keep you in touch with home, help you navigate your trip, and ensure you can send photos of the amazing sights to those you love.