I recently upgraded to the iPhone 4s from my 3gs. I do not want to sell my 3gs as I would like to keep it as a 32gb iPod essentially.

When I transfered to the 4s, they swapped my regular SIM for my new micro sim. No problems here. However, once I updated my 3gs to ios5, it requests that I need a SIM for activation, one I no longer have.

I am not sure how to go about this?

Note: I really don't want to go through the process of jailbreaking/unlocking my 3gs. I am familiar with it and know how it is done but do not wish to do so on this phone.

  • You either need a SIM from AT&T or will have to "hacktivate" it and that will require jailbreaking. There is no other workaround. Since you have eliminated the second option, and don't want to do the first, well, that leaves you with nothing. And a side note, unlocking your phone isn't required. Activation is a separate process altogether.
    – user10355
    Dec 20, 2011 at 3:41

3 Answers 3


I'm going out on a limb a bit but I think this might work. Notice all the disclaimers.

If you have a spare GSM phone, go to an AT&T store with it, buy a pre-paid SIM card, and have them activate it. Go home and swap the card into your 3GS. It should work immediately for voice and text. Data requires some extra steps but it doesn't sound like you care about that. My local store just gave me a SIM and activated it in my phone when I purchased a $10 credit. YMMV.

That said, I have not taken the next step of moving my card into an iPhone. I'm planning on buying an unlocked 4S but I'm working up the courage to pull the trigger on a big purchase that might not work out as expected.

Don't take your iPhone into the AT&T store as they don't support iPhones on prepay plans and "don't support" translates into they won't sell you the SIM.

If you don't have a spare GSM phone, you could buy a cheap, used one on eBay. You could also try buying a cheap AT&T GoPhone ($10 at Best Buy) and using the SIM from it but I've heard that the SIM card gets locked to the phone for 90 days after it's activated. I also hear that you can take the card out before turning the phone on, put it in your iPhone, and activiate it from the AT&T web site.

In theory, "don't support" could translate into actively blocking iPhones on the prepay plan at some point but no sign of it so far and once you get activated, you don't care anyway.

If you do this, let us know how it turns out.

  • Pssst! I've heard a rumour that they sell iPhones in countries other than the US. Some say websites like apple.stackexchange.com are also available there. To those of us in foreign lands this answer sounds a little parochial. :-) Dec 8, 2011 at 10:43

All you need is a SIM from the carrier for that phone. In the US, that mean AT&T for anything but a phone sold into VZW or Sprint.

It does not need to be in service or associated with a current account, just any SIM that is newer than the phone.

Worst case, order the cheapest prepaid SIM from AT&T with no data plan or pay someone with AT&T service currently to go ask / pay for a replacement SIM. They put that new sim in their phone and their old sim is deactivated. You use the deactivated one.

iTunes just checks for it to belong to the correct carrier if the device itself is currently locked to a specific carrier.

  • as my question states, I am looking for a solution to activate 'without' the proper SIM. I know getting a valid AT&T sim would work. It doesn't seem there is a workaround to this. Thanks anyway though!
    – JM4
    Dec 12, 2011 at 20:15
  • Sorry it's not of help to you - feel free to down vote it. You are aware that you have eliminated jailbreak (which means with no sim - proper or not, you can't get it activated) so I figured the answer of most use to everyone was to explain why a proper sim (or any sim for that matter) is needed for activation.
    – bmike
    Dec 12, 2011 at 21:45
  • no need for downvote here. I appreciate your willingness to try and help!
    – JM4
    Dec 13, 2011 at 21:21

Just buy a sim adapter, and put the micro sim that you have in the adapter which then will fit your 3GS. That will allow you to activate the phone. There is no need to buy another sim card, but (like others said) you do need a sim card.

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