How to unlock your iPhone from O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile or Vodafone
April 16th, 2013
By unlocking your iPhone, you can save money with a cheap SIM-only deal. You can also save money when travelling abroad by using a local SIM card.
When you buy an iPhone, it’ll usually be locked to a mobile network. This means the phone will only accept SIM cards from a certain network (for example an iPhone that is locked to O2 UK will only accept SIM cards from O2 UK).
The majority of iPhones are locked when they’re sold. This includes iPhones that are sold on a Pay Monthly contract or a Pay As You Go tariff. Before you can use the iPhone on another mobile network, you’ll need to unlock it first. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can unlock your iPhone from all of the UK’s major networks.
If you purchased your iPhone directly from Apple, your phone should already be unlocked. In this case, you won’t need to unlock it: it’ll already work with a SIM card from any mobile network. Grab a free SIM card from another network or get a SIM Only contract if you want to give it a go.
If you purchased your iPhone from a third-party retailer (e.g. the Carphone Warehouse) your iPhone will automatically lock itself to the network that you first use the phone with. You’ll need to contact that network in order to unlock your iPhone.
Why would I want to unlock my iPhone?
The main benefits of unlocking your iPhone are:
You can switch to a low-cost SIM-only deal. Once your 24 month contract comes to an end, you can save substantial amounts of money by switching to a SIM-only deal. This is a low-cost price plan for your phone where you’ll get a new SIM card with an inclusive allowance of calls, texts and internet. As you’re keeping the phone you already have, a SIM-only deal is much cheaper than a traditional contract. Most people will save around £250 per year on a SIM-only deal.
To take an example: a typical iPhone contract costs about £35/month. For a SIM-only alternative, try Three’s £12.90/month deal which comes with 600 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB internet. Compared to staying on a £35/month contract, Three’s deal will shave a massive £265 off your phone bill each year. The tariff is available for all unlocked iPhone devices though you’ll need to order the appropriate size of SIM card for your phone:
- iPhone 3G S & older: SIM Card version
- iPhone 4 & iPhone 4S: Micro-SIM version
- iPhone 5: Nano-SIM version
Three also offers a deal with unlimited internet for £12.90/month. You’ll get 200 minutes, 5000 texts and all-you-can-eat data. This is a great choice if you love browsing the web, watching videos and downloading apps.
You can keep your phone number when changing networks.
You can use a local SIM card when travelling abroad. When you travel abroad, it’s possible to incur huge costs for roaming on your iPhone (roaming means using your iPhone abroad with a UK SIM card inside).
When travelling inside the EU, expect to pay 28p/minute for phone calls and 8.5p per text message. You’ll also need to pay when accessing the internet: costs can vary between £2/day and £7/day depending on your tariff.
When using your phone outside the EU, roaming charges are even higher. Expect to pay around £1.50/minute for phone calls, 50p per text message and £6/MB for internet access. With data roaming turned on, the average smartphone user could easily run up a bill of £60 per day.
The most affordable way of using an iPhone abroad is to buy a SIM card locally in the country of travel. This will make it much cheaper to call, text and browse. It’s particularly beneficial for accessing the web: with a local SIM you’ll be able to use the full feature set of your iPhone including web browsing, e-mail, chatting and social networking (Facebook & Twitter). To use a different SIM card when abroad, you’ll need to unlock your iPhone first.
Your friends & family can use the iPhone on their network of choice. When upgrading to a newer phone (e.g. the iPhone 5 or the Galaxy S4) many people like to pass their old phones on to friends or family members. If you’re planning to do this, you should unlock your iPhone first. This will allow them to use the iPhone on their network of choice. They can also benefit from low-cost SIM only deals.
Your phone has better resale value. If you’re selling your old iPhone, unlocking it will boost its resale value. It should also make the device easier to sell as the phone can be used by customers of any network.
Is it legal to unlock an iPhone?
Yes, it is perfectly legal to unlock a phone.
Mobile phone networks will often “lock” your handset as they subsidise them. Because the iPhone is offered at a reduced price on contract (it is subsidised by the network), it’s locked so as to stop you from taking a subsidised phone and immediately using it on another network.
Once you’ve owned your iPhone for a certain amount of time (usually 30 days or 3 months), you can ask your network to unlock it. This will allow you to use it on other networks. Although your network is under no obligation to unlock your iPhone, all UK networks happily provide this service. You’ll need to pay a small fee for unlocking (usually no more than £20).
In this guide, I only discuss the official methods of unlocking your iPhone.
Unofficial Methods of Unlocking an iPhone
You may find unofficial methods of unlocking an iPhone on the internet (e.g. using codes, third-party websites or downloadable software). There is no guarantee that these methods work: some of them are scams that will take your money whilst failing to unlock your phone. Others may render your phone unusable. The only “official” iPhone unlock is through your mobile network.
Some unofficial methods will unlock your phone temporarily by “jailbreaking” it. Apple regularly updates the software on the iPhone and fixes the loopholes that allow it to be jailbroken. Updating the software on your phone will return it to the locked state. Your warranty would also be invalidated by unlocking your iPhone in an unauthorised manner. Please do your research very carefully and make sure you understand what you’re doing before jailbreaking your phone.
How much money could I save with an unlocked iPhone?
Providing you’re no longer locked in to the minimum term of a contract, you can usually save around £250/year by unlocking your iPhone and switching to a SIM-only contract. The iPhone can be used on any SIM-only tariff that has an inclusive data allowance.
The best deals are generally found on Three:
- £12.90/month for 600 minutes, 5000 texts, 1GB internet
Available for the iPhone 3G S, the iPhone 4/iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 (12 month contract)
- £6.90/month for 200 minutes, 5000 texts, 500MB internet
Available for the iPhone 3G S, the iPhone 4/iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 (12 month contract)
- £25/month for 2000 minutes, 5000 Three-to-Three minutes, 5000 texts, all-you-can-eat data and free tethering
Available for the iPhone 3G S, the iPhone 4/iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 (1 month rolling contract)
Free mobile broadband service included when you use the iPhone’s tethering functionality.
Aside from Three, you can also find SIM-only deals on O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone. giffgaff has some good value deals on a Pay As You Go basis – their Goodybags provide unlimited internet from £12/month. You can grab a free SIM card here.
When selecting a SIM-only tariff, make sure you choose one that includes a data allowance. iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S users will need to order a Micro SIM card whilst iPhone 5 users will need to order a Nano SIM card. We’ve got a guide to the different types of SIM card type so you can find out which one is appropriate.
If you’re changing network, you can keep your existing phone number by requesting a PAC Code. Switching networks is easy and transferring your number takes no more than 24 hours.
How do I find the IMEI number on my iPhone?
During the unlocking process, your mobile operator will ask for the IMEI number of your iPhone. The IMEI is a serial number which is unique to every mobile device. You’ll need to provide the IMEI so that your mobile operator can unlock the correct device.
There are four ways of finding the IMEI number on an iPhone:
- IMEI from Settings Menu. In the iPhone menu, go to Settings > General > About. The IMEI number should be listed as one of the menu items.
- IMEI from Phone Dialler. Go to your iPhone dialler keypad (as if you’re going to make a call). Enter *#06# (star hash zero six hash). Your iPhone’s IMEI number should appear on the screen.
- IMEI through iTunes (PC connection required). Connect your iPhone to your computer and open iTunes. On the iPhone information page, click on your phone number. This will cycle through several pieces of information about your iPhone. The IMEI number will be one of these pieces of information.
- IMEI from back of device (iPhone 5 only). On the iPhone 5, the IMEI number is engraved on the back of the device. You’ll find it in the text at the bottom.
Take a careful note of your IMEI number (it should be 15 digits long). Make sure you provide the correct IMEI number when unlocking your handset – otherwise you could be unlocking someone else’s device!
500 minutes, unlimited internet & ready for 4G. From £34/month.
How do I unlock an iPhone from O2?
Pay Monthly. Your iPhone can be unlocked free of charge at any time. You’ll still need to honour the minimum term of your contract (you aren’t able to cancel your contract early). It can take up to 72 hours to unlock an iPhone from O2. To begin the unlocking process, fill in the form on the O2 website.
Prior to April 2013, it was not possible to unlock an iPhone 5 from O2. This restriction has been removed. All models of the iPhone can now be unlocked from O2.
Pay As You Go. It costs £15 to unlock your iPhone. This comes from your Pay As You Go balance so you should top-up by at least £15 prior to requesting an unlock. Fill in this form on the O2 website to get started.
If you’re joining giffgaff, it’s worth noting you can use an O2-locked iPhone (there’s no need to unlock an O2 iPhone). For O2 Pay Monthly customers, we’d recommend unlocking your iPhone anyway (it’s free). For O2 Pay As You Go customers, it’s possible to save £15 by foregoing the unlock. You can order a free SIM card from giffgaff here.
How do I unlock an iPhone from Orange?
Pay Monthly & Pay As You Go. Orange will unlock your iPhone for £20.42 providing you’re the original owner of the phone. You’ll need to have had your phone for at least six months. The £20.42 unlocking fee can either be charged to your credit card, debit card, Pay Monthly bill or Pay As You Go airtime balance. You’ll need to be a current Orange customer, so remember to unlock your phone before you cancel your contract or change network.
To request an unlock, you’ll need to call Orange Customer Services:
If it’s a pay monthly phone you’ll need to call 150 free from your handset, or 07973 100 150 from a landline (call charges may vary).
If it’s a pay as you go phone you’ll need to call 450 from your handset, or 07973 100 450 from a landline (call charges may vary).
Many readers have experienced problems when unlocking an iPhone from Orange, though there have been some success stories too. Please see the comments below for more information. If you’ve had any experiences with unlocking an iPhone from Orange (good or bad), we’d love to hear from you.
How do I unlock an iPhone from Three?
Pay Monthly. Three will unlock your iPhone providing you’ve had it for at least 30 days. You’ll also need to have paid your first bill in full. It costs £15.32 to unlock your iPhone. This is charged to your next monthly bill. When providing your personal details on Three’s Unlocking Form, please use those of the account holder.
Pay As You Go. Three can unlock your iPhone at any time – it costs £15.32 when you fill out this online form. The unlocking fee will be charged to your credit card or debit card.
If you’re not currently a Three customer, grab a Pay As You Go SIM card and activate it before unlocking your iPhone. You do not need to be the original owner of the iPhone to unlock it.
How do I unlock an iPhone from T-Mobile?
Pay Monthly & Pay As You Go. T-Mobile will unlock your iPhone providing you’ve been a customer for at least 3 months. There is an administration charge of £15.32 for the service. You can request an unlock by calling T-Mobile customer services (dial 150 from your handset).
How do I unlock an iPhone from Vodafone?
Pay Monthly. Vodafone will unlock your Pay Monthly iPhone for free. This should take no more than 48 hours. Requests should be made through Vodafone’s online form.
Pay As You Go. For Pay As You Go customers on Vodafone, it’s free to unlock an iPhone providing you’ve had it for 12 months or more. For customers who have had their iPhone for less than 12 months, there is an administration charge of £19.99. This charge is taken from your Pay As You Go credit so you should top up by at least £20 prior to unlocking your iPhone. Pay As You Go customers should request an unlock by contacting Vodafone Customer Services (call 191 from your Vodafone handset).
How do I unlock an iPhone from third-party retailers?
If your iPhone was originally purchased from a third-party retailer (e.g. the Carphone Warehouse), it’ll automatically lock itself to the first mobile network you use with the phone. This is the case even when your iPhone was sold as a “SIM Free” handset. To unlock your iPhone, you’ll normally need to contact the mobile network that it’s locked to.
If you purchased your iPhone directly from Apple, it should not be locked to a network.
I’ve made a request to unlock my iPhone. What’s next?
Once you’ve informed your mobile network that you want to unlock your iPhone and made the necessary payments, your mobile network needs to inform Apple. Apple maintains a central list of unlocked iPhone devices and it can take up to 14 days for your iPhone to be added to this list. Once your device is on the list, you’ll need to connect it to iTunes to complete the unlocking process. A message should pop-up in iTunes to let you know that your device has been unlocked.
How can I check to see whether my iPhone has been unlocked?
The easiest way to test whether your iPhone has been successfully unlocked is to insert a SIM card from a different network. All of the UK’s major mobile networks offer free Pay As You Go SIM cards.
If you’ve unlocked your iPhone through the methods discussed on this page, you’ll see a “Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked.” message in iTunes once your unlocking request has been processed.
What about stores which offer to unlock your iPhone?
Some newsagents and shops may offer to unlock your iPhone. They will usually do this by “jailbreaking” your device. This is not the recommended method of unlocking as it isn’t a permanent unlock: you’ll need to jailbreak the phone each time Apple releases a new software update. It will also invalidate your warranty.
The only official way to unlock your iPhone is through your mobile network operator and the methods listed on this page. We strongly recommend paying the small fee to unlock your iPhone officially and legitimately.
Which handsets can I unlock using the methods described on this page?
The methods of unlocking your iPhone that are described on this page should work with any iPhone device purchased in the UK. This includes:
- Apple iPhone 5
- Apple iPhone 4S
- Apple iPhone 4
- Apple iPhone 3G S
- Apple iPhone 3G
- Apple iPhone (original)
As the methods discussed here are officially supported, they will work regardless of the model of iPhone you have and the version of iOS that you are running.
Where can I get the new iPhone 5?
If you’re looking to upgrade to the new iPhone 5, take a look at our iPhone 5 price comparison page for a full list of iPhone 5 tariffs.
We typically recommend Three’s The One Plan as the best value deal for the iPhone 5. It costs £36/month plus £49 upfront for a brand new iPhone 5 with 2000 minutes, 5000 Three-to-Three minutes, 5000 texts, all-you-can-eat internet and free tethering. The inclusion of tethering allows you to get your other devices online free of charge including an iPad, a tablet or a laptop. You’ll also be able to use 4G, free of charge, when it launches this year. See our full review of The One Plan or find out more on Three’s website.
For a cheaper deal, Ultimate Internet 500 is also available with 500 minutes, 5000 texts and all-you-can-eat data for £34/month plus £49 upfront.
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.