Let’s say you’ve finally got your phone paid off after, what, several months of payment? And now you’re ready to travel overseas (COVID permitting) and need to unlock your iPhone for the trip. With that, you’ll want to make sure everything is set to go, before you go looking for a better offer through another carrier.

It’s great to shop around, but hang on tight. Notice we said “unlock your phone.” That’s because most carriers actually put a “lock” (or a carrier lock) on your device. This is standard procedure for new devices to avoid a quick sale while in financing, or to keep a contract secure.

Does it sound suspicious? A little bit, but it’s a business standard these days. But fortunately, once you get your phone paid off, you’re not stuck this way. This guide will help you in getting one step closer to unlocking your device and trying something new!


How to unlock iPhones
No, not an actual physical lock. More like a digital carrier lock.


Although there are apps out there offering unlock services for a small fee, the easiest way to unlock your iPhone is by going through your actual provider. It’ll be a less costly procedure, though you may need to go through a few hoops, depending on the company. 

With that, we’ve prepared a guide that explains what everything is all about, and what steps to take! Please note that while this was written with iPhone owners in mind, much of the advice can easily be carried over to other smartphones.



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  T-Mobile   Verizon
I Unlocked My Phone, So Now What?
     What Carriers Can I Use After Unlocking?
     Is the Unlock Permanent?


What Is Carrier Unlocking?

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, you shouldn’t need to work hard to unlock your iPhone. In fact, it should be ready to use across a variety of carriers.

Please note…

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.

One helpful tip is to check the terms of your contract. Some carriers may not offer the option to unlock your device until those terms are met – i.e. the phone is paid for and the contract fulfilled. Even then, you might have a slight struggle getting freed up, depending on the company.


SIM-unlocked iPhones can be used both domestically and internationally
Can you become a master of unlocking…your phone?


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. This is helpful when you’re traveling overseas, as you won’t be forced to use one specific network – which may not even connect at all.

#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 or another, stronger carrier easily.
#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. 

This could save you in the long run, compared to being locked in to a specific, non-working network.

#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.

On top of that, selling a “locked” phone not only brings down the value (sometimes tremendously, depending on the network), but can be quite a hassle for whoever’s reselling it. Even if you factory reset it on your end, the “locked” ability could make it difficult to put back on the market.


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. That’s why it’s important to read the terms, so you understand everything that you need to accomplish to complete the deal.


Carrier-unlock iPhones for higher resale values
There’s a reason contracts state so much, so be sure to read them.


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. After all, there’s no sense going through the whole procedure when it’s already done for you (unless you wanted to say hi to your local carrier place anyway).

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. You’ll need to go ahead and pay your carrier a visit.


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. Keep in mind that some procedures may be different, depending on contract status (or if you have a phone through a business, for example).

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. Save yourself some money (and a headache) and stick to the official sources.


How to check IMEI on iPhone
First, check your IMEI.


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. No matter what, you should be able to locate it.

Once that’s done, we also highly recommend that you store it somewhere for safekeeping. You never know when you’re going to need it again.


Unlock iPhone ATTUnlock an iPhone on AT&T

Unlocking your iPhone from the AT&T network is quite simple. Just pop on over to the AT&T unlock portal, answer a few questions, and you’re well on your unlocked freedom. 

Even better, you don’t even have to be the original owner of the iPhone to submit an AT&T “unlock your iPhone” request. In fact, as long as the previous owner met the unlock requirements, a non AT&T customer will have no problem to unlock your iPhone.

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 about it, really. AT&T should 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 (they may need to be called to confirm)
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.


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 lucky: 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, such as a convenient instant chat.)

Keep in mind that now that T-Mobile has acquired Sprint, their steps to unlock a device have since changed over. You’ll want to call a representative for further assistance if needed.

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 when you need to unlock your 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 after that period following account 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.

Click here for more information. And then ponder why all companies don’t do this.


I Unlocked My iPhone, So 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 from earlier to check whether you need to unlock your iPhone, or if it was already done.

If you don’t have access to a SIM card from another carrier, you can still verify the steps to unlock your iPhone 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?

Now that you managed to finally unlock 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 nothing is that easy. Luckily, as worldwide 5G access continues to grow 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
Just a few more steps to get unlocked!



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, all iPhone 11 models, all iPhone 12 models, all iPhone 13 models



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, all iPhone 11 models, all iPhone 12 models, all iPhone 13 models



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, all iPhone 11 models, all iPhone 12 models, all iPhone 13 models


Is The Unlock Permanent?

Yup! Once your carrier has helped you unlock your iPhone, 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.

From here, you can check on other options from other providers. Or, if you just feel like getting rid of your older phone and trying out a new unlocked device, come see what we have to offer at GadgetGone!

Not only will we purchase your device for a great price (even higher now that it’s unlocked!), but we also sell used, but you can also purchase a refurbished device for a much lower price. And without a contract!

Check out the quote page below to get started on your process, and make the most as you finally unlock your iPhone!


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