Unlocking your iPhone

Since there doesn’t seem to be an easy and straight through guide for unlocking your iPhone, thought I’d quickly throw something together.

Unlocking your iPhone is great. It allows you to put in other carrier’s SIM cards. This is great if your telco isn’t cutting it and wish to move networks and keep your phone. It’s also handy for when you travel; picking up an international SIM is much cheaper than using your local SIM card and then roaming overseas. Oh, and it increases the resale value; anybody on any carrier in the world can use it now!

Around the world, most telcos will allow you to unlock your iPhone. Here in Australia, all telcos will unlock a post-paid iPhone for free. If you’ve picked up an iPhone (3GS) prepaid, you’ll have to cough up an unlocking fee. Overseas, companies such as AT&T will only unlock your phone when you’re at the end of your contract (officially). Apple has a list of carriers that will unlock your iPhone on their website.

If you contact your carrier today, chances are they’ll tell you it may take a few days (up to 72 hours) for things to happen, and at that point you need to connect to iTunes and restore. However, as of iOS 5, and the new PC-free initiative and methods, unlocking has become much easier. There’s no need to do a great big backup, and then restore just to unlock your phone.

To quote Apple:

  1. Ensure that you’ve waited the recommended wait period provided by your carrier.
  2. Back up your iPhone.
  3. Erase the contents of your iPhone.
  4. Swap the old SIM card with the one for the new carrier.
  5. Complete the setup assistant and restore your backup.


  1. Restore your iPhone.
  2. Contact your carrier to verify that the unlock was applied in your carrier’s system.
After restoring in iTunes, you should get this message;

First up, you’ll need to ask your carrier to unlock your phone for you. They’ll just need your IMEI and possibly your account details to verify you own the phone. This method also requires WiFi access, or a computer with iTunes.

Next, throw in a ‘foreign’ SIM (eg, a SIM other than one from the carrier your phone is locked to. This can be any SIM, it doesn’t need to be activated. eg, if your phone is locked to Telstra, pick up a $2 SIM kit for Optus or Vodafone). You may need to flick your iPhone into Airplane Mode, or turn your phone back off and  on for it to recognise the new SIM.

You’ll then get this screen;

Confirming that your phone is locked, and requires another activation to download the new records with unlocking added. Slide to unlock, and you’ll find yourself in the setup wizard. Connect to WiFi (or iTunes if you have no WiFi) and your iPhone will phone home to confirm that it is unlocked.

Once this has done and you’re back at the homescreen, you’re in business! Your iPhone is unlocked and you’re now able to put any SIM card in. (If you’re not back here, you may need to contact your carrier to ensure that your request for unlocking has been processed)






My iPhone was showing SOS Only as I was using a $2 OPTUS sim that wasn’t activated. You can see by tapping on ‘Network’ that the SIM hasn’t been provisioned. You can also see that the iPhone knows it’s an Optus SIM by the ‘carrier’ field and version.

Done! Now your iPhone is unlocked without the hassle of dealing with iTunes, backing up and restoring again.

  1. a bit wired here. You said we have to wait for the time untill the contract ends to unlock, As you screens are long, i bet it’s an iPhone 5 and just out a few months ago, How can the contract be over ?

    1. Hey Arnold,
      Unlocking policies vary by carrier. AT&T in the US requires that your contract be over.
      Telstra here in Australia will unlock your handset at any time, even while during contract, which is why my iPhone 5 is unlocked.

      1. Ohh… I see…. i get it… 😀 vary according to carriers. Do you have or can you find a full list throughout the world carriers 😛

  2. Beau, can I just clarify something cos I feel like you missed a few steps in your explanation.

    I need to unlock my iPhone 4S from Telstra. I have contacted them about this & it’s done from their end. Now I’m at the point where I need to put the “foreign” (read Optus) SIM in. Do you actually HAVE to erase the contents of your phone, as per Apple’s dot point instructions? Or was the info you gave AFTER that the alternative option?

    I’m not terribly understanding of the tech side of things & I’m concerned I’ll lose everything, such as photos, contacts, calendars etc. (Even tho I’ve definitely done a backup to my computer thru iTunes.) things like “delete” & “restore to factory settings” are terrifying words for a novice!!

    1. Hey Pauline,
      No problem!

      As soon as you’ve asked Telstra to unlock your iPhone, and they’ve told you to wait 24-48 hours, then restore in iTunes…

      This (when you’re told to restore = pop foreign SIM in) is when you can pop your Optus/Vodafone/etc SIM in, iPhone will know it’s locked, and then offer to ‘reactivate’ over WiFi; a process that takes no more than a few minutes.

      This is much quicker (and less painful, even scary!) than having to backup, and restore in iTunes, and hope everything is exactly as you left it.

      hope this helps!

      1. Thanks! Now to get an old sim. Tried cutting one down last night but my cutting skills are obviously not that good – if didn’t recognise the sim was even installed. If I have any problems once I get one, I’ll be back! Lol

  3. Hi Beau,

    I want to unlock my iPhone 4 from Optus to give to someone else and I received a Puk Code which I plug in to unlock it but I restored it before I put the puk code in and now I cannot complete the activation because it needs a sim card… How am I supposed to enter my the code if I cannot actually get past the activation steps? Do I need to buy a cheap Optus sim card to put in to complete the restoration and then unlock it? It seems like I’ve done it the wrong way around


  4. For some reason i cant back up my iphone 4s at all ive tried everything but i want to unlock my phone do i NEED to erase all my contents and back up the files for it to be unlocked? Or is there a safe step where i can AVOID doing all of that?

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