iPhone SE 2020Source: Apple

Best answer: The best way to buy an iPhone SE unlocked is to pick up the SIM-free version directly through Apple. You won't have the hassle of dealing with your carrier and your iPhone will be yours because you'll pay up front.

Power on a budget: iPhone SE (2020) ($399 at Apple)

A great way to avoid the hassle of dealing with your carrier

If you're willing to pay the full price of your new iPhone up front and want the fewest complications possible, then buying the SIM-free version of the iPhone SE is your best bet. It comes unlocked out-of-the-box, plus you'll just own your iPhone outright. No monthly payments, no worrying about when you'll be eligible for an upgrade. You just own your phone and pay for whatever carrier's service you choose to use.

SIM-free is pain-free, except for your wallet

Of course, there's a downside. You're shelling out the entire price of your new iPhone up front. While that's admittedly an easier pill to swallow than it is for the iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, $399 is still a hefty chunk of change for most. If you're getting the 128GB or 256GB versions, that'll be $449 or $549, respectively. The costs can add up.

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Unfortunately, the iPhone SE isn't eligible for the iPhone Upgrade Program at this time, though this isn't surprising given the prices of the iPhone SE versus those currently available through the program.

A note about carriers

According to Apple, all iPhones purchased through Apple.com are unlocked, even if you buy through a carrier. The exception to this is if you buy on an AT&T Installment Plan. Those phones are locked to AT&T.

If you want a carrier-specific phone, buy through Apple instead of directly through your carrier.

If you choose to purchase your iPhone directly from a carrier, it generally won't come unlocked. You need to wait 14 days to unlock your phone on AT&T, 40 days on T-Mobile, and a whopping 60 days on Verizon.

Our pick

iPhone SE (2020)

Packs a punch on a budget.

The iPhone SE combines the form factor of the iPhone 8 with the internals of the iPhone 11 at an affordable price, offering a phone with power and longevity for less.

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