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Apple’s Official iPhone 3G Unlock

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While most iPhone users are aware of unofficial unlock methods, you may be surprised to discover that it’s possible to legally unlock your device, courtesy of Apple (s aapl).


The above image is the not-often-seen official unlock notification, as displayed in iTunes. The dialogue succinctly confirms that the user’s iPhone, in this case a 3G, has been unlocked and can now be used on any carrier. Note the Apple logo at the top left — this is a result of an official unlock sanctioned by Apple.

Read on to find out how I legally unlocked my iPhone 3G.

In June, while over 1 million early adopters in the U.S. picked up their brand new iPhone 3GS devices, I was anxiously waiting for the official launch in my current country of residence, Finland. I picked up my iPhone 3GS in Helsinki just two weeks ago, when it was finally launched by Sonera.

Regarding Sonera, think of it as a less-repugnant version of AT&T. As the exclusive distributor of the iPhone over in Finland, Sonera has turned out to be a somewhat benevolent carrier. The carrier’s unlimited data plan is reasonably priced, and home hacking your iPhone to tether to your Macbook is positively encouraged.

And now I’ve discovered that Sonera is also happy to lend a helping hand in unlocking your old iPhone 3G. When the 3G was released last year, Sonera customers had to sign up for a two-year contract. When upgrading to the iPhone 3GS, those same customers are given the option to pay off the remainder of their original 3G contract. Paying off the contract, and thus completing the two years prematurely, entitles the customer to have their iPhone 3G unlocked.

The helpful assistant at the Sonera store made a note of my IMEI number and then passed it onto his boss — after that there’s a special piece of software that only his boss is authorized to use. This mystical application submits the IMEI to Apple, which in turn authorizes the device for unlocking.

I was advised that when the iPhone 3G was next synced with iTunes, it would be unlocked. Minutes later, back at home, I connected the iPhone 3G to iTunes and received a new carrier settings update. After downloading and installing the update, Apple’s official iPhone unlock screen appeared.

Going the legit route was a much more painless process than using a proxy SIM or the Dev Team’s unofficial unlock. Also worth noting is that, unlike some of the illicit approaches, this unlock is permanent: I’ll be able to keep updating the iPhone’s OS without losing the ability to use any carrier SIM in the device.

It was a surprisingly quick, easy and free unlock for me, although I’d be very interested to find out if any of our readers around the world have had similar success in unlocking their iPhones.

406 Responses to “Apple’s Official iPhone 3G Unlock”

  1. Hello Olly,

    I just made my first contract with Sonera here in Lahti. The Iphone 3gs is on its way, it’s said to take four weeks, two weeks more for me at this point. I wonder if it will work for me too. Mind that I did not previously have a contract at Sonera! For now I have the 1,99€ a month contract for one year as I have no idea about my “calling behavior” at all. So if I pay the phone and the remaining 1,99 times 12 I should be fixed, right? As I travel on a regular bases it would totally benefit me!

  2. Here at Brazil there is a law which forces cellphone operators to sell SIM-unlocked phones.
    Since then, there is a way to unlock the iphone if you want, and it has pretty much the same steps described in this post.

  3. It’s interesting to see how surprising that procedure appears to people in the US. In my country (Switzerland), mobile phones are sold without SIM-Lock in most cases. However, the iPhone is only available SIM-locked through either Swisscom or Orange (the two official carriers of the iPhone).

    But it is possible, to buy the iPhone without a contract and have the network carrier remove the SIM Lock right after purchase free of charge (if you pay the full price for the phone). Although I’m a Swisscom customer (better coverage), I’m currently using an officially unlocked Orange iPhone 3GS and I have done it before with the iPhone 3G.

    If you buy the phone in a shop and ask them to remove the SIM Lock, they will tell you that it will take 2-3 working days. Actually, the only thing they have to do is to transmit your phone’s IMEI to Apple. And the next time you connect your phone to iTunes (with internet connection) it will be unlocked as described above. If you don’t want to wait the 2-3 days, just call Orange customer service and *kindly* ask for the unlock. You may explain that you will go abroad the next day and that you want to use it with a local prepaid SIM card in that other country. They may ask you to email them the receipt of the purchase and the IMEI no. and if you’re lucky, your iPhone is unlocked within 15 minutes.

    It’s a very simple procedure and I found it so very convenient to have an officially unlocked iPhone that I can use with whatever SIM card I want and where I don’t have to be super careful with firmware updates or the whole hassle of jailbreaking the iPhone.

    IMO only an officially unlocked iPhone is a real iPhone. Everything else (locked or jailbroken) is a compromise.

    • It is very informative. I am in the US under an AT&T 2-year contract for my 3G iPhone. I also have a European sim card that I use when I travel in Europe and used it in my unlock Blackberry. Assuming I manage to unlock my iPhone in the US, where does the SIM card go? May seem like a stupid question but how does one open the iPhone to swap SIM cards?

      • The sim card in an iphone is accessed by inserting a paper clip sized pin into the small hole next to the headphone jack, on the top of the iphone….


    • Hi,
      Do you know if swisscomm will unlock it the way orange does..?i had bought my iphone 3g in switzerland an year back without contract for it possible that they will unlock my phone now..i have all the bills and invoices with me..currently i am in india…

    • chilly

      hi IBENI sounds very interesting – do you think this would work in switzerland as well for an iphone bought in the US and SIM locked with AT&T?

    • Read your post about unlocked iphones. I’m american, live in zurich, and lost my swisscom iphone. They want ~$800 for a new one.

      Why did you but yours from Orange-were they cheaper? did you just call them without a contract, having bought the phone from them?


    • Jailbraking the iphone lets you utilize the full potential of it. You’ll be surprised of the benefits of having it. The APP STORE is very limited (even with it’s 100k plus apps available).

  4. TeliaSonera in Sweden states on it’s website that they will unlock iPhone after 12 months for a fee of SEK 300 (~EUR 30). Telenor does the same for SEK 350:-. (no mention what happens if there is time left on the contract).

  5. This is a really informative article, I didn’t even know this system existed. I’ve been under the impression that O2 in the UK didn’t offer unlocks because it was technically impossible on the iPhone, but this clearly goes against that.

    Has anyone from the UK had any success with getting their iPhone unlocked from O2 using this system?

      • I believe you have to pay a fee for the unlock after certain period of your contract. Something like 6 months. Might be shorter term now. The fee is around 20 or 30 euro. I think…

  6. I think this is both HELPFUL and INFORMATIVE for US people.

    An iPhone costs more than what you get it for . . . and you can’t even buy one unlocked at full-price in the US – and if you hack it, it’s basically warranty/support voided (almost guaranteeing it will break) and it opens you up to malware.

    Now, we know Apple’s got a route to do it. I’m not surprised they’re legally compliant to wherever their product is sold. Great, fine . . . back over to you AT&T . . . think “Take Back the Beep” people . . . it’s the laws and carriers that are broken, not the hardware manufacturers.

    The free-loaders poo-pooing the article for it not being “free” are totally missing the point.

    PS: if you think AT&T’s the devil, you never owned a V710 from verizon, talk about a crippled phone that was capable of much more.

    • I couldn’t have said it any better.

      It’s simple logic here in the US.

      Highest prices, shitiest service, yet no one complains (except those like me who have lived abroad).

  7. Charley

    Apple made life really easy here in Australia. We just walk into any apple store and buy an outright and unlocked iPhone over the counter.
    Any sim from our 4 carriers can be used straight away.

    • Jamie Jennings

      I would like to know if someone would be willing to puchase one for me from wherever you can get one 3GS UNLocked so that I may use it with Tmobile… I can pay a finders fee if the phone itself is not outrageous! In the states we cannot though apple, or att do it what so ever…

    • I live mostly in China and come home to to the US for a couple of months every year. Is there a way that I could buy a legally unlocked iphone from Australia and then use it in China and the US? What about the warranty and support? And itunes? Thanks!

      • buy the factory unlocked iphone from any apple store in China. FACTORY UNLOCKED iphones can update new firmwares without any problems. You can still use it with any service provider. Warranty and support will be provided by Apple, no matter which country you are at.

    • Maria, this is not true. I have a fully unlocked iPhone, and in Saudi Arabia I put in a SIM card from Al-Jawwal (STC) and in England I put in a SIM card from Vodafone. It happily switches between them and remains unlocked.

    • As far as purchasing these unlocked phones: I have AT&T as my US provider, and can easily get a data plan for any number in my plan. I’d heard that many “after market” unlocks are temporary and the phone locks again after updates. Do these Australian unlocked phones remain so after updates? I’m be in Australia soon for business.

      • Australian unlocked iphones are FACTORY UNLOCKED. Update will not kill the unlock, since it is provided by Apple. US ATT iphones are software hacked by 3rd party developers to be used on other carriers (ie Tmobile). Updates via Itune will lock up the iphone back to ATT use only.

    • Carolyn Tyler

      I am American, using T-Mobile with my Blackberry, but want to change to Apple, since I have a Mac. If I buy an unlocked iPhone in Australia (or Indonesia, where I live half time), and use SIM cards in other countries, does anyone know if I can get on a monthly carrier (like T-Mobile or Verizon) in the US with that iPhone, or do I have to buy another US phone?

      • Yes, an unlocked phone can use SIM cards from anywhere in the world. You will not, however, be able to use Verizon’s network since they don’t use SIM cards.

      • See the reply above. As long as the phone were Factory Unlocked by Apple (sold in many different countries). You can use it anywhere in the world with different carriers. However, you’ll need the assistance of the particular carrier of your choosing to enter the settings for SMS, MMS, and internet (edge or 3g mobile internet)

      • NormM

        If you jailbreak and use an AT&T iPhone with T-Mobile, everything will work (except for visual voicemail), but you will only get EDGE speeds from the cell connection. This is an issue with the frequencies used.

  8. This is an option in every place where they are selling iPhones without contract. I bought my iPhone 3G in Era (one of Polish official networks to carry it), but wanted it without contract, so they forwarde my IMEI to Apple and it was unlocked the first time I connected it to iTunes. It’s nothing new.

  9. Dude this method was possible only because you paid off all 2 years contract and because Sonera had this option.
    So, it’s not an universal method of unlocking!

    This article was fabricated only to give you some visitors!


  10. Piotr Bielaska

    In Poland when you buy iPhone 3G/3GS sold by one of the cariers (Era) you have the phone unlocked already. They have done it for all phones they selling. It’s great because I can buy Greek PAYG simcard when I will be in Greece on holidays and have mobile broadband without fighting to unlock my phone :).

  11. N Saini

    Well here in the states AT&T has blatantly said they are not going to unlock any iPhones. Even after your 2 year contract! So the only way to unlock your phone is by using unofficial methods! Thanks Apple for doing a deal with the devil.

    • Keith Thompson

      I got the same cold refusal to make life easier response from ATT. I pulled all the laws and FCC tactics I could come up with, and the guy was unmovable about unlocking the phone.

      He did mention one important thing:

      ATT in the u.s. does have a clause in the contract, where if you state you are moving to another country, they are required to cancel your contract without fee or penalty. -Yeah, I still have to purchase another phone when I get to the Philippines, but at least I’m not paying any more money to ATT.

  12. Hello !
    I’m french, I have an Iphone 3G contract with orange. In France, it is possible to unlock any phone (including the iphone) after 6 months of contract, legally, with Itunes. We don’t have to wait until the end of the contract to get the unlocking code.


  13. Actually in Singapore, the laws states that all phones sold must be unlocked. So purchasing an iPhone, and then terminating the contract at an additional SGD850, you can have an unlocked phone, without a contract.

  14. I updated my 3G to 3GS and the salesperson said that I only have to call Sonera to get the unlocking code for 3G. I made a new 12 month contract with Sonera for 3GS.

    • Bah…

      It’s no help for us in Denmark (North Europe, too). :(

      No seriously…
      There’s a lot of iPhone and Mac owners all around the world and I think it’s great to see some blogs about other countries than the USA. ;)

    • if you want a iphone just go to the apple store or carrier and tell them you just want to buy one outright and they will sell it to you (IN THE US AT LEAST)
      3g 499usd 3gs 16g 599usd 3gs 32g 699usd just got of phone with an apple rep just now

    • Nice try, owning an I phone outright in the us you are still required to use the official carrier and Att is the one with exclucivity.

      Not only that, they still make you sign a 2 year agreement. Not for a cheaper plan, but any plan even on a shared phone plan.

    • Joshua Ray

      Not true pmheart6. If you own your iphone, when you start a line of service with at&t, all you have to say is that you own your device, and they will uncheck the box for 24mo contract. so when the exclusivity between apple and at&t is gone…tada! cancel your contract. or if you get deployed again(me), or like my mom, you move to bfe in the mountains of western va where you dont get a signal till you get to the highway, you can just cancel.

    • The way I see it, you’re paying off a contract that you are obliged to complete. They’re letting me out of the deal early (whether or not I think it’s a good deal is irrelevant in this case – I signed up for it).

      To upgrade to the 3GS, I had to pay off the rest of my two year contract, note that this amounted to a cost of €24, approximately $34.

      The unlocking wasn’t a part of the contract or upgrade deal as far as I knew. Sonera offered it to me and I accepted, it was a welcome bonus as part of the upgrade process.

    • Tim Spence

      If you got your 3G when it was released in July 2008, on a 2-year contract, and you paid off your contract in June 2009, you had 13 months left to run on it.

      My question therefore is if the cost to pay off the remainder of your contract was a mere €24 (for 13 months), how the hell much do you pay each month!?!?!?

    • OK. So the author of this article is a little slow, I love just how pretentious he is as well. So quick to bash AT&T. So lets think about these comments. Let see your Finnish carrier support 15 million of those devices and then tell me that you don’t have any bandwidth issues or call drops. Go ahead and find anyone who uses 2 GB of data transmission in a month on any other phone. Go ahead and try, you wont find that like you will with the iphone. Also the price of the data plan is because they subsidize 400 dollars off the price of the equipment. 30 multiplied by what gets you back up to 400? After you grab your calculator to do some simple math that is in month 14 until they have even made back the 400 and that doesn’t even count towards the cost of the data services that you have been using over those 14 months. As far as teathering, if AT&T were to release that onto their network at this point they would bog down the network with so much data traffic that you wouldnt be able to make a 3g call at all. So before you just start vomiting out “facts”, check your research.

      • AT&T gives the largest donations to the Tea Party here in the U.S. than any other single contributor.

        If you think AT&T is so wonderful, you must be thrilled at all of the social services the Tea Party is now cutting from our once democratic country.

        The Tea Party is waging a war on women’s rights, the poor, the working class, social security, worker’s rights to unionize, unemploying thousands of school teachers, police and fire-fighters, while backing tax cuts to the rich and an increased spending on the military budget, which is already the largest in the world.

        AT&T sucks and I will never, ever, support them again as long as I live. (Verizon is just as bad – they support John Boehner as well as the Senator who is trying to make it legal to MURDER abortion doctors.)

        If that’s all good in your book, well, enjoy your stay in hell.

    • What the hack

      Ryan: Are you a major stock holder in AT&T or have some emotional ties to it? So what if AT&T has more customers. This is irrelevant, then they should have setup their network accordingly.

      Calling a personal PDA plan unlimited is false advertisement. You have a 5GB limit on it. How is this unlimited?

      You get your facts checked.

    • Don’t forget the bandwidth in Finland on average is 3 times what we get in north america. There is a website that shows these statistics and it was posted on digg. Finland is 3rd in the world behind Japan and South Korea in terms of quality of mobile or wi-fi network and get average 25mbit speeds. Therefore unltd. transfer is a lot likelier at lower prices. Plus don’t forget in North America we get most expensive rates and poorest service among developped (and some 3rd world countries)…believe it or not

    • Its pretty easy to unlock a phone. Well with my provider anyways.

      I simply just state that I’m going overseas and that I would like to use a local sim card there. Whoaala! No questions asked and they unlock it for me.

      I’m still waiting for the 24-48 hours till it unlocks though.
      I’m still paying for my 24 month contract, but with the ability to use other providers. =]

    • My story:
      I bought (paid £269) the first mobile phone with O2, had an upgrade six months later (paid £89) for the Iphone 3G, then promptly moved to Italy six months later. O2 would not allow me to ditch my contract (this only happens if you die), so I was tied in for another year, with a useless phone contract that I had to pay for at £45 per month, so the total cost of the phone has been £898 for me. The moral of this story, is to think twice before you tie yourself into a contract, because peoples circumstances do change!

      On a lighter note:
      I contacted O2 a month before my contract expired and asked them to unlock the phone, they sent me a text message to let me know it had been unlocked a few days later (though they say it can take 10-21 days), I then removed the O2 sim, replaced it with a new PAYG sim, connected to Itunes through my computer, waited a couple of minutes, disconnected the Iphone and then reconnected it again, then it was unlocked and I am very happy, I can now use my Iphone all over Europe without have to pay extortionate fees to receive and make calls. Hope this helps someone.

      • Hi Faye,
        Thanks for your information. I have contacted O2 after my contract expired. I have been asked to fill a form and been told will be unlocked in 14 days.

        Thank you very much.

      • Christopher

        Is it possible to purchase an iphon from apple store in new zealand and have it shipped to my usa address. I’m assuming that they won’t ship it to me…

    • Hi Guys
      Apple like Microsoft want the monopoly of their product that is why they are these type of techniques. If any product is bought by a customer, the choice is his/her how to use it. No manufacturer has the right to decide, how it is used. Customer may use, or through or use like a paper weight. that is his/her sole discretion. But companies like Apple & Microsoft wants to control their product even after the sales.
      I don’t think this is good

      • The locking of the phone to a carrier has nothing to do with Apple’s wishes so this is false information. It is only at the request of the carrier that this happens. The carriers I’m sure would prefer that it was impossible to buy unlocked phones.

    • This may sound like the “french” corner, but I’ve got a similar question. I moved from the UK to France 6 months ago, and I’m using a pay-as-you-talk Orange phone as well as my monthly contract UK Vodafone Nokia handset. My daughter in the UK has just upgraded from Iphone 3g to 3gs with O2, and is offering to sell me her old 3g, which she says she can get unlocked by O2. My question is… how do I get this 3g to work as a fully functioning iphone in france… just go to Orange and ask them? Any other thoughts? I don’t think my current france orange sim is for anything but basis phone and sms.