How to unlock your iPhone from O2, Orange, Three, T-Mobile, Vodafone and EE
August 20th, 2014
You’ll need to unlock your iPhone before you’re able to use it on another mobile network. Save money by switching to cheaper SIM only deals and avoid roaming charges when travelling abroad.
When you buy an iPhone, it’ll normally be locked to your mobile network operator. As such, the iPhone will only accept SIM cards from the network it’s locked to (for instance, an iPhone which is locked to O2 UK will only accept SIM cards from O2’s UK network). Insert a SIM card from any other mobile network and you’ll be told the SIM card is “not supported” on your device.
In the UK, the majority of iPhones are sold locked to a network. This includes most iPhones sold on a Pay Monthly contract or Pay As You Go tariff. It also includes iPhones from third-party retailers such as the Carphone Warehouse. If you have a locked iPhone, you’ll need to unlock it before using it on another network. This article will show you how to unlock an iPhone from the UK’s major mobile networks.
Some iPhones are already unlocked when you buy them from the shop. This would be the case if you bought a SIM-free iPhone directly from Apple. To use it on another network, simply grab yourself a free Pay As You Go SIM card or a SIM-only contract for much better value. For third-party retailers such as the Carphone Warehouse, a SIM-free iPhone will lock itself automatically to the first network used on the handset. You’ll need to contact that network if you’d like to unlock your iPhone. This article will show you how.
- 1 Why unlock an iPhone?
- 2 Legality
- 3 Potential Cost Savings
- 4 Finding your iPhone’s IMEI number
- 5 Unlocking instructions by network
- 5.1 How do I unlock an iPhone from EE?
- 5.2 How do I unlock an iPhone from O2?
- 5.3 How do I unlock an iPhone from Orange?
- 5.4 How do I unlock an iPhone from Tesco Mobile?
- 5.5 How do I unlock an iPhone from Three?
- 5.6 How do I unlock an iPhone from T-Mobile?
- 5.7 How do I unlock an iPhone from Vodafone?
- 5.8 How do I unlock an iPhone from giffgaff?
- 5.9 How do I unlock an iPhone from third-party retailers?
- 6 I’ve made a request to unlock my iPhone. What’s next?
- 7 How can I check to see whether my iPhone has been unlocked?
- 8 Which handsets can I unlock using the methods on this page?
Why unlock an iPhone?
There are four main benefits to unlocking your iPhone:
SIM Only Deals: Save money with a cheaper airtime plan
Once you’ve completed the first 24 months of your contract, you can save substantially by switching over 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, all you need to do is to change the SIM card 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 allowance of 1GB of internet. As most people will be paying around £35/month on their normal iPhone contract, switching to this £10/month deal would save you a massive £300 over the next year. For iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s owners, there’s also the bonus of 4G internet included on the plan (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, giffgaff has unlimited internet from £12/month. The £12 goodybag will give you 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet.
For a full comparison and for more information, please see our list of iPhone SIM only deals. We’ve listed the deals from EE, giffgaff, O2, Tesco, Three and Vodafone all on one page.
If you’re changing mobile network, it’s a straightforward process to keep your existing phone number.
Avoid Roaming: Save money when travelling abroad
If you’re travelling abroad with an iPhone, it’s possible to incur huge charges by roaming abroad on your normal UK SIM card.
When travelling inside of Europe, expect to pay 18.8p/minute to make an outgoing call and 5.9p when sending a text message. You’ll also pay 4.9p/minute when receiving a phone call and 19.8p/MB when accessing the internet. At typical usage, the average smartphone user is likely to pay around £2/day.
When using your phone outside of Europe, typical roaming charges will be even higher. Expect to pay around £1.50/minute for phone calls, 50p per text message and £6/MB for accessing the internet. With data roaming on a normal UK SIM card, the average smartphone user can 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. This will make it substantially cheaper to call, text and browse when travelling abroad. You can use the full functionality of your iPhone without needing to worry about the costs of roaming abroad.
To use a different SIM card when travelling abroad, you’ll first need to unlock your iPhone. This is the case even if you’re using another country’s branch of the same mobile network (e.g. O2 in Ireland or Orange in France).
Note: If you’re visiting certain countries (e.g. the USA, France, Italy and Republic of Ireland), Three’s Feel At Home allows you to use your phone abroad at no extra charge. It’s available to customers on any network providing they have an unlocked iPhone handset. Simply insert a £10 Pay As You Go SIM card for 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB of data abroad (up to 30 days usage). A £15 SIM card gives you 300 minutes, 3000 texts and 25GB of internet abroad (up to 30 days usage).
The “All in One” Pay As You Go tariffs can be used with Three’s “Feel At Home” offer. The inclusive minutes, texts and internet can be used abroad in any “Feel At Home” country. The £15 bundle has a fair usage policy of 25GB/month when in a “Feel At Home” country.
Hand-me-down iPhones: Friends & family can use the network of their choice
If you’re upgrading to the latest smartphone (e.g. the iPhone 5s or Galaxy S5) you may want to pass your old iPhone on to a friend or family member. If you’re planning to do this, it’s always a good idea to unlock your iPhone first. It means your friends and family can use the iPhone on their network of choice. They can also benefit from lower cost SIM only deals. Often, it’s much easier for the original owner to unlock the handset (some networks won’t allow others to later unlock the iPhone).
Resale Value: Higher resale value when selling your iPhone
If you’re selling an old iPhone, unlocking it first will greatly boost the handset’s resale value. You’ll greatly increase the potential market for your handset: customers on any network will be able to buy and use your iPhone (rather than only the customers on one specific network). If you don’t unlock your iPhone before selling it on, you’ll restrict the target market to only the people on the same network as yourself. It can also be more difficult for them to later unlock the handset.
Is it legal to unlock an iPhone?
Yes, in the UK, it’s perfectly legal to unlock an iPhone.
Mobile phone networks will often lock your handset as they subsidise the original 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 had the iPhone for a certain amount of time, you can normally ask your network to unlock it. This will allow you to use your iPhone on other mobile networks. Although the networks are under no obligation to unlock your iPhone, all UK networks happily provide this service. You will normally need to pay a small fee for unlocking though this is usually no more than £20.
A warning about unscrupulous websites
There are a large number of online scams and unscrupulous websites relating to iPhone unlocking.
The only way to unlock your iPhone officially is to go via your mobile network operator (as per the instructions on this page). Third-party websites will often claim to offer an iPhone unlocking service. In reality, they’re usually charging a hefty service fee for simply filling out an online form on your behalf (the forms are available for free on the mobile network websites). Always go direct to your mobile network operator (and if you must use a third-party service, do have an in-depth read of the Trustpilot reviews).
On certain older models of the iPhone, it’s possible to temporarily unlock your handset through a method known as “jailbreaking”. Apple regularly updates the software on the iPhone and fixes the loopholes that allow it to be jailbroken. Updating the software on your jailbroken iPhone will return it back to the original locked state. Your warranty will 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 handset.
Potential Cost Savings
You can often save around £25 per month by unlocking your iPhone and switching over to a SIM only deal. The iPhone can be used on SIM-only tariffs with an inclusive data allowance. The best value deals are generally found on Three and giffgaff:
- £10/month for 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet (Three)
- £12/month for 250 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet (giffgaff)
- £23/month for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, all-you-can-eat data and 4GB of tethering (Three)
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. Finally, 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 – transferring your phone number will take no more than one working day.
Finding your iPhone’s IMEI number
During the unlocking process, your mobile network will ask you to provide the IMEI number associated with 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!
Unlocking instructions by network
The exact instructions for unlocking an iPhone will depend on the network you’d like to unlock it from:
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 is added to your next bill. For customers on Pay As You Go, the charge is deducted from your account airtime balance (hence you should top up by at least £21 before making your request).
To qualify for an unlock, you must have bought the iPhone from EE (you will need to be the original customer to whom the iPhone was sold). You will also need to have been a customer for at least six months and you must be up-to-date with the payments on your account. It can take up to 3 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 O2?
Pay Monthly. Your iPhone can be unlocked for free at any time though 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 O2’s website.
Pay As You Go. It costs £15 to unlock your iPhone. This will come from your Pay As You Go balance so make sure you’ve topped up by at least £15 prior to requesting an unlock. To request an unlock, fill in the handset unlocking form on O2’s website.
Typically, O2 won’t unlock an iPhone if the model was released in the past 6 months. We expect that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will only be unlockable from O2 in April 2015.
N.B. If you’re joining giffgaff, it’s possible to use an O2-locked iPhone without unlocking it first. For O2 Pay Monthly customers, we would still recommend unlocking your iPhone first (it’s free). For O2 Pay As You Go customers, you can 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 first 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 (positive or negative) we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
How do I unlock an iPhone from Tesco Mobile?
Pay Monthly. Tesco Mobile can unlock your iPhone at any time. On Anytime Upgrade contracts, it’s free to unlock your iPhone providing you’ve paid off the ‘Phone payment’ portion of your plan. On older contracts, unlocking is free once the minimum term of your contract has ended (this will normally be 24 months after getting your iPhone). It’ll cost £20 if you’d like to unlock your handset before this time. To request an unlock, call Tesco Mobile aftersales support on 0345 300 6660. It can take up to 28 days for your iPhone to be unlocked.
Pay As You Go. There’s a £20 charge to unlock your iPhone from Tesco Pay As You Go if you’ve had the handset for less than 12 months. After the first 12 months, it’s free to unlock your iPhone. To request an unlock, call the Tesco Mobile aftersales support number (0345 300 6660).
How do I unlock an iPhone from Three?
Pay Monthly & Pay As You Go. As of January 1st 2014, Three has sold all of their iPhones already unlocked for use on any network. If you bought your iPhone after January 1st 2014, it won’t be necessary to unlock it from Three. If your iPhone was purchased before this time, it could still remain locked to the Three network.
If you have an iPhone which remains locked to the Three network, you can request a free unlock by filling out this form on Three’s website. There’s no charge for unlocking your iPhone but you’ll need to have an active customer account on Three’s network. If you don’t currently have a SIM card with Three, you can order a Pay As You Go SIM card via their website. It can take up to 7 days for the unlocking request to be processed.
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 out this form on the EE website. It can take up to 3 working days for the iPhone to be unlocked.
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 is taken from your Pay As You Go airtime balance so be sure to top up by at least £20 prior to making the request to unlock your iPhone. Pay As You Go customers should request an unlock through Vodafone’s online form.
How do I unlock an iPhone from giffgaff?
If you bought your iPhone directly from giffgaff’s website (either with a one-off lump sum payment or a monthly repayment plan), the iPhone will already be unlocked for use on any network. giffgaff provides a SIM-free variety of the iPhone which doesn’t lock itself to a network automatically.
If you bought your iPhone from a third-party retailer (e.g. from the Carphone Warehouse), you may find the iPhone becoming locked automatically to O2’s network (O2 is the parent company of giffgaff). To unlock your handset, you’ll need a SIM card from O2 and £15 to unlock the handset. Start by ordering an O2 Pay As You Go SIM card then follow the instructions earlier in this article.
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 may lock itself automatically to the first network you use. This is the case even when your iPhone was sold as a “SIM Free” handset.
To unlock your iPhone, you should contact the mobile network to whom your iPhone has now become locked. If your iPhone has unfortunately become locked to a network that doesn’t sell the handset (e.g. Talkmobile or Virgin Mobile), it may now be impossible to unlock your handset. For more information, see our guide on unlocking a SIM-free iPhone.
If you purchased your iPhone directly from Apple, it’s permanently unlocked. There’s no need to contact your network and to unlock it again.
I’ve made a request to unlock my iPhone. What’s next?
After informing your mobile network that you want to unlock an iPhone and after making the necessary payments for the unlock to be processed, your mobile network will need to get in touch with Apple.
Apple maintains a centralised list of unlocked iPhone handsets. It can take a couple of days for your iPhone to be added to this list. Once your handset has been added to Apple’s list, connect your handset to iTunes using a USB cable. This will complete the network unlocking process (a message should pop-up in iTunes to let you know the device has been unlocked). The process can also be completed by connecting your iPhone to a wi-fi internet connection.
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 mobile network. The UK’s major mobile networks all offer a free Pay As You Go SIM card which can be used in an iPhone.
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 request has been processed.
Which handsets can I unlock using the methods on this page?
The methods of unlocking an iPhone described on this page should work on any iPhone device purchased in the UK. This includes:
- 5th generation iPhones: Apple iPhone 5, Apple iPhone 5s & Apple iPhone 5c
- 4th generation iPhones: Apple iPhone 4 & Apple iPhone 4S
- 3rd generation iPhones: Apple iPhone 3G & Apple iPhone 3G S
- Older Devices: Apple iPhone (original)
As the methods discussed here are officially supported, they’ll work regardless of the model you have and the version of iOS you’re currently running. Your iPhone’s warranty remains unaffected when unlocking it via your 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+.