If you want to buy an iPhone and pay for it in installments, you go directly to your chosen operator and sign a contract. Many people go this route because it makes owning an iPhone more accessible. This device is linked to the operator in question and SIM cards from other operators are not compatible.
However, some are willing to pay the full amount upfront to have an unlocked phone and not commit to multiple years.
While buying an iPhone directly from Apple can be convenient, it may leave you wondering which carrier you can use. Here's everything you need to know to navigate this problem.
Will an unlocked iPhone work with any carrier?
The short and straight answer is – yes. If you have an unlocked iPhone, it will work with all major cell phone companies. This includes all major carriers, such as Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T.
As long as a carrier supports at least one Global System for Mobiles (GSM) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) radio system, you can use it with an unlocked iPhone.
If you had a locked iPhone before and want to switch to another carrier, keep in mind that you will need to get a new SIM card. However, you may be able to keep your phone number if you live in the same geographic area.
Can you use multiple operators at once?
Indeed, you can. With an unlocked iPhone, you can have as many SIM cards as you want. However, the SIM card must be active and you must be in a location where the operator has coverage.
If your iPhone doesn't have Dual SIM function, you will need to remove the SIM card manually every time. This can be tricky and you'll need to be careful not to damage the SIM cards when replacing.
However, if you have an iPhone 11/12/XS/XR, you have the option of using two carriers at the same time. You can use a physical SIM card with a software SIM called eSIM.
How to Set Up an eSIM on an Unlocked iPhone
The first step is to choose a mobile operator that offers eSIM services. You can go through the list of companies and see which one has the best offer.
When you choose a carrier, they will give you a QR code to scan and set up the eSIM or use the carrier's mobile app to complete the setup.
Using an eSIM is especially useful for those who travel as it facilitates faster access to the local carrier. If your iPhone is unlocked, you can take full advantage of the Dual SIM feature.
How to check if your iPhone is unlocked
If you've had your iPhone for a while, you might not know whether it's unlocked or not. So before buying a SIM card from another carrier, it's a good idea to make sure you can actually use it. There is an easy way to check whether your iPhone is unlocked or not. Here's what you need to do:
- Open the "Settings" app on your iPhone.
- Select “General” followed by “About”.
- Select the “Carrier Lock” option.
If it reads "No SIM Restrictions", that means your iPhone is unlocked and you can use it with other carriers.
How to Unlock an iPhone
There are many benefits to using an unlocked iPhone, and flexibility is at the top of the list. If you bought your phone from a carrier and paid for it in full in installments, it becomes eligible for official unlocking. However, you will need to contact your carrier directly and ask them to review your account and unlock your phone.
The whole process may take a few days, but the carrier will notify you when your iPhone is unlocked. Now all you have to do is remove the existing SIM card and enter a new carrier's SIM card. Once you turn on your phone, the new SIM card should be active.
However, keep in mind that you can also buy a new unlocked phone directly from Apple. These devices are unlocked by default and can be used with any carrier from the time of purchase.
Is a jailbroken iPhone the same as an unlocked iPhone?
The terms "unlocked" and "jailbroken" in the context of the iPhone are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same at all. An unlocked phone is simply a device that you can use with any carrier, and any contractual obligations with the carrier you purchased the device from have expired.
On the other hand, you cannot buy a jailbroken phone from Apple.
If you jailbreak an iPhone, you void any warranty you have with the carrier or manufacturer. While users are free to jailbreak their devices, this action leaves them unprotected.
Jailbreaking is often confused with unlocking the phone because you can choose your carrier either way.
However, with a jailbreak, you can also change iPhone system settings and use third-party apps that you otherwise couldn't. Usually, it's app developers who use jailbroken iPhones and those who prefer not to wait for the contract to expire before they can use another carrier.
Free choice of carrier
If you have an unlocked iPhone in your possession, you have more freedom to choose the phone plan that's right for you. While buying an iPhone and signing a carrier contract is convenient, it comes with some downsides.
We often make commitments that don't seem so big in the long run, just because we wanted the new iPhone. However, once the contract term expires, you can officially ask the carrier to unlock your iPhone.
If you're willing to pay the full price upfront, you can purchase the phone directly from Apple. Either way, once your iPhone is unlocked, you can use any mobile carrier in the United States.
Do you have an unlocked iPhone? Let us know in the comments section below.