Wireless Service

What Happens to Physical SIM Cards After Switching to eSIM?

Sara Nuss
February 26, 2023

You may have seen some news surrounding eSIM cards recently, or perhaps you’ve just purchased one of the iPhone 14 models and are pondering the notable absence of a SIM card slot. The question of what happens to physical SIM after eSIM is on many minds, and we will do our best to examine and answer it in detail over the course of this article! In brief — eSIM cards are phasing out the older, physical SIM cards as you read this. The process is, however, quite slow. New phone models are switching to eSIM-only compatibility, but wireless carriers will support physical SIM cards just about as long as there are workable phones to use them. 

An Overview of SIM Cards

This section will cover all you need to know about your phone’s SIM card and the gradual transition to eSIM from physical SIM cards.The SIM card connects to your carrier’s networks so you are able to access data on the network. This is your calling, your texting, and your mobile internet. You can swap your SIM card (physical or embedded) from phone to phone with little issue, which means you can retain your phone number and contacts when you move to a new phone. 

Physical SIM cards have been around for a while, and throughout that whole time they have gradually gotten smaller. As the technology evolved to fit the same information in smaller and smaller cards, phone manufacturers changed up their hardware to fit smaller SIM cards, gradually phasing out older, larger models. Over the years, you likely came into contact with SIM cards as you switched phones or providers but not spent too much time thinking about them. They hold all the necessary information that turns your device into a cell phone you can use on mobile networks. SIM cards have changed a lot over the years, and this article will cover the latest change — physical SIM to eSIM. 

Switching from Physical SIM to eSIM

If you’ve just purchased a new device or are planning to switch to a new carrier, it is likely that you’ve run into the option of using an eSIM card on your new account. If you are wondering what that means, you are in the right place. This section will cover the mechanics of switching your phone from a physical SIM to an eSIM, as well as the differences between the two kinds of SIM cards and how that may affect you. 

How to Switch from Physical SIM to eSIM

The switch from physical SIM to eSIM on the same phone is relatively straightforward. If you are changing devices, all you need to do is choose a mobile phone that supports eSIM cards, pick out a plan, and choose the eSIM option when you check out. 

If you switch carriers but keep your phone and phone number, switching from physical SIM to eSIM is similar to switching carriers and going from physical SIM to physical SIM. The main goal here is to switch your account. Switching carriers and keeping your device is a procedure where you must pick out a plan with your new carrier and start the switch on your device. As long as you have a phone with eSIM compatibility, you should have your new account up and running with no issues! Here are the general steps to switch carriers: 

  • Gather account information
  • Ensure your phone is unlocked and ready for transfer
  • Purchase a new plan with an eSIM card
  • Follow the company’s instructions on how to activate your new plan!

With physical SIM cards, phone activation occurs when you change out your old SIM card for your new one. When switching to an eSIM, since there is no hardware to change, it all happens through your operating system. You can follow the on-screen prompts, and it should activate your phone in no time! 

Differences Between Physical SIM and eSIM

As of right now, there are few differences between physical SIM cards and eSIM cards in terms of operational capabilities. Since the beginning, SIM cards never pulled that much weight in terms of processing power. They operate an essential part of every phone (holding the account information and allowing it to connect to the network) but that part is a small draw in terms of processing needs. That’s why SIM cards have reduced in size over the years. While cell phones are constantly evolving, SIM cards are simply getting smaller. The major difference between a physical SIM card and an eSIM is that eSIMs are no longer a chip you insert into your device. They are a part of the hardware. 

This means you can no longer physically take out your SIM card when you switch accounts. That process is all online and through your device. This has a few differences from the physical SIM cards of the past. eSIM cards make it easier to switch networks and to hold multiple accounts on your device, and it saves space within the device itself, opening up the potential for smaller, sleeker devices. These benefits are nice, but it is nothing so groundbreaking that all the phone manufacturers are switching to eSIM cards immediately. 

There remains time where you can choose between physical SIM cards and eSIM cards depending on your personal preference. Importantly — both provide the same benefits to your device. You will not need to switch to en eSIM right away if you are comfortable with your current setup. 

This is a rather old iPhone model, but just about every iPhone in operation has eSIM compatibility at this time. 

Apple iPhones no Longer Supporting Physical SIM Cards

You will not need to switch to an eSIM right away if you are comfortable with your current setup, but you might not have the option if you switch to a new device. Importantly, the iPhone 14 line does not offer physical SIM compatibility. That’s a big deal! Apple’s new device is taking advantage of the new tech of eSIM capability and leaving physical SIMs behind. Let’s take a look at what that means for their devices and the phone industry as a whole. 

Apple iPhones are eSIM Only

This is only their new line of iPhones. All the iPhone 14 models are eSIM only, but they aren’t deactivating the physical SIM capabilities of their old devices. If you have an iPhone 13 or lower you are good to relax with your physical SIM card as long as your phone lasts! Interestingly, the lack of physical SIM tray is specific to the United States. There are certain regions where eSIMs are simply not supported, and rather than make their phones inoperable in those regions they made a different model with a physical SIM slot to sell in that area. Watch out if you have an eSIM only phone before you travel. Most regions of the world support eSIM, but double check before doing any traveling! 

How to Setup eSIM on iPhone

If you are in the market for setting up eSIM on your iPhone, let’s look at how to activate your new card!

How to set up an eSIM on iPhone

Setting up eSIM on an iPhone is easy! When you power up a new device (or any device that is not tied to a carrier) you should be able to follow onscreen instructions to successfully activate your device. That said, sometimes it is not so easy. Let’s talk about how to set up your eSIM, and all the different ways to do it. 

The specifics of the setup vary by carrier. If your carrier supports eSIM Carrier Activation or eSIM Quick Transfer you can quickly activate your eSIM when you set up your iPhone. 

  • To use eSIM Carrier Activation, your carrier has to assign an eSIM number to your iPhone when you purchase it. 
  • To use eSIM Quick Transfer, you are able to transfer the SIM information from your previous iPhone to your new iPhone and, the best part, you don’t have to contact your carrier. When powering up your iPhone, you should be able to follow onscreen instructions to complete the transfer. 

There are a lot of instances when you aren’t adding the account right when you boot up the phone for the first time, and you can access them in settings under cellular and the aptly named: “add eSIM.” 

iPhone eSIM Carrier Activation

Lots of US carriers and international service providers have the capability of assigning an eSIM account to your device when you purchase it. This service is limited to purchasing an iPhone from a carrier store and connecting your account right away. Utilizing this service, an eSIM is assigned to your phone when you purchase it, and you should receive a separate set of setup instructions when you turn on your phone to activate the eSIM. 

If you switch phones from an Android to an iPhone, you can contact your carrier to start up the Carrier Activation process or scan a QR code from your carrier. While it may be self-evident, every instance of Carrier Activation requires contact with your carrier. 

A word of advice: If you are switching devices or switching carriers and want to use eSIM Carrier Activation, make sure to keep your old phone active to allow you to communicate with your carrier through the device and to make sure you can port over your number to keep your contacts and other information. 

Follow these steps to complete iPhone eSIM Carrier Activation: 

  • Look for “Carrier Cellular Plan Ready to Be Installed” notification
  • Tap “Carrier Cellular Plan Ready to Be Installed” in settings
  • Call your best friend to check your iPhone’s cellular connectivity. 
  • Contact your carrier if you cannot call 
  • Remove your physical SIM and restart your iPhone if you replaced the plan on your physical SIM with your eSIM. 
So, what happens to physical SIM after eSIM? We think it will eventually phase out, but it will take a long time. 

Use eSIM Quick Transfer on iPhone

iPhone eSIM Carrier Activation is an easy way to transfer your account to the new device, but there is an even easier method supported by a select number of carriers — eSIM Quick Transfer. This method lets you transfer your SIM from your previous iPhone to your new iPhone without contacting your carrier. This method also allows for a transfer from a physical SIM card to an eSIM if you want to make the switch. 

Some carriers support SIM transfers from your previous iPhone to your new iPhone without needing to contact them. You can also convert your current physical SIM card to an eSIM. 

If you wish to operate a dual SIM device, most iPhones support that! There are times that you can utilize eSIM Quick Transfer to add a second SIM card to your device. If you wish to do that, here are the onscreen steps to follow to complete the transfer. 

  • Go to Settings - Cellular - Add Cellular Plan
  • Choose the cellular plan you want to transfer from another iPhone. To do this, both devices need to operate on iOS 16 or later. 
  • Look for a notification on the old iPhone to confirm the transfer. Tapping the notification should complete the transfer or ask for a verification code which is displayed on your new iPHone. 
  • Await the plan to activate on the new iPhone. When this happens, your old SIM card will deactivate
  • Tap “Finish Setting Up Your Carrier's Cellular Plan.” This should bring you to the carrier’s website, which will complete the transfer. 

Convert Your Physical SIM to eSIM on the Same Device

If your carrier supports it, you can convert your physical SIM to an eSIM within the same device. You can follow these steps to complete that action: 

  • Jump into settings and go to cellular
  • Tap “Convert to eSIM”
  • If you don’t see this option, your carrier doesn’t support this conversion. You can contact your carrier to port your number from the physical SIM to an eSIM though one of the other options. 
  • Wait for your eSIM to activate. Once it activates, your previous SIM card is deactivated and you can remove your old physical SIM from your iPhone. Restart it to complete the process. 

How to Transfer eSIM with a QR Code

Not all carriers support eSIM Carrier Activation or eSIM Quick Transfer. If that’s the case, you can scan a QR code to make the switch. 

  • Open the camera app and scan the QR code from your cellular provider
  • Wait for “cellular plan detected” notification
  • Tap Add Cellular Plan
  • You may be asked to enter a verification code to activate your eSIM, and if that’s the case your carrier should have provided you with a number. 

Your carrier may also support eSIM activation using an app. If that’s the case, you can download the app from the app store and follow the instructions provided!

Manual eSIM Activation

If you’ve gotten through all these steps and none of them work on your device, you can always enter the details manually. You can go to your carrier and get the eSIM details and enter them manually on your device. 

People use their phones all the time, and there is something exciting about switching your physical SIM to a new eSIM. 

Wireless Carriers and eSIM Cards 

Most wireless providers offer eSIM plans, but some MVNOs still only offer physical SIM cards. If you are interested in an eSIM phone plan just make sure that the carrier supports it before spending too much time looking at their plans. In terms of your service, you should not notice any differences within the same carrier on a physical SIM or an eSIM. In terms of which is better — it’s all up to you! You have complete control over which you want for your new device. Utilizing an eSIM phone plan lets you activate your device a little faster, but once your phone is activated and running you should not notice any difference. 

In fact, if you are ever thinking about your SIM card during your phone’s operation it means there’s probably something wrong with the card. That begs the question, however, what happens to physical SIM phone plans as eSIM grows more popular?

What Happens to Physical SIM Phone Plans After eSIM?

We think that, eventually, physical SIM plans will become a thing of the past. If cell phone companies follow Apple’s lead and start producing US phones that don’t have a physical SIM slot, it follows that phone carriers will gradually reduce their physical SIM compatibility. That being said, this should not happen anytime soon! It is easy for phone companies to continue to provide physical SIM plans, so as long as there are still customers with physical SIM-compatible phones on the market there will be physical SIM phone plans available for purchase. 

Key Takeaways

What are your feelings surrounding the growing popularity of eSIMs? They are an exciting technological development, and we want to make sure you depart this article with all the most important parts fresh in your mind. 

  • There are many ways to switch from physical SIM cards to eSIMs, and that depends on your phone make and model. 
  • The new line of iPhones do not offer physical SIM compatibility in the United States

As of right now, both physical SIM cards and eSIM cards are usable in almost every situation.

Sara Nuss
Sara Nuss is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in wireless, dewi, phone plan advice & blockchain.