How do I unlock a used iPhone?

Buying a used iPhone is a lot different than buying one brand new. If you pick up your phone from the Apple store, you're able to insert a SIM or micro SIM from any carrier and away you go. But, what happens when you buy a used, locked phone? Is the phone tied to that carrier forever?

No. A locked iPhone simply means the phone is associated (or "locked" in) with a specific cell phone carrier, like Verizon or AT&T. This means that only a SIM card from that carrier will work.

Years ago, unlocking your iPhone was a lot simpler than the process required today; if you're looking to unlock a used iPhone in 2016, it's recommended that you go through your mobile carrier. Back then, all you needed to do was visit a tech-savvy friend of a friend or enter the right unlock code in a certain order and you were free!

As technology has advanced, sites that specialized in providing these codes, like Trycktill and NokiaFree became useless and taking your phone to get unlocked by a friend of a friend became a lot more challenging than the days the iPhone 3G roamed the planet.

So here are a few tips to take the stress out of unlocking your used iPhone!

Do I have to pay to unlock my iPhone?

It totally depends on the carrier. Some only charge if the device doesn't meet all their requirements (for example, T-Mobile states, "The device must be a T-Mobile device, the device must not be reported as lost, stolen or blocked to T-Mobile, the account associated with the device must not be cancelled and is in good standing, etc."), while others only unlock certain iPhone models (here's lookin' at you, Sprint!).

Check out Apple's wireless carrier support and features map to learn about the different carrier policies in your country.

Is there any way I can do this from home?

Well, yes and no.

While older phones allowed their users to simply enter an unlock code without any major changes to the phone's software, the process nowadays is a bit different.

Try calling your carrier (or visiting their website) and requesting an unlock. This could take a few days to process.

If your carrier decides to unlock your phone and you have your SIM card ready, then you can go ahead and remove your old SIM card and complete the setup process.

If you're still really stuck, just bring your iPhone into your local carrier store.

What's an IMEI number and do I need it?

IMEI simply stands for International Mobile Station Equipment Identity — every phone has one! The IMEI number is used to identify valid devices, so if you call to ask about unlocking your phone, be sure to have your IMEI number ready so the process can move a bit faster.

To find your IMEI number, go to Settings, then General, then About. Scroll a bit and you'll see the IMEI number near the bottom.

But my carrier refuses to unlock my used phone! I've heard about jailbreaking...

If your carrier decides not to unlock your used phone for whatever reason and you still really want to unlock your iPhone, then you can engage in the somewhat controversial process of jailbreaking, which works by removing software restrictions imposed by iOS.

A fair warning, though: doing so completely voids your phone's warranty, gets you locked out of iOS updates, and can completely brick your phone if you're not careful.

For a more detailed explanation about your individual carrier's unlock process, check out our other articles on imore.com! Good luck!

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