You can now unlock your iPhone 5S for free

Image: Reuters/Adrees Latif
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The unlock clock is finally expiring on iPhone 5S and 5C phones in the US. The two-year commitments attached to many US-sold phones are now ending. Because of an industry agreement and a 2013 law those phones can be legally unlocked to be used on any carrier’s network that technically supports it. The iPhone 5S and 5C were released in the US on Sept. 20, 2013, more than two years ago.

Primarily, an unlocked phone allows you to continue to use your current device if you switch carriers, but here are some other reasons why unlocking your phone is a good idea:

  • It also provides the flexibility to buy temporary service from a another provider if you needed an extra phone, such as a kid away at camp or a relative visiting from abroad.
  • It allows you to take advantage of local mobile rates when traveling abroad by buying a local pre-paid SIM card. The international plans from US providers are significantly more expensive.
  • If you’ve already bought a new phone or plan on getting a new phone soon, a iPhone 5S can be used as a mobile hotspot. If you’re an occasional traveler buy some data from another carrier to save on airport an hotel wifi fees.

All of the five largest US mobile carriers have procedures to help customers unlock phones tied to their respective networks. Here’s how to do that on each, assuming that all of the service commitments and other financial obligations to the carrier have been fulfilled and your account is in good standing.

Unlocking an AT&T iPhone 5S

As long as the AT&T locked iPhone hasn’t been reported stolen, hasn’t been “associated with fraudulent activity,” and isn’t currently active on a different AT&T customer’s account you can unlock the phones through its website here.

When Quartz used this method, it took less than 10 minutes to complete the online form and receive the an emailed unlock confirmation.

Its full unlock policy is here.

Unlocking a Sprint iPhone 5S

The iPhone 5S and 5C are the first iPhones that Sprint is able to unlock. If the phone hasn’t been reported lost or stolen or been “associated with fraudulent activity,” Sprint’s customer service will unlock your phone if you contact the company’s customer service line at 866-866-7509 or use its online chat platform.

Its full unlock policy is here.

Unlocking a T-Mobile iPhone 5s

T-Mobile will unlock any T-Mobile-bound phone that hasn’t been reported lost, stolen blocked, or been “associated with fraudulent activity.” The account associated with the device cannot be canceled. Ask T-Mobile customer service for an unlock by calling 877-746-0909 or using its online chat service.

Its full unlock policy is here.

Unlocking a Verizon iPhone 5s

Verizon doesn’t lock any of its 4G LTE devices, iPhone 5S included. Inserting a SIM card into a iPhone 5S should “just work” for whatever purposes you desire.

Its full unlock policy is here.

Unlocking a US Cellular iPhone 5s

US Cellular will unlock iPhones that haven’t been reported lost or stolen, and are associated with account that has no late, outstanding balances. US Cellular wont unlock a phone if it has reason to believe the requestor is attempting to commit a fraud. The only way to unlock a iPhone 5S linked to its network is to bring it into a US Cellular store.

Its full unlock policy is here.