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. Dominique Ferreira Rodrigues

    hmmmm will the Note 3 work in Brazil, if bought unlocked in the UK?? My intention was to use a local sim over there as I have done in the past with an S2- worked fine, this was end of 2012 though. I really want this phone! It’s just my luck, the one i want, I can’t have. grrr

  2. Samsung is being short-sighted here. I was planning to upgrade my Note to get 4G. Now I will be looking at a different manufacturer. Odds are I won’t go back to Samsung in the future, once they’ve backed down from this nonsense.

  3. Hi – I was going to buy an unlocked Note 3 – phoned the uk support number – explained I go outside the EU on business for prolonged periods and roaming was too expensive so I will use a non-EU sim card (for instance going to Australia end of November)

    I was given a definitive answer that this will not work – I asked about the S4 and (after the helpful assistant went away to check) was told this will be introduced to S4s from November / December so she advised against buying a S4 or Note 3

  4. Lonely

    i bought a new note3 from Saudi Arabia , i tried to use it with Chinese SIM, but it dosent work & it keeps asking for Sim Network unlock PIN , really it was very bad from samsung.

  5. fallacies

    okay, ladies… calm down.

    below is how Region Lock works…

    Side note: In the USA, the FCC does not allow carriers to sell locked phones (classified as 4G phones) anymore. The phones must be able to recognize and operate with international SIMs. I am not sure how things are done any anyone elses perspective country; however, if you want a Note 3, buy it, have it activated, and then you can use it abroad.

    Region lock – how we thought it works

    In the past few days we found out that once a customer purchases an unlocked Galaxy Note 3 handset (that means paying full price for the device, not getting a subsidized on-contract deal), he or she has to activate it with a SIM card from the region the device was purchased in before being able to activate it with a SIM card from a different region.

    For example, in order to use an unlocked Galaxy Note 3 from the UK (therefore Europe) in the USA (North America), a buyer should turn on the Galaxy Note 3 in the UK with a SIM card from a local mobile operator inside before going to the USA and using a SIM card from AT&T or T-Mobile.

    If this activation is not performed in this order and instead a U.S. SIM card is used first, the phone gets locked, meaning it can only be used with a SIM card from its original region, in this case Europe. In such a case, the handset has to be unlocked either by Samsung and its partners, or by the user with help of unlocked codes purchased online in order for the U.S. SIM card to work – the UK SIM will work fine with the handset.

    • Clove, a respected UK retailer and ‘official’ Samsung outlet, does not share your view. Clove is sending out some UK activated UK models to other countries to get to the truth. Despite being a bona fide Samsung retail outlet, they have been unable to get the kind of assurances that you lay claim to.
      See Clove blog for updates.

  6. Just buy the versions from hong Kong and Singapore, in those places, they have laws that don’t allows cellphone company’s to block the phones (And Yea, on ebay there are a lot available).

  7. I bought my Note3 in Australia. There was no sticker on the box and I tried it with a HK sim card and it seemed to work OK however…

    Phones sold in Australia have enforced shutter noise. The camera shutter will always make a loud, annoying noise even if the phone is set on Silent. Phones sold in Europe don’t enforce the shutter noise,

    I was going to about to install European firmware to get around this issue when I came across this region lock problem. I now wonder, will my sim card be locked when I restart the phone with the new software?

    My other option is to root the phone and rename the shutter noise files but this would void my warranty. Any suggestions?

  8. Tchai Charoen

    And this the comment form CLOVE UK

    “Josh Bethell says:

    October 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    A quick thank you from everyone at Clove for the level of understanding in this comment thread and the odd customer testimony too!

    This is undoubtedly a huge frustration – sure we’ve lost sales which no business enjoys; however it’s the confusion and extra work this has caused which compounds things. There have been industry mutterings reported by some news sites that this type of behaviour could be in the works from major manufacturers. It is pretty upsetting though that it was not communicated to us and other retailers fully until the procedure was finalised, orders had been placed and stock arrived.

    We hate disappointing our customers, which in this case we’ve had to do many times over by cancelling and refunding orders, in some cases to long standing and valued international clients.

    By the end of this week we should have a definitive update on the situation. We sent a Note 3 to offsite colleague Wardy in Thailand last week. He activated this there with a UK SIM. He could roam on the UK SIM but could not use his local Thai SIM, seeing the unlock SIM screen before he could proceed.

    We have since sent UK activated handsets to a few choice customers this week, on the basis that they can return them if they do not work with their local SIMs. These customers are in regions that include Africa, North America and the Middle East.

    Regardless of information from Samsung or anecdotes on forums and other blogs, we are conducting our own research on this, at our own costs, to cover all the bases.

    Especially now we are also beginning to see other Samsung devices (new stock of the S4 & S4 Mini) with the same restrictions and warning stickers on the packaging. We want to be 100% certain of the message we give out to anyone wanting to purchase a new Samsung device and provide any support we can to legitimate international clients

    You can see that he being test already what Samsung say is not correct.

    So you should change the name of the topic that it not working ?

  9. Samsung may have just shot themselves in the foot. Region locking a telephone simply is ridiculous.
    I bought the original Galaxy Note when it first came out and upgraded to the Galaxy Note 2 when that came out last year. I was eagerly awaiting the release of the Galaxy Note 3 till this very disappointing news from Samsung.
    I travel quite a bit between Europe, Africa and the USA and am naturally quite concerned about this unfortunate development.
    Now i’m afraid to buy the Note 3 because of all the conflicting reports i’m reading regarding the region locking. Seems i’ll have to hold off till this mess is cleared up.

  10. I got my galaxy 3 note fom samsung n open the box now they refuse to take it back. Only got it yesterday. Can anyone help or ve the same problem. Any advise pls

    • fallacies

      they have to. if they absolutely refuse, you can get your credit card company to extract the funds. this should not be needed, however, as all you have to do is activate the phone on a local-regioned carrier before using it abroad.

  11. What is the end story? igot a galaxy 3 note . Can it be use world wide after activating it with a european sim card first. I ve read all the comments and some say it will and some not. Can u pls tell me the grace period i ve to return it? I got it as a present hence ve no idea abt all these.
    Thanks hope somepne can help.

  12. This is from SAMSUNG’s tech support.

    Sherwin.A: Once the device is unlocked from the carrier, it can be used Internationally or overseas with any carrier sim card.
    Aaron: I will be buying the phone on TMOBILE…and then unlocking it….and purchasing an ORANGE (or european) SIM….
    Aaron: should that NOT work…I think the entire Travel community will be very ANGRY (which is what everyone is worried about now)
    Sherwin.A: Please be rest assured, The device will work every where, after it is unlocked by its respective carrier, we made no such limitations.
    Sherwin.A: Can I help you with anything else?

  13. Another view:

    “The way around this [regional locking] is to simply activate a device in the right region. If you get a new Sim-unlocked Galaxy S4 or Note 3 for the European market, but want to use it in the US, it has to be activated with a European Sim card first. Doing so will disable the region lock so the phone can be used with any Sim card. If someone does insert the wrong region’s Sim during activation, a Samsung-authorised repair centre can reset the lock, allowing the owner to try again with the right Sim (if they even have one). This isn’t the most user-unfriendly practice, and certainly not as awful as the label makes it sound, but it will still cause some annoyances.”

    Read more:

  14. just sayin

    Seriously… If you look at the details of the actual policy instead of just going by the sticker on the box, as soon as you’ve activated your phone using a local sim, you are free to go anywhere you want and use a sim from telco’s in any region. All this does is prevents people from ordering a phone from another region and immediately using it locally. It’s really not a big deal and realistically shouldn’t affect anyone who hasn’t bought their phone off an overseas online vendor.

  15. I bought a Galaxy 4 Mini in Germany (home) switched it on first time abroad (work):
    – regional lock for the local SIM card
    – German SIM works for roaming, but local SIM is still locked

    Support points to the local Samsung dealer, but they refuse to help.

    I have a useless phone.

    • Tchai Charoen

      Yes, I can do that. I even can pay to Russian WEbsite then they can give me the code. then i do not need to root my phone.

      What i try to fight now is. Why Samsung lie to use ? Why they do this ?

      And where is the responsible of the website or reporter, or bloger…..That spread all the news that the problem is solved. If none of them (as far as i see) try to prove the method that Samsung say is working.

      I even go to Samsung Service Center in Maastricht. They not help me. They just denial my problem. I would be happy more if they just say they not aware of this problem yet.

      • David Meyer

        I hear you. I’m chasing Samsung for a proper explanation, because it seems their region-locking system is broken (that is, as far as we can understand it — they still haven’t explained why they are doing this or exactly what it is they are doing, technically speaking).

  16. Tchai Charoen

    Hi (sorry for my English)

    I buy the note 3 from studenmobile . nl it is Netherland webshop for phone

    I use the Dutch sim card (Vadafone, Tele2, T-mobile) for calling chatting internet.

    As i read a lot of news about this. I should can now just put Thai sim card in it already. But it not working it still ned a clod for unlock the sim.

    I try all the Thai Sim card i have…. AIS, True Companay, DTAC. None of it working.

    I also call to Samsung support in Netherland. Samsung Service – en Informatielijn
    Tel: 0900-SAMSUNG (0900-7267864) (10 c/m)

    I get 3 different answer.
    First one She only say just follow what the box say if you have problem with it just change the phone within 7 day.

    Second one say.. I just go to the any simlock free shop for ask for helping. But the phone will only working a about 14 Day in Thailand if i make it a simlock free and use Thai Simcard. Or if i want to use longer i have to ask from Thai provider.

    Third one. She not even know what I’m talking about. I mean she not know about this model. When i say Galaxy note 3,she not know., SN-N9005 she not know. I have to told her the serial number and many thing before she know that this model is available.

    From the all answer I get. It seem like they not aware this problem yet in Nederland. Or they not being train yet what they have to do. Or they being trail only say do what the box say if you do not want it just return and buy something else.

    I also go to Samsung Service Center (Maastricht) that in the Vadafone shop . First thing i feel is they not welcome me as I am a customer because I did not but the phone from them. What they only say just try to call to where i buy this phone. So what the point to be a Samsung Service Center if you not help costumer who buy the Samsung phone.

    Now i think i have to wait till this thing be aware in Nederland.

    If someone also from NL whom have this phone. Do you have a same problem ?

    thank you for reading