This guide explains everything you need to know to carrier unlock your iPhone. So if you need to know how to SIM unlock your Apple device from any carrier worldwide step-by-step you are in the right place.
This easy to read guide will explain:
- How to carrier unlock your iPhone using various methods.
- How long carrier unlocking takes.
- What a carrier / SIM / Factory / network lock is.
- How the lock works.
- How to check if your phone is carrier locked.
It’s a short read that will explain how you can use a SIM card from any carrier you want in your iPhone.
Table of Contents
What is a carrier lock?
A carrier lock prevents you from using a SIM card from a different company in your iPhone. If you swap SIM cards you will no longer be able to make calls or send messages An error message appears if you try to use a SIM card from another company in your Apple device.
It is also called:
- network lock
- SIM lock
- Subsidy lock
What you need to unlock your iPhone
In order to unlock devices you will need to know the:
- current carrier,
- the model number of iPhone, and
- IMEI code (Dial *#06# on your device to find your IMEI ).
How to unlock your iPhone
Using a third-party unlocking service
There are a huge number of third-party tools that can get your iPhone unlocked. Your own carrier may not be the cheapest or fastest option. In fact, your current network provider may not be willing to help if you are still under contract. But which service is the best if your own carrier does not want to help? After in-depth research and based on personal experience I recommend IMEIdoctor. Simply provide them with:
- your location,
- carrier, and
- IMEI number
and they will have your iPhone automatically unlocked in a few days.
Get in touch with your carrier
- Ask your carrier to unlock your iPhone. If they won’t, ask a reputable service provider.
- Wait for it to be processed
- Once notified, complete the unlock. Make sure you follow the instructions you are given
- Test it – so you know it works
AT&T iPhone unlock
AT&T makes it really easy to get your phone unlocked via their online portal.
It is a simple 3 step process:
- Provide your IMEI (Dial *#06# on your device to find your IMEI number)
- Give them the cellphone number and your details
- Confirm the request and submit it
If they are unable to get your device unlocked they will let you know.
Sprint iPhone unlock services
Sprint unlocks phones purchased from them after February 2015 after they become eligible. You don’t have to request this to be done, it is done automatically.
If you want to request an unlock from Sprint then:
- Call the Sprint Customer Service line on 888-211-5727. Ask for the software unlock code. The rep will provide the unlock code if you qualify.
- Call your new carrier and give them your software unlock code.
- The new carrier will unlock your device and it can be used on their network.
This isn’t a full unlock as it will only unlock the phone for domestic use within the US. It does not allow international use.
Unlock T-Mobile iPhone SIM
- Firstly, you need to make sure your device is eligible to be unlocked. If it is, you will be sent a message when your iPhone becomes eligible.
- Next, contact T-Mobile and request the unlock. They will ask you for your account and handset details including your IMEI. Dial *#06# on your device to find your IMEI.
- Once you have been told the unlock has been done insert the SIM from the new carrier into the iPhone.
- Complete the first-time use process.
Sprint and T-Mobile have recently merged.
Unlock iPhone UK
Most networks in the UK unlock your iPhone for free as long as you’ve completed your contract. The process is the same, regardless of the carrier you use:
- Call your current carrier and ask for your handset to be unlocked
- Supply all the phones details and the unlock process will begin
- Wait up to 30 days for the lock to be removed
If you are still under contract or have outstanding payments on your handset the carrier are unlikely to unlock it. Instead, it is better to use a third-party service.
Why you should get your iPhone unlocked
When you unlock your iPhone it allows you to switch to a carrier that has the best network coverage, pricing, service, or plans for you. You are no longer tied to the original company that supplied the phone. With an unlocked phone, you can also switch between carriers whenever you want. For example, you may want to move to a cheaper deal or get a higher data allowance. And once the deal ends you can switch back, or to a different provider. Skipping between other networks is easy.
You may also want to use your phone overseas but roaming fees make it very expensive. With an unrestricted device, you can pick up a local SIM card when you arrive. This means you pay local rates for calls and texts. You can swap between SIM cards whenever you want after you unlock your iPhone. This means you don’t have expensive roaming fees to worry about.
How to check if your device is carrier locked
The easiest way to tell if you have a SIM-restricted or locked phone is by tapping Settings > General > About. An unlocked iPhone will say No SIM Restrictions opposite the Carrier Lock / Network Provider Lock option. Another way is to pop a SIM card from another company into the phone. If you see a message that says SIM not supported then your phone is SIM restricted.
How to carrier unlock specific Apple devices
You can unlock all models of iPhone, cellular iPad, and cellular Apple Watch so you can use them with any carrier.
If you want to unlock a specific iPhone, see:
- How to unlock iPhone 4 and 4s.
- How to unlock iPhone 5, 5c, or 5s.
- How to unlock iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
- How to unlock iPhone 7.
- How to unlock iPhone 8.
- How to unlock iPhone SE.
- How to unlock iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
- How to unlock iPhone 13, 13 Pro, 13 Pro Max, 13 Mini.
- How to unlock iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max.
- How to unlock iPhone XS and XS Max.
- How to unlock iPhone XR.
- How to unlock iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max.
- How to unlock iPhone X.
If you want to unlock a specific Wi-Fi and Cellular iPad, see:
- How to unlock iPad for any carrier.
- How to unlock iPad Mini for any carrier.
- How to unlock iPad Pro for any carrier.
- How to unlock iPad Air for any carrier.
Apple Watch unlocking
The Apple Watch is sold carrier unlocked. Normally, Apple Watch shares the same carrier plan as the iPhone it is linked to. It can be switched to its own independant carrier plan – but it is awkward to do. It’s difficult to switch carriers because Apple Watch has an eSIM, which is not a physical card used in other Apple devices. This means you need a compatible eSIM carrier. Not all carriers offer this service so you have limited choices. On top of that you need to activate the eSIM carrier plan, then enable it on Apple Watch. To find out more, see Using Apple Watch with a cellular network.
Other ways to unlock Apple products
Can I do a software unlock on an iPhone?
The issue with software unlocking is that in short – it doesn’t work on a modern phone.
Yes, you will probably find quite a number of websites writing about iPhone software unlocks where they claim to be able to generate an unlock code.
But these do not work on the iPhone 6.
Do not pay for any software that claims to be able to network unlock your iPhone 6 as it is a scam.
Software unlocks stopped working with the iPhone 4. They won’t work on newer models such as the iPhone 6.
Hardware unlocking was the first type of unlocking that didn’t rely on hacking the SIM card. I definitely don’t recommend going down this route as it is invasive.
How does it work?
Technically speaking, the process involves opening up your phone and doing a testpoint on the A17 gate. This type of hack is a variation of the Fakeblank exploit.
To be blunt, the process is the type of hack you find performed in small corner shops in dodgy areas of town.
The hacker needs to open up your iPhone and install a piece of hardware that runs a special computer unlock code. The unlock code will prevent your iPhone 6 from being locked to a single network provider.
Is it risky?
The downside is your iPhone is opened and altered by an unauthorized dealer which voids your warranty. So if you have a future issue with your iPhone, such as a broken lock screen, Apple is likely to refuse to fix it.
It is also a risky procedure with a high failure rate.
It can destroy your iPhone 6.
It is often quite expensive too – with fees of £100-£200 ($150-$300 USD) charged with no guarantee it will work.
This is more expensive than carrier unlocking and far riskier.
My advice – don’t do it! It is not wise on any device.
What is Gevey SIM lock?
The Gevey SIM lock requires you to buy a small computer chip that sits between the SIM tray and the SIM card on your iPhone 6. This chip is called an interposer.
The interposer needs to be installed and kept in situ all the time to make sure your iPhone remains unlocked.
How does Gevey SIM interposer work?
This is where it gets a little technical.
Your SIM card has a unique IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) number that matches your account with your carrier and your phone. When you turn your iPhone 6 it does an IMEI check with the carrier to see if the phone is network unlocked.
If fitted with an interposer, when you switch your iPhone 6 on the Gevey interposer toggles your iPhone into flight mode preventing a connection to the carrier’s network via the IMEI. It is forced to use the emergency 112 phone number to connect.
While establishing a connection the Gevey interposer cycles through IMSI codes to find a suitable combination.
Next, the flight mode is switched off and the fake ‘unlocked’ IMSI code is used instead of the real one on your device.
What are the disadvantages of using Gevey SIM to unlock my device?
- It voids the Apple warranty on your phone.
- Your device will have a poorer signal causing call dropouts.
- Your iPhone is likely to get too hot and suffer from a reduction in battery life.
- If your iPhone 6 loses power or reception you have to perform the whole process again.
- If your iPhone validates the IMSI code on all incoming calls it doesn’t work.
- This hack only works on some cellphone networks. For example, T-Mobile does not have a 3G service using the Gevey hack. In this case, your device would still have a carrier lock.
- It only works if your iPhone 6 handles 112 calls properly from your location.
- Due to network issues, some features will not work properly on your phone such as Facetime & iMessenger – so you couldn’t send text messages.
How do I check if my device is carrier locked?
The easiest way to check if your phone is carrier locked is to replace your SIM with one from another company and try making a call. If the call connects and you see no error messages saying ‘invalid SIM’ if it has been unlocked properly.
How long does it take to carrier unlock iPhone?
Typically it takes 2-5 days to process a request to unlock an iPhone, although it can take as long as 30 days for some carriers.
Is it legal to carrier unlock iPhone?
Yes, it’s legal to unlock any iPhone model. In some territories, there are restrictions such as having no outstanding payments for the handset but this depends on the location and carrier. In the US there are a set of requirements that you are ‘officially’ meant to check first before getting your phone unlocked:
- Your phone must be bought from your carrier
- Your phone must not have been reported stolen or lost
- Your phone must not be blocked by your carrier
- Your account with your carrier must be in good standing with no past due or unpaid balances
Each specific carrier often has additional requirements you need to meet. These are normally related to how long you have owned your phone. In Europe EU legislation was used to overturn a law in Belgium law that made it hard to get an unlock done. This means EU law guarantees the right to unlock your phone but like in America, you should check with your network carrier first. Elsewhere in the world locking phones and other devices is unusual so this service is not really something that is required. In territories where locking may be more common, it tends to fall into a grey area where there are no specific laws to prevent you from getting your iPhone unlocked. The Apple Store can’t unlock your iPhone so you can use a different carrier. This service can only be done by your current carrier or some approved third-party providers.
What is the difference between a locked and unlocked phone?
The difference between a locked and an unlocked phone is that a locked device has a software code on it that prevents you from taking it and using it on another carrier’s network.
This may be within the same state or country and also restricts the use of your handset abroad.
An unlocked device is an iPhone or iPad which does not impose any carrier restrictions. This means you are free to choose the network carrier with the cheapest prices or the best coverage for your area.
So you can remove the SIM card and replace it with one from another carrier and it still works. Many people with unlocked Apple devices take their handset overseas and buy a SIM when they arrive and pop it in to keep their call costs down.
A SIM lock, simlock, network lock, carrier lock, or (master) subsidy lock is a restriction built into iPhone models by Apple and enforced by the carrier to restrict use to their network.
This ties your Apple device to a single carrier so that you are forced to use that carrier no matter what.
SIM locks come as part and parcel of your phone contract when you buy an iPhone.
Even if you don’t buy a phone directly from a carrier, such as Sprint or EE, and get it from a retailer like Amazon you are likely to find it is SIM locked to a particular network.
This is regardless of whether you buy the device on a 2-year contract or if you buy the device at full price.
The only iPhones or iPads that do not have a SIM lock will specifically say the device is SIM-free, contract-free or unlocked – such as the unlocked version of the iPhone, which is sold at the Apple store.
If you want an unlocked device, you should check in advance whether the iPhone you are considering purchasing is an unlocked device.
Remember that paying full price alone doesn’t guarantee that a smartphone is unlocked out of the box. This is even more important to check when buying a used phone.