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Setting up data plans abroad often involves quite a bit of hassle.
At least it used to.
With the release of international eSIMs, it’s dead simple to add local data plans to your phone in whatever country you’re traveling in.
You literally just scan a QR code and instantly connect. You can set it up to go online the second your plane lands.
It’s a genius idea in theory, but does it actually work?
There are several companies in this space, but almost all of them have pretty sucky user reviews.
Holafly is an up-and-coming company, and I’ve been testing them out for months in seven different countries so far.
In this Holafly review, I’ll share my personal experience — including the good AND the bad.
To put it to the ultimate test, I even climbed some ginormous dunes in the Sahara to test my data connection way out in the desert (see video for my results).
Note: Holafly sent me complimentary eSIMs to test out, but as you’ll see, all opinions are clearly my own.
Table of Contents
Why travel eSIMs are freaking awesome
Sometimes buying a local SIM is easy, but sometimes it’s a gigantic headache.
If they don’t sell SIMs in the airport (or if you’re entering via a land border), you’ll have a gap in coverage until you can find one.
You may end up spending an hour walking around trying to find and set one up in town, paying extra for transport to a shop, or even getting scammed.
Then, of course, there is the language barrier when setting up your plan and the pain of constantly switching SIMs in and out of your phone.
In some countries, you even need a local ID to buy a SIM, making things extra tricky for tourists.
Fortunately, there are much easier ways to get internet while traveling.
Here’s how to do it with Holafly travel eSIMs.
How travel eSIMs work (+ Holafly discount code)
Step 1. Go to the Holafly website, make sure your phone is eSIM compatible, then choose the country you’re traveling to.
You can do this from the comfort of your home before leaving on your trip.
Project Untethered readers can save some money by using our affiliate link with Holafly discount code PROJECTUNTETHERED.
Step 2. They send you a QR code via email. The plan starts as soon as you scan it, so wait until right before you leave or when you arrive at the airport.
When I originally started using Holafly, scanning the QR code was the only way to load the plan onto your phone. So if you weren’t traveling with two devices (one to show the QR and one to scan it), then you had to plan ahead.
Thankfully, they recently released their mobile app that allows you to add eSIMs manually for people who travel with one device (I haven’t tested this method out yet, but in theory, it should work).
Step 3. Follow their directions to set up your plan in your phone settings — this takes like 30 seconds.
Bam! You will now have data as soon as you get off the plane at your destination.
That said, ease of setup is only one part of the equation. What REALLY matters is how the data actually works when traveling…
Holafly review: My experience testing Holafly eSIMs
So far I’ve tested Holafly SIMs in the US, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt.
It’s worked everywhere I traveled, including some pretty remote places.
I’m guessing this is because the eSIM switches carriers based on whichever has the best signal.
So instead of only getting one carrier’s coverage — like you do when you buy a physical SIM locally — you get coverage from multiple carriers.
I can’t tell you how nice it feels to have an instant internet connection the second you step off the plane.
No more hunting down SIM vendors, comparing plans in different languages, and getting ripped off.
After you get used to the convenience of eSIM, you’ll never want to go back.
I’m not one to sugarcoat, and there were a couple of issues I noticed.
For one, Google Maps loads a bit slower than normal, and sometimes it freezes up.
I have no idea if that was due to the eSIM or some other reason. But whenever this happened, I had to close and re-open the application to get it to work. Sometimes it helped to toggle airplane mode on and off.
These tricks always fixed the problem.
I didn’t notice this issue with Maps.me, which was peculiar. (Speaking of which, check out my Google maps vs. Map.me guide to decide which is the best maps app for travelers).
The other hiccup I had was in Morocco.
Tethering our data to our laptop worked perfectly in the US, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Egypt. But for some reason in Morocco, we couldn’t set up a hotspot.
After some drawn-out back-and-forth with customer service, they discovered that the cell providers in Morocco currently aren’t allowing hotspotting (their site is now updated saying this).
Our data worked great on our phone in Morocco, so this shouldn’t be a huge deal for a normal traveler.
UPDATE: Holafly’s website now says that their new unlimited data plans do not include data sharing/tethering at this time. This is understandable as the abilty to tether + an unlimited plan = lots of potential for abuse.
That said, it also means if you’re a digital nomad that needs to share internet with your laptop, make sure the plan you’re buying allows for data sharing.
It still works on most non-unlimited plans.
If there are no data-sharing options for the country you’re traveling to, check out these other travel internet options instead. (Here is one I’m currently using for tethering).
Other than that, I’ve been impressed with Holafly.
After reading negative Trustpilot reviews for other more well-known travel eSIM companies, I had my doubts. But after testing Holafly out, I definitely see the value.
If you wanna give it a try, use this link and code PROJECTUNTETHERED at checkout.
UPDATED TROUBLESHOOTING TRICK
As mentioned earlier, the eSIM should automatically switch to the best carrier based on your location.
But if you’re ever having problems, I discovered you can choose the provider manually, which often solves the issue.
On iPhone, go to settings, tap the eSIM, tap Network Selection, toggle off Automatic, wait for the list of providers to pop up, choose one, then restart your phone to see if it works better.
I’m sure the fix is similar on Android phones.
Are Holafly SIMs right for you?
If you are a backpacker trying to make your pennies last as long as humanly possible on a shoestring budget, then an international eSIM probably doesn’t make sense for you.
It’s almost always cheaper to buy a local SIM card once you arrive in a country.
(I say “almost” because we got scammed in Cambodia — and almost scammed in Egypt — when buying SIMs. In this case, buying locally was more expensive, but that’s a story for another day).
For pretty much everyone else — vacationers, mid-range budget travelers, business travelers, digital nomads (excluding unlimited data plans), etc. — the cost of an Holafly eSIM is worth the time and hassle it saves…
Especially if you’re arriving at an airport that doesn’t sell local SIMs.
When originally writing this Holafly review, it also wasn’t the best option for heavy data users since the maximum packages were quite limited in some countries.
But they just rolled out UNLIMITED data plans in many countries which solves this problem.
They even have an unlimited plan that covers entire regions.
So, for example, if you’re going to be hopping around Europe, you can grab an unlimited plan that covers all of Europe. That can be both cheaper and more convenient than buying separate eSIMs in each individual country.
Out of the handful of eSIM companies I’ve tested so far, Holafly has been the only one that offers unlimited data plan options (in select countries). And even their normal plans tend to have higher data limits than other eSIM companies, which the price reflects.
So if your TikTok addiction is known to suck your data plans dry, Holafly is for you.
That said, if you are a light data user, then Holafly’s plans might be overkill. In that case, check out my Airalo review for an eSIM option with smaller, cheaper plans.
What about local phone calls?
Most travel eSIMs are data only, meaning they do not come with a local phone number that you can make calls with.
This normally isn’t a problem because there are very few instances where you’d actually need a local phone number.
Nowadays, most businesses you’d need to contact as a traveler use Whatsapp or some sort of social media, so you can call or message them that way.
That said, Holafly recently started including local phone numbers to their Europe eSIM packages at no extra charge, which is a nice bonus that you don’t get with most other travel eSIM providers.
An extra benefit of Holafly travel eSIMs
If you have a phone that has dual SIM capabilities but only one physical SIM slot (like many iPhones), an Holafly eSIM allows you to keep the SIM from your home country in your phone.
If you activate wifi calling with your provider before leaving your home country and avoid removing your SIM when traveling, you can continue receiving text messages and calls from your home country.
(At least, this is how it works with the plan I have with US Mobile).
This allows you to receive bank and other verification SMS codes abroad so you don’t get locked out of your accounts.
If you’re already using an eSIM for your home country plan (or you don’t have dual SIM capabilities), then this wouldn’t apply to you.
If you wanna give Holafly a try on your next trip, you can grab a discount through this link using Holafly promo code PROJECTUNTETHERED.
I hope you found this Holafly eSIM review helpful — Happy traveling!
Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered — where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
His advice has been featured in Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo, MSN, Reader’s Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
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).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
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.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).