How to Tell If Your iPhone Is Unlocked & What Does That Mean? (2021 Update)

Don't buy a used iPhone before you check if it's unlocked! If the iPhone you purchase is locked, you may be stuck with a phone service provider you don't want. Here's how to find an iPhone's IMEI and serial number, then check if the iPhone is unlocked.

Before buying a used iPhone, use one of these three ways to know if your iPhone is unlocked or locked. You can check if the iPhone is unlocked in Settings, with the SIM card, or using an online resource. We’ll go over each method, so you can check if your iPhone is unlocked. But, what does "unlocked phone" mean? An unlocked iPhone is not associated with any particular cellular service provider and can therefore connect to any carrier. Unlocked iPhones, when sold used, are worth more as well. Once we cover what it means when an iPhone is unlocked, we'll go over how to tell if your iPhone is unlocked or locked.

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How Do I Know If My Phone Is Unlocked? Three Ways to Check If Your iPhone Is Unlocked

There are lots of iPhone IMEI checkers online, and some of them show you if your iPhone is unlocked. I’ll recommend a resource that works to check if your iPhone is unlocked. However, some iPhones allow you to check if it’s unlocked from within settings. You can also use the SIM card from the iPhone to check if it’s unlocked. If you just need to check if your iPhone is unlocked, jump to the how-to. But if you have questions about what unlocked iPhone means, we’ll cover that next.

Related: Unlock My Phone! Buyers Guide to Used iPhones, Locked & Unlocked

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    What Does “Unlocked Phone” & "Locked Phone" Mean?

    An iPhone that’s unlocked can connect to any carrier. If your iPhone is unlocked, you could switch from Sprint to Verizon tomorrow and your same phone will work just fine. iPhones that have been completely paid for and bought directly from Apple are likely to be unlocked. But if you bought the iPhone through a carrier on a contract, the phone will be locked until the contract is over and paid in full. It’s also possible to buy a used, locked iPhone that becomes unlocked later on when the previous owner has finished their contract. That’s why it’s important to know whether the iPhone you’re buying is unlocked or not. So to recap:

    1. Locked iPhones are stuck with a carrier; unlocked iPhones are free to use with any carrier.
    2. Paid-for iPhones direct from Apple are usually unlocked.
    3. iPhones leased from a carrier will be locked for the duration of the lease.
    4. Unlocked iPhones will fetch more money when sold.

    Firstly, I want to say that you don’t necessarily need to do any of the following steps. You could call your current carrier and ask them if your iPhone is unlocked. If you’re considering buying a used phone and the phone’s current carrier won’t give you the info over the phone, your only option (aside from trusting the seller) is to try these steps. But otherwise, calling the carrier is definitely going to tell you if the iPhone is unlocked or not. The con of this method is the time it will take (no one likes spending an hour on the phone with customer service, I know), but it’s guaranteed to be accurate. Not interested? Alrighty then, let’s get into how to know if your iPhone is unlocked.

    Worried about the repercussions of using an unlocked iPhone, or have more questions? Check out the FAQ section for more information.

    How to Tell If Your iPhone Is Unlocked via Settings

    For this method, you’ll need to have the iPhone in question powered on and unlocked (the other kind—enter the four or six-digit code to access the phone, if needed). To check your device-unlock status:

    1. Open the Settings app on the iPhone.
    2. Select General.
    3. Tap About.


       
    4. Scroll to the bottom and look for Carrier Lock. If it says No SIM restrictions, then your iPhone is unlocked and you're free to use any carrier or cell service. If it says anything else, then it is probably locked.


       

    However, this isn't quite the end of the story, since some users report that this information isn't displayed in their About page in Settings. If that's the case for you, check out one of the other methods detailed below.

    How to Check If Your iPhone Is Unlocked with the SIM Card

    This method requires you to have two SIM cards from different carriers. If you don’t have two SIM cards, you could test this out by borrowing one from a friend’s phone.

    1. Power off your iPhone.
    2. Use a straightened paperclip to open the SIM card tray, then remove the current SIM card.
    3. Place the SIM card of a different carrier (must be same size) into the SIM card tray of the iPhone. Push the tray back into place.
    4. Power the iPhone on.
    5. Now, try to make a call to any working number.
    6. If you get an error message that the call cannot be completed, then your iPhone is locked. If you’re able to connect and make the call, then your iPhone is definitely unlocked.

    If you’re still unsure, try using one of the two online tools I recommend below.

    How to Check If Your iPhone Is Unlocked with a Free Online Tool

    There are quite a few online tools that allow you to check if your phone is unlocked using the IMEI number; however, the vast majority want you to pay about three dollars to get the info. I found one free tool, though.  First, find your IMEI and serial numbers on your iPhone. To do this:

    1. Open the Settings app.
    2. Select General.

      iphone settings app
       
    3. Tap About, and then scroll down until you find the IMEI number.
    4. If you have an iPhone X or later, you may notice a second IMEI listing, you’ll need that too.
    5. Finally, make note of your iPhone’s Serial number.


       
    6. Now visit this website: https://imeicheck.com/simlock-iphone, preferably on a computer.
    7. Enter the IMEI number you just found with no spaces.
    8. Enter your iPhone’s Serial Number, then click Check.
    9. You will need to solve the captcha to prove you’re not a robot.
    10. Then the website will present you with an information card. Look for Lock Status. As you can see in the image, it shows that my iPhone is Unlocked.

      iphone imei check

    Unlocked iPhone FAQs

    1. Can a Factory Unlocked iPhone Be Updated with Software Updates?

    Yes! If an iPhone was officially unlocked by Apple or by a phone service carrier, Techwalla says Apple will still recognize it and the phone can be updated. If an unlocked iPhone was not officially unlocked, it's considered "jailbroken" and can't be updated... at least not without serious risk of bricking the phone.

    2. What’s the Difference between Unlocking and Jailbreaking an iPhone?

    A phone that is sold by Apple without association with a cellular service provider will generally come factory unlocked, which means it's not tied to a carrier but is officially supported and can be updated. An officially unlocked iPhone is one that has been unlocked by a carrier, and done so in a way that ensures Apple will still support the device for updates.

    An iPhone that's been manually unlocked by a user to untether the iPhone from a service provider is considered jailbroken, and is not eligible for iOS updates and other support.

    3. Are Factory Unlocked iPhones Fake or Unsafe?

    If you're purchasing an iPhone from Apple that is unlocked, it's safe! Apple sells these iPhones without locking them to a service provider because it allows the company to sell iPhones directly, and users can still use them with cellular carriers.

    On the other hand, buying an iPhone from an unauthorized vendor that claims the phone is "factory unlocked" does carry the risk that the device will be unsafe or not legitimately unlocked.

    4. Is It Legal to Unlock My iPhone Myself?

    According to Macworld, "it's completely legal to unlock your iPhone if you've finished paying for your contract or you purchased it outright unsubsidized." If you're still in the process of paying off your phone or you have other reasons to be beholden to the carrier, it's definitely a good idea to check with your carrier prior to unlocking your iPhone.

    5. What Is the Disadvantage of Unlocking an iPhone?

    The main disadvantage of buying an unlocked phone in the first place is the price—unlocked iPhones cost more than locked ones. If you already own an iPhone that you want to unlock, the main disadvantages of unlocking your phone yourself are potential loss of support from your service provider and Apple, including software updates. That said, if you get your iPhone unlocked by your carrier, the risks are low. Lifewire also notes that unlocking a phone yourself may void the warranty, so it's important to consider these issues prior to doing so.

    6. Will Apple Unlock an iPhone I Already Own?

    Unfortunately, no. Apple allows cellular carriers to do this, though, so you can check with your carrier to see if they'll unlock it for you!

    Top image credit: hurricanehank / Shutterstock.com

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    Author Details

    Conner Carey's picture

    Author Details

    Conner Carey

    Conner Carey's writing can be found at conpoet.com. She is currently writing a book, creating lots of content, and writing poetry via @conpoet on Instagram. She lives in an RV full-time with her mom, Jan and dog, Jodi as they slow-travel around the country.