How to Unlock an AT&T iPhone in 5 Easy Steps (If You’re Lucky)

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

On Sunday, AT&T let go of its SIM-locked hold on iPhone users, allowing them to unlock their handsets for use with other wireless carriers.

To unlock an AT&T iPhone, the device needs to be off-contract. For most users, that means owning the phone for more than two years, but you can also get out of an existing contract by paying an early termination fee. Also, your account must be in good standing with AT&T to be eligible for an unlock.

(MORE: 50 Best iPhone Apps)

Unlocking an iPhone allows you to use SIM cards from local wireless carriers when traveling abroad, which are usually cheaper than paying for international coverage from AT&T. You can also use the phone on other GSM carriers in the United States, such as T-Mobile, although data speeds will be slower, and you can’t use an unlocked AT&T iPhone on Verizon Wireless or Sprint.

I have an old iPhone 3GS that’s no longer in day-to-day use, so I decided to give the unlock process a whirl. Here’s what you need to do to unlock yours:

1. Look up your iPhone’s IMEI number

Go to Settings, then “General,” then “About,” and you’ll find the IMEI number listed near the bottom. Write it down. If you’re on a family plan, you’ll also need the last four digits of the main account holder’s social security number.

2. Contact AT&T by phone, on the web or in person

Dial (800) 331-0500, or 611 from an AT&T phone, or visit the carrier’s online support page for Wireless Support Chat. I tried both methods at the same time, and got through by phone first. When the system asks what phone number you’re calling about, you can give your current number even if you’re unlocking a different phone.

3. Tell AT&T you want to unlock your out-of-contract iPhone

Provide your IMEI number and be patient during the unlock process.. You’ll also have to provide an e-mail address, where AT&T sends the unlock instructions.

4. Wait for AT&T’s e-mail

For me, the e-mail arrived a couple minutes after getting off the phone, but other users have reported much longer waits. PCWorld’s Ed Oswald was told to wait eight days, and an Apple Insider forum-goer was told to wait five to seven business days.

5. When the e-mail arrives, back up and restore your iPhone in iTunes

Open iTunes on a computer that’s connected to the Internet. Make sure your iPhone has an active SIM card in it, then plug it into iTunes. Sync it with iTunes, then right-click on the device under the “Devices” column on the left side of the screen, and click “Back Up.” Once that’s finished, right-click on the device and select “Restore from Backup.”

If all goes well, you should get the following message in iTunes: “Unlock Complete. Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked. To set up and sync this iPhone, click Continue.” At this point, you should be able to insert SIM cards from other carriers.

For me, the unlock didn’t go smoothly. After backing up and restoring my phone, iTunes didn’t confirm the unlock. I tried doing a full restore, but that sent me back to the iPhone’s activation setup, which wouldn’t go through since I don’t have a spare SIM card and tray for the phone. I called AT&T back, and they said my unlock failed, and that someone would follow up with me in a couple of days. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

(UPDATE: An AT&T rep later told me that you must have an active SIM card in the iPhone in order for the unlock to go through. Added this information to the instructions above. If your iPhone no longer has a  SIM card tray, which covers up the thin slot at the top of the handset, you can buy one on Amazon for about $1, plus an eject tool if you don’t want to use a paper clip.)

My advice: If you’re planning to travel abroad and would like to use your old iPhone, unlock it well ahead of time. Better to sort out any potential headaches now than get stuck without your precious smartphone.

(MORE: Is Apple’s $649 No-Contract, ‘Unlocked’ iPhone Worth It?)

83 comments
tomissojade
tomissojade

I am happy with this new legislation. I finally took the leap to have my phone unlocked. Got the unlock completed in less than a day at: http://www.iphonefort-mobile.com/


So happy that I can now use my iPhone on other carriers.

zioo
zioo

Does anyone know if those ppl on ebay will be back who charge less then $5 to unlock iphones ??? 

MichealRoger
MichealRoger

I was trying to get my AT&T iPhone 5 unlocked from last 2 months. I tried my luck with iphoneattunlock.com and they got my phone unlocked within 5 business days via Express service. I also checked their reviews on Trustpilot before ordering to make sure that they are a legit company. http://trustpilot.com/review/www.iphoneattunlock.com


Give them a shot and i am sure that you will not be disappointed. I am posting this so people don't end up using some scam service. 

aasenwju417
aasenwju417

Hello folks, if you are a user of ATT and want to unlock any in-contract devices, you can check out attiphoneunlocking.com, its the site i have been using for years, you might want to check it out

JakeNJulieAinsworth
JakeNJulieAinsworth

Please help. ....Can u buy a used at&t iphone that the previous owner dud not complete contract nor pay their etf and use that phone on your att plan?

eltieone
eltieone

AT&T will only unlock phones that were previously activated on their system and not blacklisted. I had purchased a never been activated 3GS that was brand new in a box. I was denied the unlock because it never showed up on my account.  I was told by an employee of At&T wireless, that it's possible to unlock it later if the phone was used in my account for a while. Than I can request an unlock.

As for everyone posting Unlocking  websites. I have yet to find one that does not charge over $50. It may be worth it to some but I think anything over $20 is a rip off, IMHO.

smithlee
smithlee

After reading some of the comments here, i decided to use http://iphoneattunlock.com/ and used super fast 24 to 48 hours unlocking service. Within 24 hours i got the Email which contained unlock confirmation and they told me that i need to connect to iTunes and do a restore in order to complete the process. I did this and my 5S was unlocked. 


angry1234
angry1234

Hello,


Please don’t use http://www.attiphoneunlocking.com/. They are very unreliable and not worth using to unlock your iphone. After placing an order for over 1 month, they didn’t bother to contact and share any updates. People don’t tie your money down with attiphoneunlocking.


Also, they are deleting the feedback of people from their facebook page, so please be careful


Thanks
Concerned citizen

tunde
tunde

please, can someone send me an account i can use to unlock my 3gs on att web or help me do it directly? i would be grateful to hear back from you. Thanks. bahmedlive.com imei 012266005157386. Thanks.

JasonC1
JasonC1

What do you do when AT&T OUTRIGHT REFUSES to unlock the iPhone you purchased directly from them?

OliverTime
OliverTime

OK, so now that I've read the update, I know I messed up by going through the steps with my wife's old and deactivated AT&T SIM card in there. What now? I have a seemingly semi-unlocked phone that works for calls and SMS with an Airvoice SIM card, but doesn't do MMS or cellular Web browsing, and doesn't have the "Cellular Network" radio button in Settings that in a truly unlocked phone would let me configure it to do so. Doing another restore, this time with an active SIM card, does not seem to have fixed the problem. 

jamesthewithehead
jamesthewithehead

For all the people out there that want to unlock their AT&T phones, you can google attiphoneunlocking, they are able to unlock all the model and firmware up to date

mobmanigroups
mobmanigroups

I also got my iphone unlock at 


gooo. asia/iphoneunlock

NicolasAnderson
NicolasAnderson

i just got my iphone unlocked at www.officialimeiunlock .(com)

SamanthaCrowne
SamanthaCrowne

I had an AT&T iPhone 5 that I needed unlocked so I found a website that did it for me. I got my iPhone unlocked at iphonefort-mobile .(com) 

The factory unlock was done super fast.

mackiebejamin
mackiebejamin

If any of you guys want to unlock phones locked to AT&T, go google attiphoneunlocking, took me about 2 hours to unlock my 5

DanielDorilas
DanielDorilas

my iPhone 5 at&t was unlocked fr only 17$ on the instant at&t unlock provide by wejustunlock.com

lowstephanie87
lowstephanie87

For the people having trouble unlocking their ATT devices, you can check out attiphoneunlocking for help, they can unlock all ATT device up to date

dhunt706
dhunt706

Thanks, Jared!  These instructions basically worked for me today.  I called AT&T, told the girl I had a 2 year old Iphone 4 my ex had given me for our daughter to use, but that I was with TMobile.  (Actually I'm going to use another TMobile based MVNO called Lycamobile.) And could she please unlock it.  I schmoozed her a little by telling her how I'd just gotten AT&T UVerse and was so happy with it. (Which is true.)  She got the IMEI number and I waited a couple of minutes, and she said OK, now just get on iTunes and do a back up and restore (with the old inactive SIM card in it).  It took me a minute to figure out where those commands were, but after I did both of them, and it took maybe a 1/2 hour, we were good to go!  I put my Lycamobile SIM in, and it recognized it and I then followed the steps to activate it.  My daughter now has some minutes and unlimited texts for 16 a month.  We are haaaappy!!!

castrejonwarren
castrejonwarren

if you have an ATT iphone and ATT doesn't unlock for you, you can go check out attiphoneunlocking, they can unlock all ATT devices, I unlocked 2 of mine already.

HassanAli
HassanAli

My carrier wasn't AT&T but I had an AT&T iPhone 5 so I found a website unlockforcheap .(com) 

They got the job done quickly and for cheap the two things I was looking for

igorstokowski
igorstokowski

If anyone wants to unlock any phone with carrier ATT, go check out attiphoneunlocking, took me about 2 hours to unlock my 4s.

abui94
abui94

Hello, there is one thing confuses me about this article is that you said we use "Restore Backup..." option to unlock the phone or "Restore iPhone..."? I am currently using iTunes 11

florian9011
florian9011

Well, there are people who doesn't want to wait for the ATT service, or need to unlock the ATT phone asap, in such circumstance, use a online unlock is the fastest for sure, after trying so many, attiphoneunlocking is not doubt the best I have ever use, at least the most reliable.

BlaineA.Burnett
BlaineA.Burnett

anyone saying AT&T cant/wont unlock phones anymore and you can only do it at the website, you are wrong. its all a matter of getting the right rep. be calm and polite. call back and get another rep if necessary. just unlocked mine via customer service today. took 4 calls but i finally got the "right" guy. 

JakeVolmer
JakeVolmer

Called AT&T yesterday to unlock an out-of-contract iPhone 3G.  Had no problems/hassles from them.  It's a 3G though, so who really cares?  It's going up on eBay.

tomstrong99
tomstrong99

attiphoneunlocking mentioned by patryk is surely a good site, paid only 2hours ago, and my phone is unlocked now already.

PaulRoyce
PaulRoyce

@iPhoneUnlock Thanks a lot man. I was looking to unlock my AT&T iPhone from few days. I was lucky that i found this service. It unlocked my device remotely by using my phone imei number within 6 hours. 

abui94
abui94

@dhunt706 They actually don't have service in San Jose where I live. Probably have to look for another carrier.

abui94
abui94

@dhunt706 I just looked up Lycamobile and saw that they have very good plans! What a bargain! Thanks for the suggestion!

dhunt706
dhunt706

@abui94  hi there, I just got an iPhone 4 fixed today and at first I was confused by this too.  I did the wrong restore at first because it only took a couple of minutes and nothing really happened.  So I tried the Restore iPhone button and that was the big one that took a while.  But I got the message "Your phone is unlocked" at the end!  Did call AT&T first and got a very nice lady to help me. More details on my other post.  good luck! 

abui94
abui94

@dhunt706 @abui94 Hey there, I actually figured it out like a couple hours after that. Thanks very much though!