eSIMs are the next generation of SIM cards, and a number of UK networks already support them – so if you have a phone with an eSIM built in, or you’re interested in getting one, you’ll be able to make full use of this futuristic tech.
What is an eSIM?
SIM cards are those small bits of plastic that operators give you to make your phone number work with your phone.
The acronym SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module. Each SIM contains a unique serial number (ICCID), an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, several security authentication methods, and any temporary information needed to connect your phone to your chosen mobile network.
Embedded SIMs, or eSIMs, fulfil the exact same function, but they make the process of changing your number or network a virtual one.
As the name suggests, these eSIMs are embedded as a permanent part of a smartphone’s motherboard. When you change network or phone number with an eSIM, it involves a simple software update rather than a physical transfer process.
So you don’t have to put an eSIM in your phone – it will already have one (if it’s compatible with eSIMs), and nor do you remove or swap a physical SIM card when changing number.
Which UK networks offer eSIMs?
As of the time of writing, all four of the UK’s major mobile networks – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 – offer eSIM support for compatible devices.
Outside of the major networks, Virgin Mobile and Lyca Mobile also support eSIMs. BT supports eSIMs too, but only if you're a BT Business customer.
To get an eSIM from EE as an existing customer you can call 150 from your EE phone, login to your My EE account and order one from there, or head into an EE store. If you’re a new customer and you aren’t offered an eSIM during checkout then you can convert your physical SIM to an eSIM using one of the above methods once your SIM card arrives.
EE supports eSIMs on most phones that include an eSIM. Its list mentions every iPhone from the iPhone XS onwards, all Google Pixel devices from the Pixel 3 onwards, and many recent Samsung devices, including most flagships from the Samsung Galaxy S20 onwards, plus the Motorola Razr 2020.
You can find up to date details of EE’s eSIM offering (including setup guides) on EE’s eSIM help page. Or keep reading for full details on setting up an eSIM below.
Lyca Mobile eSIMs
All of Lyca Mobile’s plans support eSIM, including both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go plans, and you can simply select an eSIM during checkout to get one.
Most devices with an eSIM should be compatible with Lyca Mobile too, including all iPhones from the iPhone XS onwards. You can find out more about eSIMs on Lyca Mobile by going to Lyca Mobile’s eSIM help page.
O2 offers eSIMs with Pay Monthly and business plans (but not Pay As You Go). You can get one by asking in a physical O2 store, or contacting O2 online to request one.
O2 supports eSIMs in all iPhones from the iPhone XS onwards, the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, S20 Ultra, Galaxy Z Flip, Google Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Microsoft Surface Pro X, Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, and Galaxy Watch 3 at the time of writing.
Note that some very recent handsets from these brands – including the Samsung Galaxy S23 range – aren’t listed as being supported at the time of writing, but it’s likely that O2 just hasn’t updated its list, so it’s worth checking with the network if interested.
You can find more details of O2’s eSIM terms and offerings on the company’s eSIM support page – or read on for general eSIM information that’s not specific to O2.
Three offers eSIMs to customers of its Three Your Way plans, which are split into three types of plan – Standard, Plus, and Premium. You can select an eSIM when placing your order (if purchasing a compatible phone or tablet, or a SIM Only plan). Or if you’re an existing Three Your Way customer then you can switch to eSIM by giving Three a call or popping into one of their stores.
However, at the time of writing, Three Your Way plans are quite a new thing, and customers of older plans can’t currently get an eSIM, but Three is working to change that.
As for which phones support Three eSIM, the network says to check its device support pages for this, though if you’re offered an eSIM during checkout then the device you’re buying definitely supports them.
However, most recent high-profile handsets such as the iPhone 14 range and many Samsung Galaxy phones should support eSIM. For more details of eSIMs on Three, head to Three’s eSIM support page.
Virgin Mobile eSIMs
Virgin Mobile offers eSIMs to all Pay Monthly customers with eligible devices. If you’re a new customer then you can request an eSIM when purchasing online, or by calling 0800 052 0422. Existing customers meanwhile can request an eSIM by calling 789 on your Virgin Mobile phone or online using My Account.
However, it’s worth noting that the company’s forums are full of people having issues switching to eSIM. These problems seem most prevalent among existing customers. You should also note that Virgin Mobile will soon be moving all customers to O2 plans – though this network also offers eSIMs.
The list of officially supported devices is also quite small at the time of writing, and can be found here. Or for other information, head to Virgin Mobile’s eSIM help page.
Vodafone only offers eSIM plans to Pay Monthly customers with a compatible device, and you need to start with a physical SIM card. Then you can swap your plan from a physical SIM to an eSIM in your My Vodafone account. For more details, head to Vodafone’s eSIM help page.
Vodafone lists a wide range of devices as compatible with its eSIMs. This includes every iPhone from the iPhone XS onwards, except the iPhone SE 2022, though the network possibly just hasn’t updated its list with that..
The network also lists various iPad models, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21, Galaxy Note 20, Galaxy S20 Ultra, Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy S20, Galaxy Z Flip, Google Pixel 5, Pixel 4a, Pixel 4, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3 XL, and Pixel 3 as being compatible. Plus the Huawei P40 Pro and the Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Which UK networks don’t offer eSIMs?
None of the following networks currently offer eSIMs:
- BT Mobile (non-business customers)
- Sky Mobile
- Asda Mobile
- iD Mobile
- Lebara Mobile
- Tesco Mobile
- No other conventional UK networks offer eSIMs at the time of writing either.
Which phones support eSIMs?
Back in 2020, the Motorola Razr that was offered through EE was a rare phone that used an eSIM exclusively. That phone is no longer a going concern, and the vast majority of new phones that currently support eSIM will also support a physical SIM.
The chart below lists key phones with eSIM, however there may be additional eSIM phones that aren’t accounted for here.
Phones that support eSIMs
Apple 5G phones
iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, iPhone SE 2022, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone SE 2020, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR
Google 5G phones
Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 5, Pixel 4a, Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, Pixel 3
Microsoft Surface Duo
Motorola 5G phones
Oppo 5G phones
Oppo Find X3 Pro, Oppo Find X5 Pro
Samsung 5G phones
Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus, Galaxy S23 Ultra, Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus, Galaxy S22 Ultra, Galaxy Z Flip 4, Galaxy Z Fold 4, Galaxy Z Flip 3, Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 5G, Galaxy S20+ 5G, Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, Galaxy Z Flip, Galaxy Fold, Galaxy Z Fold 2, Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22+, Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Note that while the phones in the chart above all support eSIM, they won’t necessarily all be available with an eSIM from every network that offers eSIMs. Note also that in addition to phones there are a selection of tablets (mostly iPads) and smartwatches that support eSIM.
How to set up an eSIM
The process for setting up an eSIM will vary a bit depending on your network and device, but is broadly as follows.
Assuming you’ve checked that your phone supports eSIM, first ensure that your phone has Wi-Fi turned on. Then, if you received an eSIM QR code from your network, scan it in using your phone’s camera app. Your eSIM will install your profile automatically. If you’re prompted to install a ‘Data Plan’ or a ‘Mobile Plan’, do so.
If you can’t successfully scan the QR code directly from your phone’s camera or a QR code scanning app, then on iOS, head to Settings > Mobile Data, and select ‘Add Data Plan’, to scan it from there.
On Samsung phones, go to Settings > Connections > SIM card manager, and then select ‘Add Mobile Plan’, followed by ‘Add using QR code’.
On a Google Pixel, you’ll find the relevant screen in Settings > Mobile network > Operator, if you then select ‘Add operator’, and on a Motorola Razr head to Settings > Network & internet > Mobile network > Advanced > Carrier, and then select ‘Add carrier’.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a QR code then you may have to use your network’s app or website to set up your eSIM. You should have full instructions from your network to do this, but the process basically involves launching the app or loading your account on the website from the device you want the eSIM on (so you’ll need to be connected to Wi-Fi), then selecting the download eSIM option. As above, you should select to add ‘Data Plan’ and ‘Mobile Plan’ if asked.
You may also have the option to bring up an eSIM QR code on the network’s website or app. This will require you to open the website or app on a different device, then to scan the QR code with the device you want to add the eSIM to.
How to switch from a physical SIM to an eSIM?
Just contact your network and ask them to make the change from SIM to eSIM. They’ll typically send you an eSIM pack with a QR code. Follow the relevant operator links listed above to initiate the switch.
Roaming with eSIM
Note that if you are using a dual-SIM phone with an active eSIM, you might be charged roaming fees on both lines when you go abroad. Our recommendation would be to go in and deactivate the secondary SIM whilst travelling abroad, just to be sure that you don’t get any nasty billing surprises.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I access 5G with an eSIM?
Can I move an existing line from a physical SIM to an eSIM?
Yes you can, assuming your network supports eSIMs for the plan type you have. Just contact your network operator and request the move, and they’ll supply you with an eSIM pack.
Do devices other than phones use eSIMs?
eSIMs have been used in several generations of Apple’s iPad family, and also in numerous smartwatches, including the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch. Its use in the smartwatch form factor perfectly illustrates the space saving potential of going with an eSIM over a physical SIM.
Certain laptops can also make use of eSIMs, as can modern connected cars.
What are the advantages of an eSIM?
Using an eSIM means that you’ll never lose or break this essential part of your phone, as is possible with old fashioned physical SIMs. It also lessens the likelihood of damaging your phone, as removing a SIM can be a fiddly process.
- No waiting for post to arrive
Because sign up is virtual, you no longer have to wait for a network to send you a physical SIM card through the post.
- Saves space inside a phone
eSIMs take up much less space within a smartphone than a physical SIM. They’re around half the size of a nano SIM, and they don’t require the same elaborate housing mechanism (such as the removable SIM tray). That’s precious space that could potentially be used for bigger batteries, more water-tight designs, or simply smaller phones.
The virtual nature of the eSIM means that they can hold multiple profiles simultaneously. You could conceivably switch between up to five numbers and operators across multiple countries with a simple tweak in your phone’s settings menu.
Are there any disadvantages of eSIMs?
When your phone breaks, it’s easy to quickly switch a physical SIM to a new device. With eSIMs, the process is more laborious, and requires that you order a new eSIM pack from your network.
If you’re concerned about the ability for phone companies to track you, then eSIMs are potentially problematic. You can physically remove that ability with a SIM card, but not with an eSIM.
- Single number sharing is more difficult
If you like to switch a single number between multiple phones, you’re better off with a physical SIM. With eSIMs you’ll need to go through the process of requesting a switch from your network each and every time.
At the time of writing, there are no Pay As You Go plans offering eSIMs, only Pay Monthly contracts. This excludes a considerable number of mobile users from taking advantage of eSIM.