So you have just bought a used iPhone or iPad from Ebay, Amazon or Craigslist and when trying to use it with your own SIM card it shows an error message “Invalid SIM”.
You might also want to just switch providers and start using your phone or tablet on another carrier. But you find out very soon that the phone gives an error message when inserting SIM from another phone company.
In this article I will share with you my experience and skills required to unlock your Apple device. I will walk you through every method presently existing, free or paid. And I guarantee that by the time you finish reading this article you will understand what unlocking means and will be able to choose between various unlocking methods.
Wireless carriers such as AT&T, T-mobile, Sprint, Rogers, Telus and the majority of others sell subsidized smartphones in exchange for 2 or 3 year contracts. This means that even thought the price of the device in the Apple store is $700 they will sell it to you for $100-$200 in hopes to recoup the discounted price of the device over the contract period. If you want to leave early you will be hit with a hefty early-termination fee.
On top of that to discourage their customers from leaving for another mobile phone company carriers lock their phones. Such device will not accept any SIM card other the one it is “locked to”. But is there a way to remove restrictions and start using your Apple device with other network carriers?
Yes, there are (otherwise it would be a very short article). You have several options when it comes to getting your phone unlocked. However there are risks involved depending on the unlocking service that you choose. So read on.
How does phone locking work and what does phone unlocking mean?
To explain unlocking and what is meant by this quite ambiguous term I really need to explain what mobile phone locking means. In its most common usage it means preventing or limiting phone user from unauthorized access to certain features of or the whole cellular network. Therefore to unlock a phone means removing restrictions set by a service provider and allowing full access to all network features
A locked phone is usually referred to as “SIM-locked”, “Carrier-locked” or “Network-locked”. This is in contrast to an unlocked phone that is called “SIM-free” or simply “Unlocked”.
Anybody who never had to deal with unlocking their phone before and started typing the question into Google probably faced a problem of having to navigate through a sea of convoluted technical terms. This is because there are other mechanisms in your phone that can be referred to as a “lock”. In this article we will mainly focus on phone’s Network lock and different way to remove it. But what about other locks? Let’s briefly have a look at other types of locks your Apple iPhone or iPad might have.
5 Types of locks Apple iPhone can have?
- Screen lock (Passcode, Touch ID, Face ID). When this lock is engaged the phone will display “Enter passcode” or a similar message. It is set by user of device.
- Activation lock (Reactivation lock, iCloud lock). With iCloud lock enabled phone will display one of the following messages: “Activate iPhone”, “Activation lock”. It is set by user of device. It is similar to Google Reactivation lock or FRP that android devices use.
- PIN / PUK lock. Displayed message: “SIM is locked”, “SIM locked” or “PUK locked. Your sim cannot be accessed. Please call your carrier to obtain your PUK code.” This security feature prevents access to your physical SIM card and its content. It is set by service provider. PIN and PUK codes can be found printed on a cut out you take your sim card from.
- Hard lock. It is a variation of SIM lock that is achieved by modifying phone firmware in order to prevent unlocking. Example of carrier that use this method is Tracfone USA. Read more about hardlocked phones in this article.
- Network lock (SIM lock, Subsidy lock). This is the star of our show today. Let’s get to it.
How to tell if your iPhone is unlocked?
The easiest way to know if your iPhone or iPad is locked is to use a SIM card from another carrier. If you don’t have a spare SIM card you can always borrow it form a friend or a family member or get one from ebay virtually for free.
- Turn off your smartphone.
- Remove your SIM card tray and replace your current sim with the one from another service provider.
- Power the iPhone back on.
- Try to make a phone call, for example to the friend you borrowed the SIM from.
- If you can’t make the call while getting an error message such as “Invalid SIM” your phone is network-locked. Otherwise it is “sim-free”
If for some reason you couldn’t find a SIM card from another provider, who knows, perhaps you live on an inhabited island or have no friends, there is another way to find out if your cell phone is locked and even get more information about the carrier. But before that get out and make some friends for God’s sake.
How to find what carrier your phone is locked to using online tool?
There is a number of online companies that provide this service. Some of them as I found out, despite advertising free IMEI check will only give partial info (such as phone make and model) for free and make you pay for extra information. Others are straight up bait and switch fraudsters. Alternatively if you don’t mind paying a couple of bucks for the service I recommend IMEI check using Cellcorner. Simply enter your phone’s IMEI number and go through the checkout. Results will be emailed to you within a a few minutes to a few hours.
So now you have determined that your newly bought iPhone is network-locked. How do you make it UNlocked so that you can use it on any carrier of your choice?
How to unlock iPhone for free
Many network carriers will unlock your phone for free if it’s been used for a certain amount of time. Each wireless provider has a different set of criteria you must meet as well as instructions you must follow to unlock your device. However the phone must not be reported stolen or lost or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked.
Of course contacting your provider is not a guaranteed route to go but it is worth trying. First check that carrier’s Terms of Service and device unlocking requirements to make sure you are within your rights. Then make the call. Don’t be surprised if a lower level customer service rep doesn’t know how it is done or what unlocking means at all. Ask for a supervisor and refer them to their own Terms of Service. In the past I have used my social engineering skills to achieve the result, though it is a subject of a completely separate discussion. Keep in mind that it is always in their best interests to keep you locked in. Be persistent and persuasive.
How to unlock a T-mobile (USA) phone
- Check T-mobile unlock eligibility requirements to see if your mobile device can be unlocked domestically and internationally.
- Contact T-mobile customer service at 1-877-746-0909 or via T-mobile app
How to unlock a Sprint phone
- See Sprint device unlocking requirements
- Contact Sprint customer service by calling 1-855-639-4644
Remember that not all Sprint phones can be unlocked to be used on GSM carriers.
How to unlock an AT&T phone
- Fill out AT&T device unlock form on the same page
- Confirmation will be sent via email you provided in the unlock request form
How to unlock Cricket phones
- Get acquainted with Cricket’s Wireless Device unlock policy
- Call 1-800-274-2538 or chat with customer service
How to unlock Verizon / Boost phones
Since July 2019 Verizon automatically unlocks all phones after 60 days of service. If you have a mobile phone that you have purchased before that date contact Verizon customer service at 1-800-922-0204
If despite you best efforts your request was rejected by the carrier proceed with paid unlocking.
Paid unlocking methods
So you have approached your service provider, explained to them your concern but they still won’t help you. It’s not the end of the world. One way or another you will unlock your phone after you are done with this article. I promise you.
This guide will cover all available unlocking methods, their pros and cons in the order of increased difficulty.
Hardware iPhone unlocking
This option is by far the least expensive out of all paid unlocking methods. It can be used with any iPhone or iPad model and about any iOS version. It involves you placing a tiny chip “unlock sim” on top of your SIM card which triggers your phone into “thinking” that the SIM card belongs to the provider the phone is locked to.
Hardware unlocking is not permanent, the phone remains unlocked only as long as the chip is inside your smartphone.
The first unlock SIMs appeared on the market around the time of iPhone 2G. Some of them are still around: Turbo SIM, Xsim, R-sim. They remain to be a viable and accessible solution for millions of iPhone users who want a quick on-the-go unlock.
R-sim is the most popular and most frequently updated hardware unlock solution as of now. I have personally tested and used many variations of Rsim with numerous iPhones that I had and it never failed me. For a deep dive on how to use R-sim, its pros and cons you can read this article.
iPhone software unlock
Software unlocking was technically possible for earlier models during the early years of Apple, however nowadays it is impossible to unlock via software. I personally used such software with iPhone 4 and it worked fine until Apple caught up with the hackers and closed the loophole. Recently Apple has been working hard to patch any vulnerabilities in phone firmware.
If you find a website claiming that they can unlock the latest model of iPhone using software method they are most probably scammers.
iPhone IMEI unlocking or factory unlock
We have finally arrived at the safest and permanent way to unlock your latest iPhone or iPad device. Your phone is guaranteed to stay unlocked even if you upgrade its firmware.
Carriers use centralized database where each phone’s IMEI is stored. Each IMEI record is paired with a Locked or Unlocked value. Using third party services it is possible to alter those records for a fraction of a price your carrier would charge you.
For years wireless providers have made it hard to obtain an unlock code for the device that you righteously own. Nowadays there is a number of unlocking services provided by third parties at reasonable prices. The power has been taken away from the service provider.
Nevertheless people still shy away from unlocking their mobile devices thinking that it is going to be costly. It is no longer the case. With the best iphone unlocking service you can unlock your handset for as little as $19.
When it comes to iphone unlocking the benefits are quite clear:
- Unlocking releases your Apple mobile device so that it can work with any compatible carrier on the planet. It is especially useful when traveling. You can change the SIM card both domestically and internationally.
- Unlocking also increases resale value of your iPhone as unlocked phone can be sold for a much higher price on a second hand market such as Ebay or Amazon.
- The great news is that IMEI unlock unlike some other services is legal in the absolute majority of the countries and will never void the phone’s warranty. As this is the same method as your carrier would use when unlocking same handset.
- And finally unlock via IMEI is the easiest compared to other ways. You do not have to ship the phone anywhere or bring it to a local shop which involves certain risks. Everything is done online and remotely.
How long does it take to unlock iPhone by IMEI
After you go the website and place the order you will instantly receive email confirming your order. Turnaround time of the unlock depends on many factors such as availability of the phone’s record in the database and its status. In many cases the results are immediate, sometimes you might need to wait for a few days. For details on each specific service pay attention when placing the order.