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How to unlock your iPhone

unlock an iphone
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Certain things in life should be simple, like figuring out how to unlock your iPhone. In an ideal world, once you’ve bought a phone, it should be yours to do with as you like — even if it means taking it to another wireless carrier.

Alas, you usually need to contact your current wireless provider to unlock your iPhone (or to unlock any smartphone, for that matter). That said, assuming your account is in good standing and your phone is paid off, wireless carriers will be willing — if not necessarily happy — to unlock your phone at your request.

Having an unlocked phone means greater flexibility. You can take an unlocked phone to any carrier, so it’s easy to switch your wireless service. It’s also easier to travel internationally with an unlocked phone, as you can just swap in any local SIM card to get service, usually at rates that are more attractive than some of the international plans offered by your wireless carrier.

A couple years ago, a reader contacted us about helping to get his iPhone unlocked, and the advice I offered then is still relevant now, with a few minor updates. Here’s everything you need to know about how to unlock your iPhone. (And again, much of this advice can be applied to any type of smartphone.)

What you need to unlock your iPhone

To unlock your phone, you’ll need to have your device’s IMEI number. That’s the set of digits that's unique to each phone.

On your iPhone, just launch the Settings app, and select General > About. Depending on which iPhone you have, your IMEI will be in a different section of the screen. (On an iPhone 11 Pro I have handy, the IMEI is in the section labeled Primary; on my older iPhone SE, the IMEI is in the third section of information, wedged between the Bluetooth and ICCID listings.) 

The iPhone 6s and later also has the IMEI number engraved on the SIM tray, though you’ll need superhero vision to detect those digits without a magnifying glass. Some carriers, like AT&T and T-Mobile, let you dial *#06# to have the IMEI digits show up on screen.

Finding the IMEI number in the Settings app on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Finding the IMEI number in the Settings app on an iPhone 11 Pro. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However you track it down, the IMEI is vital for unlocking your iPhone. That’s the number your carrier will ask for to carry out the task.

How to unlock your iPhone

Each wireless provider has different criteria for who can and can’t unlock their phone (though, the conditions are fairly similar from carrier to carrier). Once you’ve determined that your iPhone is eligible to be unlocked, it’s simply a matter of following your carrier’s specific procedure for requesting an unlock and providing your IMEI number.

Here’s a carrier-by-carrier guide on what devices are eligible and how to unlock your iPhone.

AT&T

You can check to see if your phone is unlocked at AT&T’s website. (You’ll need your IMEI number to check.) AT&T lets you unlock your iPhone if you meet these criteria.

  • Your iPhone’s been active for at least 60 days. (If it’s a device on AT&T’s prepaid service, it needs to be active for 6 months.)
  • Your account can’t have a past-due balance.
  • You’ve paid off your phone. 
  • Your device isn't reported as lost or stolen.

How to unlock your iPhone at AT&T: Visit AT&T’s device unlocking page to request an unlock. (In addition to your IMEI, you’ll need your phone number and AT&T account info. Once you’ve submitted your request and it’s approved, you’ll get an email with customized instructions. That would normally include an unlock code, but AT&T says such a code isn’t necessary for unlocking iPhones.

Sprint

Sprint says you can request an unlock on a postpaid phone if it meets these criteria.

  • Your iPhone is SIM Unlock capable
  • Your iPhone has been active on Sprint’s network for at least 50 days.
  • You’ve paid off your phone. If you’ve been leasing your iPhone under a Sprint Flex lease, that means exercising the end-of-lease purchase option.
  • Your account is in good standing.
  • Your iPhone hasn’t been reported as lost or stolen.

The criteria is different if you’re a prepaid customer. Your iPhone needs to be active for at least 12 months, and it can’t be reported as lost or stolen. If your device is inactive, you need to contact Sprint Customer Care, which may walk you through some steps to update your phone so that it can be unlocked.

How to unlock your iPhone at Sprint: Some good news, if you’ve got a SIM unlock-capable phone (which Sprint says should include any mobile device launched after February 2015): Sprint automatically unlocks those phones for postpaid devices when they become eligible. So you may not need to do anything.

Otherwise, you’ll need to contact Sprint Customer Care at 888-211-4727; prepaid customers need to call 855-639-4644.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s unlocking criteria depends on how you bought your iPhone.

  • Your iPhone must be a T-Mobile device.
  • Your iPhone can’t be reported as lost, stolen or blocked to T-Mobile.
  • Your T-Mobile account associated with the iPhone must be in good standing.
  • You can only request two mobile device unlock codes per line of service each year.

Phones need to be active on T-Mobile’s network for 40 days. If you’ve bought the iPhone on an installment plan, you need to have paid off the device. And if your iPhone is on an account with a contract, you’ll need to have made 18 consecutive payments. On a prepaid account? Then your iPhone has to have been active for a year on T-Mobile’s network or you need to have paid more than $100 in service refills. 

How to unlock your iPhone at T-Mobile: All you need to do is contact T-Mobile Customer service to request an unlock code; you’ll also receive any steps for unlocking your iPhone.

Verizon

Verizon may have the easiest path to getting your iPhone unlocked. As of July 2019, any device bought from Verizon is locked for 60 days; after that period ends though, Verizon unlocks your phone automatically. That’s true for both postpaid and prepaid customers.

  • kep55
    Interesting article, but what do you do if your phone does not have a sim card? I guess You could still unlock it but would you be able to switch carriers?
    Reply