How to activate, register, choose, use an ESIM - or maybe Google Fi?
June 21, 2022 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to set up an esim (or maybe Google Fi) for a teen travelling internationally, and despite ingesting a multitude of blogs, vlogs, YT how-to's, ESIM provider FAQs, and my own carrier's customer support, I still have basic questions. The phone is an unlocked Pixel 3a (so Android). The carrier is Mint Mobile. I've confirmed that the phone works with ESIM and with the bands available in the country (4G/LTE, but not 5G).

I've done the whole "buy a local SIM and get a local number" route in multiple countries, so I'm not clueless about that process. But I've gotten wildly mixed messages from Mint, and not enough info from ESIM providers, to understand how to enable an ESIM. If it were me, I'd keep hitting the process with a hammer on arrival at the destination, but I won't be there to troubleshoot, so I need to set this up for success in advance.

The goal is to have an Airalo ESIM activated by the time teen gets to the destination airport. My basic question is what are the steps I need to take to enable the Airalo ESIM, and I think that boils down to:
- Does Mint need to "allow" ESIM capabilities on the account before I actually purchase and activate an ESIM? Mint has told me everything from "just buy any ESIM via QR code and it automatically finds the partner networks" to "you have to do these steps with Mint, these with your phone, these with the ESIM provider, these when you get there, and then these to make sure x,y,z functions work."
- What phone settings do I need to pay attention to to make sure roaming charges aren't being accrued and to make sure basic phone features stay functional?

Last, bonus: would Google Fi be easier than all this, and how?

This seems like the kind of thing that is simple after I've done it once, but again, solo teen, etc.
posted by cocoagirl to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: Do you have a physical sim from Mint right now? If so, and if your phone is unlocked as you say, then you can should be able to activate the airalo ESIM anytime you want, and switch between the carriers as you prefer (the Pixel 3a supports dual sims, so you can use one physical sim and an ESIM at the same time). So Mint pretty much would be out of the picture on this. If you’ve got a Mint ESIM, things are more complicated, because if you start using the Airalo ESIM, I’m not sure what Mint does with your account, gotta make sure they don’t just release your phone number.
posted by skewed at 8:41 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


I would second Airalo for painless experience. It's for data, but that allows for WhatsApp, Messenger, etc. calls.
posted by zeikka at 9:05 AM on June 21


Response by poster: Correct, a physical Mint SIM is the only SIM already installed and it's definitely an unlocked phone. Right, I can't tell if I need to "go through" Mint to "allow ESIM capability" on the phone, or whether that effecively activates a Mint ESIM, which I don't want (mostly because I've gotten mixed messages about how Mint's ESIM would actually function on the ground).
posted by cocoagirl at 9:15 AM on June 21


In my experience using Google Fi ESIMs along with a T-Mobile physical SIM in a Pixel 4, you have to choose in the Android UI to swap the SIM. It is (or was -- this was years ago) basically painless to do that, but you have to know how to go through the settings to actually do it.

Google Fi is absolutely lovely and painless and now I use it as my primary provider specifically because it enables international data at a reasonable rate, but it's going to be more expensive than Airalo.
posted by kdar at 9:21 AM on June 21


I haven't used anything else, but the Google Fi eSIM can be 100% configured stateside (in fact has to be, can't be activated outside the U.S.) before your trip. $20 plus $10 per GB, $.10/min for international calls. It's sorta true that the eSIM getsconfigured by itself, but there are always, for some reason, a few manual steps to set the APN or MMS servers and credentials. Pretty straightforward, if you can set up direct deposit on your checking account, you can do this. I used an iPhone with eSIM support to do exactly what you're suggesting and my guess is the Pixel is going to support Google Fi even better.
posted by wnissen at 9:24 AM on June 21


Right, I can't tell if I need to "go through" Mint to "allow ESIM capability" on the phone,

Mint doesn't need to do anything as far as your ESIM, from their perspective nothing will change. Depending on your phone, you can even use both a physical and ESIM at the same time, receiving calls on both, or using one for voice and the other for data.
posted by skewed at 1:55 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


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