How to unlock an iPhone for use on a new carrier

iPhone 8Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • You'll need to unlock an iPhone for use on a new carrier if it's currently under a payment plan with a different carrier.
  • A locked iPhone is not able to connect to any network besides its original carrier's, so you'll have to follow a series of steps to unlock it before switching providers.
  • Unlocking the device will require you to complete the phone's payment plan and call your carrier to request an unlock (or request one online, if possible).

Let's say you're about to pull a Paul Marcarelli - the "can you hear me now" guy, that is - and ditch Verizon for Sprint. Well, there are just a few things to consider before you make the switch, among them the task of unlocking your iPhone.

It's a necessary step in changing carriers that you might not even know about until you insert that shiny new SIM card into your iPhone, then find that you're unable to send texts or make a call.

If you paid for your device in full at the time of purchase, then it's likely already unlocked, but if you've made payments under an installment plan, you might need the following steps.

Not to be confused with the lock screen that asks for your passcode to gain entry to your phone, this particular "unlocking" is one that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or the like has employed using software code to ensure a phone only connects to their network.

This, of course, will be a problem if you decide to switch carriers and need to connect to their network instead. So, here's an easy step-by-step guide for unlocking your iPhone.

Request an unlock from your carrier

  1. Make sure the iPhone is fully paid for. You'll need your carrier's help to unlock the phone and, carriers that offer an "unlocking" policy can refuse to unlock the phone if you're still on a payment plan for the device with outstanding payments, according to the FCC.
  2. Once you're all paid up, then head to Apple's support page to find out whether "unlocking" is a service your carrier offers. Major carriers like AT&T, Boost Mobile, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Virgin Mobile, and Xfinity do.
  3. Call your carrier to request an unlock. If you have AT&T, you can use this convenient device unlock portal to avoid calling customer service. This could take a few days to process. You'll be sent a confirmation once it's completed.
  4. Cancel your old contract.

Proceed with a SIM card

  1. It would be a good idea to backup your information to iCloud or your computer through iTunes and turn the device off before you remove the SIM card.
  2. Gently insert a paperclip into the hole of the SIM card slot on the side of your phone to remove your old SIM card from its tray.
  3. Place your new SIM card into the tray and slide it back into place.
  4. Proceed to setting up your iPhone.

Proceed without a SIM card

  1. Backup your information to iCloud or iTunes.
  2. Erase the phone by restoring the device to its original factory settings.
  3. Restore the device from your backup.

If you get an error message...

  1. Restore the device to its original factory settings.
  2. Double check with your carrier that the unlock was successful on their end.
  3. Try again to restore the phone from your most recent backup.
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