How to Unlock All iPhones [April 2021]
If you purchase an iPhone from a cell phone carrier, it is most likely locked into that carrier’s network. This can be an inconvenience when you’re trying to use your phone internationally or with another cell phone provider.
In this article, we’ll explain what a carrier lock is and what you can do to unlock your iPhone.
Why Do Mobile Phone Carriers Lock Phones?
In case you haven’t wondered about this before, it’s not all that hard to dissect. It’s purely a lucrative business model. If you buy an iPhone from a specific carrier and they lock you into the network, then you have an incentive to stay on, keep paying your bills, and eventually rack up new charges.
Although the days of two-year contracts has long passed, cell phone carriers continue to sell locked iPhones and that’s to ensure you stay with their company until the phone is paid off. Essentially, the cell phone carrier profits off of the service you pay for monthly and not the phone itself (Apple profits from the device itself).
If you think about it, it makes sense. But, it can still be annoying when you want to use your iPhone on another network.
Can You Switch Between Any Two Carriers?
Unfortunately, not always. It will depend on the model of your phone. One thing that few people tend to mention regarding unlocking phones is that it doesn’t always ensure compatibility with other carriers.
The reason is this. Carriers sometimes use different wireless standards. For example, AT&T uses GSM while Sprint uses CDMA. The terminology here is less important than the fact that the technology behind the acronyms is different.
That means that you can’t take a GSM phone to a CDMA network and expect it to work. Luckily, most newer generation iPhones can easily handle the transition between different carriers, as many of them are capable of supporting both GSM and CDMA wireless standards.
One example is the AT&T iPhone X. Although it is still a newer iPhone, that particular model was never compatible with the Sprint or Verizon CDMA network. These days, we don’t have to worry too much about that.
Safest Ways to Unlock an iPhone
By far, the most reliable way to unlock your iPhone, whether you have an older generation device or a newer model, is to request your carrier to do it. All major mobile carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint offer such services.
However, there are usually some requirements. First of all, it’s best if you fully own your iPhone, meaning that you’ve made all necessary payments to your carrier. Some providers won’t grant your unlock request until you’ve made such payments or until you’ve paid an early termination fee.
Costs will vary depending on your phone, your plan, and your carrier. Another thing to beware of is how long have you had that particular phone active on that carrier’s network. As we’ll explain further below, some carriers want the phone active on their network for a period of time before they’ll unlock it.
Gather the Information You’ll Need
Unlocking an iPhone is relatively simple. But, there are a few pieces of information you’ll need before you can continue.
In this section, we’ll get you prepared to unlock your iPhone.
What Is an IMEI Number?
A phone’s IMEI number, or International Mobile Equipment Identity, is a unique identifier that mobile networks (carriers) and manufacturers use to identify and verify the legitimacy of mobile phones on a global scale.
Network carriers or any number of third-party services that specialize in this kind of intervention can unlock an iPhone’s IMEI. The purpose? To “unchain” the SIM card and let you switch to any other network carrier.
Your Account Information
Before following the processes outlined below, you will need your account information. This is usually an account number (found on the PDF version or physical copy of your bill) and a security code.
The security code is something you would’ve setup already and it’s a personal identification pin.
A Sim Card from Another Carrier
Although this isn’t required, it’s a good idea to have another Sim Card handy to ensure that your phone is actually unlocked. You can use a friends’ Sim Card, or pick one up at another carrier.
How to Unlock a Verizon iPhone
There’s some good news when it comes to Verizon. This carrier has stopped permanently locking iPhones to their network since the iPhone 5 came out. Therefore, unless you have a model older than the iPhone 5, chances are you don’t need a carrier to unlock it for you to switch to a new carrier.
Of course, you will have to wait for at least 60 days after purchasing an iPhone with Verizon, but Verizon will automatically unlock it for you. If, however, Verizon doesn’t automatically unlock your device you’ll need to request a device unlock.
Here’s how to request an unlock:
- Contact Verizon’s Customer Service.
- Request a SIM unlock.
There’s nothing more to it. But you will have to make sure that you meet the requirements.
Note: If you’re in the military and being deployed, Verizon will unlock your device before the end of the 60-day period and also suspend your service. You will need to call the customer service department we’ve linked above to start this process.
How to Unlock a T-Mobile iPhone
Here are the requirements you have to meet so that you can request and be eligible for an iPhone carrier unlock from T-Mobile.
- First and foremost, you must have a T-Mobile device.
- Your device must not have been previously blocked or reported as stolen or lost.
- Your account should be in good standing with the carrier.
- You haven’t exceeded more than two unlock codes in the previous year.
- You have paid for your device in full.
- Be ready to provide proof of purchase and any other information requested, which is at the discretion of the carrier.
- Your bill is current and not past due.
- The device has been active on T-Mobile’s network for at least 40 days.
After you’re sure that you meet the mentioned criteria, you can visit the T-Mobile login page to initiate the unlock request.
Log into your account, then do this:
- Click on ‘Lines and Devices’ and click on the phone number attached to the iPhone you want to unlock.
- Click on ‘Check Device Unlock Status.’
- If your device is eligible for unlock it will show on this page. Then, you can contact T-Mobile to request the iPhone unlock.
Unlock a Sprint iPhone
Now that T-Mobile and Sprint have merged, unlocking policies have become quite murky. But, you will need to meet the same criteria as above and contact the Sprint Customer Service line at 888-211-4727 to request the unlock.
Keep in mind, many Sprint users assume you need an MSL code to unlock an iPhone. This isn’t true. iPhone’s do not use the MSL code as other manufacturers do.
How to Unlock an AT&T iPhone
Unlocking your phone on AT&T is similar to using T-Mobile’s unlocking services. There are some well-defined requirements you must meet first.
- Ensure your iPhone is an AT&T device.
- Only request an unlock on a phone that has not been reported stolen, lost, or otherwise associated with fraudulent activity.
- All commitments and installment plans are completed, paid in full, and your account is in good standing.
- You’re not requesting an unlock on a phone on which you’ve used the early upgrade feature, within the last two weeks.
- You’re not requesting the unlocking of a device that has been active for less than 60 days, in the case of a phone bought with a new installment plan or service commitment.
As you can see, these are more or less similar requirements to those of other carriers. It is worth noting that you can put in a request before your device becomes eligible. In that case, AT&T should send you a notification as soon as you can proceed with the unlocking.
To unlock your AT&T iPhone, do this:
- Visit the AT&T Device Unlock website.
- Click on ‘Unlock your device.’
- Input your phone number, clear the Captcha, and click ‘Next’ at the bottom of the screen.
- Input your account information including your account number and passcode. Then, click ‘Next’ again.
- Check your email for AT&T’s Terms and Conditions. You will need to accept these to ensure your device is unlocked
- Check your email again for confirmation that your device is unlocked.
The entire process shouldn’t take more than two days to complete. Once you receive a final notification, you can then remove the SIM card and insert a new one from your new carrier.
Apple’s Guide on Unlocking iPhones
Not all iPhones come locked to a specific carrier. It depends on what deal you found and where you bought your iPhone. That said, Apple suggests two simple methods to unlock your phone, depending on what your situation is.
iPhone with a SIM Card from Another Carrier
- Turn off your iPhone.
- Remove the SIM card.
- Insert a new SIM card from a new carrier.
- Go through the iPhone setup wizard again.
Erasing Your Phone
- First, back up your iPhone.
- Erase your iPhone.
- Restore the phone from the backup.
It’s also worth noting that Apple suggests you contact your carrier first. These two methods may work on devices you bought from third-party vendors, but may not work on all generation iPhones you purchased from a carrier.
IMEI Unlock Providers
An IMEI unlock provider is an alternative to a carrier unlock. Some may opt for this because they don’t want to wait the minimum amount of time asked by the mobile carrier, or because their carrier won’t allow unlocking.
But how does an IMEI unlocking service work? Well, it walks a fine line between being legal and illegal. In some cases, mobile network carriers may sell off unlocking codes to some of these service providers, which the providers, in turn, sell to their clients.
In other cases, IMEI unlocking service providers gain access to codes from different carriers either from employees or by accessing the database.
Because of this, and because of how easy it is to unlock your iPhone directly from your carrier, an IMEI unlocking service should be your last resort. There are some risks, including getting outright scammed and not being able to use your phone or requiring a repair.
It’s worth pointing out that if you send an illegally unlocked or bricked iPhone back to Apple for restoration, the chances are that when you get it back, it will still have your primary carrier’s lock.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve included this section to answer more questions about iPhone unlocking.
I’m being deployed in the military. Can my iPhone be unlocked early?
In most cases, yes. If your iPhone is carrier locked you need to contact the provider to request an iPhone unlock early. Many of them will do this even if you still owe money on your iPhone.
Be prepared to send the carrier necessary documentation to prove that you are being deployed outside of the U.S. of course.
I bought an iPhone from another person but it isn’t unlocked. What can I do?
Unfortunately, all of the carriers we’ve listed above require the account information for the account that the iPhone was purchased on. This means you will need to reach out to the seller to have your phone unlocked.
A Bit of Good News
Since 2015, all major mobile carriers have started offering unlocking services for all generation iPhones. As it stands, the only two options you have left are talking to your carrier or putting your trust in an IMEI unlocking service.
The good news is that whichever option you go for, or are eligible for, the unlock will be permanent. Furthermore, in the case of IMEI unlocking, neither process will jailbreak your device or void the warranty, as long as you do it correctly.
And, to make things even better, as previously stated, you can now do it on any generation iPhone and OS version, from oldest to newest. So, you’re no longer obligated to switch to a more recent phone so that you can have an easier time landing the carrier you want.
Keep in mind that carriers are not obligated to unlock your iPhone because you want to and because Apple made it possible. Hence, the eligibility conditions may differ significantly from one carrier to another. They will do it, but it doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes have to jump through hoops to get it done.
How to Check If a Carrier Allows Unlocking
Whether you want to check your carrier or another one, you can do so from Apple’s support page. It will allow you to browse through a list of worldwide cell phone carriers and see which unlocking features they offer for their iPhone devices.
You can find the list here, and you can browse it by continent, to avoid getting overwhelmed with information. You should note that this list will also provide you with information based on the model and generation.
Although Apple’s list may not be updated daily, it’s safe to assume that most of the information is up to date. You can use this list to track down other carriers you may not be familiar with, should you want to make a switch later on, but you’re not sure where to.
The Benefits of Having an Unlocked Phone
First of all, owning an unlocked iPhone will allow you to get the best possible deal on your data plan. That’s because you can shop for different carriers. As long as your phone is compatible with their networks, of course.
Secondly, an unlocked phone will give you more freedom if you frequently go overseas. You’ll be able to get a local SIM card almost anywhere you go and not have to pay outrageous phone bills every time you travel.
That’s particularly important for US iPhone users since US carrier costs are considerably higher than in many other parts of the world. Not to mention the added flexibility of being able to make full use of the new dual-SIM support from phones like the iPhone XS and XS Max.
How Fast Should You Unlock Your iPhone?
Assuming you have an older generation iPhone, it’s probably time you take advantage of the new unlocking policy and free your phone. Unless, of course, you’re planning to get an upgrade and use the same number. If that’s the case, making too many requests within a year could get your application denied.
But in any case, now that it is possible, there’s no reason you shouldn’t ask your carrier to unlock the phone as soon as its financially convenient for you. And, of course, as soon as you meet the eligibility requirements for your carrier. Just because you got your phone unlocked, doesn’t mean the mobile carrier will also terminate your account.