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 you’ve paid off your phone or fulfilled your 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.

 

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

 

The journey to a carrier-unlocked iPhone 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 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 devices.

 

Contents

What Is Carrier Unlocking?
     Why Should I Unlock My iPhone?
     Is Unlocking My iPhone Legal?
How to Unlock an iPhone From Your Carrier
     Unlock an iPhone on:   AT&T   Sprint   T-Mobile   Verizon
I Unlocked My Phone—Now What?
     How Can I Check if the Unlock Worked?
     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. If you buy your iPhone outright in full from Apple, it should already be unlocked and ready to be used on a variety of carriers. Please note, however, not all phones purchased outright from third-party retailers are automatically unlocked. For example, 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 iPhone will essentially lock itself to the carrier associated with the SIM card.

 

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 iPhone 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 iPhone 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 thanks to greater demand for them in the resale marketplace.

 

 

Is Unlocking My iPhone Legal?

Thanks to the 2014 Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, all USA cellular carriers must allow customers to unlock their iPhones. BUT under what circumstances they’ll unlock your iPhone varies widely from carrier to carrier. As a general rule, most carriers require you to complete your contract or pay off your financial obligations with them before they’ll allow you to unlock your iPhone.

 

How To Unlock An iPhone From Your Carrier

If your iPhone meets the eligibility requirements for your carrier the next step is to request that the iPhone be unlocked from their network. As with the eligibility requirements, this process varies from company to company and is outlined for each one below.

IMPORTANT: Provided you’ve met the unlock requirements, requesting your iPhone be unlocked is completely free. If you go through a 3rd party you will be unnecessarily charged. It’s best to stick with unlocking directly through your carrier using the below directions.

 

Carrier Eligibility Requirements

AT&T iPhone Unlock Requirements

T-Mobile iPhone Unlock Requirements

Sprint iPhone Unlock Requirements

Verizon iPhone Unlock Requirements

 

Unlock an iPhone on AT&T

AT&T makes unlocking your iPhone incredibly easy with their unlock portal. Even better, you don’t even have to be the original owner of the iPhone to submit an AT&T iPhone unlock request. As long as the previous owner met the unlock requirements, the iPhone can be unlocked by a non-AT&T customer. Simply go to this link, fill out the form and submit it. You’ll then receive a confirmation email. Just open the email and click on the confirmation link. That’s it! AT&T will unlock your iPhone within 2 business days.

 

Unlock an iPhone on Sprint

If you purchased a new iPhone from Sprint after February 2016, Sprint will automatically unlock your iPhone once it meets their eligibility requirements. So… you really don’t have to do anything at all. Sprint specifies that this only applies to iPhones being actively used on their network. If you have an inactive iPhone (one that’s been sitting in a drawer for years) or have a Sprint iPhone that was launched before February 2016, you’ll need to contact Sprint customer service by dialing *2 on your Sprint phone or dialing 888-211-4727 to manually request an unlock. 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 for resale. Directions for verifying that your iPhone has been unlocked are outlined later in this article.

 

Unlock an iPhone on T-Mobile

While T-Mobile does have a device unlock app, it, unfortunately, does not work with iPhones. To unlock a T-Mobile iPhone you’ll need to contact T-Mobile customer service directly. To get in touch you can dial 611 from your T-Mobile iPhone or go here for other contact options like instant chat.

 

Unlock an iPhone on Verizon

Verizon is by far the best carrier to work with for unlocking an iPhone. Verizon will unlock your iPhone automatically after the first 60 days following purchase. There are no catches. You don’t have to pay off your iPhone, fulfill any special requirements or even contact them to unlock an iPhone from their network. As long as your phone hasn’t been reported lost or stolen just wait 60 days after the original purchase date and your phone will be unlocked.

 

I Unlocked My iPhone—Now What?

In the old days you’d have to hook an iPhone up to iTunes and do a software restore to complete the unlock process. Today it’s much simpler. All you have to do is insert a new SIM card from another carrier and your iPhone will do the rest automatically. Your iPhone will boot to a white screen to check with your carrier that it’s been unlocked. Once Apple verifies that your iPhone has been unlocked it will go back to the home screen and service bars should appear from your new carrier. This verification check generally takes less than a minute to complete once the SIM has been inserted and just requires a WIFI connection.

 

How Can I Check If the Unlock Worked?

It’s never a bad idea to make sure your iPhone has truly been unlocked before switching carriers or selling your iPhone as “unlocked”. Better safe than sorry right? To verify that your iPhone has been unlocked simply insert a SIM card from another carrier and wait for the automatic unlock check mentioned above to complete. If your iPhone returns to the home screen after the SIM has been inserted, it’s unlocked. If you see a white screen that says “SIM Not Supported”, your iPhone has not been unlocked. 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 hook your iPhone up to a computer running iTunes and hit the “restore” option. Once the restore process has completed, you should see a message that says “Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked.”

 

What Carriers Can I Use After Unlocking?

This depends on the model of your iPhone and the original carrier it was locked to. We’ve made a list of what carriers you can use below based on these factors.

 

AT&T

Original iPhone, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X: Will only work with other GSM networks after being unlocked such as T-Mobile in the USA or any international GSM network. Will not work with CDMA carriers such as Verizon or Sprint.

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: Will work with any carrier in the world.

 

T-Mobile

Original iPhone, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X: Will only work with other GSM networks after being unlocked such as T-Mobile in the USA or any international GSM network. Will not work with CDMA carriers such as Verizon or Sprint.

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: Will work with any carrier in the world.

 

Sprint

iPhone 4S and iPhone 5: These models can only be unlocked for international use. You won’t be able to unlock them for domestic use with any carrier other than Sprint in the USA.

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: Will work with any carrier in the world.

 

Verizon

iPhone 4S and iPhone 5: These models are compatible with any carrier in the world but may have internet limitations on GSM networks depending upon your carrier. For example, if you use the iPhone 5 with a GSM network like AT&T it will only operate on 4G signal rather than the LTE data speeds it’s capable of on the Verizon network.

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: Will work with any carrier in the world.

 

Is The Unlock Permanent?

Yes, once your iPhone 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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