Best answer: Buying your iPhone XS or XS Max SIM-free is the most straightforward, hassle-free way of getting a new unlocked iPhone. However, if you can't swing the up-front cost, you still have plenty of options.
Apple: iPhone Xs ($999)
Buying your iPhone XS SIM-free is the most straightforward option
Your most straightforward option for getting an unlocked iPhone XS 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 XS up front.
Unlike the iPhone X last year, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max come with the SIM-free option out of the gate, so you won't even have to take advantage of any deals or jump through any hoops. You can just buy your phone directly from Apple, and you'll be set.
Keep in mind that you'll be paying the full price for your iPhone Xs up front, which starts at $999 for the 64GB model, while the 256GB model comes in at $1,149, and the 512GB version at $1,349. Those prices are even higher for the iPhone Xs Max, which as the name implies is a much bigger phone. If you can swing these prices, go ahead and do it. However, if you're looking for a solution that's a little more…financially manageable, there are some other options of which you should be aware.
iPhone Upgrade Program: cheaper up front, AppleCare+ included
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, with a $4.17 per month add-on available for AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss. iPhone Upgrade Program payments for the iPhone Xs start at $49.91 for the 64GB model, while the iPhone Xs Max's payments start at $54.08 per month for the same storage capacity.
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint customers can enroll in the program online and in the Apple Store app. In fact, if you use the Apple Store app right now and plan to use the iPhone Upgrade Program, you can get pre-approval on your desired model.
Note that because this is a financing plan based on installment payments, Apple and its partner, Citizens One, will need to perform a credit check in order to determine your eligibility for the program.
If you buy your iPhone Xs or iPhone Xs Max 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:
We do not lock most phones or tablets that are activated with our postpay service, either during or after the term of your service contract or Device Payment Plan installment sales agreement.
We do not lock our 4G LTE devices, and no code is needed to program them for use with another carrier.
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 we're primarily focusing 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.
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