Getting a locked iPhone unlocked is possible, but it depends on the circumstances of why the iPhone is locked in the first place. There are a few quick answers to common questions about unlocking locked iPhones:
Can a carrier unlock a locked iPhone?
Yes, the carrier that the iPhone is locked to can unlock it. You’ll need to contact your carrier and request an iPhone unlock if you meet their unlocking requirements. Carriers have specific policies in place for when they will unlock devices, such as requiring that a certain amount of time has passed since you got the phone or paid it off.
Can Apple unlock a locked iPhone?
Apple can help unlock an iPhone in certain situations, such as if you’ve forgotten your passcode and the phone has become disabled. You’ll need to take the iPhone into an Apple store and provide proof of purchase and ID to get assistance with unlocking it.
Can third-party services unlock an iPhone?
There are many third-party phone unlocking services that claim they can unlock iPhones. However, unofficial unlocks are not supported by Apple and may not work reliably. It’s best to use official unlocking methods through your carrier or Apple when possible.
When would you need to get an iPhone unlocked?
Here are some common reasons you may need to get an iPhone unlocked:
- You want to switch carriers and use the iPhone with a new carrier
- You bought the iPhone secondhand and it is locked to the previous owner’s carrier
- You forgot your passcode and the iPhone is now disabled
- You traveled internationally and want to use a local SIM card in your locked iPhone from home
In summary, the only guaranteed ways to unlock an iPhone are through your original carrier or through Apple. Third-party unlocks work inconsistently and are not recommended. Make sure to understand your carrier and Apple’s policies before attempting an iPhone unlock.
Detailed Steps for Unlocking a Locked iPhone
Contact Your Carrier to Unlock It
The best solution for unlocking most locked iPhones is to contact your carrier and request that they unlock it. Here’s how the carrier unlocking process works for the major U.S. carriers:
Verizon iPhones sold after 2015 are already unlocked. For older Verizon iPhones, you can request an unlock by contacting Verizon customer support. Verizon requires that the phone’s contract is fully complete and paid off before they will unlock it.
AT&T has the following requirements for unlocking an iPhone:
- The service contract, installment plan, or early upgrade eligibility requirements are fully met
- Any early termination fees are paid off
- The account is in good standing
- The iPhone has been active on AT&T for at least 60 days
Contact AT&T customer service to request an iPhone unlock once you meet these requirements.
To unlock a T-Mobile iPhone, you’ll need to:
- Request the unlock through T-Mobile’s unlock app or website
- Have had active service with T-Mobile for at least 40 days on the iPhone
- Have any financing agreements fully paid off
Sprint has an iPhone unlocking FAQ here:
The main requirements are:
- The account holder requests the unlock
- The iPhone is not reported lost, stolen, or associated with fraud
- The account is in good standing
- The device is not currently active on a Sprint account
Contact Sprint customer service to unlock an iPhone once these requirements are met.
Use Apple to Unlock a Disabled iPhone
If you’ve forgotten your iPhone’s passcode and entered it wrong too many times, your iPhone will become disabled. You may see a message requesting you connect the iPhone to iTunes or enter the correct passcode. In this situation, Apple can help unlock the disabled iPhone.
Follow these steps to unlock a disabled iPhone through Apple:
- Contact Apple Support or schedule a Genius Bar appointment at an Apple Store. Let them know your iPhone is disabled and you need help restoring it.
- Bring your disabled iPhone and the purchase receipt or proof of purchase to the Apple Store. The Apple Genius will need to verify you are the owner.
- The Apple Genius will connect your disabled iPhone to a computer and restore it to factory settings. This removes the passcode lock so you can set a new passcode and use the iPhone again.
- Restoring the iPhone will erase all of its data. So you’ll want to have a current backup in iTunes or iCloud that can be restored onto the iPhone after it is unlocked.
This process will allow you to use your disabled iPhone again. But it results in losing all data on the device unless you have a backup.
Third-Party Unlocking Services
There are many online third-party iPhone unlocking services that claim they can network unlock or SIM unlock an iPhone to work on any carrier. Examples include doctorsim.com, unlockriver.com, unlockbase.com, and many more.
In general, it’s better to avoid these services as they have mixed reliability. Apple does not authorize third-party unlocks, so there is no guarantee they will work properly or permanently. The process often involves “jailbreaking” the iPhone which comes with security risks and voids the device’s warranty.
However, in some situations these services may be able to help:
- If you need to immediately use a foreign SIM card in a locked iPhone while traveling abroad and don’t have time to obtain an official carrier unlock
- If you purchased an iPhone secondhand that the original owner can’t or won’t request an carrier unlock for
- If you are technically savvy and comfortable jailbreaking your device and voiding the warranty
Research the specific unlock service thoroughly before attempting a third-party iPhone unlock. Make sure to understand the risks, limitations, pricing, and policies up front. And know that the unlock could stop working after an iOS update.
Other iPhone Unlocking Situations
Beyond the main methods above, there are a few other iPhone unlocking situations to be aware of:
Unlocking After a Failed Update
Very rarely, an iOS update can fail and cause the iPhone to become unresponsive with the Lock screen stuck displaying. If this happens, you can force restart the iPhone and hopefully regain access. If that doesn’t work, you will need to connect the iPhone to a computer and enter recovery mode to restore iOS. This will allow you to unlock and use the iPhone again after the restore completes. But it will erase all contents unless you have a backup.
Removing Activation Lock
Activation Lock is an important iPhone security feature that prevents anyone else from using an iPhone if it is ever lost or stolen. It ties the iPhone to your Apple ID and requires your Apple ID password to deactivate it on a new device. If you obtain a used iPhone still locked to the previous owner’s Apple ID, you’ll need to get them to turn off Activation Lock before you can fully use the device. Apple provides steps for the previous owner to remove Activation Lock here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201441
Unlocking After Forgotten Passcode
If you forget your iPhone’s passcode, you may be locked out of the device. As mentioned previously, you can contact Apple Support to remove the passcode. However, this results in a complete erase of the iPhone. Third party unlock services also typically cannot bypass a forgotten passcode without fully resetting the device. Your best recourse is to immediately take the iPhone to Apple to unlock it before the data is overwritten. Or seek professional data recovery services to save the data before the passcode removal erase occurs.
Unlocking After iOS Update
Performing an iOS update on a locked iPhone will not unlock it. The iPhone will remain locked to the original carrier or Activation Lock after the update. However, there is a rare bug where updating certain older iPhone models that were unlocked improperly can cause them to become locked again. If this happens, your only recourse is to repeat the official iPhone unlock process.
What Happens When You Unlock an iPhone?
When you unlock an iPhone through an official carrier unlock or passcode removal, here are some of the changes you will notice:
- The carrier name in the status bar at the top will change from the original carrier to “Carrier” or show as blank.
- A message during start up will indicate the iPhone is unlocked and can be used on any supported cellular network.
- You can now insert any carrier’s SIM card and get cellular service.
- Some unlocked iPhones may not get full functionality on certain new carriers depending on differences in cellular bands supported.
- If unlocked via passcode removal, the iPhone will be reset completely to factory default settings.
In summary, the most apparent effects are the ability to use other carriers and the change in carrier display at the top of the screen.
Are There Any Risks to Unlocking an iPhone?
The main risks involved with unlocking an iPhone include:
- Voiding your warranty – Unofficial unlocks can void the device’s warranty since they often require tampering with the iPhone’s software.
- Unstable software – Jailbreaking the iPhone to perform a third-party unlock can destabilize the iOS software and cause crashes or freezes.
- Security risks – Jailbreaking bypasses iPhone security protections, which makes it more vulnerable to hackers.
- Bricking – Attempted modifications during unofficial unlocks carry a small risk of bricking the device and making it permanently inoperable.
- Loss of data – Any unlocking method that involves restoring the iPhone will wipe its data unless you have a backup.
- Update incompatibility – Future iOS updates may re-lock an unofficially unlocked iPhone or break its unlock completely.
The only risk-free method is to unlock through official channels like your carrier or Apple support. But this option isn’t always available if the unlock requirements are not met.
Cost to Unlock an iPhone
The cost to unlock an iPhone depends on the method used:
- Carrier Unlocking – Most carriers provide free iPhone unlocks if you meet their requirements. There may be fees involved if you are still under contract.
- Apple Unlocking – Apple does not charge a fee to remove a forgotten passcode and help unlock a disabled iPhone.
- Third-party Unlocks – These services typically charge $15-$50 to network unlock or SIM unlock an iPhone.
Some third-party services advertise free iPhone unlocks, but will often have hidden fees or require additional purchases to complete the unlock process. Be wary of services offering iPhone unlocks for free or very cheap, as quality and reliability suffers.
Is Unlocking an iPhone Legal?
In the United States, unlocking a cell phone to use on other networks is 100% legal thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act passed in 2014. However, the method matters – unofficial unlocks may violate iPhone warranty terms even if not outright illegal.
Here are some key facts on the legality of iPhone unlocking:
- All carrier-authorized unlocks are legal, as carriers can set their own unlocking policies.
- Apple is permitted to unlock iPhones disabled by forgotten passcodes.
- Third-party unlocks are technically legal but may breach Apple’s policies and void warranties.
- Trafficking unauthorized unlocking devices is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
- Starting with the iPhone 5S, unlocking new iPhone models becomes legal 90 days after their purchase.
As long as you understand the risks and follow proper channels, obtaining an iPhone unlock is a legal and legitimate process. Just steer clear of trafficking prohibited unlocking devices or obtaining obviously shady unlocks from disreputable sources.
Unlocking an iPhone: Final Thoughts
While unlocking an iPhone is possible, there are many factors to consider in choosing the best method:
- Always try your carrier first if the device requirements are met.
- Apple should unlock devices disabled by forgotten passcodes.
- Research third-party unlock risks and limitations thoroughly.
- Back up data before any unlock that wipes the iPhone.
- Understand any warranty voiding or illegality risks if going third-party.
- Unlocks may need to be repeated after iOS updates in some cases.
Overall, unlocking your iPhone should be simple if you are the primary owner and don’t mind waiting out any contract periods. But it can turn complicated if wanting to bypass carrier restrictions or access a disabled device – so tread carefully. With some diligence and patience, you can safely unlock an iPhone to work on the carrier of your choice.