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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: 11th November 2021.

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 SIM cards

Phone and eSIM icon

Today, all the information your phone needs to be verified and connect to a mobile network is contained on the physical SIM card that you get shipped with your phone contract or standalone 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.

In future, more and more phones will come shipped with eSIMs pre-installed by the network. For SIM only plans, the info required to switch over to an eSIM will be able to be downloaded right after purchase.

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 most immediate benefit of an eSIM is that there should be no waiting times, as you won’t have to wait for your SIM to be delivered and you should be able to simply download a new one when you want.

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 will hold networks’ feet to the fire and make them more competitive with each other. If it becomes easier to switch, networks will have to work harder to keep you as a customer.

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 some other additional benefits too

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.

It lets you have two SIMs on any eSIM-ready phone, meaning you can have one for your work number and another for your personal use. It also means you can cover gaps in signal coverage and get good 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 biggest downside with eSIMs is that it’s harder to swap between phones. Instead of popping out your SIM and placing it in a new phone you’ll have to request another eSIM and go through the whole process again.

UK networks with eSIM

Vodafone’s SIM only and phone contracts offer eSIMs

Vodafone eSIM banner

The fastest way to switch to an eSIMRead guide

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

If you join Vodafone directly (rather than by Carphone Warehouse or similar retailers) you’ll be able to choose between a traditional physical SIM card or an eSIM.

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.

Once you’ve purchased your eSIM, you’ll get confirmation of your order with a link to download your eSIM directly onto your compatible devices. If you already have a compatible phone that means no waiting for delivery times, you get it right away!

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 offer eSIMs for compatible phones on their contracts

EE branded phone icons with eSIM

Compatible models come with an eSIMRead 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.

However, with SIM only you’ll have to order a physical SIM card and only when it arrives can you then get it converted to an eSIM using this process.

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 will give you a physical SIM to convert to eSIM

An O2 branded eSIM

You’ll have to specifically request an eSIMHow this works

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

O2 aren’t as efficient at getting you your eSIM as Vodafone are, as you won’t be able to get one straight away and the whole process is more complicated than it maybe needs to be.

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.

This whole process defeats the purpose of being able to switch networks fast. You’ll have to occult your physical SIM slot in the meantime, but eventually you’ll be able to free it up.

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

Three have recently introduced eSIMs

Screenshot of eSIM process on Three

eSIMs are now fully availableRead 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.

This whole process is a pain and could leave you without service for one or two days. But after all that it should work just fine.

At the moment no virtual mobile operators (MVNOs) offer eSIMs as it’s still a new feature that only larger main networks will be able to offer. We could see smaller networks begin to offer eSIMs sometime in the future.

But for now eSIMs are unavailable on Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, SMARTY, iD Mobile, VOXI, Sky Mobile, giffgaff, BT Mobile (apart from Business customers) or any other smaller providers.

Useful link: Compare eSIM-ready plans

Compare eSIM only deals

eSIM only plans

We pre-filtered these results for networks with eSIM

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Networks

Providers:

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ASDA logo
BT Mobile logo
EE logo
giffgaff logo
Honest logo
ID logo
IQ logo
Lebara logo
O2 logo
Plusnet logo
Sky logo
SMARTY logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Virgin Mobile logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo

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