How to unlock every iPhone: Your guide to unlocking the iPhone 4, 5 and 6

Find out how to unlock your iPhone from all the major UK mobile networks including O2, EE, T-Mobile, Orange and Tesco

If you want to switch mobile networks and carry on using your existing iPhone, you may have hit a snag – if your phone is locked to a particular network, it'll need to be unlocked before it will accept your new SIM. If you’re scratching your head as to how to break free of your iPhone’s shackles, this handy guide contains all the information you need to know. 

How to tell if your iPhone is locked

Not sure if your phone is locked? Well, one easy way to find out is to just pop out your existing SIM and try the new one. If you bought your iPhone direct from an Apple Store, it should be unlocked by default, so swapping between SIMs from different networks is quick and easy – you shouldn't even need to restart your phone.

If your phone doesn’t play ball, however, then it may throw up error messages such as “Invalid SIM”, or “No SIM card installed”. If this is the case, it doesn’t mean that your phone is locked – this can just be iOS throwing a fit – so sometimes it’s just a simple case of flicking airplane mode on and off, restarting the phone or just cleaning and reseating the SIM card. Alternatively, go to Settings | General | About and tap “Check for a carrier settings update”.

If you get the “SIM locked” message, though, you’re out of luck and will need to find a way to unlock your phone – and here's how.

What do I need to unlock my iPhone?

If you got your phone as part of a contract, the first step is to contact your mobile network and obtain a personal unblocking code (PUC). Most networks will provide this service for free after a certain time period, but if you want to unlock before your contract is up – or if you’re on a pay-as-you-go contract – you’ll probably need to shell out up to £20 for the privilege.

If you bought your phone second-hand, however, it’s a little trickier: if you can’t get the seller to unlock it for you, you may need to jump through some hoops. Certain networks, such as EE, do allow you to take second-hand phones to a store and get them unlocked, but other options such as using third-party websites or local mobile shops are entirely at your own risk (TOP TIP: the ever-helpful Giffgaff actually rates the unlocking services on their list alongside the mobile providers. Click here to check it out). If you can do it via a mobile network, then that's by far your best bet – and it's often cheaper, too.

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Check out the details below for unlocking iPhones that are tied to the major UK mobile networks.

How to unlock your iPhone: Giffgaff (and every major network, too)

Giffgaff sell unlocked iPhones so, if you bought your phone from them, you're FREE. Free as a bird. If, however, you're on Giffgaff and the phone is locked to another provider, they offer an amazingly helpful iPhone “unlockapedia” that tells you how to go about unlocking any iPhone from the original iPhone all the way through to the iPhone 6 Plus – and from any network. Click here to check out the frankly awesome guide. 

How to unlock your iPhone: Vodafone

If you’re a PAYG customer, you’ll need £20 credit on your account because the unlock fee is £19.99. You’ll also need to have been using your PAYG SIM for more than 30 days. If you’re a Pay Monthly customer and you’ve had your phone for more than 12 months, the unlock fee is waived. If not, the £19.99 fee applies, but you still have to have been a customer for three months and have paid all your bills to date. The process takes around 48 hours, and you’ll get an email to inform you once your device is unlocked. Click here to head over to Vodafone’s Unlock Your Phone page.

How to unlock your iPhone: EE, Orange, T-Mobile

If you got your iPhone brand-new or through an upgrade on EE, Orange or T-Mobile, you can unlock it for £8.99 regardless of what type of contract you’re on. Pay Monthly customers need to have had their phone for at least six months (and used it actively with that SIM in that time), but PAYG customers can unlock it straight away, as long as it was locked to EE, Orange or T-Mobile in the first place. Anyone who fulfils these criteria can head on over to EE’s website and start the process straight away, but it takes up to ten days for the unlock to take effect. Click here to unlock your EE, Orange or T-Mobile iPhone.

How to unlock your iPhone: O2

PAYG customers can unlock their iPhone after 12 months – for a £15 fee. Pay Monthly customers can unlock their iPhones any time they wish to, though, and for free. Whichever camp you’re in, you can start the process by heading over to My O2 online or from the main menu of the My O2 app. Once the process is started, it'll take up to 72 hours to take effect. 

How to unlock your iPhone: Tesco Mobile

PAYG customers can unlock their phone for free once they've had their phone for 12 months, or pay £10 before the first year is up. Pay Monthly customers get free unlocking, but eligibility partly depends on whether a new version of the phone has recently released. The unlock process takes seven days, and you'll need to call 0345 300 6660 to request the service because there's no online alternative.

We'll be adding more networks and extra information as we get it, so check back if these tips don't tell you what you need to know – or just holler in the comments. 

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