This site is part of various affiliate programs. Links may give us a small compensation for any purchases you make, at no additional cost to you. Please read the disclaimer policy for full details.
As a travel photographer who needs Internet access to run my business, I can’t rely on slow Wifi connections or no signal when traveling round Los Angeles, San Francisco or taking photos in Yosemite National Park, and that’s where eSIMs come in.
You could use your home SIM card and network and roam internationally of course, but this usually costs an absolute fortune, and I definitely do not like spending more money than I have to!
So when I was last in California, I scouted out the actual best eSIMs that would be reliable, fast and wouldn’t throttle my data or kick me off if I hit some arbitrary cap.
So that you don’t have to go through these same hours of research, my quick recommendations for eSIMs in California that you can set up in seconds are below.
The best value for money is the Airalo Change eSIM for light data use and short (< 7 days) trips, while Holafly is best for unlimited data, and Nomad the most economical option for longer (> 14 day) trips.
If you want to know why I’ve recommended each eSIM, then full details on each of them are below, as well as info on why I would not recommend a local eSIM from one of the US national operators.
Quick eSIM Picks for California
I’ll cover the differences between the performance of each eSIM in detail further on in this article, but if you just want a quick top pick, then choose one of these three depending on the length of your trip and your expected data use.
My Top 3 eSIMs for California:
- Airalo Change eSIM is the best value for money if you don’t use much data and are only traveling for one or two weeks. They have options ranging from 1GB to 20GB of data and validities from 7 to 30 days, and use T-Mobile, the fastest 5G network in the US.
- Holafly eSIMs offer unlimited data from 5 to 30 days, but this obviously comes at a higher price.
- Nomad are the best value option for longer trips, trips that also include Mexico and Canada and/or where you don’t need unlimited data and are instead happy with 10 / 20 GB of data.
Any of these can be an excellent choice, but I would personally recommend Airalo. It’s very easy to set up with their app and works on 5G when available, as well as being the best value option out there.
5G is very widespread across Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento, with lower levels of coverage in the rest of California state.
You don’t need ID or any KYC checks for these eSIMs, so you can use them immediately after purchase if you need to – see below for how easy this is.
eSIMs for the US-Only
There are also a few other options of eSIMs which make sense for California, which can also be used across the rest of the US like Orlando, New York and Las Vegas, and which are included in the tables below for completeness.
|eSIMs for California||Validity||Data Usage||4G/5G?||Coverage||Includes Calls/Texts?||Check Price|
*Best California eSIM*
|7 days – 30 days||1GB – 20GB||5G||US Only||No|
|AloSIM||7 days – 30 days||1GB – 20GB||4G||US Only||No|
|Holafly||5 days – 90 days||Unlimited||4G||US Only||No|
|Nomad||7 days or 30 days||1GB – 20GB||5G||US Only||No|
eSIMs for North America
If you are traveling to Canada and Mexico on your trip, then consider the regional eSIMs like the Americanmex from Airalo, which let you use your eSIM for the duration of your trip, for a slightly higher price.
Nomad offers the best value for a North American eSIM, particularly when they have a sale on, so I would check them out first.
|eSIMs for North America||Validity||Data Usage||4G/5G?||Coverage||Includes Calls/Texts?||Check Price|
|Airalo Americanmex||7 days – 30 days||1GB – 20GB||5G||US, Canada, Mexico||No|
|Nomad North America
*Best North American eSIM*
|7 days or 30 days||1GB – 10GB||4G/5G||US, Canada, Mexico||No|
|AloSIM North America||7 days or 30 days||1GB – 10GB||4G||US, Canada, Mexico||No|
Global eSIMs and Including Calls/Texts
For those on longer multi-country trips, then choose a global eSIM like the Discover from Airalo, which covers 130 countries.
Nomad also offer global plans, but these tend to be very bad value for money compared with the ones below, so I won’t cover them here.
|Global eSIMs||Validity||Data Usage||4G/5G?||Coverage||Includes Calls/Texts?||Check Price|
|Airalo Discover||7 days – 365 days||1GB – 20GB||4G/5G||130 Countries||No|
|Airalo Discover+||7 days – 365 days||1GB – 20GB||4G/5G||130 Countries||10min/SMS – 200min/SMS|
|AIS eSIM2FLY Global||15 days||6GB||4G/5G||120+ Countries||No|
Should You Get Calls/Texts eSIMs?
In general, eSIMs only offer data and not calls and texts.
In practise this is not a problem, as you can still use WhatsApp with an eSIM. You may need to receive a code by text to your existing number to confirm your identity with your new eSIM, but either way you will be using WhatsApp within seconds without any problems.
You should also be able to keep using Uber and the like, as you keep your existing physical SIM card active, meaning that you keep your current phone number and can still receive texts to it for ID confirmation.
Even if you do need to call a business, most now offer WhatsApp calling, and of course you can still use it to connect with friends and family.
If you do have a definite need for calls and texts, then you should look at the Discover+ from Airalo which you can set up prior to leaving for your trip, or a local SIM card when you get to your destination, but the latter adds a lot more hassle.
How Easy Is It To Use An eSIM?
First, you will need to make sure your phone is not locked to a carrier. If you got your phone at a reduced price under a monthly contract, then your phone may well be locked. You can usually request a code to unlock it from your carrier at the end of your contract.
If you bought your phone without a SIM or use a pre-paid card, then it is almost certainly already unlocked.
You can also check if your phone is compatible from Settings on Android or iOS.
Once you know that your phone is compatible, it’s as simple as scanning a QR code from your eSIM operator, or do it all through the app for providers like Airalo.
You will then be able to set your eSIM up in seconds once you have made your purchase.
Local eSIMs from US Operators
eSIM companies do not own their mobile networks – they instead piggyback on local providers.
The potential problem with this is that some local providers will prioritize their customers in times of high traffic load, meaning that eSIM customers (and anyone internationally roaming) could suffer from slower speeds.
But there’s another variable to take into account – local provider’s pre-paid customers.
Because the local providers will make more money from contract customers than from pre-paid, pre-paid customers get pushed to the bottom of the pile, and it’s them that get deprioritized first during high network traffic.
This means that an eSIM from someone like Airalo can actually offer faster data speeds than pre-paid eSIMs from local operators.
The other advantage of eSIMs is that you can set them up in seconds, usually using the provider’s app, and you don’t need to wait until you are in the country in question to do this.
Buying a local SIM often has you jumping through bureaucratic hoops, queueing in shops and getting worse deals than locals purely because you are buying the SIM in the airport.
Personally, after a long flight that’s the last thing I want to do.
So let’s get into it and see exactly why I recommend these particular eSIMS.
Airalo eSIMs for California
Airalo are one of the most highly regarded global eSIM operators, as not only are they often the cheapest and best value for money for short trips, but they also almost always offer 5G network speeds if they are available in the country in question.
They use local provider networks, but unlike other similarly priced subscribers, Airalo seems to choose the fastest of these networks.
California is a good case in point, as they use T-Mobile and Verizon, both at 5G speeds.
You can get 5G pretty much everywhere in the major cities of California, so you should definitely go for this if your phone supports it.
T-Mobile is particularly strong in the US because their purchase of Sprint in 2020 gave them Sprint’s 3G mid-band spectrum which they now use for 5G thanks to its increased capacity when compared to low-band frequencies, which are more widely used by T-Mobile’s competitors.
In 2022, PCMag crossed nearly every part of mainland US using local SIM cards, and guess what, T-Mobile and Verizon were ranked the number 1 and 2 networks in LA by speed and latency.
What more do you need?
Airalo has six plans depending on your trip length and data usage:
- Airalo Change eSIM 1 GB in 7 days – the cheapest plan and best for short trips with light data usage.
- Airalo Change eSIM 2 GB in 15 days – a good choice for light data use in two week trips.
- Airalo Change eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- Airalo Change eSIM 5 GB in 30 days – really good value 30 day plan.
- Airalo Change eSIM 10 GB in 30 days
- Airalo Change eSIM 20 GB in 30 days
You can buy the plan now and set it up using the Airalo app in seconds without affecting the validity. The timer only starts when your eSIM connects to any one of the supported networks, meaning that it will start as soon as you get in-country.
If you are only looking for the cheapest eSIM for California then it’s the 1GB Airalo, but their offers are not that compelling if you are looking for higher data usage.
If you are travelling outside of California then the Airalo Change eSIMs work across the country, but if you are also adding Mexico or Canada to your trip, then you should consider the Americanmex eSIMs, which cover all three countries for a slight price increase over the Change cards.
Americanmex offers are:
- Airalo Americanmex eSIM 1 GB in 7 days
- Airalo Americanmex eSIM 2 GB in 15 days
- Airalo Americanmex eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- Airalo Americanmex eSIM 5 GB in 30 days
- Airalo Americanmex eSIM 10 GB in 30 days
As with the Change eSIMs, the validity period starts when you first connect to one of the supported networks, which include 5G T-Mobile and Verizon in the US, 5G Bell and TELUS and 4G Sasktel in Canada, and Movistar, AT+T and Telcel on 4G/LTE in Mexico.
Given that these are only a few dollars more than the Change eSIMs, it’s a no-brainer if you are visiting more than one country and is much cheaper than buying separate eSIMs for each.
For completeness, there’s also Airalo Discover and Discover+ cards that offer global coverage (130 countries) with much longer validity periods. These are the best global eSIMs out there if you want long validity and don’t use too much data.
The Discover eSIM offers only data, while the Discover+ adds calls and texts into the mix, using a +43 (Austrian) phone number (which can be used to call any other country code).
The Airalo Discover and Discover+ offers are:
- Airalo Discover eSIM 1 GB in 7 days and Discover+ adding 10 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 2 GB in 15 days and Discover+ adding 20 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 3 GB in 30 days and Discover+ adding 30 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 5 GB in 60 days and Discover+ adding 50 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 10 GB in 180 days and Discover+ adding 100 mins + texts.
- Airalo Discover eSIM 20 GB in 365 days and Discover+ adding 200 mins + texts.
I’m not sure how useful a global eSIM lasting 7 days is, but if you have access to a private jet then you might find it useful!
There’s a variety of 5G and 4G/LTE networks used by the Discover eSIMS. You can check which networks each country uses by following this link, then clicking the Buy Now button for one of the eSIMs and then Check Available Networks as in the screenshot below.
Nomad eSIMs for California
Nomad targets those travelers who want long validity on their eSIMs but are willing to take a smaller data cap for a lower price.
As the name might suggest, they’re aimed more at longer term travelers than those only away from home for a week, but if you do have a longer trip lasting up to 30 days, then Nomad are the best value for money.
Nomad uses the AT+T, T-Mobile and Verizon networks in 4G/LTE and 5G mode if available.
Nomad eSIMs include:
- Nomad United States eSIM 1 GB in 7 days
- Nomad United States eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- Nomad United States eSIM 5 GB in 30 days
- Nomad United States eSIM 10 GB in 30 days – fantastic value for money.
- Nomad United States eSIM 20 GB in 30 days
You should note that Nomad eSIMs must be activated within 30 days of purchase. If they are not activated by the 30 day mark, then their validity will start to count down even if you haven’t activated it yet.
So, as long as you don’t buy it more than 4 weeks ahead of your trip, you’re fine.
The real value for Nomad eSIMs comes from their North American plan though.
They have a 3 country plan on 5G/4G/LTE which covers the US, Mexico and Canada.
Nomad’s 5GB and 10GB North American plans are the best value North America-wide eSIMs out there.
The options for this plan are:
- Nomad Europe eSIM 1 GB in 7 days – worse price than Airalo.
- Nomad Europe eSIM 3 GB in 30 days – better price as Airalo.
- Nomad Europe eSIM 5 GB in 30 days – best value North American eSIM.
- Nomad Europe eSIM 10 GB in 30 days – best value North American eSIM.
Holafly eSIMs for California
Holafly are my go-to operator if you use a ton of data, as they offer unlimited data on all eSIMs (with some caveats).
Some users have reported throttling of connection speed after using a few GB of data in a short space of time, and it is likely that there is some upper limit given the relatively low cost, but there is no official word on this, other than “the carrier may reserve the right to apply a Fair Usage Policy” in their terms and conditions.
For normal usage (if you’re not streaming 4K movies all day), then you are unlikely to be throttled.
As Holafly are the only operator with unlimited data, they are my first choice for longer trips or where I know that I will need lots of data.
They use the AT+T and Verizon networks on 4G/LTE mode in California.
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 5 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 7 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 10 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 15 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 20 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 30 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 60 days
- Holafly USA eSIM unlimited GB in 90 days
Remember that you can’t extend your Holafly eSIM, so you’re better to buy a plan that offers longer coverage than you need rather than less, as otherwise you will have to buy another eSIM from them to cover your trip.
AloSIM eSIMs for California
AloSIM offers very similar prices to Airalo, but are a newer company that are not yet offering 5G support in California.
They’re also a little more fiddly to set up because you have to change your APN (Access Point Name) for the eSIM, otherwise it won’t work.
AloSIM use AT+T at LTE speeds, which is the third best provider, so don’t expect super-fast speeds.
Sometimes prices can be lower than Airalo, but the packages are usually the same with the exception of the mobile networks used.
AloSIM packages are:
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 1 GB in 7 days
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 2 GB in 15 days
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 3 GB in 30 days
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 5 GB in 30 days
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 10 GB in 30 days
- AloSIM Nationwide eSIM 20 GB in 30 days
They also offer regional eSIMs for the US, Mexico and Canada, again all on the 4G networks.
- AloSIM North America eSIM 1 GB for 7 days
- AloSIM North America eSIM 3 GB for 7 days
- AloSIM North America eSIM 5 GB for 30 days
- AloSIM North America eSIM 10 GB for 30 days
AIS Global eSIM (Great for 2-Week Trips)
Although a global eSIM rather than a specific location eSIM, AIS offers the best value for money option for medium data use over two weeks.
They only have one eSIM suitable for California, which is the 6GB for 15 days global eSIM.
I only include it here because AIS offers the most 5G networks of any global SIM, so if you are on a two week trip to even a couple of different countries, the extra 5G capabilities of the AIS card can make it worthwhile.
The Best eSIM for California: Conclusion
In my opinion, the best eSIMs for California are those from Airalo, as they give you the fastest 5G network available, and at the lowest price, which is unbeatable in the current climate.
Holafly are my next choice if you want unlimited data.
Nomad can be cheapest for longer trips and for North America as a whole, if you are happy with their eSIM validity policy of max. 60 days from purchase.