How To Unlock An iPhone

Ahh, unlocking your iPhone – one of the great mysteries of life. You’ve heard it discussed, or maybe you’ve wanted to do it, but never quite known where to start. What does it mean? How does it work? Why would you want to unlock an iPhone? Is it even legal?!

So many questions, why not some answers? Let’s talk about unlocking your iPhone. We’ll start with the basics.

Travel with your iPhone

What Is A Locked iPhone Versus An Unlocked iPhone?

A “locked” phone means the iPhone is locked to a specific carrier. It’s a software code that prevents the device from using another carrier’s network. This is fine much of the time, but if you’re traveling to an area where your provider doesn’t have service, it can be a real nuisance. This is especially pertinent when traveling internationally.

It can be more affordable to unlock your phone rather than sign up for an international plan or buy a second burner phone. The right choice for you depends on a variety of factors like who your carrier is, what sort of plan you have, how often you travel, and whether or not you own your iPhone outright or are still paying it down. If you are still paying for your iPhone as part of your plan, it may cost you some money, and in some cases you’ll need your carrier’s approval, before you can unlock your iPhone. Once you’ve unlocked your phone, you can switch out the SIM card (after a few other steps) and connect to other carriers. You can also sell your iPhone for more money if it is unlocked, since it can be used by more people.

SIM Card

What was that? SIM card?

Oh yeah. You may remember switching out SIM cards in older cellphones quite easily. Did you know you could do it on your iPhone too? For those who don’t remember (or aren’t from the Stone Age of flip phones), SIM cards – standing for “subscriber identity module” – is an integrated circuit in your phone that stores your international mobile subscriber identity number and key as well as, in many cases, some contact information.


Basically, it’s a memory chip that gives your phone its phone number and lets it communicate with a carrier’s cell towers. If you take it out, the phone can’t call. You put it in a different iPhone, that phone can use your plan. You put a different SIM card in from a different carrier, you have a whole new phone number and carrier. What a world!

iPhone Pirate

Wait! Is Unlocking My iPhone Legal?

I hear you asking, “But wait! Doesn’t unlocking my iPhone make me some sort of fugitive phone pirate?”

No. It’s legal! In fact, Verizon phones don’t even typically come locked anymore, and in general, if you purchased your iPhone in the last year or two, it may be unlocked already. As long as your own your iPhone outright, you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you’ll need to contact your carrier to do it (looking for links? Here’s AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon) but yes – you are allowed to unlock your iPhone.

There are also retailers and online services that will unlock your iPhone for a fee, but this is not generally recommended.

Mona Lisa, Your Beautiful And Unique iPhone

Can My iPhone In Particular Be Unlocked?

The only iPhones that can’t be unlocked are an iPhone that isn’t yours or is locked to a carrier where you’re not a customer. Many carriers also have a waiting period (you have to have paid your bill on time for six months to a year, generally). Probably to discourage real phone pirates. But some, like O2, don’t even necessarily have those basic requirements.

You’ll be able to tell if your iPhone unlocked successfully when you receive a confirmation on the phone that the carrier is unlocked. Simple enough!

I Have An Idea For My iPhone

Ok, It’s Unlocked, Now What?

Once the device is unlocked, all you’ll need is a paperclip to open the SIM card tray (where that is depends on the model) and a SIM card you want to switch out for the old one. Make sure you’ve backed up your iPhone first (very important!) and followed any instructions sent by your carrier. Then, simply power down the device, switch out the SIM card, and set up your iPhone again, unlocked and free.

Free as a bird who can use any mobile carrier.