Dual-SIM phones allow you to easily manage (and make or receive calls on) two numbers on a single handset. This means you can juggle a work and a personal contact without switching devices, have separate data plans for home and abroad, or just get up to a bunch of sneaky business.
Apple has never offered a phone with two physical SIM slots (in the UK and US, at least), but the latest iPhones offer a smart workaround: the XR, XS and XS Max have both an externally accessible nano SIM tray and an internal eSIM that lets you set up additional carrier plans. In this article we explain how to set up the newest iPhones as dual-SIM handsets.
(Note that in China, the new iPhones do get twin SIM trays. The method used in this tutorial applies to other parts of the world, including the UK and US.)
What’s an eSIM?
The e stands for embedded. Your eSIM is soldered to the phone’s motherboard and cannot be removed.
But the clever thing about an eSIM is that you don’t need to remove it. It works with multiple carriers, so you can change plan without changing the SIM.
For more information on this topic, see What is an eSIM?
Your handset needs to be an iPhone XR, XS or XS Max, and Apple says it will need to be running iOS 12.1 or later. (Here’s how to update iOS.) Assuming the two plans you’ll be subscribing to are from different carriers, the phone will also need to be unlocked.
Not all carriers support eSIMs; in the UK only EE does, while US customers can choose from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Apple provides a list of compatible carriers in each country.
Setting up your eSIM
We’ll assume at this point that you’ve set up the nano SIM in the usual way, and have a phone number and data plan. We now want to set up the eSIM with the second plan.
Contact the carrier you’ve chosen for the eSIM plan (we recommend shopping around if there’s more than one option in your territory) and explain what you want to do.
Once you’ve agreed terms, payments and so on, you will need to set up the plan using details provided by the carrier: it’s possible to enter these manually but the company will probably make it easier by sending you a QR code, or let you set up via its app. Any of these methods will be quicker than waiting for a physical SIM to be delivered.
Your carrier may send you a QR code for setting up the plan. If so, open the Settings app on your phone and go to Mobile Data, then tap Add Data Plan (in the UK), or Cellular, then tap Add Cellular Plan (in the US).
You should then scan the QR code with the phone’s camera and (if requested) enter the confirmation code provided by your carrier.
Alternatively, you can set up an eSIM using your carrier’s iOS app. Visit the App Store and search for and download the app, then open it. The app will walk you through the setup process.
We’re nearly there, but it’s necessary to follow a few more steps to ensure the two plans work effectively together.
You will next be asked to label the plans to avoid confusion (‘work’ and ‘home’ are obvious choices, for example). You can change these labels in future by going to Settings > Cellular (or Mobile Data), tapping one of your numbers and selecting Cellular Plan Label or Data Plan Label.
Finally, you need to decide which of your two numbers should be the default for iMessage and FaceTime, and whether you want to use your secondary number for data only.
And that’s it! You’re now set up with two carrier plans on a single iPhone handset.
How to switch between phone numbers
The iPhone will make calls from the default number if it’s not told otherwise. But it’s easy to temporarily switch to the non-default number when making a call.
If you’re using the numberpad, you just need to tap the number shown at the top of the screen and then select the one you’d prefer to use. If calling from Favourites, you need to tap the i next to the name, and then tap your current number.
If calling from Contacts, tap Preferred Data Plan/Preferred Cellular Plan and select the number you want to use. Handily, your iPhone will remember your preference and use the same number next time you call that contact.
Setting up a third plan
It’s possible to set up a third plan, if you wish, by following the same steps above. Note, however, that you can have only one eSIM plan active at a time – you’ll have to switch between them in Settings.
How to remove an eSIM plan
Note that you can wipe a plan from your eSIM by going to Settings > Mobile Data (or Cellular), tapping the plan and then selecting Remove Data Plan (or Remove Cellular Plan).