Skip to Content

Project Untethered is reader-supported. When you buy using our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

HONEST Airalo Review (After Testing eSIMs in 8 Countries)

I’ve been a bit obsessed with international eSIMs lately.

And in this Airalo review, I gave their service a HARDCORE test drive for 8 months in 8 countries to see how well their travel data actually works.  

In this guide, I’ll show you:

  • What I liked and didn’t like about Airalo eSIMs.
  • The advantages and disadvantages of eSIMs over traditional SIM cards.
  • How to set up travel eSIM data on your phone in 60 seconds. 
  • My favorite way to get discounts on eSIMs.

So far, I’ve tested Airalo in Bulgaria, Turkiye, Israel, the UK, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Thailand. As I continue testing in different countries, I will update this Airalo eSIM review with what I find. 

I even took it on an extreme experiment to see how their data worked while floating around the Dead Sea (and had a little mishap in the process).

You can see the results in this video ⬇️

Ok, now onto the nitty gritties.

What are Airalo eSIMs?

For anyone new to Airalo and travel eSIMs), they basically solve the hassle of: 

1) Expensive international data roaming charges. International eSIMs are cheaper than roaming with your home plan.

This is usually true even if your home provider offers a special travel data package (ex. some providers offer a ~$10/day TravelPass to use data abroad, but this is still way more expensive — especially if you’re traveling for more than a few days.)

2) Hunting down a physical local SIM card when you arrive at a new destination. Some airports do not have SIM booths, which means to get a physical SIM, you have to scavenge around the city to find a place to buy — often in a different language — with a not-small risk of getting scammed.

Some countries won’t even sell SIMs to non-residents. 

On the other hand, if you use an Airalo eSIM for travel, you can have data on your phone instantly when you land. 

No more hassle finding internet to call an Uber from the airport (not all airports have wifi!) or struggling to find your hotel without data. 

No more issues trying to figure out how to buy a SIM in another language or keeping track of a bunch of tiny cards.

And no more opportunities for SIM card scams, like what happened to us in Cambodia and Egypt.

In theory, it’s super convenient. But let’s look at how it actually works in practice.

There are lots of these international eSIM companies popping up, and they’re not all created equal. I’ve tested out a couple of them so far, and here is how Airalo stacks up.

Best eSIM for international travelers?

I’ve tested over 10 different eSIM companies for 21 months (and counting) across 5 continents.

I share the results of this experiment in my mega comparison of the best eSIMs for international travelers.

But to sum it up:

👉 Holafly is by far the best option for heavy data users who don’t need to tether (use link for discount).
👉 Airalo is a better option for light data users who don’t want unlimited data (use discount code MITCH9827).
👉 Nomad is an alternative to Airalo for light data users, with more plan options in certain regions of the world (use discount code UNTETHER).

Airalo review: How my data actually worked

Overall, Airalo data worked everywhere I went with one exception — which was my fault — and I’ll share that in a sec.

Tethering to my computer worked like a charm when we had crappy internet at our accommodation and I had to work online.

man sitting on balcony working on his laptop with view of coastline in Israel

This makes it a great digital nomad internet option (not all eSIM providers allow tethering). 

I also liked how easy it is to top up your plan in the Airalo app if you ever run out of data. 

screenshot of airalo top up option

That said, I wouldn’t call it blazing fast data speeds. But it was always more than enough to get the job done, which is all that really matters. 

Before buying an Airalo eSIM plan, you can check whether you’ll get 4G, LTE, or 5G in the Additional Information section of the eSIM 

screenshot of what carrier airalo uses for a given travel esim

Another small gripe — Google Maps would sometimes freeze, and I often had to close out of the Maps app and restart it to get directions to load.

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a bit of a hindrance when you’re trying to look up directions to a bunch of different places. 

I also had this problem with other eSIMs I’ve tested. This seemed fishy, so I did some more investigating.

Turns out this Maps thing is a known issue with iOS, and there’s an easy fix.

Just go into your eSIM settings and make sure Limit IP Address Tracking is turned off.

screenshot showing turning off limit ip address tracking in cell settings

Also note that you have to pay close attention to details when setting up a new eSIM. 

I’m about to show you how simple it is to have your data plan up and running in a minute or two. 

But if you’re a little careless or are doing it super fast — like I was when rushing to get it down before crossing a land border  — you might misconfigure things.

When we crossed the border into Turkiye, I went a full week complaining to my wife how slow Airalo was in Turkiye compared to Bulgaria. 

turkey border crossing

Finally, I took a closer look and realized I had forgotten to toggle on one of the settings. And as soon as I turned it on, everything started working normally. 

As you’ll see in a sec, eSIMs vary from country to country, and sometimes the settings are slightly different. So you always have to read the directions carefully. 

Airalo eSIM review: Should YOU buy an eSIM?

Airalo pros

✅ Most affordable eSIM I found in the regions I was traveling in (I can’t speak for every country though). 

✅ Setup process is less complicated and more streamlined than other eSIM options I’ve tested.

✅ Data worked everywhere I expected there to be data.

✅ Airalo plans allow tethering, so you can use your data to work on your computer. 

✅ Easy to top up if your data runs out.

✅ An eSIM card is completely virtual, so you don’t need to lug around (and risk losing) multiple physical SIM cards while traveling.

✅ Regional eSIMs and Global eSIMs allow you to stay connected in multiple countries without the need to buy multiple SIM cards.

✅ If your phone has dual-SIM capabilities, you can continue receiving calls and SMS messages to your home number while you’re abroad. This is the most reliable way I’ve found to receive bank verification SMS codes while abroad. (Usually needs to be set up before leaving home though).

Airalo cons

❌ In many countries, Airalo offers plans with a wide range of data amounts. But I’ve seen some countries where the available plans only offer a small amount of data. You just need to check your destination to see if there is a good option for you. That said, you can always top up if you need more.

❌ Many eSIM data packages don’t actually give you a local phone number (although some do – read details carefully if you need one). That means you won’t be able to make calls locally. However, many people and businesses these days use Whatsapp or social media for communication, so most travelers won’t need a local number anyway.

❌ Travel eSIMs in general (not just Airalo) tend to be more expensive than buying a physical SIM card with a local network when you arrive. That said, Airalo seems to be the most affordable travel eSIM option in several countries. And to me, the hassle you save is worth paying slightly more. 

❌ If your mobile phone doesn’t have eSIM capabilities, this won’t work for you.

Is Airalo legit?

Airalo is one of the best eSIMs for travelers looking for affordable, reliable data that’s easy to set up abroad. I’ve tested their service in 8 countries (and counting), and it worked everywhere you could reasonably expect there to be a cellular connection. 

I even was able to make a video call to my bro while floating around the Dead Sea! (Pro tip: Don’t get Dead Sea water in your eyes. See the video above to see why).

How does Airalo work? (60-second setup)

1. Go to the Airalo website or download the app on your phone.

The check-out process is the same whether you use the website or the app.

2. Search for your destination and trip length. 

You can choose local, regional, or global plans with 200+ countries and regions to choose from.

screenshot of where to search for airalo local regional and global esims

Local would be for just one country. 

Regional is useful if you were taking a trip all one region of the world, like Europe, for example. 

And global is the handiest if you’re doing a round-the-world trip. 

Note that regional and global cover many countries, but don’t necessarily cover every single country in a particular region, so it’s best to make sure your destination is on the list.

3 – Make sure your device is eSIM compatible and carrier unlocked.

See the full list of compatible devices here

4 – Buy a plan using the code MITCH9827 to get some free credit.

screenshot of where to apply airalo discount code
Here’s where you add in the code for free credits.

Then carefully follow their installation instructions to set it up. 

Airalo setup tutorial

Ok, now that you’ve bought your eSIM, now it’s time to set it up.

Here’s what those instructions look like on an iPhone. I hear it’s even easier on Android.

1 – Go to the Airalo app > My eSIMs > Details > Install eSIM/Access Data.

screenshot of airalo installation process

2 – Read the instructions carefully under the heading “Step 1/2 – Install eSIM”.

screenshot of airalo installation instructions

3 – Tap Install eSIM, then Add Cellular Plan

4 – Label your eSIM

I like to use the name of the country I’m traveling in. 

If it doesn’t prompt you to add a name now, you can always add it later within the settings for your Airalo eSIM.

If it doesn’t prompt you, the default name is usually “Travel” or “Cellular Data”.

screenshot of labeling new travel esim
When I set up this one, it named my eSIM “Cellular Data”, so I updated the name to “Airalo Colombia” later after installation.

5 – Set your preferred line for calls and messages, and iMessage & Facetime.

I normally just leave this as my home number. 

6 – Choose your Airalo eSIM as your default line for cellular data

 Also, DO NOT turn on Allow Cellular Data Switching.

screenshot of choosing travel esim for cellular data

7 – Go to Cellular settings, select your Airalo eSIM, and Turn This Line On

turn this line on phone settings for esim

8 – See the Details page in the app for extra instructions

From there, go back to the Details page for your eSIM in the Airalo app (or website) to see if there are any other settings you need to change. 

This can vary slightly depending on which eSIM you have. So if you’ve set up a travel eSIM in the past, don’t make any assumptions. Always double-check. 

screenshot of airalo installation instructions
These will be different depending on the eSIM you buy, so find them in your app or on the Airalo website (don’t copy the instructions from the photo above).

….and BAM, you’ll have working data on your phone when you arrive at your destination. 

You can do this process at the airport when you arrive, and some eSIMs allow you to do it at home right before leaving. If you set it up beforehand, it will connect once you reach your destination.

Using the app is the best way to add your plan. But you can also add it by either scanning a QR code or pasting the eSIM info in manually by going to Settings > Cellular > Add Cellular Plan.

Again, all of the instructions are super clear on the eSIM details page that you can access on the app or online.

screenshot of where to find instructions for different airalo installation methods

Note: I’ve installed about 15 Airalo eSIMs now for myself and others. Most of the time, the activation process finishes within a minute or two.

But on my last eSIM, it took a good 10 minutes for it to load. So if it says “Activating…” and it looks stuck, don’t panic. You just need to be patient. 🙂

How much do Airalo eSIMs cost?

Airalo eSIM prices depend on several factors — the country (or region), the amount of data, and the time period that the data is valid.

The data plans I’ve used so far have all come out to less than $1 per day (sometimes way less than that). Airalo was the most affordable travel eSIM option I found for the countries where I tested their services.

That said, I can’t speak for every single destination in the world, so it’s best to double-check prices for your destination here.

Aren’t traditional SIM cards cheaper?

Buying a local SIM card directly is usually cheaper than using a travel eSIM.

In some countries, you may even be able to buy a local eSIM directly from the local carrier online. This would essentially cut out the middleman, which is Airalo in this case.

That said, this would require upfront research to:

  • See if it’s even possible.
  • Determine which carriers to use.
  • Figure out how to actually set it up (potentially in a different language). 

And if things don’t work, don’t count on English-speaking customer service to get it fixed.

In many countries, you may have to actually go into the carrier’s store to set up an eSIM. This is the case in Colombia. And I can tell you from experience, if you go to a Claro carrier store, prepare to wait. It’s madness.

To me, all this extra work and potential headaches are not worth the few bucks you might save. 

The only time I would consider this is if I planned to stay several months in the same country and use lots of data during that time.

But if it’s just going to be for a month or less, it’s not worth the hassle in my opinion.  

Can you use 2 eSIMs simultaneously?

Some phones, like the iPhone 14, allow you to have two eSIMs active at the same time. 

That means if you have an eSIM from your carrier in your home country, you can keep the line active while you’re traveling. All you have to do is switch the data plan to your travel eSIM.

Your home carrier may even offer wifi calling that lets you continue receiving calls and SMS messages to your home phone number while you’re abroad. 

This is the exact setup I use to make sure I can receive bank SMS verification codes while traveling.

My US carrier does not allow me to turn on wifi calling while I’m in a different country. So I need to remember to turn it on before leaving the US.

I also have to be careful not to change any of the SIM settings for that line while traveling. 

If your phone has one physical SIM slot and one eSIM slot, you can use the same strategy.

In this case, you’d use your physical slot for your home carrier SIM and the eSIM for Airalo.

Also note that while phones like the iPhone only allow you to have two lines active simultaneously, you can still store multiple eSIMs on your phone at the same time. 

You just toggle them on and off if you ever want to switch them. (Just don’t toggle off your home eSIM if you have wifi calling set up!).

What networks does Airalo use for their eSIMs?

You can check which networks Airalo uses in the country you’re interested in before you buy. In the eSIM’s “Additional Information” section, it lists out which networks you’ll have access to.

screenshot of what carrier airalo uses for a given travel esim
Here is the network for the eSIM I bought for Colombia.

What countries can you use Airalo travel eSIMs in?

Airalo offers data packages in 200+ countries and regions.

To check if your country is covered, just enter it into the search bar on this page.

If you’ll be traveling to an entire region, click on the “Regional eSIMs” tab, then choose the region you need, then click on the little arrow underneath the name of the eSIM.

screenshot of where to find country list for airalo regional plans
If you click on this, it will show you the list of countries included in the region.

Make sure all the countries you need are on this list before checking out.

Which phones are compatible with Airalo eSIMs?

If your phone is eSIM compatible and carrier unlocked, it should work with Airalo eSIMs.

To be extra sure, here is a full list of compatible devices.

If your device is locked to your carrier, you can kindly ask them to unlock it for you.

Keep in mind, they are not required to unlock your phone if your account is not in good standing, according to the FCC,

Which is best for a nomad — a local or regional eSIM?

This all depends on how long you plan to spend in each country and the data prices for the countries you’re interested in.

Your best bet is to check prices for the regional eSIM you’re interested in, then compare it to buying individual plans in each country you plan to visit.

Regional eSIMs are handy because:

  1. You don’t have to worry about setting up new lines whenever you switch countries.
  2. Your data allowance continues as you move through different countries (vs. individual plans where you’d lose any unused data).

That said, every situation is unique. And you have to decide if any price differences are worth the convenience in your situation.

Have you had experience with Airalo? 

So far I’ve tested out Airalo eSIM data plans pretty thoroughly over multiple months on multiple continents. 

But there still are many countries I haven’t tested in. If you have tried Airalo in a country I haven’t mentioned, shoot a comment below with how your experience went. 

That way, you can help other travelers make the best eSIM choice. 🙂

Ready to buy an eSIM from Airalo? Get free credits

To get free credits towards your eSIM, use the button below and enter the promo code MITCH9827 at checkout.

In some countries, this may even be enough to cover most of a short trip.

Happy travels!

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Going Cheap Flights Newsletter - Get flight deals from your airport up to 90% off sent straight to your inbox.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

Alison Cherowitzo

Saturday 7th of October 2023

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THIS INFORMATION! I’m used to using Orange Holiday in Europe, but have never used an ESIM card. We’re going to Canada soon, and just figured out that I can use one. This step by step article is a life saver! Again, thanks!

Project Untethered

Thursday 12th of October 2023

You're very welcome! I hope you have an amazing trip!!

Frank

Monday 5th of June 2023

Thank you for the detailed review of Airalo. Please forgive my stupidity… but while I understand DATA, can cellular phone calls be made using Airalo?

Project Untethered

Tuesday 6th of June 2023

That's not a stupid question at all! Some Airalo plans come with a local phone number, but in my experience, most are data-only (you can check in the details before buying).

For phone calls, you have a few options.

For phone calls to/from your your home number - if you have dual SIM capabilities on your phone, you can activate wifi calling on your home line before leaving on your trip. Then have both your home line and the Airalo line active at the same time while traveling (turn off roaming on your home line). This is what I do, but you may want to check with your carrier to see if they have any specific instructions.

For phones calls in your destination country - many businesses abroad use whatsapp or facebook these days, so you rarely need a local number anymore. If you do, you can also use Skype credit to call locally. There are other methods as well, but this is what I usually do.

9

FREE TOOLS

EVERY DIGITAL NOMAD SHOULD BE USING

Plus get access to my travel lifestyle newsletter.

You're Seconds Away...

What to expect:

  • Bonus guides, ebooks, and other freebies

By signing up, you'll be added to my legendary email list.

  • Realistic advice on setting up life on the road (no hype)

  • Cool travel hacks that'll save you money

  • Direct access to me for questions

From learning exactly how to travel the world full-time, earn money from anywhere, and live a completely "untethered" life.

Where should I send your itinerary PDF?

By signing up, you'll also be added to my legendary email list and receive handy travel lifestyle tips and inspiration I don't share anywhere else.

Where should I send your packing checklist?

By signing up, you'll also be added to my legendary travel lifestyle email list.