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eSIM guide: all the benefits and UK networks that support it

SIM card and microchip

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We look at which mobile networks in the UK offer eSIM as an option on phone contracts and SIM only plans and the technology's benefits. Last updated: 8th June 2022.

In our eSIM guide

Advantages of eSIM

Thumbs up and eSIM icon

eSIM providers in the UK

Most network mast with eSIM icon

eSIM benefits

eSIMs remove the need for physical SIMs

Phone and eSIM icon

With most phone models today, the information your device needs to connect to your mobile network is stored on your SIM card that is either delivered to you as part of your phone contract or by itself as a SIM only plan.

Instead of the information for your SIM being carried on a card, with an eSIM it is embedded (hence the “e” in eSIM) inside your device on a chip in a digital format.

As the technology develops, more devices will be shipped with eSIMs already installed by the provider you bought it from. If you take a SIM only plan, you’ll be able to download the necessary info for your network after you take your plan.

But currently eSIMs are still being rolled out and only a few networks support them. For now physical SIMs are largely irreplaceable but we could definitely see this change in the future.

We might see switching networks become almost instant

Ofcom switching process

The first benefit to know about eSIMs is that it should get rid of waiting times, since you don’t have to wait for your SIM to be physically delivered to you and you can download a new one whenever you need it.

Picture a world where if you’re at the end of your rope with one network you’re free to just immediately switch over to another one by downloading a new token.

This should theoretically make networks work harder to offer more benefits to their customers, as they don’t want them leaving to another network. It should improve competition, and therefore the quality of service provided.

It’ll also be easier to enjoy the benefits of a dual SIM phone. You can have one physical SIM and one eSIM, or maybe we’ll see dual eSIMs in the future. This is great for increasing signal coverage or if you need two numbers.

Useful link: How text to switch works

There are a few added benefits on top of this

Galaxy Fold handset

The removal of physical SIM trays frees up a bit of space in the phone for extra battery or could allow for slimmer and more flexible designs.

This also means you can take two SIMs with any phone model that supports eSIMs. You can take one for your personal number and another one for work. Or you can take two from different networks to get signal in more places.

There are also new eSIM only providers abroad who focus on giving eSIMs to people travelling. So we could see a cheaper alternative to expensive international roaming as these providers give out temporary eSIMs to travellers.

The largest drawback to eSIMs is that it can be a pain to swap phones. Rather than just putting your SIM into a new device you’ll have to ask for another eSIM and do the whole thing all over again.

UK networks with eSIM

Vodafone offer eSIMs on phone contracts and SIM only deals

Vodafone eSIM banner

Switching to an eSIM is very quickRead guide

at vodafone.co.uk
(opens in new window)

By taking SIM only or phone contract with Vodafone directly (not by going with a reseller like Carphone Warehouse) you get the choice between taking an eSIM or a physical SIM card.

You can get an eSIM on both pay monthly SIM only plans and phone contracts. You’ll just have to make sure your device has eSIM functionality on it (check their supported phones here). If not you’ll have to use a physical SIM.

When you take your eSIM, you’ll receive a download link with your order confirmation email. By following that, the info your eSIM needs to work will be installed right away rather than having to wait for your SIM to be delivered.

If you’re already a Vodafone customer you can arrange to have your current physical SIM card swapped for an eSIM. That could be useful if you want to stay on Vodafone but add another physical SIM card into your phone.

Useful link: Vodafone's guide to eSIM on their network

EE’s compatible phone contracts are offered with eSIMs

EE branded phone icons with eSIM

eSIM-ready devices will come with an eSIM alreadyRead their guide

at EE.co.uk
(opens in new window)

By ordering a pay monthly phone contract direct from EE (rather than via re-sellers like Fonehouse) you will receive an eSIM pack. You’ll have to scan the QR code to activate your eSIM. Of course these are only shipped with compatible phone models.

If you take a SIM only contract, you first have to take a physical SIM card and then follow this process in order to convert it to an eSIM.

This is a bit of an inconvenience in terms of time, as you’re not able to set up your eSIM right away. But, at least you can free up your SIM slot for another SIM card if you so wish.

Useful link: EE's full guide to eSIM on their network

O2 offer you a SIM card that you can convert to an eSIM

An O2 branded eSIM

You have to request an eSIM specificallyHow this works

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

The process of getting an eSIM on O2 isn’t as quick or as easy as on Vodafone. You can’t get one right away and there’s a lot of unnecessary hoops to jump through in order to get your SIM converted.

To get one you’ll order your pay monthly phone contract or SIM only plan in the usual way. You’ll receive a physical SIM card in the post which you’ll only then be able to convert to eSIM.

To convert it you’ll either have to contact them here or go into an O2 store and then you’ll get your eSIM pack with a QR code you can use to download your eSIM. After that you won’t need your physical SIM anymore.

The whole point of eSIMs is that it’s quicker and easier to switch networks. For now you have to take a phone with a physical SIM slot, but that will change in the future.

Useful link: O2's full guide to eSIM on their network

Three brought out eSIMs relatively recently

Screenshot of eSIM process on Three

eSIMs now available on compatible devicesRead eSIM guide

at Three.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Three had trial runs for eSIMs last year and have now fully implemented them as a feature. If you joined during the trial period or join up now you’ll be able to swap to an eSIM on a compatible device.

Their system is like EE and O2’s. You’ll have to call them directly (number listed on this page) to get your eSIM activated. You’ll only be able to request a replacement if you have an eSIM-ready phone and after requesting an eSIM your physical one will be unusable.

It’s a bit of a frustrating process as you could be without mobile service for around two days. After that it should work normally.

So all the main networks offer eSIMs, but there’s only one virtual mobile operator (MVNO) that offers eSIMs (we explain them below). As the technology develops we could see smaller networks start offering eSIMs.

As it stands you can’t get an eSIM on Tesco Mobile, SMARTY, VOXI, iD Mobile, Sky Mobile, giffgaff, BT Mobile (except for Business customers) or any of the other smaller networks.

Useful link: Compare eSIM-ready plans

Virgin Mobile are the only non-main UK network to offer eSIMs

Virgin Mobile eSim

All you need is a compatible deviceRead guide

at virginmedia.com
(opens in new window)

While Virgin Media are a massive company, their Mobile brand is relatively small. So it’s quite a surprise that they actually offer eSIMs and are the only non-main UK network to offer them.

So long as your device supports eSIMs (see which devices Virgin support here) you can get an eSIM on any SIM only or phone contract. If your device doesn’t support it you’ll just have to take a regular SIM card.

When you take your eSIM you’ll receive a QR code either on the My Virgin Media app, by email or by physical mail. Scanning this will download all your SIM’s information to your device. It’s the quickest way to get set up!

And if you already have a Virgin SIM you can call them to upgrade to an eSIM. This is convenient if you want to stay on Virgin, but want to use a different network’s SIM card in your phone at the same time.

Useful link: Virgin’s full guide to their eSIMs

Compare eSIM only deals

eSIM only plans

We pre-filtered these results for networks with eSIM

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Networks

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ID logo
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