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What Does it Mean to Have a Carrier-Locked iPhone?

Unlocking the world of carrier-locked iPhones

· 4 min read

If you’ve ever bought a new iPhone, or looking to make the switch to an iPhone, you may have come across the term “carrier-locked.” But what does it mean? In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of carrier-locked iPhones and explore what exactly it is, the implications, and the unlocking process.

lady looking serious

What does it mean to be carrier-locked?

Like its name suggests, a carrier-locked iPhone is when your device is tied to a specific mobile network provider. This means that when you purchase a carrier-locked iPhone, you are limited to using it exclusively with that carrier.

When you buy a carrier-locked iPhone, the device comes pre-configured to work only with the designated network. This is done by implementing software locks that restrict the use of SIM cards (or eSIMs) from other carriers. So, if you decide to switch to a different carrier, you’ll need to unlock your iPhone first.

So why would you get a carrier-locked iPhone?

If you purchase an iPhone from a telco, it could sometimes be carrier-locked so that the telcos can ensure that customers stay loyal to their network. By locking the iPhone, carriers hope to prevent users from switching to a competitor's network by making it much more convenient to stay put.

As a consumer, when you purchase a carrier-locked iPhone, you often get a significant discount on the upfront cost of the device. This is because carriers subsidize the cost of the iPhone in exchange for your commitment to their network.

It's worth noting that not all iPhones are carrier-locked. In some countries, it is illegal for carriers to sell locked devices. Additionally, Apple offers unlocked iPhones that can be used with any carrier. These unlocked iPhones are typically sold at full price, without any carrier subsidies. So, if you value the freedom to switch carriers whenever you want, an unlocked iPhone might be the better choice for you.

Limitations of a carrier-locked iPhone

One of the biggest downsides of a carrier-locked iPhone is that you can only use it with the designated carrier. Since a carrier-locked iPhone means that you will only be able to use SIMs or eSIMs from that carrier, it limits your options and freedom to switch carriers when you travel internationally. This also means that you wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the multi-eSIM capability on your iPhone, since you are limited to SIMs and eSIMs provided by that carrier.

man looking lost

Speaking of travel, having a carrier-locked iPhone can pose challenges when you're abroad. Since the phone is locked to your home carrier, you may find yourself paying exorbitant charges for international roaming or being unable to use a local SIM card or a travel eSIM plan provided by another carrier. This can be a major headache, not to mention a drain on your wallet.

Additionally, using a carrier-locked iPhone while traveling internationally means you are at the mercy of your home carrier's network coverage. If your carrier has limited coverage in certain regions or countries, you may find yourself without reliable service or even no service at all.

How do I know if my iPhone is carrier-locked?

To check if your iPhone is unlocked, go to Settings > General > About. If your iPhone is unlocked, "No SIM restrictions" appears next to Carrier Lock (or Network Provider Lock).

Settings Screenshot

Unlocking a Carrier-Locked iPhone

If you're feeling trapped by your carrier-locked iPhone, don't worry - there is a way out!

lady on a phone

The safest way to unlock your iPhone is to contact your carrier directly and inquire about their unlocking process. Carriers often have specific requirements that need to be met before they will unlock your device. If you choose to go through your carrier, you may need to complete your contract term or pay off any outstanding balances on your account. Once you meet these requirements, your carrier will provide you with the necessary instructions to unlock your iPhone.

After your carrier confirms that your iPhone is unlocked, verify that it has been unlocked by going to Settings > General > About. You should be able to see a “No SIM restrictions” label not to Carrier Lock if it has been successfully unlocked. If your device is running iOS 13 or earlier, you may have to restore your iPhone to factory settings for it to take effect - remember to backup your data before restoring your iPhone!

Once your iPhone is unlocked, you will then be able to change out your physical SIM to a SIM card provided by another carrier; or you could proceed to install and activate an eSIM that you have obtained from another carrier.

Not sure how to install and activate an eSIM? Read our blog post to learn more about how to install your eSIM - it's not complicated, really.

Jailbreaking or third-party services

If you wanted to unlock your iPhone without going through your carrier, there are third-party services out there that claim that they will be able to do so. Or if you wanted to unlock your phone yourself, a quick search on Google will yield some results. These results and methods typically involve jailbreaking of your phone so that you can take control of the device's kernel and functions.

Jailbreaking and installing of third-party software comes with its own risks, and we don't recommend or endorse doing so. But if you really wanted to give it a shot and are willing to take the risk, a quick search on how to jailbreak your device will give you your answers.

What can I do with a phone that is not carrier-locked?

A carrier-locked phone restricts the use of SIMs and eSIMs from other carriers and networks. Conversely, if your phone is not carrier-locked, you have the freedom to use and change out SIMs and eSIMs provided by any network, at any time.

Girl with phone

This is particularly useful when you are traveling, since this means you have the option of either picking up a local SIM at your destination, or to purchase a travel eSIM for a hassle-free solution to your data needs when you travel.

Nomad's Travel eSIMs

Nomad offers data plans in over 165 countries, and you can be sure to find one that is suitable for your travel needs. And if you will be traveling across multiple countries, there are also regional plans available so you can stay seamlessly connected as you hop between countries. Data plans are available from as low as $1.50/GB.