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eSIM vs physical SIM cards: What you need to know

By Josh Levesque

Originally published May 17, 2022


Last Updated March 30, 2024

Mint fox comparing esim and physical sim cards

You’re probably familiar with SIM cards but you may not be up to speed on eSIM – a relatively new technology found in most new smartphones. So what are the differences between eSIM vs. physical SIM cards? And what exactly is eSIM? The quick answer is eSIM is a SIM that’s already built into the phone (the “e” stands for “embedded”), unlike the physical SIM card you’re familiar with. On top of getting to skip the whole “Insert SIM” step that comes with a new phone or wireless plan, there are many other advantages to eSIM you may not be aware of…so let’s get into it.

In this article

What’s the difference between eSIM and a physical SIM card?

The main difference between eSIM and a physical SIM card is that eSIM is “embedded” in the phone and cannot be removed, as opposed to SIM cards, which can be ejected from one phone and placed in another. Since you already know what a SIM card is and how it works in your current phone, you might be thinking “So they pretty much do the same thing, big whoop.” And while it might not be the biggest whoop, there are still some other distinct differences between eSIM and the physical SIM card you’re used to. 

eSIM vs. physical SIM card comparison chart

Your account follows your physical SIM card from phone to phone

A physical SIM card is a piece of plastic with a SIM on it. The SIM of course contains your account information (like your phone number) and connects you to your wireless provider’s network. If you ever want to change phones, you have to remove the SIM card from your current phone and carefully insert it into your new phone. Think of your account information as a movie, and the physical SIM card is the DVD (or Blu-ray for the younger generation…or laserdisc for anyone who remembers those). You can take the movie stored on that piece of plastic from one compatible player to another and watch it wherever you like, but you can only watch it in one player at a time.

Mint Fox holding an unlocked phone

With eSIM, your account can be transferred digitally from one eSIM capable phone to another

An eSIM is built right into your phone, skipping the plastic card part. This might make it sound like you’re stuck with that phone forever, but quite the contrary. With eSIM, you can easily transfer your account to another eSIM-capable phone with just a few simple steps, and none of them include sticking a paperclip in the phone and pulling out any small parts. Some eSIM capable phones even support converting your physical SIM card to their eSIM to free up your physical SIM card slot for a second account. Which brings us to our next factoid…

Can my phone use both an eSIM and a physical SIM card at the same time?

Possibly, yes. If your phone is eSIM-capable and also accepts physical SIM cards, it has dual SIM capabilities – meaning you can have at least two separate lines on the one phone. We say “at least” because some eSIM-capable phones support up to 5 separate lines on one eSIM (if you want your own personal call center in your pocket). This feature is handy for all types of people:

  • Anyone who wants a personal line and a business line but doesn’t want to carry two phones.
  • Anyone who needs a local number but also refuses to part with the hometown number they’ve had since high school.
  • Anyone who travels internationally with an unlocked phone and needs to use a local SIM card every once in a while to avoid roaming charges. Not having to take your current SIM card out to put in a temporary one means less chance of misplacing it too (we’ve all done it).
  • Anyone wanting to test out a new mobile carrier while keeping their current one active for the time being. But what kind of wireless provider would offer something like a free trial with eSIM? Funny you should ask.

Is eSIM better than a physical SIM card?

This is one of those subjective questions where it kind of matters what you would personally consider “better.” But for the most part, yeah. eSIM has pretty much all the same capabilities of a physical SIM card and then some.  

eSIM let’s you activate a new account in minutes

If you purchase a Mint Mobile plan for your unlocked, eSIM capable phone, you can start using your Mint Mobile plan in minutes without waiting to have a physical SIM card shipped to you. 

Mint Fox with a watering can watering an esim plant

eSIM is greener too

No plastic card or shipping materials means less waste. If it wasn’t clear when we showed you how to recycle your old phone, we here at Mint Mobile really like green stuff, and not just all the money we save you. 

eSIM takes up less space

Some newer phones are eSIM-only, meaning they don’t have a slot for a physical SIM card. This leaves more room inside the phone for a bigger, longer-lasting battery, a faster processor or more memory (because nobody has ever complained about their phone not having enough SIM card in it). 

eSIM can help you find your phone easier

We’ve all seen a movie or TV show where the villain removes the SIM card before destroying the cell phone to keep the good guys off their trail for a little bit longer, right? Well thieves will do this with stolen phones too (except the destroying the phone part). Removing the physical SIM card breaks the  phone’s connection to a network tower, making it very difficult to track the phone’s location. But if your phone is stolen while connected to the network via eSIM, it’ll be much easier to track down since the thief won’t be able to remove the SIM card. 

eSIM is exceptionally secure

With your eSIM being permanently embedded in your phone, it can’t be stolen and placed in someone else’s phone or cloned as easily. They’re also extremely difficult to hack thanks to additional built-in security features.  

Are there any drawbacks to eSIM?

One thing to consider when using eSIM is what goes into replacing a damaged phone. Moving your account from one eSIM to another requires both phones to be operational, so if you’re replacing a phone that fell out of your pocket on a roller coaster and then got run over by a zamboni (we’re imagining you’re at a fun hockey-themed amusement park), then you likely won’t be able to access the eSIM yourself and will need to contact your wireless carrier to switch phones. Luckily, today’s eSIM capable phones are pretty durable too.

Do I need to switch to eSIM?

Now? No, not yet. Physical SIM cards aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but eSIM is likely to become the new normal when it comes to wireless devices. There’s a good chance the next phone you upgrade to will support it (if your current phone doesn’t already). So the more you know about eSIM now, the better prepared you’ll be when we all make the switch.

So even though the e in eSIM technically stands for embedded, you can see how it could also stand for “Efficient,” “Easy,” “Effing cool,” and “grEen.” Okay, the last one is a reach, but still…eSIM is shaping up to be the future of wireless phone connectivity. So when you’re ready to make the leap, we’ve got eSIM plans for you. And now when your friends ask you about eSIM, you’ll know what to tell them because you’re officially an eSIM authority. (You thought we were gonna say expert, right? Too easy.) 

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