Backing Up Contacts to iPhone SIM

Use iCloud or iTunes instead of a SIM backup

In the days before smartphones and the cloud, cellphone users made sure they wouldn't lose their phones' address books by backing up their contacts to their phone's SIM card. But on the iPhone, there isn't an obvious way to do this. So the question is: how do you backup contacts to the iPhone SIM card?

The answer is that you don't. The iPhone doesn't support saving data to the SIM. But that doesn't mean you can't back up your contacts. You just have to go about it a different way.

Why You Can't Backup Contacts to a SIM Card on iPhone

The iPhone doesn't store that kind of data on its SIM card because it doesn't need to, and because it doesn't fit with Apple's philosophy about how users should interact with their data.

Earlier cellphones let you save data to the SIM because there was no standard, simple means of backing up or transferring data to new phones. Eventually, there were SD cards, but not every phone had them. The iPhone has two simple, powerful backup options: it makes a backup every time you sync it to your computer and you can back up data to iCloud.

Beyond that, Apple doesn't really want users to store their data on removable devices that can be easily lost or damaged. Notice that Apple products don't have CD/DVD drives and iOS devices don't have SD cards built-in. Instead, Apple wants users to store their data directly on the device, in backups in iTunes, or in iCloud. Apple has argued that those options are more powerful and flexible for transferring data to new phones than an SD card.

The One Way to Save Contacts to the iPhone SIM

If you're truly committed to moving contacts data to your SIM, there is one way to make this happen: jailbreaking. Jailbreaking can give you all kinds of options that Apple doesn't include by default. Remember that jailbreaking can be a tricky business and isn't recommended for users who don't have a lot of technical skill. You can damage your phone or void your warranty when you jailbreak.

Options Besides a SIM Card for Transferring Contacts

Transfer your data from your iPhone to a new device using one of Apple's supported methods:

  • Using iTunes — If you're replacing your current iPhone with a new one, transferring your data is part of the setup process. All you need to do is connect the new phone to the computer that you synced the old one with and then restore that data to your new phone.
  • Using iCloud — The iCloud service works very much like iTunes when you're setting up a new device. Also, if you sync your data to iCloud on one device, any other compatible device that also syncs with iCloud will automatically get that information.
  • Using Other Services — If the data you care most about transferring is your address book and you're not locked into Apple's services ecosystem, the service you do use probably supports a convenient way to transfer your contacts. Sync iPhone contacts with Google and Yahoo address books or, if you use a product based on Microsoft Exchange, your contacts automatically import when you connect your Exchange account.

What Does Work: Importing Contacts from a SIM Card

There's one situation in which the SIM card isn't helpless on the iPhone: importing contacts. While you can't save data on your iPhone SIM, if you've already got a SIM with a packed address book, you can import that data into your new iPhone. Here's how:

  1. Remove your iPhone's current SIM and replace it with the one that has the data you want to import (make sure your iPhone is compatible with your old SIM).

  2. Tap Settings.

  3. Tap Contacts (in iOS 10 and earlier, tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars).

  4. Tap Import SIM Contacts.

    Three iOS screens showing Settings app icon, contacts button and Import SIM Contacts button
  5. After that process completes, remove the old SIM and replace it with your iPhone SIM.

Double-check all of your contacts imported before you get rid of the SIM.