Mobile eSIMs are the new thing when it comes to staying connected while traveling. But are they really better than a local SIM card for Taiwan?
I personally tried both a regular SIM card and an eSIM card on different trips to Taiwan. I found that both of them come with some distinct advantages and disadvantages.
My overall preference is still to use a regular tourist SIM card for Taiwan (I recommend this one and here’s my guide to buying a SIM card upon arrival in Taiwan). But there are definitely some reasons you may still want to (or have to) get an eSIM instead.
Below, I’ll share the pros and cons of each, why I think this Airalo eSIM is the best eSIM for Taiwan, and how to buy and activate it for your Taiwan trip.
What’s an eSIM?
eSIMs make use of a chip that is already installed in your phone (as long as you have a newer phone – see the next section!)
This means you already have the hardware for using an eSIM. Unlike a regular SIM card, you won’t have to add anything to your phone. All you have to do is download an app like Airalo, choose the plan you want, pay, adjust a few settings on your phone, and then the eSIM will start working as soon as land in Taiwan!
As great as it sounds, there are a few problems with using eSIMs in Taiwan, which I’ll get to below.
Which Phones are eSIM Compatible in Taiwan?
In order for an eSIM to work, you have to have iPhone XR, XS, 11, or later. For Android phones, it will depend on the brand – see a full list of eSIM compatible phones.
In fact, for iPhone 14, there is no longer a slot for regular SIM cards, so an eSIM will be your only option!
Your phone will also need to be unlocked – most phones made after 2017 should be. If you aren’t sure, find out here.
Taiwan SIM vs. eSIM
As I said above, when traveling to Taiwan, there are some specific advantages and disadvantages to using a SIM card or an eSIM.
Some people also opt to use a portable WiFI device like this one, so I’ve also included that in the below comparison table.
|SIM Card||– Unlimited Data|
– Phone calls and SMS
– Can register for YouBike
– One person can share data with a friend
– Up to 6 months available at airport
– Clerk will activate for you
|– Need to pick up at airport|
– Can’t be extended
– Max 30 days available online
– Need to carry (and not lose!) your home SIM card.
|eSIM||– Works as soon as you land|
– No physical installation needed
– Works for LINE app, which everyone in Taiwan uses for communication
– Regional and global plans available
|– Only works on newer phones|
– Only some have unlimited data
– Can’t register for YouBike (but single rental still possible)
– Confusing set-up
|WiFi Device||– Can be shared by up to 5 devices|
– Can rent for up to 90 days
|– Need to charge every day|
– Need to pick up at airport
– Need to return at end of trip
– Extra thing to carry around
Advantages of eSIMs
As you can see in the table above, the main benefits of using an eSIM in Taiwan is that it will start working as soon as you get there.
When I landed at Taoyuan International Airport, as soon as our plane stopped (the point when you’re allowed to start using your phone), I turned off airplane mode on my phone, turned on my eSIM in the settings (see below on how to do this), and voila – I was connected.
This means you won’t have to switch out cards or wait in a line to pick up your SIM card at the airport.
It’s also perfect if you’re landing in the middle of the night, when the airport’s mobile phone shops are closed. There are no SIM card shops open from midnight to 4:30 AM at Taoyuan International Airport. See the shop opening times and locations here.
It usually takes about one hour from landing to reach those shops in the Arrivals Hall. So if your plane is landing anytime from 11 PM to around 3:30 AM, you won’t be able to buy a SIM card until later that day in the city (see my Taiwan SIM card guide for how to do that). Also see my guide to getting from Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei!
If you’re flying in to a different airport in Taiwan, check the mobile shop opening times at Songshan Airport in the Taipei city center, Taichung Airport in Taichung city, and Kaohsiung Airport in Kaohsiung city.
Disadvantages of eSIMs
On the downside, not all Taiwan eSIMs have unlimited data like regular tourist SIM cards. Airalo’s Taiwan eSIMs are very cheap but have limited data, ranging from 1 to 10 GB. Another famous brand Holafly has Taiwan eSIMs with unlimited data, but they are quite a bit more expensive than Airalo’s.
You can easily add more data to your Airalo eSIM you run out, but you can’t extend them (maximum 30 days). Instead, you’d just have to buy a new one if you’re staying in Taiwan longer. Holafly has longer ones, but again, the price is really up there.
Because the data was limited on my Airalo eSIM, I found that I was more conscious of how much data I was using during my Taiwan trip. By contrast, when using the regular tourist SIM card, which always has unlimited data, I watched all the videos I wanted to without even thinking about it. I also didn’t have to bother switching to local WiFi when it was available – just one less thing to think or worry about.
Most importantly, you won’t get a local phone number or any calling time with an eSIM. In Taiwan, these are some reasons you might want a local phone number:
- Some restaurants only take reservations by phone.
- You may need to make an emergency call (110 for police or 119 for ambulance/fire)
- You may want to call Taiwan’s 24-hour multilingual tourist hotline (0800-011-765) to ask for help or any question about traveling in Taiwan.
- You need a local phone number to register for a YouBike account. Registering allows you to connect an EasyCard to your account for easy renting. You can still use a YouBike without registering, and pay with credit card, but it’s more tedious and there will be a hold on your credit card until you return the bike.
Last but not least, if you’re an idiot with cellphones like I am, you may find the activation process for eSIMs a little confusing. Even though Airalo provides what seem like very clear instructions, videos, and screenshots of how to activate the SIM card, I still got confused while doing it.
Judging by all the comments on their set-up video, I’m not the only one who was confused by the set-up process.
On the plus side, when I emailed Airalo for help, they responded quickly and resolved my concerns.
Why I Think Airalo is the Best eSIM for Taiwan
Despite the little hiccup I experienced when setting up the eSIM, I still think Airalo is the best mobile eSIM card for Taiwan for the following reasons.
- Most popular eSIM out there and considered to have the widest coverage
- Cheaper than others
- Connects to Chunghwa Telecome (中華電信), Taiwan’s best provider, which is why I also recommend the Chunghwa regular SIM card
- Easy-to-use app and good customer support (in my personal experience)
- Has Taiwan-only, regional Asian, and global plans for travelers
- I had already used Airalo before for traveling to Peru and it worked really well there.
If you’re looking for the cheapest and best eSIM for Taiwan, I think Airalo is the one. If unlimited data is more important to you, and you don’t mind paying around double the price for it, then go for Holafly, another very popular eSIM provider.
There are also Taiwan mobile eSIMs available on Klook like this one and this one, but I didn’t consider them because it’s not so clear from the Klook pages which company they are through. I’d rather go with a well-known company that has lots of reviews and guaranteed good customer support.
How to Buy and Activate Your Taiwan eSIM
Buying an eSIM is extremely simple but setting it up gets more complicated.
I’ve heard of some that require you to scan a QR code (I don’t know how you’d do this if you only have one device). For Airalo, this wasn’t necessary with their direct installation process.
Here are the steps I followed to activate my Airalo eSIM (Note: this was for iPhone. The directions will be different for Android).
Before Going to Taiwan
I suggest doing the following at least a couple days before your trip. Then if you have any issues, you can search for advice on Google or contact Airalo. You’ll need to have WiFi connection while doing these steps. For most eSIMs, the days won’t start counting until you connect to the local service provider in Taiwan.
The exact steps will vary depending on which eSIM you choose, and these steps have changed/simplified since they first made this instructional video. After you buy your eSIM plan, instructions specific to your plan will be provided in the app.
- Download and open the Airalo app.
- Search Taiwan, select the plan you want, and pay.
- Click “My eSims” at the bottom and you’ll see the one you just bought. Click “details” (this is where you will also go later to monitor your data usage). Tap “Direct” at the top then “Install eSIM” at the bottom.
- Wait as it installs. Click “Add Cellular Plan” and choose a name for your eSIM (I chose “Taiwan eSIM” but anything works.)
- For Default Line, select “Primary” (your home SIM) for calls and messages so you can still receive them for you trip. If you don’t want to receive them during your trip (because there will be associated charges) you can later turn off roaming on your primary SIM. The same things goes for iMessage and Facetime.
- For Mobile Data, choose your eSIM. Don’t click “Allow Mobile Data Switching”.
Once you Arrive in Taiwan
Only do the following steps after you arrive in Taiwan. You won’t need WiFi to do it. But if you do happen to need WiFi, for example to search for help, Taoyuan International Airport has free WiFi.
- Go to Settings and click “Cellular/Mobile Data”. Select the eSIM. Make sure “Turn on this line” is ON.
- Go back to the eSIM in the Airalo app and make sure it says “The APM is set automatically.” If it says something like Airalo2 instead, you’ll have to copy paste that to the APN fields in your phone’s settings (Cellular/Mobile Data, eSIM).
- Turn off your primary (home) like and make sure your eSIM line is turned on.
- Connect to Chunghwa network.
My Conclusion about Using eSIMs in Taiwan
Should you use an eSIM for traveling in Taiwan? If your phone is compatible, you value convenience above anything else, and you can survive the trip without voice calls or registering a YouBike account so that you can use an EasyCard for renting bikes, then the Airalo eSIMs for Taiwan are great.
eSIMs are a good idea if you’re arriving in Taiwan in the middle of the night when all the airport mobile phone shops are closed. Airalo’s regional or global plan is also an awesome deal if you’re visiting other countries on your trip besides Taiwan.
However, in my personal opinion, a good old regular SIM card remains the best option for Taiwan. This is my most recommended SIM card for Taiwan. It will give you unlimited data for a lower price than an unlimited data eSIM with the same number of days, like Holafly’s, the ability to make phone calls in Taiwan if needed, and you can use the number to register for a YouBike account so you can connect an EasyCard, making it easier and faster to borrow bikes.
It only takes a few minutes to pick up the SIM card when you arrive at the airport and they’ll even install it for you.
Please feel free to share your experiences using SIMs or eSIMs in Taiwan in the comments below!