If you've had an iPhone for more than a few years, you probably remember the days of having to sign a two-year agreement with a cell carrier in exchange for paying a lower cost for the iPhone itself.

The first cellular iPad changed that model. In what Apple at the time described as a "breakthrough," you no longer had to commit to a two-year cellular service plan for your iPad. Instead, you could turn cell service on and off monthly as you saw fit.

This same philosophy applies to the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular. You pay monthly to include the Apple Watch as a part of your existing iPhone cell plan. But what's different compared to the iPad is that the Watch and iPhone share the same phone number.

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So how can you exercise this relatively new-found freedom and change cell carriers? It depends on your iPad and iPhone's SIM card.

iPad Cellular Connections

All iPads with cellular capability have a SIM card tray. The tiny SIM card contained in the tray allows your iPad to connect to the internet via a cellular (rather than Wi-Fi) connection.

This SIM card can be either a carrier-specific card or an Apple SIM, which works with many carriers.

How can you tell which one you have? Firmly push a straightened paper clip or the SIM eject tool that came with your iPad into the little hole in the SIM card tray on the side of your iPad. The tray will pop out and you'll be able to see the label on the SIM card that identifies it as an Apple SIM or a carrier's SIM.

Switching carriers if your iPad has a carrier-specific SIM card

In this case, if you want to change to a different cell carrier, you'll need to visit the carrier's store and pick up a new SIM card for your iPad. Once you do that, you can set up cellular service right on the iPad.

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Cellular Data.

  3. Tap Manage Carrier Account.
  4. Pick an account option.
  5. Pick a data plan.

Switching carriers if your iPad has an Apple SIM

Apple created its own SIM card and the big news here is that it works with many—but not all—carriers. So if you have an Apple SIM and an iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, or iPad mini 3 or later and want to switch cell carriers, a SIM card swap might not be required.

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Cellular Data.

  3. Tap Set Up Cellular Data.
  4. Tap a carrier.
  5. Tap a data plan and provide existing account information or set up a new account with the carrier.

All iPad Pro models (except the original 12.9" size, issued in 2015) have both a SIM tray and an embedded Apple SIM. In that case, you'll see an entry for a data plan for the SIM card in the SIM tray, as well as the option to Add a New Plan for the built-in Apple SIM.

There are some limitations on the Apple SIM, and it's not available in all countries.

Switching carriers with Apple Watch

An Apple Watch with cellular connectivity shares its phone number with its paired iPhone. So to change the cell carrier for your Apple Watch, you have to change the cell carrier for your iPhone.

Your iPhone might be locked to your carrier. If so, contact your current carrier to get unlock instructions. Carriers often include these instructions on their website.

Once your iPhone is unlocked (or if unlocking wasn't necessary), replace your current SIM card with a SIM card from the new carrier and set up your iPhone again if need be.

Now use your iPhone to set up the new carrier on your Apple Watch.

  1. Tap Watch.
  2. Tap My Watch.
  3. Tap Cellular.

Your cellular service on your Apple Watch should automatically switch to the new carrier. If not:

  1. Tap the Info button next to your former carrier's name.
  2. Tap Remove Carrier Plan. This will remove the plan from your watch, but remember that you have to contact your carrier to cancel the plan.
  3. Tap My Watch to go back.

  4. Tap Cellular.
  5. Tap Set Up Cellular and follow the directions on the screen to pick a new plan from your new carrier.

How did it go for you?

Tell us about your experiences with switching carriers in the comments below.

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