Is macOS Big Sur a free upgrade?

macOS Big Sur, the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system, was released in November 2020. It includes major design changes, performance improvements, and new features. But is upgrading to Big Sur free for Mac users?

Quick Answer

Yes, the macOS Big Sur upgrade is free for users with compatible Macs. Apple does not charge for major macOS updates. Users can upgrade to Big Sur from the App Store app on their Mac at no cost.

What is macOS Big Sur?

macOS Big Sur is version 11 of Apple’s operating system for Mac computers. It succeeds macOS Catalina and brings the largest design changes to macOS in many years. Some of the major changes and new features in Big Sur include:

  • A redesigned user interface with rounded corners, new icons, and more white space
  • The introduction of widget support on the home screen
  • Updates and new features for apps like Safari, Messages, and Maps
  • The ability to run iOS and iPadOS apps through Rosetta 2 translation
  • Performance improvements, especially on Intel Macs
  • Enhancements to privacy protections and permissions

Developers were able to access beta versions of macOS Big Sur starting in June 2020, leading up to its public release on November 12, 2020. It is compatible with the following Macs:

  • 2015 and newer MacBook models
  • 2013 and newer MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models
  • 2014 and newer Mac Mini models
  • 2013 and newer iMac models
  • 2017 and newer iMac Pro models
  • 2013 and newer Mac Pro models

For a full list of compatible Mac models, visit Apple’s website.

Is the Big Sur Upgrade Free?

Yes, upgrading to macOS Big Sur is completely free for all users with compatible Macs. Apple does not charge for major operating system updates for Macs.

Upgrades to new versions of macOS, like Big Sur, are delivered via the App Store app on Macs. To upgrade, users simply need to open the App Store app, navigate to the Updates section, and install the macOS Big Sur update. The entire process is free of charge.

This is in contrast to the typical model for Windows PCs, where major operating system upgrades often come with a cost. But Apple has always provided its major macOS updates for free to Mac users with supported hardware.

What If I’m Running an Older Version of macOS?

The macOS Big Sur upgrade is free regardless of which version you are currently running on your Mac. Even if you are on a version older than the previous Catalina release, you can still update to Big Sur at no cost.

Apple supports upgrading directly from the following older macOS versions:

  • macOS Catalina (10.15)
  • macOS Mojave (10.14)
  • macOS High Sierra (10.13)
  • macOS Sierra (10.12)
  • OS X El Capitan (10.11)
  • OS X Yosemite (10.10)
  • OS X Mavericks (10.9)

So even if you are still running something like OS X Yosemite from 2014, you can upgrade directly to Big Sur at no cost.

Upgrading from versions older than that may require you to first upgrade incrementally before moving to Big Sur. For example, OS X Mountain Lion users need to upgrade first to Mavericks, then Yosemite, and so on until they are on a version that can jump directly to Big Sur.

But regardless of how many incremental upgrades are required, the entire process is free. Apple does not charge Mac users to upgrade to the latest macOS version.

Does Apple Charge for macOS Updates?

No, Apple has never charged users for major macOS or OS X updates. All upgrades to new versions are free.

This policy goes back to the first Mac OS X release in 2001. Although Apple charged for major upgrades in the 1990s and earlier, the company switched to a free upgrade model starting with OS X.

The only macOS updates that require payment are minor paid upgrades, like:

  • Mac OS X 10.1 Puma ($19.95)
  • Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar ($129)
  • Mac OS X 10.3 Panther ($129)

These were optional upgrades with minor new features made available between major releases. But users could skip them and wait for the next major (free) update.

Apple moved to a strictly free upgrade policy starting with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005. Since then, all major macOS versions – Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, and now Big Sur – have been completely free upgrades.

Can I Upgrade Multiple Macs?

Yes, there is no limit to the number of Macs you can upgrade to macOS Big Sur. As long as the Mac is compatible with Big Sur, you can upgrade each computer for free through the App Store.

There is no need to pay for a family/multi-pack license or purchase separate copies of Big Sur for each Mac you own. Since the upgrade is free, you can update all your eligible Mac computers.

What If I’m on macOS Catalina?

If your Mac is already running the previous version, macOS Catalina, you can upgrade to Big Sur for free through the App Store. The upgrade process and cost is the same whether you are on an older version like Mojave or the latest Catalina release.

Here are the steps to upgrade from Catalina to Big Sur:

  1. Open the App Store app on your Mac.
  2. Click on the Updates tab at the top.
  3. The macOS Big Sur update should be listed there. Click “Update” or “Install.”
  4. Follow the on-screen prompts to download and begin installing Big Sur.
  5. The installation process may take a while to complete. Your Mac will need to restart. Make sure to save your work first.
  6. That’s it! macOS Big Sur is now installed and running on your Mac.

The entire upgrade process is free. Apple does not charge for upgrading from Catalina to Big Sur, even though it is a major version jump.

What About the Future – macOS 12, 13, etc.?

Based on Apple’s long history of free macOS upgrades, we can expect that future major releases beyond Big Sur will also be free.

There have been rumors and hints from Apple that macOS 11 Big Sur may be followed by:

  • macOS 12 Mammoth
  • macOS 13 Hermit
  • macOS 14 Shasta

But Apple has not confirmed the naming or timing of future versions after Big Sur. We may not see macOS 12 until 2022 or later.

Still, when new major versions of macOS are released, you can expect that they will be free upgrades just like Big Sur. Apple seems committed to delivering free operating system updates for Mac users.

Should I Upgrade to Big Sur Now or Wait?

Whether to upgrade immediately to Big Sur or wait is a personal decision that depends on your comfort with operating system updates. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Compatibility – Make sure your Mac and any essential software you rely on is compatible with Big Sur before upgrading. Check developers’ websites for compatibility information.
  • Backups – Be sure to fully backup your Mac before upgrading in case of issues. Time Machine or cloning your hard drive are good options.
  • Potential bugs – There may be some bugs or app compatibility issues in the new release that get fixed over time with updates. Upgrading later can avoid some of these early issues.
  • New features – If you want immediate access to all the new features in Big Sur, upgrading right away makes sense.
  • Performance gains – Big Sur brings speed improvements, especially on older Macs. Upgrading sooner can take advantage of these gains.

There are good arguments for upgrading to Big Sur now or waiting. Make sure to research and understand the potential compatibility issues and benefits before deciding. But when you are ready, the upgrade is free for compatible Macs.


macOS Big Sur continues Apple’s long tradition of offering major operating system upgrades at no cost. Users do not have to pay anything to upgrade compatible Macs to the latest macOS version.

This policy has been in place since OS X first launched in 2001 and applies to Big Sur as well. All you need is a compatible Mac – the upgrade will be free, whether you are upgrading from Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, or even older macOS/OS X releases.

Just open the App Store on your Mac, find the Big Sur upgrade, download it, and follow the prompts to install. You’ll have the latest macOS experience without spending a dime.

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