Today’s the day—you finally made the last payment on your iPhone and that baby is officially all yours. That means you’re able to use it while traveling abroad with a local SIM card and are free to switch networks as you please, right? Don’t start booking your flight to New Zealand or running to T-Mobile just yet because, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In order to prevent people from switching to a competitor’s network before they’ve paid off their phone or fulfilled their contract, many carriers place a lock (also known as a carrier lock) on their smartphones. This ultimately ensures that you, or whoever you sell your used iPhone to, are stuck with them for the long haul. If you’re thinking this sounds like a pretty dysfunctional relationship, we’d tend to agree with you. Luckily, with a bit of legwork and an account in good standing, you can be well on your way to a carrier-unlocked iPhone in no time. And best of all? It’s completely free.

 

How to unlock iPhones
Read on for our guide on how to unlock phones for free.

 

Although there are apps out there that offer to do it for you (for a price, of course), the easiest way to unlock your iPhone is by speaking directly with your cellular provider—and it won’t cost you a dime. The journey to a carrier-unlocked phone depends largely on your network, with the process being either relatively quick and painless or painfully tedious. To get you one step closer to a life free from carrier-locked tyranny, we rounded up all the steps on how to unlock iPhones (for free) in this comprehensive guide. Please note that while this was written with iPhone owners in mind, much of the advice can easily be carried over to other smartphones.

 

Contents

What Is Carrier Unlocking?
     Why Should I Unlock My iPhone?
     Is Unlocking My iPhone Legal?
How to Unlock iPhones From a Carrier
     How to Check if Your iPhone Is Unlocked
     Find Your iPhone’s IMEI Number
     Unlock an iPhone on:   AT&T   Sprint   T-Mobile   Verizon
I Unlocked My Phone—Now What?
     What Carriers Can I Use After Unlocking?
     Is the Unlock Permanent?


What Is Carrier Unlocking?

As noted previously, when you buy an iPhone or other smartphone from your cellular provider, that device will only work on that specific network until you either request to have your carrier unlock it or your carrier automatically unlocks it for you (more on that later). Also known as a SIM unlock, factory unlock, or network unlock, carrier unlocking means removing a network’s restrictions on a device, thus allowing you to use it with a different cellular provider.

Fortunately, not all iPhones need to be unlocked. For example, if you buy your iPhone directly from Apple and pay for it in full, it should already be unlocked and ready to use on a variety of carriers.

Please note, however, that not all phones purchased outright from third-party retailers are automatically unlocked. For instance, although sold as “unlocked”, smartphones bought at Best Buy are actually considered “universal.” So, when you insert a SIM card for the first time, the phone will essentially lock itself to the carrier associated with the SIM card. Then, since certain carriers like T-Mobile will only unlock your iPhone if you bought it directly from them, you could end up with an eternally network-locked device. In other words, you wind up paying factory-unlocked prices for a carrier-locked phone.

 

SIM-unlocked iPhones can be used both domestically and internationally
SIM-unlocked iPhones can be used both domestically and internationally.

 

Why Should I Unlock My iPhone?

Having a carrier-unlocked iPhone comes with its fair share of benefits including the freedom to use (almost) any network both in the US and abroad and increased resale values.

 
#1. A network-unlocked iPhone can be used with almost any carrier in the US. 
Carrier-unlocking gives you the freedom to use your phone with the cellular provider of your choice, almost whenever and wherever you want (with a few exceptions, as you’ll see later). For example, if you are currently using T-Mobile but are moving to a new part of the country with poor T-Mobile coverage, you can switch to AT&T on a dime.
 
#2. A SIM-unlocked iPhone makes international travel a breeze. 
Unlocking also gives you the ability to use your phone abroad. International roaming fees, expensive international plans, and mad dashes for WiFi are a thing of the past with an unlocked iPhone. Just pop in a SIM card from a local carrier and you’re in business.
 
#3. Factory-unlocked iPhones have higher resale values. 
Even if you don’t plan on switching carriers or heading overseas anytime soon, unlocking your iPhone is still a smart idea. If you ever plan on trading in your old iPhone when you upgrade, you’ll almost always get more money for it if the iPhone is already carrier unlocked due to greater demand for them in the resale marketplace.

 

Is Unlocking My iPhone Legal?

Yup! Thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014, all US-based cellular providers must allow customers to unlock their phones. However, the circumstances under which a carrier will unlock a smartphone vary widely from network to network. As a general rule, most providers require you to complete your contract, pay for your financial obligations in full, or at least have an account good standing before they’ll allow you to unlock your iPhone.

 

Carrier-unlock iPhones for higher resale values
Carrier-unlock iPhones for higher resale values.

 

How to Check if Your iPhone Is Unlocked

Before beginning the SIM-unlocking process, you’ll first want to check if your iPhone is already unlocked (no sense in going through that hassle if you don’t actually need to. All you need to do is make sure that you’re connected to WiFi and insert a new SIM card from a different cellular provider—your iPhone will do the rest automatically. This verification check typically takes less than a minute to complete once the SIM has been inserted.

During the verification process, you’ll notice that your iPhone will boot to a white screen and try to confirm that it has been unlocked with your carrier. Should Apple determine that your iPhone is network-unlocked, it will return to the home screen and service bars should appear from the new provider. However, if you see a white screen that says SIM Not Supported, your phone has not been unlocked.

 

How to Unlock iPhones From a Carrier

Once you determine that your phone is definitely locked to your current cellular provider, you will next need to look at your carrier’s unlock eligibility requirements. If your iPhone meets those guidelines, you can then request that the device be unlocked from their network. As hinted at earlier, both the eligibility requirements and the unlock process vary from company to company. Each has been outlined below for the major carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Please note that, provided you’ve met the unlock requirements and are completing the network-unlocking directly with your carrier, requesting that your iPhone be unlocked is completely free. If you choose to go through a third party or app, you will be unnecessarily charged. So, save yourself some money and stick to using the directions below.

 

How to check IMEI on iPhone
How to check IMEI on iPhones

 

Find Your iPhone’s IMEI Number

When factory-unlocking your iPhone, you will need to provide your provider with the device’s IMEI number. This unique, 15-digit identifier is essentially your phone’s VIN or social security number. To locate your IMEI, go to Settings > General > About. If you don’t have your iPhone with you, you can also look it up with your Apple account by going here and logging in with your Apple ID. Then, scroll down until you reach the Devices section and click on your device for its IMEI.

You can also look for the number on the phone itself. For earlier iPhone models (6, 6 Plus, 1st-generation SE, 5s, 5c, 5), the IMEI will also be printed on the back. Others will show the number on the SIM tray. Or, if you were smart enough to keep the box, you can also look on the sticker with the barcode.

Once you’ve located the IMEI, we also highly recommend that you store it somewhere for safekeeping.

 

Unlock iPhone ATTUnlock an iPhone on AT&T

Unlocking your iPhone from the AT&T network is about as easy as it gets. Just pop on over to the AT&T unlock portal, answer a few questions, and you’re well on your way SIM-unlocked freedom. Even better, you don’t even have to be the original owner of the iPhone to submit an AT&T iPhone unlock request. In fact, as long as the previous owner met the unlock requirements, the device can even be unlocked by a non-AT&T customer.

After you submit your request, use your IMEI and request reference numbers to check on your AT&T unlock status, Once you receive your confirmation text or email, simply open it up and click on the confirmation link. That’s it! AT&T will unlock your iPhone within 2 business days.

For an iPhone to be unlocked from the AT&T network, it must meet the following requirements:

Must not be reported as lost, stolen, or blocked
Must not have a past-due balance
Must not be active on a different AT&T account
If it is a work phone, you must have your employer’s permission to unlock it
If it is an AT&T PREPAID phone, it must be active for at least six months

If the iPhone is part of a term agreement or installment plan, it must also meet these requirements:

The device must be active on the AT&T network for at least 60 days
The installment plan must be paid off
The term agreement must be complete

For detailed eligibility requirements, click here.

 

Unlock Sprint iPhoneUnlock an iPhone on Sprint

Depending on when you purchased your phone and if it has SIM-unlock capabilities, you have a couple of different unlock options. If you purchased a new iPhone from Sprint after February 2015 (i.e. it should be SIM-unlock capable) and it is actively being used on their network, Sprint will unlock it automatically once it meets their eligibility requirements. So, you really don’t have to do anything at all besides keep your account in good standing. However, if your iPhone is inactive or was purchased prior to February 2015, you’ll need to contact Sprint Customer Care directly to request an unlock (either dial *2 on your Sprint phone or call 888-211-4727).

There have been reports from some Sprint customers that the auto-unlock program does not always work as it should, so it’s definitely a good idea to verify that your iPhone has been unlocked before attempting to switch to another carrier or advertising your iPhone as unlocked when selling it to buyback company or on the resale marketplace.

For an iPhone to be unlocked from the Sprint network, it must meet the following requirements:

Must have SIM-unlock capabilities (if it doesn’t, it is MSL (Master Subsidy Lock) locked and you will need to call Sprint for the MSL code)
Must be active on the Sprint network for at least 40 days
Must be on an account in good standing
Must not be reported as lost, stolen, or associated with fraud

If the iPhone is part of a service agreement, lease agreement, or installment plan, it must also meet these requirements:

Any early-termination fees must be fully paid
Any lease or installment payments must be fully paid
If leased, the end-of-lease purchase option must be fully paid

For detailed eligibility requirements, click here. For FAQs, click here.

 

TMobile Unlock iPhoneUnlock an iPhone on T-Mobile

If you’re an Android owner reading this and your device matches the eligibility requirements, consider yourself in luck: You can actually unlock it directly from the phone itself (click here to find out how). For all you iPhone owners out there, you’ll need to contact T-Mobile’s Team of Experts directly (either dial 611 from your T-Mobile iPhone, call 877-746-0909, or go here for other contact options like instant chat).

For an iPhone to be unlocked from the T-Mobile network, it must meet the following requirements:

Must have been purchased directly from T-Mobile
Must be paid for in full
Must not have been reported as lost, stolen, or blocked
For prepaid accounts, it must have been active on the account for at least 12 months

If the iPhone is part of a postpaid account, it must also meet these requirements:

Must have been active on the account for at least 40 days
The account must be in good standing

For detailed eligibility requirements and FAQs, click here.

 

Unlock Verizon iPhoneUnlock an iPhone on Verizon

Verizon is, by far, the best carrier to work with for unlocking an iPhone. Why? Because Verizon will automatically unlock your phone 60 days after the purchase of the device. If you purchased your iPhone from a retail partner, it will be unlocked automatically 60 days after device activation.

There are no catches. You don’t have to pay off your phone, fulfill any special requirements, or even contact them to request to unlock your phone from their network. As long as your iPhone hasn’t been reported lost or stolen, just wait two months after purchase or activation and your phone will be good to go.

Don’t believe us? Just click here.

 

I Unlocked My iPhone—Now What?

In the old days, you’d have to hook your iPhone up to iTunes and do a software restore to complete the unlock process. Fortunately, it’s much simpler today. All you need to do is follow the same steps you followed earlier to check whether your phone was already unlocked in the first place.

If you don’t have access to a SIM card from another carrier, you can still verify that your iPhone has been unlocked using an iTunes software restore. Just connect your iPhone to a computer running iTunes and hit the “restore” option. Once the restoration process has completed, you should see a message that says “Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked.”

 

What Carriers Can I Use After Unlocking?

Congratulations! You successfully carrier-unlocked your iPhone! That means you can use whatever network you want to now, right? We hate to break this to you, but no. Due to the two different types of networks used in the US, GSM and CDMA, your available cellular providers will depend on the model of your iPhone and the original carrier it was locked to. Specifically, Verizon and Sprint are CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks, while AT&T, T-Mobile, and most providers in other countries are GSM (Global System for Mobiles) networks.

As you’ve probably guessed, these two different network types do not talk to each other (because that would be too easy). Fortunately, as we move closer to worldwide 5G access and as older networks are retired, this will hopefully no longer be an issue.

To see which carriers you can access based on these two factors, keep on reading.

 

How to unlock iPhone - carrier

 

AT&T

GSM networks only (AT&T, T-Mobile, international GSM carriers):  Original iPhone, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X

Any carrier worldwide:  iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max

 

Sprint

International networks only:  iPhone 4s and iPhone 5

Any carrier worldwide:  iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max

 

T-Mobile

GSM networks only (AT&T, T-Mobile, international GSM carriers): Original iPhone, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X

Any carrier worldwide: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max

 

Verizon

Compatible with any carrier in the world, but with limitations when using GSM networks: iPhone 4s, iPhone 5

Any carrier worldwide:  iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max

 

Is The Unlock Permanent?

Yup! Once your phone has been carrier-unlocked, it will remain that way for the life of the device. You can freely restore your iPhone or update to new software without worrying about your unlock disappearing afterward.


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