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I called AT&T and asked them to unlock my iPhone 4 for international travel. They agreed. The support agent created a case, gave me the case identifier, and gave me an expected resolution date of April 18, 2012. Today (April 13, 2012), I received an email with a link to the unlock instructions.

The instructions I received are:

  1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have internet connectivity.
  2. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.
  3. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414.
  4. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked. Additional information on unlocking can be found at http://support.apple.com/kb/TS3198.

I completed these steps, however, according to TS3198, I should've seen this message from iTunes: "Unlock Complete. Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked. To set up and sync this iPhone, click Continue." I did not get a separate dialog window (as anticipated) with this message. If the message appeared within the iTunes window, I must have missed it.

TS3198 lists these troubleshooting steps:

  1. Reseat the SIM card: Remove the SIM card in your iPhone and then reinsert it.
  2. Restore your iPhone. Note that the computer you are using to restore the iPhone needs to be connected to the Internet. You can verify the connection by loading the first page of the iTunes Store.
  3. Contact your carrier to verify that the unlock was applied in their system.

I've already completed steps 1 and 2, but still have not seen a message from iTunes stating that the phone is unlocked. After I post this question, I will perform step 3.

I do not have an iPhone 4 sim on another network available to test with my phone, but I need to make sure that this unlocking is complete before I travel to another country.

Is there some persistent indication in the iTunes or iPhone user interface that will tell me whether or not this phone is unlocked?

Sequence of events

  • April 10, 5pm: I called AT&T and requested unlocking.
  • April 13, 10am: AT&T emailed me instructions for unlocking.
  • April 13, 2pm: I completed the steps for unlocking but did not see any confirmation message as expected. I completed steps 1 and 2 of the TS3198 troubleshooting steps.
  • April 13, 4pm: I called AT&T to request confirmation of unlocking (attempting to complete step 3 of the TS3198 troubleshooting steps). Agent stated I did not complete the necessary steps and would need an unlock code. (below, bmike indicates this advice was incorrect.)
  • April 13, 6pm: AT&T emailed me instructions for unlocking, which match the instructions I received earlier in the day.
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I spoke to another support agent today. He stated that I should've completed a step where I enter an unlock code through the phone keypad. I read my instructions back to him, and he stated that I would receive another email in a couple days with an unlock code and further unlock instructions. –  bneely Apr 13 '12 at 23:22
    
Hmmm, now (April 13 @ 6pm local time) I got another email from AT&T containing unlock instructions -- the same instructions as I listed above. I think I need to call back and talk to a support agent who can determine whether or not my first attempt was successful (as mentioned in the comment thread below with bmike). –  bneely Apr 14 '12 at 1:11
    
Update: I performed the restore as instructed again today, and received no notification from my iPhone or from iTunes that the unlock was successful. It looks like I'll have to call AT&T yet again, when I have the time. –  bneely Apr 25 '12 at 19:32
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8 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No, you do not have to enter any sort of unlock code for any iPhone unlock event.

iTunes contacts the registration database when a phone is restored to determine the lock status and set the appropriate carrier settings file if needed.

So, in your case one of two things has happened.

  1. The database that Apple / iTunes consult hasn't been updated for your IMEI.
  2. You missed the unlock message and your phone is actually ready to be unlocked.

The unlock happens when you restore your device - either as an over the air (OTA) activation or tethered to iTunes.

enter image description here

The carrier should be able to query the live database to see if your IMEI is unlocked or you could try getting another cheap SIM (or borrowing a friend's SIM) and just testing the phone yourself. If you restore the phone twice after it gets unlocks, you will not see this message - but you should get it when it's first unlocked.

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So the first set of unlock instructions I received from AT&T were correct. The agent claimed his system wasn't able to check to see if my unlock was successful. Perhaps (before seeking out a sim to borrow) I should call AT&T back and make sure I speak to someone more familiar with wireless and iPhone issues. –  bneely Apr 13 '12 at 23:33
    
Well - they are really busy - so it can take a day or so (at times) to followup on the requests that were made but didn't go through. Unless it's been two days since the request, I wouldn't bother them unless you have a pressing need to travel NOW. –  bmike Apr 13 '12 at 23:36
    
I called to request unlocking on April 10. I have no reason to wait -- they emailed the instructions to me and stated that my case was completed. –  bneely Apr 14 '12 at 0:48
    
If unlock is successful, what should show under Settings > General > About > Carrier? –  duozmo Nov 25 '12 at 21:26
    
@bneely, were you finally successful? –  jmfsg Dec 4 '12 at 0:41
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There is one crucial step missing, after you backup your phone you must restore it. This puts it in factory fresh condition briefly and completes the unlock.

After you do this and if AT&T approved unlocking your iPhone, then you will see the message indicating that your iPhone has been unlocked. You can then restore from your backup to bring back all the settings and data.

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+1, I got the message when I restored to factory settings too. –  Kalamane Sep 28 '12 at 0:31
    
+1, without this step, I saw no message. With it, everything worked and I saw the unlock message. –  mpstx Sep 28 '12 at 2:01
    
+1, I was not receiving the message until I reset to factory settings on my phone, then plugged into iTunes. The "Your phone is now unlocked" message showed up in iTunes before I even had to restore. –  Idris Mokhtarzada Oct 10 '12 at 20:33
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I went through the unlock process in the same way that @bneely did. I didn't see any messages confirming the unlock either. I live in England with an American iPhone and I can confirm that AT&T did unlock my phone and I can now use any SIM I like.

First, the agent that told you that you would need an unlock code is absolutely wrong. There are no codes.

Second, if you got the email from AT&T then you are unlocked. Their system automatically sends that email when they've updated the database on their end. All you need to do at that point is connect to your computer and restore your iPhone.

Lastly, I wouldn't trust what AT&T agents do or do not report to you. If you need your phone to work abroad, test it yourself -- borrow a SIM from someone and see whether it works in your iPhone. My impression from your post is that your phone is indeed unlocked already.

(ps +1 for a detailed and clear history of what you've tried!)

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Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am going to track down a friend who has an iPhone sim card with another carrier. –  bneely Apr 30 '12 at 22:56
    
I don't think it specifically needs to be an iPhone SIM, certainly in England our iPhone now works with any SIM. We just used the SIM from a regular inexpensive phone, as all we wanted was telephone connectivity (i.e. we don't have a data plan at present). –  Ash May 1 '12 at 10:50
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After I received the "unlock" message, I did the restore for 3 times and did not get the "congratulations" message. On the 4th attempt, I did. In the 4th attempt, the only thing I did different was to remove the SIM card before I started the restore. Then iTunes did the restore, and at the end, it asked me to reinsert the SIM. So I unplugged the phone from the computer, inserted the old, deactivated AT&T SIM, and plugged the phone back in. Lo and behold, I got the "congratulations, your phone is unlocked" message.

Note that the SIM I inserted was bot an active AT&T SIM. It had been deactivated because I had switched to iPhone 5.

The exact same story is true for my roommate as well. So that 4th attempt is what seems to work.


This worked for me as well with the old AT&T SIM card from the original phone, not a new SIM or a SIM from another carrier. Restored without a SIM card installed, at the end of restore, the phone screen instructed to insert a SIM card. Then, removed sync cord, inserted card, phone appeared to turn off. When I reinserted the sync cord, the "congratulations, your phone is unlocked message" appeared on iTunes. Previous attempts to follow instructions from AT&T did not work.

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  1. Make sure that a non-AT&T sim card is in your phone.
  2. Plug it into your computer until iTunes recognizes it and unplug it right away.
  3. Wait 10 seconds and then plug it back in.
  4. You should get a message saying "Congratulations your phone has been unlocked".

That's what I did. I didn't even restore my phone.

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Thanks. That was hard to do before my trip, since the plan was to acquire the SIM card when I arrived. –  bneely Sep 27 '12 at 23:07
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Here's how to unlock your iPhone with a single SIM (updated for iOS 7):

  • If your locked AT&T iPhone is near its contract expiration go here
  • Fill out the form, ignore the AT&T Account Passcode and click "Submit"
  • In a few minutes you'll receive an email confirmation from AT&T that says "We have reviewed your request and confirmed that the device may be unlocked."
  • Wait 24 hours before proceeding to the next steps
  • If you have another carrier contact them to unlock your iPhone when your contract has ended
  • On your iPhone tap Settings
  • Scroll down and tap iCloud
  • Disable Find My iPhone
  • Remove your iPhone's SIM (you can use a straightened paperclip or push pin)
  • Connect your iPhone to your computer's USB cable
  • In iTunes under "Backups" > "Automatically Back Up" click "This computer" (not "iCloud")
  • Click "Back Up Now"
  • In the menu bar click "File" > "Devices" > "Transfer Purchases from 'your iPhone'"
  • Click "Restore iPhone" (not "Restore Backup") and click "Restore"
  • iTunes will display the message "There is no SIM card installed in the iPhone you are attempting to activate. Please disconnect and insert a SIM card in the iPhone."
  • Disconnect your iPhone from the USB cable
  • Insert your iPhone's SIM
  • Wait a minute for your iPhone to display the "Hello" message
  • If it's still stuck on the "No SIM Card Installed" message power off and power on your iPhone
  • Connect your iPhone to your computer's USB cable
  • iTunes will display the message "Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked."
  • Click "Continue"
  • Ensure "Restore from this backup" is checked and click "Continue"
  • Wait about an hour for the restore to complete
  • On your iPhone tap Settings
  • Scroll down and tap iCloud
  • Enable Find My iPhone

Enjoy your new carrier options :D

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The person that posted about removing the SIM on the 4th try is a Godsend! First of all, AT&T does not specify what type of restore you must do. It leads, me at least, to believe you restore from the backup you just took. No: you must use the restore to original settings option. Once I did a restore to original settings with no SIM card inserted, disconnected from iTunes, re-inserted the SIM (the original deactivated SIM) then reconnected to iTunes. Congratulations, your phone is unlocked.

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Is isn't needed at all to unlock phones. I wonder if a cup of tea would be the same as removing the sim, but perhaps there are more than one issue at play? –  bmike Oct 6 '12 at 21:23
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I believed using non-AT&T sim card is another way to unlock. This same instruction applied to my Samsung S2.

In fact there are three ways to unlock. Unlock code is another one.

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No iPhone uses an unlock code. Also, putting in non AT&T sim doesn't unlock an iOS device. Are you guessing or speaking from a point of experience? –  bmike Oct 6 '12 at 21:25
    
-1; if this is a guess, as @bmike speculated, it should be removed. –  Blacklight Shining Oct 10 '12 at 7:16
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protected by bmike Oct 6 '12 at 21:24

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