How to use global roaming on the dual SIM iPhone Xs, Xs Max and XR

By David Flynn, September 20 2018
How to use global roaming on the dual SIM iPhone Xs, Xs Max and XR

With the launch of its latest iPhone Xs, Xs Max and XR models, Apple has finally delivered dual SIM card capability to make overseas roaming easier for travellers. Well, sort of. Here's what you need to know about the new dual SIM iPhones and how to use them for global roaming.

Which new iPhones have a dual SIM feature?

All three models in the 2018 iPhone line-up – the Xs, the big-screen Xs Max and the more affordable XR – come with dual SIM technology.

However, only the Xs Max and the XR (not the standard Xs) iPhones sold in Hong Kong, Macau or China can accomodate two physical SIM cards – which Apple has achieved by letting two nanoSIM wafers sit back-to-back in the usual card slot.

Everywhere else in the world, Apple sells the new iPhone Xs, Xs Max and XR with one physical SIM card slot and a digital 'embedded SIM' (eSIM) module which taps into your carrier via an app, without the need for one of those tiny, fiddly and easy-to-lose wafers.

Apple already offers eSIM connectivity on recent Apple Watch releases, although the eSIM module of the new iPhones won't be available when those devices launch over the coming weeks – Apple says an update to iOS 12 due in November 2018 will activate the eSIM technology.

Setting up a dual SIM / eSIM iPhone

There are two ways you can use the SIM card + eSIM combo in a new iPhone Xs, Xs Max or XR.

1. use the physical SIM card slot for your home carrier, and rely on activating the eSIM with a local service when you roam

2. use the eSIM module for your home carrier, and insert a local prepaid SIM card into the iPhone when you roam

At the time of writing, barely a dozen carriers around the world will allow local iPhone subscribers to connect via eSIM – and for Australian readers, that list doesn't include Optus, Telstra or Vodafone.

This means that most globetrotting owners of a new iPhone Xs, Xs Max or XR will still need to stay connected by popping a nanoSIM into the card slot, and when it's time to travel, either

1. sign up for a roaming eSIM service, or

2. do the reliable old SIM card swap routine

The first option will work only if the country you're visiting has a carrier which supports the eSIM on traveller-friendly prepaid plans, or if you opt for a global provider such as GigSky or Truphone offering mobile services in dozens of countries.

Either way, the process will be the same: download an app for your chosen carrier, select your desired plan – which will be charged through your Apple App Store account – and you're on the air.

This should work a doddle if you log onto a free WiFi network on arrival at the airport or at your hotel. Likewise, topping up your account during your stay – and reactivating your plan if you return to that same country later on – will simply take a few taps of the screen instead of buying a recharge card. 

However, until the eSIM is more widely supported around the world you may end up doing the familiar SIM card swap each time you travel, replacing your home carrier SIM with a card for a local prepaid carrier plan.

Using a dual SIM iPhone

Apple's November update to iOS 12 will add the ability to manage two numbers – one per SIM, and designated as Primary and Secondary services – through the Settings app.

When you're roaming you can select to use that number for making or receiving calls and messages, for mobile data as well as apps such as iMessage and FaceTime.

Both lines can remain active at the same time, so that when travelling you can still receive calls from home on your regular number.

You'll also be able to keep multiple plans associated with your eSIM, and activate each one as needed. 

So, should I buy a true dual SIM iPhone from Hong Kong, China or Macau?

If you need two SIM card slots – not one physical slot and one eSIM digital module – you can certainly pick up an iPhone Xs Max or Xr on your next trip to Hong Kong, China or Macau. The device will still be covered by Apple's international warranty.

However, the iPhones sold in China don't work on the 700MHz frequencies used by Telstra and Optus for their high-speed 4G networks (respectively known as 4GX and 4G Plus), so you'll miss out on getting maximum download speeds in Australia.

Additionally, the AC power adaptor will be fitted with prongs to suit that country's AC socket type (Hong Kong and Macau use the same Type G socket as the UK, while iPhones sold in China comes with a US-style Type A plug) – so you may well need to rely on a plug adaptor to match the imported iPhone to your own country's socket type.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 73

Just a caveat on the international warranty. Apple has always had a clause in their warranties:

Service will be limited to the options available in the country where service is requested.

If you have a problem with the physical dual sim card slot in the XS Max purchased in HK, I'm not sure if this will cause a problem if it needs repair in Australia.

04 Dec 2013

Total posts 150

Finally Apple has seen some sense. It's always been a strong irony that premium phones have tended to be the ones offered without dual SIM. And particularly frustrating that phones for the Oz market don't have it, even when their overseas equivalents do.

I'm looking to replace my cheap dual-SIM Samsung bought in Europe with a mid-high range phone here. The same models sold overseas all have dual SIM, but if I want to walk down the street and buy one here, I only get single. Very frustrating as I'll need to keep the old phone running so I've got a phone with my overseas number.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 73

One other point to note is that if you buy a XS (non-Max) in HK, it doesn't have two SIM slots. It is eSIM + nano-SIM like everywhere else. Only the Max and XR have two SIM card slots.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2545

Good pickup, will add that into the article, thanks!

20 Apr 2015

Total posts 16

Something also to keep in mind, those Chinese models of iPhone do not support the LTE (4G) bands that Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone use for the fastest network speeds. So it depends whether you value the convenience (again only in the HK XS Max or XR or the mainland versions of all three as per the above comment) or whether you prefer to browse/ stream quicker when in Australia (and I think many other european countries also use those bands)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2545

Interesting - let me look into that a bit more... 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 710

Did some digging and found out the following bands for each phone:

Australian iPhones - FDD‑LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 66) and TD‑LTE (Bands 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46).

HK iPhones - FDD‑LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 29, 30, 32, 66, 71) and TD‑LTE (Bands 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 46).

Source : Apple Website AU and HK Tech specs.

In Australia we use the following bands:

2100MHz (B1) FDD – Telstra (a handful of sites), Optus (Darwin, Tasmania)

1800MHz (B3) FDD – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone

850MHz (B5) FDD – Vodafone

2600MHz (B7) FDD – Optus, Telstra

900MHz (B8) FDD – Telstra (a handful of sites, utilises spectrum previously used by 2G)

700MHz (B28) FDD – Telstra (~80% of 4G towers use B28), Optus (~90% of 4G tower use B28) (with both networks many towers also have additional 4G bands)

2300MHz (B40) TDD – Optus (The Old Vivid wireless spectrum, metropolitan area)

Source : Whirlpool

The only band that is missing is the 700Mhz B28 which is what Telstra and Optus bought a lot of after analog TV was switched off.

In Capital cities, you probably wouldn't notice a huge difference (other then slight speed differences) however 700Mhz is really the main 4G band for other areas and a simple drive between Canberra and Sydney would see the new HK/China iPhone drop to 3G whilst an Australian model wouldn't.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Apr 2017

Total posts 134

Would be cool if Flexiroam and similar data services could get esim worked out to save the physical sticker.

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