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Seriously, Samsung? Sorry, roamers, but the new Galaxy Note 3 is region-locked

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NOTE (Friday September 27th): Samsung has now said that the region-locking only applies at the time of initial activation, allowing the use of any SIM card after that.

I really thought the days of region-locking were dying with the DVD, but it seems I was wrong – Samsung has decided to revive the odious practice with its Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.

Yes, if you buy an unlocked Note 3 in Europe and travel to, say, the U.S., you will not be able to use a local SIM card. The same applies the other way round. In other words, you will be forced to pay for your carrier’s outrageous roaming fees or go Wi-Fi-only.

This fact first came out in a Wednesday blog post by the British online retailer Clove. Samsung has confirmed to me that they are really doing this, and I’m waiting on a statement.

Here’s what Clove said:

“If you travel internationally (outside Europe) and usually insert a local SIM card when in those countries, the Note 3 will NOT be able to use the local network. It will lose all mobile connectivity with the exception of emergency calls.

“For example, if you travel to the USA and insert a SIM card issued in the USA, you will not be able to use the Note 3 for any voice calls, text messages and mobile data connection. It will work via a WiFi connectivity only.”

Interestingly, Samsung Switzerland has been telling customers on Facebook (in German) that they can use non-European SIM cards in phones bought there. That directly contradicts what the stickers on the Note 3 boxes say, and what Samsung’s German PRs told me, but it’s worth mentioning.

My opinion on the matter, if expressed as I’m feeling it, would not be fit for a family-friendly publication such as this. The great advantage of the GSM telephony standard (the “G” stands for “global”, by the way) is that it puts power into the hands of the consumer. Unlike CDMA, it uses SIM cards, allowing users to easily swap carrier if needed (assuming of course that they have an unlocked phone).

Right now I can only guess that the carriers asked Samsung to region-lock its devices, so that customers will have to pay the crazy roaming rates of their home carriers while travelling in other parts of the world. But that’s speculation. Go on, Samsung, tell us why this is OK.

This post was updated at 5.50am PT to reflect the fact that this wasn’t just a European thing, as it first appeared to be, and at 6.40am PT to include a reference to Samsung Switzerland’s assurances to worried customers.

156 Responses to “Seriously, Samsung? Sorry, roamers, but the new Galaxy Note 3 is region-locked”

  1. I had GS3 and am using Note 2. Pretty happy with them. I preordered an AT&T Note 3. If Samsung locked the US Note 3 also, I would return it. Samsung has lost it. There are a lot of options out there. We don’t need to put with this this BS.

  2. I was going to buy that new Samsung note 3 but I guess that I will look for a device that will be TRULY GSM…So disappointing that they do the same thing than Microsoft try with their new xbox….. By the way back off on those control.

    • Hahahahaha. Samsung quality? Plastic phone, and not even the good type of plastic. In terms of build quality Nokia and HTC will run circles around the Samsung. All that Samsung has is a ton of advertising, the phones themselves are not so good, and they are even hindered by factory installed crapware (something around of 8 GB of software preinstalled on the phone? Stock Android takes less than 1 GB, looks better and performs better!).

      • Chris Lickorish

        Go see and handle this 32 gig phone kara. It feels quality. I have a 64 gig card in mine so a gig here or there ain’t no big deal. Don’t knock it til you’ve handled it. Just waiting to buy a spare battery now!

  3. iPhone fans rejoice as Samsung shoots self in foot, and then head! The Note 3 is going to be their worst selling phone ever thanks to this one policy.

    I’ve been waiting for Nexus 5 before making any decisions (nexus vs Sony’s Z1 vs Note 3). I’m even considering getting two phones. Now Note 3 is out of the running entirely. Buh-bye Samsung. I can buy a Z1 now and get a Nexus 5 when it arrives if it’s three fifty like the last one. No need to wait any longer.

  4. Brian Azzopardi

    This is madness! So on the one hand we have action against data roaming charges (in the EU), and on then we have Samsung doing this! Surely they were pressured into this.

    Perhaps it was EU operators trying to protect their non-EU roaming fees?

  5. can use a note 3 in other regions but the performance is not the same because of the diferent signal bands that’s why they put the sticker because an European model has been made to work 100% well ther but can use it in other places

  6. Sean Brown

    This sucks for consumers, especially those who have long-term trips/stays in other countries. What a dumb move by Samsung, especially when it is very easy to SIM-swap on iPhone.

  7. And to think I was getting excited about dumping my POS I-Phone and buying a note 3!

    Samsung… just lost a potential customer. As much as I dislike I-Phone, at least I can roam with it and change SIM cards.

  8. This is very much against the consumer…The only positive spin I can see Samsung making is that this makes it harder for stolen/carrier black listed devices to be re-sold over seas markets.

  9. Was looking forward to Note 3

    I have pre-ordered and received the phone at home already, but am in office and not seen it yet. I read your posts and have made a pre-emptive call to Samsung to clarify. Spoken with Samsung UK on 0330 726 7864. I have bought it supposedly unlocked from phones 4 u.

    The gentleman went away to check with colleagues and called me back, initially to explain that the phone would work in the UK with any network. I explained my concern is not UK or Europe it is further afield, as my work often could mean travel to US or Asia and staying for long periods, such as a month or more.

    He tried to explain that this is the same with any phone you buy in that will be locked for international sims, but I assured him this is not the case. I understand the differences in the bands used in different nations, but this phone is multi band and also has specification to work almost anywhere in the world. The fact that it is regionally blocked sim-wise is a decision not based on technological restrictions, but maybe commercial or political.

    He said you can use your UK sim-card anywhere under roaming. I said, well imagine my roaming bill if I were to spend a month in the US or Asia! He agreed it would be ridiculous.

    “If it is the case that it is regionally restricted and purposefully crippled by Samsung, I shall return the phone immediately when I get home. This is a major mistake you have made.”

    He went away again, and returned to confirm that he had made a mistake. Apparently, if I have bought the phone unlocked, then it will in fact work with sim-cards from most countries in the world (i.e. outside European area).

    I will wait to see when I return home to the delivered package. I have been waiting for this phone for a while. Will be very disappointed if I see this sticker on the side of the box.

    Will keep you updated.

    • Craig Campbell

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience! It sounds like Samsung customer service reps don’t know what’s going on. If you do get the phone and if you do open it, do you have a non-European SIM card to test it with? If it does work, you’d be roaming with it in the UK, so don’t do any calls or data LOL – but you’d at least be able to see if it gives any message about rejecting or denying the SIM. Thanks a lot and good luck!

      • Was looking forward to Note 3

        Some miscommunication, as I haven’t received my GN3 yet. Tomorrow probably.

        Anyways, check out this video though.

        Absolutely unfriendly to consumers. I am convinced this must breach some fair trade policies, at least in spirit, if not in actual letter of the law.

        I suggest to all Samsung smartphoners to boycott. Not only GN3, as apparently any units shipped after July 13 are configured this way (inc SGS4). If you do not act now, do not expect other manufacturers to no follow suit.

        I will most likely send back as soon as I receive.

        This was the first Samsung product I bought, and was actually looking at a TV as well. Will go with plan B on the TV and phone. Shame, have been waiting for GN3 for so long, but do not like to do business this way.

        • Was looking forward to note 3

          I have now started using the handset but have not been able to use yet with foreign sim card. I have activated using a UK Vodafone sim on a sim free European model. Given what is written in updated article and what Samsung UK originally told me that it would work. Should be fine.

          In the meantime.

          I am really enjoying using the device. It is immensely powerful, fast, smooth, huge!, etc.

          Very happy.

          Will have opportunity to confirm foreign sim question on 22nd Oct, when I go to Vegas. Questions should be answered by then in any case. If it doesn’t work..will return device.

    • Found the following explanation on:

      “”Update: As it turns out, the situation sort of goes like this – phones are only regionally SIM locked upon initial activation. In other words, if you have the “American” version of the phone, as long as you initially activate the phone using a SIM card from within the “American” region, your phone will then be fully unlocked. You can then take it abroad, use local SIMs whenever you’d like. The only time you would run into an issue would be if you bought an “American” version and then tried to first activate it in Europe. Make sense?”

      I have not verified it’s validity

  10. The reason is probably less so operators, but more so to be able to price discriminate between the regions. Of course that makes it a no go for most professionally traveling folks – us who are willing to pay for an unsponsored phone or tablet so that we can use different SIMs. Paying $1,000/GB data roaming is not an option.

  11. Craig Campbell

    I am livid about this. Thank you so much for posting the article. I was searching frantically for information last night, with only a couple of small articles and an XDA thread mentioning it. I’m hoping the bigger sites such as yourself and others will really push this. We deserve absolute clarification from Samsung as to which models from which regions will be afflicted with this “feature” and, just as importantly, why they feel they are justified in screwing legitimate customers with thus utter insanity.

    I have a preorder from T-Mobile USA but am on the verge of canceling since there is no confirmation if my version will be affected by this or not (it’s a carrier version, so I’d bet it will be).

    Negri Electronics (US-based importer) are claiming their stock (Latin America N9000 non-LTE) is not impacted by this, so perhaps its only on certain variants or regions that Samsung are doing this. Then again, Negri also told me that the US T-Mobile they will stock (pre-order currently) will also not be affected. That may well be true, but I’m not sure how they can say that for sure, since the UK importers Handtec and Clove seemed to find out about this restriction on their models (N9005 or SM-N9005 it’s unclear which…) until their stock physically arrived.

    Samsung are completely out of order and we should vote with our wallets until they reverse this decision. If we let them get away with this, it’s only a mater of time until other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon.

    • linarossi

      A Tmobile rep just confirmed that their phone will be locked to the US region. So your options are:

      -Cancel preorder now
      -Wait and hope that Samsung reverses this policy
      -Wait and hope that devs and come up with a work around but live with the fact that Samsung is still not a company you want to do business with.

    • Absolutely people should stand up for their freedom
      I was loyal custumer and when I heard this I was shocked as Samsung are following apple shit of limitation customer freedom … What the hell .. But if people are consistent they win this battle of corporations against individuality and personal freedom . We should say No! to this and let them know that they have done a mistake !
      I will keep my old phone just in case other crazy company will this shit

  12. I think something seriously needs to be addressed by Samsung IMMEDIATELY. My hopes of getting this dream phone Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are shattered! What’s the point of spending a hefty contract, to know your phone will not work say in USA or Dubai. I might as well stick to my old Galaxy S3 as it works around the world with the SIM of the country! SAMSUNG PLEASE UNLOCK THE GALAXY NOTE 3 AND MAKE THEM GLOBAL!!! and can Samsung PLEASE release a dual SIM version of Galaxy Note 3 which works worldwide.
    Guys do you all agree with me?

  13. It gets better – Samsung will let me use in my unlocked phone a SIM from a Vatican City mobile operator, but not say a US or Korean one. So why is Samsung supporting Vatican City mobile operators when I want to us my phone in US or Korea?

  14. I’m actually speechless. With one inhibitive draconian decision they’ve just lost a rather large order from my company. The Note 3 is an ideal business phone but with staff regularly travelling O/S, region locking makes this economically unreasonable for us. Why has Samsung or their retailers said nothing about this? The first we hear is a sticker on the side of the box at time of purchase and omitting that information pre-sale seems purposely dishonest. Stupid, stupid move which will sour many business relationships with Samsung. By region-locking the N3 they might hinder some grey imports, but crippling an international-capable phone will just mean an overall loss of sales for Samsung – and frankly that makes no sense. I can only assume such a decision has come from telcos or governments, but until Samsung release a statement about it, they’ve just lost a lot of respect and a previously loyal customer.

  15. This is silly. I was thinking of getting the Note 3 from Dubai (UAE) where its around the £460 mark or AED 2,699. What’s the point if it’s not going to work in UK. I think Samsung have deliberately doing this to prevent consumers purchasing from aboard. The phone will always be more expensive in UK because of stupid VAT which automatically levies 20% on the normal price. Perhaps the Government should scrap VAT on phones!

  16. Luc Feenstra

    Thanks, this should be brought out quickly. No one is informed about this and many retailers don’t know about the region lock either. I received my Note 3 about an hour ago and returned it straight away as I need a phone that I can use when outside of Europe. Major disappointment Samsung, you’ve just lost a customer.

      • Luc Feenstra

        Yes, it was. I have contacted a lot of other retailers here in the Netherlands and they all seem to have the stickers on the boxes. Same case for my friends in the UK. I’m planning to go to China tomorrow for a longer period and won’t be able to use the phone there so have returned it. Contacted Samsung and they have told me the following:

        “Hi Luc,
        Unfortunately it is not possible to unlock the phone. On the package and in the user manual it clearly states that there is a Regional Lock on this device. It is however possible to use European simcards in China, but you can’t put a Chinese simcard in this device.
        Best regards,
        Samsung Mobile NL”

        This shouldn’t be allowed on a phone that I paid 750 euros or more than 600 pounds for! Guess I can start returning all of the accessories that I have already bought as well..

            • David Meyer

              Hopefully you’re right – although Samsung’s position in the market would make it a regulatory issue, particularly if they’re doing it with other phones in their range (as another commenter suggests below).

            • Acemanx

              Pfft if you think that’s going to stop me from buying the fastest most advanced cell phone in the world you have another thing coming, some of us don’t give a hoots ass about having it work overseas, which this phone can do once activated locally, lol i think it hilarious that you think that you can somehow stop the behemoth that is Samsung by not buying their product, that’s like hoping to stop slaughterhouses by not buying meat products, ROFL good luck, ill stick my blazing fast snapdragon 800 on my Note 3 thank you very much.

            • Blackberry was once a behemoth. Manufacturers who antagonize their customers have competitors who are happy to fill the void. For myself, I will now stick with my current Note handset as I look for a better replacement (not a new Samsung).

  17. This is madness for international travellers – to have to pay European telco roaming rates in Austalia or US when have bought an “unlocked” non-carrier phone in the first place is ridiculous.

    – Samsung appear to be making it difficult to root the phone by locking bootloader.
    – plus their customer service is dire in my experience.

    Speaking as owner of an SGS, SGS 2 and SGS3 and having gone into store to buy a note 3 I have now choked at sucking up more of this unnecessary corporate greed unless the phone is truly unlocked.

    • Now spoken to customer service centre on +44 330 7267864. Still hopeful that Samsung may get this resoved as some of their UK customer reps seem as surprised as me at the region lock fiasco. It definitely applies now not just to Note 3 but Galaxy S4s and other Notes distributed to stores since July 2013.

      I am awaiting call back from Tier 2 rep to see if will allow unlock of regional lock (given I am buying off-contract/unlocked/SIM free in the first place). Will Samsung HQ have a change of heart? Will there be a workaround perhaps for payment to Samsung of fee, or if not details of where (eg HK) that one has to go to buy a truly unlocked Samsung phone?

          • The Mobile Network Code (MNC) for each carrier together with the Mobile Country Code (MCC) identifies the Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN). You can get an unlock for the MNC and the PLMN. However the region lock in new Samsung Galaxy phones seems to be being implemented by including in the broadband firmware a whitelist of the MCCs which a regional version of the relevant phone can accept – if the MCC of the SIM you want to insert in the phone is not on the list, then tough it will not work.

            As the whitelist of acceptable MCCs is controlled through the CSC (Consumer Software Customisation) which is th broadband firmware, it would most probably need the CSC to be reflashed and thereby lies a problem as it is unlikely now to be just a question of entering an unlock code. Moreover as Samsung has now take to locking the bootloader taking it into one’s own hands to revise and reflash the CSC with an unsigned but more permissive version is going to result in warranty issues even if it can be done. The result is that if you travel on holiday or for work to a different region you will not have the MCC listed in the CSC relevant to the local SIM you might otherwise wish to insert in your own phone and therefore the local SIM will not work.

            Even Apple is not this consumer unfriendly.

  18. Thanks for bringing this into the open. This is an appalling practice, not consumer friendly, and worst of all, no information is being presented before purchase.

    Region locking has nothing to do on phones, and if the practice starts, anyone purchasing these products have the right to be informed beforehand so as to be able to make a choice to not purchase locked hardware. And this is on a so called d unlocked phone.. I’m with you, I want to call this practice something not fir for family friendly sites