Blog Post

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

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 just heard from a customer service employee my phone is locked in china, because I activated the german phone with a dutch card, while I was in Europe. both these countries are in the eu, last time I checked. I could send it to Germany to unlock, AT MY OWN EXPENSE! this contradicts in my opinion directly with what is said on the sticker and in the press release.

  2. I travel from the UK to South America and the Middle East – the Note 3 is R3000 or 500GBP
    That’s why Samsung want to region lock – 240GBP price difference??
    The Note 2 is only 300GBP here too

    I’ve been a big fan of the Notes and was handing my cash to the retailer until he pointed at the sticker.

    Well done Samsung – no sale!

  3. Chris Lickorish

    By the way it it one helluva phone. Looks, feels and performs stunningly. One missing feature is the 3×4 keyboard which I loved with swipe enabled. Can’t have been the only one to complain as Samsung have told me they will bring it back in an update.

  4. Chris Lickorish

    My Note 3 had this when I picked it up Wednesday. No big deal for me as I have UK and Spanish SIM’s. Remember it is illegal to unlock phones in the US. Only T Mobile offer a SIM only deal, and that’s an extortionate 50 dollars a month. Better to just us free WiFi that’s everywhere and Skype

  5. Samsung is getting greedy and going on the same road as I phone & blackberry where it thinks is market leadership is unchallenged. Incase it doesn’t know it already has great competition in form of Indian Micromax which offers great quality at lower pricing. Time samsung did a reality check

  6. As n other GigaOm thread, Samsung UK call centre rang me back this afternoon. They were aware of Samsung Switzerland statement about activation – they were not able to provide confirmation that following activation all SIMs from outside EU region would work (although some might). They indicated that region lock would be pushed out to all currently unaffected phones in next KitKat update. They said that there was no procedure to get region lock removed currently.

    Samsung UK were awaiting to get further clarification on what they see as “grey area” as regards removal of regional lock and its continued application (or not) following proper activation. They advised me not to spend £600+ buying unlocked phone if I was concerned about regional lock until position could be confirmed by Samsung Global. The Samsung guy was really straightforward and understood concerns – definitely a real step-up from previous experience with Samsung UK team.

    I am so hoping that Samsung Global/UK can put this to rest with a clear, published statement on Note 3 region lock not continuing to apply after initial activation with EU carrier SIM, notwithstanding legal notice on box and in manual. If they could cover upcoming KitKat update with locked bootloader, Knox and region lock built in as well (since any update to my SGS3 will be affected by this too) that would be doubly reassuring. In practice, this further reassurance may not be as easy to resolve since it goes to the heart of what looks like a very important policy roll-out across all its latest Galaxy devices affecting business enterprise strategy and KitKat upgrade, not just retail consumers and therefore likely to be far less susceptible to simple tweaks and clarifications.

  7. Good news! This new info is from the Verge:

    “Update: GigaOm has received a new statement from Samsung that clarifies the Note 3’s region locking policy. Though Samsung’s own text and initial statements seemed to confirm that both the European and American models of the Note 3 would be barred from using SIM cards from other regions, Samsung is now saying that this only applies to the very first SIM card used to set up the phone. Insertion of a foreign SIM during the Note 3’s setup process will lock up the device, ostensibly as a way to stop distributors from sending phone models to areas they weren’t meant for. However, if the Note 3 is set up using a local SIM card, it will be able to use any other card from that point forward — foreign ones included. GigaOm reports that this policy is in place on units of the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 mini, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III that were produced after July as well.”

    • Luc, that is really helpful of you, ukmobilereview and xda community)- I am very excited that I can now have another go at getting Note 3.

      Sounds like MCC restriction only applies if first SIM used in mobile is from outside home region. Perhaps Samsung UK reps will now be able to explain it a bit better (due credit to earlier Samsung Switzerland facebook post which pointed this out) and Samsung UK will confirm point in due course given legal notice on box and in manual seems misleading on this point.

      • XDA are reporting that Samsung Germany believe a Samsung Global statement will come out tomorrow. On reflection, I am going to hold off buying Note 3 until the Samsung Global statement just to make sure no further surprises on whitelists etc. Fingers crossed that Samsung are good guys and this is just misunderstanding.

        • The plot thickens – at least one XDA member with a properly activated, Note 3 in a store in Sweden today has apparently found that on replacing the Swedish SIM card with a Thai simcard (already tested to be working in a GS3), the Thai SIM card would not work in the Note 3 as SIM locked. So Samsung still may need to explain what is going on with this region lock.

  8. according to some online sources, Samsung has clarified region lock position:
    If the phone first activated in the region which it was sold, it will be able to accept all other sims. If it was activated outside the region, it will be locked to the region it was activated at.
    I am not sure how accurate this info, but it’s what I heard.

  9. Michael Lauzon

    Well, this has stopped me from considering to get the S5 when it comes out, think I’ll go back to one of the other companies, maybe HTC or take the plunge and get an LG; like Sony — because of the debacle that was the SEXX10 w/ Android 2.1, when they said it was going to release with 2.2, and then didn’t want to update it to the latest version until public outcry, because Sony’s thing is, if you want the update, buy new hardware — Samsung is going to be dropped by me, never to use one of their phones again unless this policy gets scrapped, but even then, I doubt I would go back.

  10. Very disappointing indeed. I own the original note and I’m writing this from a Note 10.1 which I all got from Amazon UK. Trouble is, and where I come from, Zambia, prices are super prohibitive and it takes a while (> 6 months) for device to become available in ‘official’ retailers and its easier to buy from Amazon and receive within a week. Lime I said, I’m very disappointed because I was hoping to replace my note for this and had waited patiently.

  11. evilhom3r

    Misleading article. The lock only applies to activation, once you’ve activated the phone you can use it anywhere. In addition, a Samsung service partner will unlock the phone for free if you’ve already brought it to a different region before activating.

  12. Acemanx, dont get sucked into defending this practice,

    its problematic for the customer period,

    if its implemented in software an upgrade will require the native sim activation again.
    hardly a positive issue if you receive an upgrade notification whilst abroad.

  13. wrong wrong wrong, don’t spread lies to people who might buy this and take it overseas, get your facts straight, it is not region locked, you can take your phone overseas and swap sim cards in AFTER you’ve put in the proper sim card for the proper region..so, buy a European unlocked note 3, you have to activate it with a euro sim card first, then you can swap in a US one when you go to the states, you just can’t buy it in Europe, and then try to put in a us sim card in, thats when it won’t work, (and why would you even want to do this?) but it will if you activate your version in your region, US in US and Europe in Europe then once its activated there, swap in the sim card when you go overseas (thats what its meant for anyways) this kind of blatant disregard for the facts is what spreads BS around about a perfectly good phone.

    • David Meyer

      Well, firstly I think it’s reasonable to go by what Samsung itself says on its stickers. As for the idea of it only needing a home-region SIM for initial authentication — well, that’s the best-case scenario, but again it doesn’t fit with the words on the stickers.

      I am aware that Samsung representatives (the same ones I’ve been dealing with) gave a preliminary statement to a German blog, but they have held back from issuing a finalised statement to everyone else since then. The fact is, everyone is now waiting for that final statement to come out of Samsung Central, and until then the best information we have to go on is the stickers Samsung itself put on its boxes.

    • Owned a Apple iPhone 3S, 4, 4S and 5 returned the 5S Bored with it. Looking forward to a combo-phone-tab to cut costs. Luv apple Quality and ease of use but, bored with it!!!!
      want that big screen

  14. My UK note 3 was region locked to Europe. I run a small business and was hoping to purchase this device for my three staff too, particularly as this device is touted as being perfect for the businessman. However, my staff and I make very regular trips to the USA for work related reasons and whilst there we all use an American sim.

    I tried my device with my USA sim and it wouldn’t work. I have since returned the device and will look elsewhere for my business communication needs.

    Poor show, Samsung, poor show.

    • Steven

      It would be potentially relevant to know which US telco network issued the SIM which was blocked on your Note 3. If reports are correct in xda-developers of some US networks’ SIMs being accepted and others blocked, then theoretically a whitelist could be being set up which effectively preferred some network operators outside the European region on the whitelist, to others (perhaps such as your US SIM’s network provider?) not on the list. This could be of commercial benefit to Samsung if networks directly or indirectly paid to be whitelisted.

      The desire to monetise a network’s willingness to be whitelisted might offer an explanation for the purpose of a region lock. This would seem more likely if the region lock linked not just to MCCs, but also involved MNCs defined in part with wildcards which effectively blocked networks in particular country without ever expressly listing MNC of blocked network. Also it might explain reason for region lock to be included in Kitkat update for existing phones already activated?

      The alternative grey market explanation for a region lock being applied to all Samsung high-end devices sold to European and US consumers seems quite questionable. Arguably you might expect prices (after adding back carrier subsidies) to be higher in Europe and the US than in less developed markets and thus regional restrictions on moving phones out of the European and US regions to be less important than restricting cheaper ones coming in from Asia.

      Consumers buying device in Europe are being asked to accept that any SIM issued outside the European region is incompatible even though some are – I wonder what will be said in the context of Kitkat upgrade to region lock. Perhaps consumers with no expectation of a right to compatibility would be without recourse as any whitelisted network would be a positive benefit. The disadvantage to a consumer of not having all or any networks in a given country whitelisted might not be legally actionable where consumers had been warned in advance of accepting the region lock that all SIMs issued by networks outside that region could be incompatible.

      Still live in hope that region lock and whitelists will be clearly confirmed by Samsung Global not to apply to any unlocked phone, at least following first use.

  15. Agreed! Huge Disappointment. Do not buy TV’s, Air-con,Washers, Dryers, RE-frig units
    time to Boycott SAMSUNG products as a whole until they unlock this Phone this is utter non-sense……..Powerful Company doing as they please.Uggggggggggggh

  16. Sascha Meier

    I read it’s only for first time activation when you have to be in the specific region. after this first activation it can be used with every international sim card. It’s something to stop parallel Imports.

  17. I think the roaming rates thing may be a bonus, but that this is aimed at culling inter-region resale of unlocked phones, since most jurisdictions require carriers to unlock phones after contracts end, or to provide unlocked phones.

    Noone in the industry seems to like unlocked phones.