If you’re looking to travel abroad this year and are hoping to take your iPhone with you for your overseas voyage, then you should perform a few simple steps to make sure that your iOS-powered smartphone is ready for the trip. Many smartphones sold in the U.S. market are locked to the carrier, but many carriers will give you unlock codes so that you can take your phone with you when you travel.
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Why Unlock Instead of Roam?
There are advantages to roaming with your home SIM card and to unlocking your phone to travel. Roaming will allow you to keep your same home number, so all your family, friends, and coworkers will know how to reach you. For this convenience, you’ll likely have to pay higher rates for travel. Additionally, as you’re maintaining a U.S. number, contacts in your country of destination will have to pay long distance to reach you, even if you’re in a house next door. Moreover, if you need to call a restaurant or make a reservation while traveling, not only will you have to pay roaming, but your call will also be treated as an international long distance call, incurring more charges.
Unlocking your phone allows you to pop in a local SIM card and pay local rates. You’ll get a local number to that country or region, and when you call local businesses at the country of your destination, it will be treated as a local call. Conversely, calling home or having people from home call you will have those calls be marked as long distance, but you at least won’t have to pay for roaming. The downside is that you’ll have to give out the new number to friends and family who may want to stay in touch with you for the duration of that trip.
Preparing to Unlock
If you’ve purchased your iPhone with a contract through AT&T or Sprint, and if you’ve financed your equipment and haven’t paid it off through T-Mobile U.S., you’ll need to call your carrier (usually just by dialing 611) and ask for an unlock code. Some customer service representatives will want to know why, and you can tell them that you will be traveling internationally. It may take a few days–up to a week–to get the code, so plan accordingly if you can.
Customers on Verizon Wireless already have phones that are sold out the door unlocked, so no additional action is needed from the customer.
Also note, that with Sprint, if you get your iPhone unlocked, it is only for international use. Sprint’s unlock will not open your phone–even if it has a GSM radio–to work on rival American carriers, like T-Mobile and AT&T.
And if you’ve bought an unlocked iPhone directly from Apple, you’re also good to go as well.
Here are the steps to unlock your phone, according to Apple’s support site:
If you have a SIM card from a carrier that is different from your current carrier, and you’ve received confirmation from your current carrier that your iPhone is unlocked, follow these steps:
- Eject your SIM card and insert the new SIM card.
- Complete the setup process.
If you do not currently have another SIM card you can use, follow these steps to complete the process:
- Back up your iPhone.
- Erase your iPhone.
- Complete the setup assistant and restore your backup.
If the process is successful, you can also verify by restoring your iPhone through your computer with iTunes. Once the phone is wiped and you complete the setup process, iTunes will notify you that your iPhone has been successfully unlocked.
My iPhone is Already Jailbroken, Do I Still Need to Unlock?
Jailbreaking and unlocking are two different and separate things. Jailbreaking allows access to the locked down parts of the operating system that Apple may not want a user to dig around in. It will enable more features on the phone with the appropriate hacks, tweaks, or software. On the other hand, unlocking opens up the SIM access so you can use a SIM card that is not part of your service contract with your iPhone. Unlocked iPhone users still need to jailbreak if they want to access the hidden software features and jailbroken iPhone users will still need to SIM unlock their phones for international travel if they want to use a local SIM card.
Are There Any Requirements to Unlock?
Typically, many carriers will require that you have an account in good standing for at least three months, meaning you must have service for at least three months and that your bills are paid on time. For the iPhone, AT&T also requires additional things, which could make it prohibitive for travelers to unlock their iPhone in a timely manner. For AT&T Next customers, the carrier requires you to pay off the full cost of your device, so that means all your financing payments must have been completed. For contract customers, AT&T will require you fulfill your contract obligation before it will try to unlock.
Click on to view AT&T’s unlock policy for mobile devices.
Click on to view T-Mobile’s unlock policy.
Click on to view Sprint’s unlock policy.
Again, Verizon customers are good to go as GSM-capable iPhone models sold through Verizon are already SIM unlocked out of the box, so no action is needed from the user.
What If My Carrier Refuses to Unlock My Phone?
Again, the most legitimate way is to go through your carrier, who will then request that your phone be unlocked from Apple. This way, when you plug in your phone to iTunes, it will automatically unlock. If you’re not able to sweet talk your carrier of choice into unlocking your phone for whatever reason, there are also third-party services that can unlock your phone for a fee.
One service is CellUnlocker.net, but there are others as well. These third-parties may require users to enter a string of codes into the phone dialer to unlock the phone. Additionally, depending on where you live, third-party unlocking of smartphones may not be legal.
I Can’t Get Any Unlock Method to Work, Now What?
If you can’t get your iPhone unlocked, there are some alternatives. One would be buying a cheap SIM-unlocked smart or feature phone for use when traveling. Another solution would be roaming. Given that T-Mobile had announced low-cost international calling rates and no international data roaming when traveling internationally, it may be worth it to just keep your T-Mobile SIM in your phone when traveling, especially if you rely more on data than voice.