Whenever I plan a trip to a new country, the first thing I research are prepaid SIMs. Messaging family, urgent work matters, on-the-spot research, all of these require some form of connectivity and I’d much rather have my own SIM than use free, unprotected Wi-Fi access points. During my recent trip to Brussels, I thought I wouldn’t need to bother with that because of EU data roaming regulations. I was mistaken, and as a result, I had to scramble for a last-minute solution. That’s how I found Mobimatter and GlobaleSIM, and my experience with them was excellent.
Let me start by clarifying that I had done my research before leaving for Brussels. My French operator supports data roaming, but online information about roaming with my very restricted prepaid plan was incredibly scarce. (To be honest, online information about the entire prepaid plan was scarce, and the client page for those subscribed to that plan is useless, but it was my sole option when I first moved to France.) The only mention I found said I had to enable a global roaming setting, but that couldn’t be found anywhere in my account options, so I decided to head to their physical store and double check. My rep verified my account and assured me multiple times that the global option was already activated and I needn’t do anything once I got to Brussels.
Yet, as the train sped through the north of France and got to Belgium, I received the dreaded SMS that told me my benefits were void and roaming wasn’t available. Cool. Cool cool cool cool cool. A switch to the train’s Wi-Fi was necessary, then I immediately made sure the map of Brussels was available offline in my Google Maps, along with all of my important documents and reservations. I also started a last-minute research for prepaid SIMs in Belgium (this is my favorite resource, by the way) but decided I’d soldier through the first day without that and see if it was doable.
Offline Google Maps is useless for walking and transit directions, and for checking out places.
During that first day, I discovered that offline Google Maps is nearly useless if you plan on walking or using transit, that place reviews and photos aren’t available in the app, and that I had a few last-minute urgent work calls on my schedule for the next couple of days. (See, I love you all so much I had to work when I could be eating chocolate and drinking beer.) Leeching off of public Wi-Fi was no longer an option, I had to get my own SIM, and that’s when it occurred to me that my Pixel 5 supports electronic SIMs, eSIMs for short. There had to be an online company selling EU-friendly data eSIMs that would save me from trying to find an open operator store on a Sunday, right?!
A Google search turned up MobiMatter as the first ad. I know, I know, I let myself be influenced by a Google ad, but in my defense, I was short on time and it did seem like a good option. Turns out that MobiMatter isn’t an operator, but it acts like an aggregator and provider for data eSIMs from other companies. You just search for the country(ies) you’re going to be in and you get plenty of options with clearly laid out validity days, bandwidth, price, and list of countries where each SIM works.
In my case and for my expected usage, the $14 option from GlobaleSIM with 3GB for 14 days seemed perfect. It took less than two minutes to purchase it and I immediately received the email from MobiMatter with my eSIM QR code and everything I needed. I had never added an eSIM on a phone before, but that process was very straightforward — you just go to Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs and follow the steps to scan the QR code.
The eSIM’s options when added to my Pixel 5.
Overall, I was up and running with data assigned to the new eSIM in less than 10 minutes. That almost blew my mind. It was a piece of cake compared to researching the cheapest prepaid options in a given country, finding the best operator, going to their store, waiting for my turn, filling paperwork, getting the physical card, activating it, and figuring out how to top it or if it needs to be topped, and how/if I need to activate the data plan. Instead, I did this in less than ten minutes while lying in bed. Technology, amirite?
In Belgium, the roaming partner was Proximus, one of the largest operators in the country. I spent four days there and I had an excellent 4G signal nearly everywhere with my eSIM, even underground in metros and trams. I was able to use all of Google Maps’ features, do some on-the-spot research and booking for certain places and activities, and join my all-too-important work calls. The only time I had a minor reception problem was while attending a group video call in a high-speed train on my way back to Paris. The connection had a few hiccups as the train sped through some open lands, but that’s to be expected with any operator. Better yet, I kept using that eSIM’s data as I landed in Paris because my French operator’s connectivity was bad underground and I had to attend another video call.
4G was available nearly everywhere and I could easily check my available balance.
This is one anecdotal story from one person in one country, and I realize there are other eSIM providers and aggregators — when I shared my story, some friends recommended Airalo and eSIMs.io — but I was so impressed by the whole process that I wanted to share it with you. To be honest, the specific aggregators and operators don’t really matter, even though I’ll personally be keeping MobiMatter on my radar. What matters is how far along traveler-friendly global data SIMs have come in recent times.
A few years ago, you had to subscribe to an international plan where you got shipped a physical card, had to pay a minimum monthly fee to keep it, and then top it up at exorbitant rates for each country and trip. Nowadays, you can get a temporary eSIM delivered to your digital inbox in seconds, with no additional fees, with enough data to last you through your whole trip for around $10-20. And with smartphones like the Pixel and iPhone line-up supporting dual SIMs (regular and eSIM), you don’t need to get a second phone or to remove your current card to get going. Plus, when you’re done, you delete it and that’s the end of it. That’s exactly the kind of smooth user experience and convenient tech upgrade I love to see.