Whether for frequent international travel, ease of switching carriers, or some mysterious other reason that's frankly none of my business, carrying an unlocked iPhone gives you more flexibility than using one locked to a particular carrier. Many iPhones in the U.S. are still sold locked to their carriers, but there are good options out there for getting an unlocked iPhone out of the gate.
So if you're looking to get an iPhone 8 that's unlocked right out of the box, here's how you can do so.
Your most straightforward option for getting an unlocked iPhone 8 is to purchase a SIM-free model directly from Apple, either online or in an Apple Retail Store. The SIM-free model comes unlocked and is compatible with any major U.S. carrier.
Keep in mind that you'll be paying the full price for your iPhone 8 up front, which starts at $699 for the 64GB model, while the iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 for the same storage capacity.
iPhone Upgrade Program
Apple's own iPhone Upgrade Program offers customers an unlocked phone no matter which carrier they use. You pay in monthly installments and are eligible for one iPhone upgrade per year after 12 payments. The program also includes the AppleCare+ protection program in its cost.
Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint customers can purchase enroll in the program online, while T-Mobile customers can head to their nearest Apple Store in order to get on the program.
If you buy your iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus through Verizon, that device should be SIM unlocked at the time of purchase. The carrier says that it's policy not to lock their LTE-enabled phones, with a couple of statements on the subject:
So whether you buy your iPhone on a Verizon installment plan or pay for it all up front, you can just pull the Verizon SIM card out of the phone and insert another one.
Just remember that if you bought your iPhone from Verizon on an installment plan, then later want to switch to another carrier you'll need to pay off the remaining cost of your phone before you do so.
Other U.S. carriers
While this piece primarily focuses on buying an unlocked iPhone, I wanted to mention the unlocking situation with other U.S. carriers.
First, a note on these carriers. While each one does allow you to unlock your iPhone, you should note that you'll need to a wait a bit before doing so. AT&T requires you to wait 14 days before unlocking your device if you've just upgraded your iPhone. T-Mobile will let you unlock your phone after 40 days, and Sprint after 50.
iPhones sold directly by Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T can be unlocked if you follow the right procedures. However, there's an important caveat here when it comes to AT&T and T-Mobile: while the SIM-free iPhone 8 will work with CDMA carriers (like Verizon and Sprint) and GSM carriers (like AT&T and T-Mobile), the iPhone 8 for T-Mobile and AT&T will only work with other GSM carriers.
So while you're fine if you need to use the phone with AT&T and T-Mobile, or most other GSM carriers around the world, if you decide to move to Verizon or Sprint, you'll need to shell out for a new phone. An iPhone purchased from Sprint, once unlocked, should work with any carrier, but remember that you may need to pay off the rest of the cost of your iPhone before moving carriers.
If you have any questions about buying an unlocked iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, be sure to ask us in the comments!
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Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.