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How to activate an eSIM on your iPhone

No more fiddling around with physical SIM cards.
By
September 22, 2022

Don’t you just love the 21st century? Gone are the days of second mobile phones, work phone lines, and expensive tariff plans for international travel. Now, if you want more than one mobile phone number, and the phone is new enough, you simply need to buy and activate an eSIM. An eSIM gives you another phone number without the hassle of a physical SIM card. There are many pros and cons to an eSIM, but one huge pro is the ease of setup. Here’s how to set up and activate an eSIM on your iPhone.

Read more: eSIMs and international travel — let’s debunk this misconception

QUICK ANSWER

To set up an eSIM on your iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular and tap Add eSIM. From there, you might be prompted to scan a QR code that was provided to you by your carrier or transfer an existing eSIM from your current device. If you have an older iPhone, you can convert your physical SIM to an eSIM.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

How to set up and activate an eSIM on your iPhone

Apple iPhone 14 back dark
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Depending on which iPhone you have and where you bought it, setting up an eSIM can be as simple as powering on your device and following on-screen prompts. If you bought your phone directly from your carrier, you should be in for smooth sailing. However, we’ll also dive into some steps you might have to take if you bought your new iPhone unlocked.

eSIM Carrier Activation

As mentioned, if you bought your iPhone through your mobile carrier, you might not have to do much of anything. Top US carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T support what Apple calls Carrier Activation, so your eSIM might be preloaded on your phone. If that’s the case, here’s all you have to do:

  1. Swipe up on the welcome screen to start setting up your iPhone.
  2. Select your Wi-Fi network of choice and enter your password.
  3. Wait for the Setting Up Cellular display to appear, at which point the iPhone will activate your eSIM.
  4. Press Continue once you see Cellular Setup Complete.

QR code activation

Conversely, if you’re switching to an iPhone from an Android phone, you may have to get a bit more involved with your carrier. If you don’t automatically see the Setting Up Cellular display as detailed above, you might have to contact your carrier directly. They will then either activate your eSIM or provide a QR code for you to scan. If you’re given a QR code, here’s how you’ll have to use it:

  1. Swipe up on the welcome screen to start setting up your iPhone.
  2. Choose your Wi-Fi network and connect via your password.
  3. On the Set Up Cellular screen, select Use QR code.
  4. Point your iPhone camera at the QR code that your carrier provided.
  5. Wait for your eSIM to activate, then tap Continue when you see the Cellular Setup Complete message.

How to convert your SIM card to eSIM on an iPhone

Depending on your carrier — and your device — you might be able to convert a physical SIM into an eSIM in just a few minutes. This is especially helpful if you’re moving from an older iPhone to a newer one, as it skirts the need for a QR code. Unfortunately, not all carriers support this option, but it makes life easy if you’re on a compatible network. It also won’t work on a US-based iPhone 14 due to the lack of a SIM slot. Here’s what to do:

  1. Open the Settings menu and head to Cellular.
  2. Tap Convert to eSIM. If you don’t see this as an option, your carrier doesn’t support the feature.
  3. If you do see Convert to eSIM, select Convert Cellular Plan.
  4. Tap Convert to eSIM (again).
  5. Once your eSIM activates, remove your physical SIM and restart your iPhone.

How to transfer your eSIM to a new eSIM iPhone

The final option to set up an eSIM on your shiny new iPhone is to move it from a previous iPhone. This might not be all that common, as the eSIM push hasn’t been underway for very long, but it’s one way to make the switch without involving your carrier. You should be able to knock this out during the setup process, but make sure that both of your devices are running on iOS 16. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings, tap on Cellular, and choose Add Cellular Plan. This will prompt you to set up an eSIM.
  2. Select Transfer from another iPhone, which should display your existing phone number.
  3. Follow the instructions on your previous iPhone to confirm the transfer — usually little more than entering a verification code.
  4. Wait for the cellular plan to activate on your new iPhone and deactivate your previous SIM.
  5. Log into your carrier’s webpage to finish transferring your eSIM.

FAQs

Apple introduced eSIM on the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, and all newer iPhones support it as long as they have iOS 12.1 or later.

Yes, in fact, the iPhone 14 can support up to eight eSIM downloads at a time.

Additional costs and limited carrier compatibility mean that although many see eSIM as the future, it still requires brands to jump through hoops before adopting it.

If your phone supports dual-SIM with a physical SIM tray, then yes. However, the iPhone 14 does not have a SIM tray in the US and, therefore, can only support multiple eSIM downloads.