Everything You Need to Know About Unlocked iPhones

For many years, all iPhones were sold with a software SIM lock that tied the phone to the phone company that you bought it from. Not anymore. These days, you can buy an unlocked iPhone that you can use with whatever phone company you prefer.

You can now buy an unlocked iPhone because customers now pay full price for their phones, rather than getting discounts from phone companies in exchange for multi-year contracts. An unlocked iPhone is more flexible, but it's not right for everyone. Here are the answers to the most common questions about unlocked iPhones.

What Is an Unlocked iPhone?

An unlocked iPhone is a phone that isn't tied to any one phone company. This means that you can use it on any compatible cellphone network as long as you have a service plan with that phone company. It also means that you're not tied to a multi-year contract with the phone company and that you're free to switch to another company whenever you want.

The one important thing to be aware of is how you bought the phone. If you bought the phone in monthly installments from your phone company, you won't be able to switch to a new company until you've paid all of the monthly installments.

What Is the Advantage to Having an Unlocked Phone?

The biggest advantage of having an unlocked iPhone is flexibility. As mentioned in the last section, you can switch an unlocked iPhone to another phone company whenever there are better rates or promotions. Unlocked phones are also useful when traveling overseas since you can get a short-term phone plan from a local phone company instead of using your primary phone company's (potentially expensive) international plans.

Where Do I Buy an Unlocked iPhone?

The simplest way to buy an unlocked iPhone is to buy directly from Apple. In addition to selling new iPhones tied to specific phone companies, Apple also sells phones that are unlocked by default. Apple used to charge extra for unlocked phones, but now they're the same price as any other phone.

While phone companies may sell unlocked phones, be careful not to buy an unlocked phone on a monthly installment plan. If you do that, you'll be stuck with that phone company until you've paid off the phone and won't have the freedom that an unlocked phone normally brings.

If you prefer to buy an iPhone in installments, check out Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program instead. All phones sold through that program are unlocked and you can switch phone companies even if you haven't paid them off.

Can I Unlock My Existing iPhone?

Yes. It's possible to unlock most iPhones, even if they were not unlocked when you bought them originally.

Assuming you're not under contract with a phone company, and that you've paid off all installments on your phone, you should be eligible to unlock. Your phone company can perform the unlocking for you. To learn all about this process, here's how to unlock the iPhone on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

How to Check If Your iPhone Is Unlocked

There are a number of ways to check if your iPhone is unlocked, such as websites (these often feel a little shady, so we usually recommend against them) or putting a SIM card from another phone company in your iPhone and seeing if you can make a call. Maybe the easiest way, though, is to follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap About.

  4. Find the Carrier Lock section. If it reads No SIM restrictions, then your iPhone is unlocked.

Does the Unlocked iPhone Include a SIM Card?

No. If you buy an unlocked iPhone directly from Apple, it does not include a SIM card. But that's OK. When you sign up for service with a phone company, you'll get a SIM card from that company.

Can an Unlocked iPhone Be Used With Any Phone Company?

Yes. All modern iPhones can work with any major cell phone companies, including the major U.S. carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. This is because they support both GSM phone networks (used by AT&T and T-Mobile) and CDMA (used by Sprint and Verizon). When you switch from one phone company to another, you may need to get a new SIM card for the new company, but otherwise, your phone will be the same.

Can I Use an Unlocked iPhone With More Than One Carrier at the Same Time?

Yes. To do this, you need to have active service and an active SIM card from the two phone companies. Then, when you want to switch the company (and phone number assigned to the phone) that you use, just swap the SIM cards in the phone.

Some recent iPhone models actually support the use of two SIM cards at the same time. One of these SIMs is physical, the other virtual.

With the Dual SIM on the iPhone XS/XR/11/12, Do I Need an Unlocked Phone?

Good question! The iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, as well as the iPhone 11 and 12, support the use of two SIM cards in one phone at the same time. The first SIM is a physical card, while the second is a software-based eSIM.

Because there are two SIMs, you don't necessarily need an unlocked phone. You could have the primary SIM tied to a specific phone company and use the second only for short-term situations like overseas travel.

On the other hand, you may prefer to keep both SIMs unlocked for maximum flexibility. It really depends on how you want to use your phone. Some people prefer unlocked phones on principle. For others, the flexibility of the dual SIM configuration may be enough.

Are Unlocked Phones Also Jailbroken?

No. While jailbreaking and unlocking are often discussed in the same breath, they're not the same thing. The unlocked iPhones sold by Apple are not jailbroken. So, while unlocked iPhones let you use whatever phone company you choose, you're still required to use the App Store and other official Apple systems for software.

To learn more about jailbreaking and what it offers, check out the definition of jailbreaking on the iPhone.

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