How to unlock your iPhone from O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile, Vodafone and EE
December 18th, 2013
By unlocking your iPhone, you’ll be able to use it on another mobile network. You can save money with SIM-only deals and you can avoid roaming charges when travelling abroad.
When you buy an iPhone, it’ll normally be locked to a mobile network. Your iPhone will only accept SIM cards from the network it’s locked to (for example an iPhone which is locked to O2 UK will only accept SIM cards from O2′s UK network). Insert a SIM card from any another mobile network and you’ll be told the SIM is “not supported” on your device.
In the UK, almost all iPhones sold are locked to a mobile network. This includes the iPhones sold on a Pay Monthly contract and the iPhones sold on a Pay As You Go tariff. You’ll have to unlock your iPhone before you can use it on another network. This article shows you how to unlock an iPhone from the UK’s major mobile networks.
If you purchased an iPhone directly from Apple, it should already be unlocked. In this case, you won’t need to unlock your iPhone again as it’ll already work on any mobile network. Simply grab a Pay As You Go SIM card (free) or sign up for a SIM Only contract to give it a go.
If you purchased your iPhone from a third-party retailer (e.g. the Carphone Warehouse), it’ll automatically lock itself to the first network used on the phone. You’ll need to contact that network in order to unlock your iPhone.
- 1 Why would I want to unlock my iPhone?
- 2 Is it legal to unlock an iPhone?
- 3 How much money could I save with an unlocked iPhone?
- 4 How do I find the IMEI number on my iPhone?
- 5 How do I unlock an iPhone from O2?
- 6 How do I unlock an iPhone from Orange?
- 7 How do I unlock an iPhone from Three?
- 8 How do I unlock an iPhone from T-Mobile?
- 9 How do I unlock an iPhone from Vodafone?
- 10 How do I unlock an iPhone from EE?
- 11 How do I unlock an iPhone from third-party retailers?
- 12 I’ve made a request to unlock my iPhone. What’s next?
- 13 How can I check to see whether my iPhone has been unlocked?
- 14 What about stores which offer to unlock your iPhone?
- 15 Which handsets can I unlock using the methods described on this page?
Why would I want to unlock my iPhone?
There are four main benefits to unlocking your iPhone.
1. Save Money By Switching To A Cheaper SIM Only Deal
Once you’ve completed the first 24 months of your contract, you can switch to a cheaper SIM only deal. By switching, you can normally save around £300 per year whilst keeping the same iPhone and keeping the same phone number. Providing your iPhone is unlocked, simply change the SIM card that’s inside your device.
For iPhone owners, the best value SIM Only deal is Three’s £10/month tariff. You’ll get 600 minutes, all-you-can-eat texts and a generous 1GB of internet. As most people are paying around £35/month on their normal iPhone contract, switching to this £10 deal would shave a massive 70% off your monthly phone bill. Over the course of a year, this equates to a £300 saving. For iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s owners, there’s also the bonus of 4G internet (you’ll need to live in a 4G coverage area).
Please select the type of iPhone you own:
iPhone 5 Family »With 4G internet in selected areas.
iPhone 4S & 4 »Ultrafast 3G.
iPhone 3GS »
For heavy internet users, check out The One Plan for £23/month. With The One Plan, you’ll get all-you-can-eat minutes, all-you-can-eat texts and all-you-can-eat data with no download limits. This is a great choice for anyone who loves to download music and also for anyone who loves watching online videos. Unlimited data is also great for downloading applications. 4GB of tethering is included on the plan so you can share the mobile internet connection with other devices (e.g. your laptop or tablet).
For more information, see our full list of iPhone SIM only deals. We’ve listed the deals from EE, giffgaff, O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile and Vodafone.
If you’re changing mobile network, it’s a straightforward process to keep your existing phone number.
2. Save Money When Travelling: Use a Different SIM Card Abroad
If you’re travelling abroad with an iPhone, it’s possible to incur huge costs by using the roaming functionality with your UK SIM card inside.
When travelling inside the EU, expect to pay 25p/minute and 8p per text message. You’ll also pay 7p/minute when receiving a phone call. The most substantial costs are for accessing the internet: you’ll pay 46p/MB which is around £4.60/day under typical usage.
When using your phone outside the EU, roaming charges will be 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 enabled, the average smartphone user could easily run up a bill of £60 per day.
The best way of using your iPhone abroad is to buy a SIM card locally in your country of travel. With a local SIM card, it’ll be much cheaper to call, text and browse. You’ll be able to use the full functionality of your iPhone without needing to worry about the costs of roaming. To use a different SIM card, you’ll first need to unlock your iPhone. This is the case even if you’re using another country’s branch of the same network (e.g. O2 Ireland or Orange France).
N.B. If you’re visiting certain countries (e.g. the USA and Italy), you can roam abroad for free using Three’s Feel At Home service. It’s available on their £10/month deal as well as The One Plan. See the Three website for more information.
3. Second Hand iPhone: Friends & Family can use the network of their choice
If you’re upgrading to a newer device (e.g. the iPhone 5s or Galaxy S5), you might want to pass on your old iPhone to friends or family members. If you’re planning to do this, you should first unlock your iPhone. This will allow your friends and family to use the iPhone on their network of choice. They can also benefit from lower cost SIM only deals.
4. Higher Resale Value When Selling Your iPhone
If you’re selling an old iPhone, unlocking it first will boost its resale value. You’ll also increase the potential market for your device: customers of any network will be able to buy your iPhone. If you don’t unlock your iPhone, you’ll restrict your target market to people on the same network.
Is it legal to unlock an iPhone?
Yes, it is perfectly legal to unlock an iPhone.
Mobile phone networks often “lock” your handset as they subsidise the cost. As the iPhone is offered at a reduced price on contract, the locking mechanism stops 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 the network is under no obligation to unlock your iPhone, all UK networks happily provide the service. You’ll normally 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. There are also a number of unscrupulous websites which charge you a service fee for filling out a form on your behalf. The only “official” iPhone unlock is through your mobile network.
Some unofficial methods will temporarily unlock your phone 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 iPhone will return it back to the locked state. Your warranty will 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?
If you aren’t tied in to a 24-month contract, you can save about £25 per month by unlocking your iPhone and switching to a SIM only deal. The iPhone can be used on any SIM-only tariff that has an inclusive data allowance. The best value deals are generally found on Three:
- £10/month for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet
- £23/month for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, all-you-can-eat data and 4GB of tethering
Select your mobile network:
When choosing a SIM only tariff, be sure to order the right size of SIM card. For the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c you’ll need to order a “Nano SIM” tariff. For the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S, you’ll need to choose the “Micro SIM” option. For older iPhones (e.g. the iPhone 3GS), choose the “Standard SIM” option.
If you’re changing network, you can keep your existing phone number by requesting a PAC Code. Switching mobile networks is a straightforward process and transferring your phone number takes no more than 24 hours.
How do I find the IMEI number on my iPhone?
During the unlocking process, your mobile network will ask you to provide the IMEI number of your iPhone. The IMEI is a serial number which is unique to every device. You’ll need to provide the correct IMEI so that your mobile network will unlock the right 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 a 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 5/5s/5c only). The IMEI number is engraved on the back of the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. You’ll find it in the text at the bottom (see picture to right).
Make a careful note of your phone’s 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!
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 however (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.
As of April 2014, O2 are unlocking all models of the iPhone. This includes the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. Previously, O2 was refusing unlocking requests for these models in order to “make sure that genuine O2 customers get iPhone 5s and 5c” stock.
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.
Note: If you’re joining giffgaff, you can use an O2-locked iPhone without unlocking it first. 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. To join giffgaff, order a free SIM card 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 will either be charged to your next Pay Monthly bill or your Pay As You Go airtime balance. You’ll need to be a current Orange customer, so remember to unlock your phone before cancelling the contract or changing mobile network.
You can request an unlock through the EE website.
Many readers have experienced problems when unlocking an iPhone from Orange. However, there have been some success stories too. Please see the comments below for more discussion and 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 & Pay As You Go. Three can unlock your iPhone at any time. To request an unlock, fill out the form on Three’s website. There is no charge for this service. The details you provide on the form must match up exactly with those on your Three account (i.e. you’ll need to provide the details of the bill payer).
If you don’t currently have an active account at Three, you can unlock your iPhone by first ordering a free SIM card. Activate the SIM card before filling out the unlocking form. You don’t need to be the original owner of the device.
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 6 months. There’s an administration charge of £20.42 for the service. You can request an unlock by calling T-Mobile customer services (dial 150 from your handset). Alternatively, fill in this form on the EE website.
How do I unlock an iPhone from Vodafone?
Pay Monthly. For Vodafone Pay Monthly customers, it’s free to unlock an iPhone providing you’ve had it for at least 12 months. If you’ve had the iPhone for less than 12 months, you’ll be charged an unlocking fee of £19.99. The unlocking process should be completed within 7-10 working days. You can make the request through Vodafone’s online form.
Pay As You Go. There’s an administration charge of £19.99 to unlock your iPhone from Vodafone. This charge is taken from your Pay As You Go balance so you should top up by at least £20 prior to unlocking your iPhone. Pay As You Go customers should request an unlock through Vodafone’s online form.
How do I unlock an iPhone from EE?
Pay Monthly & Pay As You Go. For customers on 4GEE, there’s a charge of £20.42 to unlock your iPhone. For Pay Monthly customers, the unlocking charge will be added to your next bill. For Pay As You Go customers, the charge will be deducted from your airtime balance (you should top up by at least £21 prior to making your request).
In order to qualify for the unlocking service, you must have bought your iPhone from EE and you’ll need to be a customer for at least six months. You should also be up-to-date with any payments. It might take up to 10 working days for your request to be processed. To get started, fill out the unlocking form on EE’s website.
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 used on the phone. This is the case even when your iPhone was sold as a “SIM Free” handset.
To unlock your iPhone, you should contact the network the phone has become locked to. If your iPhone is locked to a mobile network that doesn’t sell the iPhone (e.g. Talkmobile or Virgin), it might be impossible to unlock your device. For more information, see our guide on unlocking a SIM-free iPhone.
If you purchased your iPhone directly from Apple, it should already be unlocked. There is no need to unlock it again.
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 once you’ve made the necessary payments, your mobile network will get in touch with 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 has been added to 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 a free Pay As You Go SIM card.
If you’ve unlocked your iPhone through the methods discussed on this page, you’ll see a “Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked.” message within iTunes once your 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 your phone: it isn’t permanent and you’ll need to jailbreak your device every time Apple releases a software update. Jailbreaking will also invalidate your warranty and could introduce security vulnerabilities.
The only official way of unlocking 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 described on this page should work with any iPhone device purchased in the UK. This includes:
- 5th generation: Apple iPhone 5, Apple iPhone 5s & Apple iPhone 5c
- 4th generation: Apple iPhone 4 & Apple iPhone 4S
- 3rd generation: Apple iPhone 3G & Apple iPhone 3G S
- Older Devices: Apple iPhone (original)
As the methods discussed here are officially supported, they will work regardless of the model you have and the version of iOS you’re running on your device. Your iPhone’s warranty is unaffected by unlocking it via your mobile network.
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+.