The future for mobile phones is here, and Ireland needs to get on board

Using an eSim is straightforward overseas, it should be the same in Ireland

This is the year I discovered mobile phone eSims for travel, and maybe you should too.

Mobile roaming is now an EU-mandated, no-additional-cost “roam like at home” feature when Irish people travel to another EU country. Post-Brexit, Irish providers generally still offer free mobile roaming in the UK too. However, data is usually capped in both cases.

Travelling elsewhere for work or pleasure can still bring alarming roaming bills on return. Or, it can create occasional headaches for people like me, on a very low cost Sim-only plan which doesn’t offer roaming for non-EU destinations like the US.

In the past, I’ve muddled along using wifi for FaceTime, Skype or Signal for free or low-cost calls when in the US (you can also use free options like WhatsApp or Messenger), using wifi networks at airports, hotels, or someone’s home.


Last month I was heading for my mother’s home state of Wisconsin for a big family celebration and for a couple of days prior, I’d planned a little road trip on my own. First, I’d be driving north from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to just north of Milwaukee to the historic town of Cedarburg (built largely by Irish and German immigrants in the 19th century along what is referred to as a “creek” with atypical American understatement; it’s the width of the river Liffey).

Then, I was heading west across a rural, forested part of the state to the tiny town of Spring Green, where legendary architect and Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright grew up and later built his huge home, Taliesin, nestled into the crest of a hill. Though constructed in the early-1900s, the home remains astonishingly modern to 21st century eyes in a comfortably human way and speaks to many current values in its incorporation of nature and light, earth tones, landscape and art.

I’d scheduled the four-hour tour of lands and buildings, but first, I’d have to get there. I wanted the ease of a data connection to drive with Apple or Google maps to this unfamiliar area across routes so rural and still-wild that at one point, I came across a bald eagle feasting on roadkill.

Happily, I’d stumbled across eSim data plans online. Most modern smartphones have eSims built in, a small bit of code that can be utilised to supply mobile services. There’s nothing physical to install. You simply download an app from one of numerous providers (third party, or big operators like T-Mobile), then buy and download the desired eSim package. Follow the provider’s instructions to install and activate it in the mobile data settings on your handset, either just before departure or on arrival (you’ll need a wifi connection, so you can do this in the airport on landing).

Most eSim plans are data-only, though you can also get plans that give you a local number. Or, if your home mobile contract has roaming, you can activate the eSim for data and use your Irish physical Sim and number for calls and texts. Your handset settings enable you to manage both simultaneously (who knew? Not me).

I used the provider, which supplies eSim packages for just about everywhere, and went for the entry-level US option, 1GB of data for seven days, costing $4.50 (opting for higher-data or longer plans lowers the per-GB cost). Airolo uses T-Mobile and Verizon networks in the US, meaning I always had a good connection. Over my six-day visit, I used about 1.5GB, requiring an easy, seamless top-up to my existing eSim plan, so I didn’t need to do any additional installations. After a week, the eSim uninstalls itself.

Compared to the costs incurred for data roaming on my old mobile account bills, this was a pittance and the service was easy to buy and use, although I had to do a little fiddling to make sure I got a signal on arrival, not surprising as I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. But Airolo provides simple instructions, helpful videos and support. The minor downside was, on a data plan, I could only receive texts from those using iPhones, and not other handsets.

I’ll definitely be using good-value eSims again for my travels, and they could be handy for EU travel too, given those data caps. Intrigued? An online search will yield eSim provider comparison sites to find options that might work best for you.

The obvious next question is, why don’t we just use eSims generally now instead of physical Sims, given eSims are built in to most smartphones? In Ireland, the answer is mixed. Despite (vague) intentions from all main networks, Vodafone is the only operator currently offering eSims as an option. You can even use both at the same time, and have two different numbers based on one handset, useful for those with a separate business number. Eligible Vodafone customers can request a domestic eSim using their My Vodafone online account.