Traveling to UK, AT&T won't let me unlock my 5s

Discussion in 'iPhone' started by rsmith83, Aug 13, 2014.

  1. rsmith83 macrumors member

    Jun 8, 2009
    Forgive my ignorance but this is the first time I've ever traveled abroad and I am getting conflicting information about unlocking my phone.

    I have a 5s that is still under contract with AT&T. I will be in the UK for a few weeks and I wanted to buy a month-long prepaid SIM card from a provider there so that I could have unlimited internet. This works out much cheaper than AT&T's astronomical rates for international travel. I called AT&T and was told they cannot unlock the phone because it's not paid in full. Great.

    I guess my question is, is there a legitimate way to unlock my device so that I can use it while I travel, or am I stuck using AT&T's international data plan? I've called a few friends to see if anyone has an old, off-contract iPhone that I could borrow but they're in the same boat I am -- we all sell our phones when we upgrade, thus no one has an old phone lying around.

  2. KeepCalmPeople macrumors 65816


    Sep 5, 2012
    San Francisco Bay Area, California
    Here's a thought, which may save you money compared to AT&T's international data plan:

    Pay the ETF on your 5s. The ETF is $325 minus $10 for each month you've had service (assuming you're on a 2 year contract). So it's probably around $225 if you got your 5s soon after it launched. If you're not already, it might then make sense to switch to a mobile share plan with the discount for BYOD.

    I was in the UK last summer and used an old AT&T iPhone 4 that was unlocked. I bought a SIM with unlimited 3G data from '3' for something like £20. A bargain!
  3. rsmith83 thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 8, 2009
    Yes, I'm looking at the SIMs from Three. They work out to about $35 USD for unlimited internet and 600 minutes of talk (though the voice minutes aren't as important for me).

    I called AT&T and they said it would be $225 ETF, so I may just do that and be done with it.
  4. 617aircav Suspended

    Jul 2, 2012
    if you pay the etf and stay on your current plan with att you are giving them free money. better port to a cheaper prepaid plan.
  5. bbfc macrumors 68030


    Oct 22, 2011
    Newcastle Great Park, England.
    Three are well known over here for their Unlimited SIM-only deals! You can't beat them!
  6. alphaod macrumors Core


    Feb 9, 2008
    How long have you been an AT&T customer?

    They might be make an exception if you're a high paying customer with a long history.

    Anyways the best way would be to pay it off unfortunately. Depending on what plan you have, it may also lower your bill.
  7. zipa macrumors 65816

    Feb 19, 2010
    You should be able to use an international SIM card in a locked phone without any problems.
  8. cnotes2019 Suspended

    Aug 17, 2013

    How so ...
  9. zipa macrumors 65816

    Feb 19, 2010
    Because carrier locks should not affect international usage. And why should they?
  10. Darrensk8 macrumors 6502


    Apr 22, 2010
    Because that's the point of the lock, to stop you using another carriers sim, international or local...My experience is carrier locks effect ALL sims.
  11. fakerlin macrumors newbie

    Apr 22, 2009
    A locked AT&T phone will not work in UK. I know because I have tried. The Verizon and T-Mobile however, will. But I would still go to an AT&T store and ask if you can put your contract on hold until you are back and have them unlock your phone for your trip. That way, they would keep you as a customer when you return and you would get a cheaper solution while in UK. My store in Mission Viejo, CA was very helpful with this as I was traveling extensively a couple of years back. Good luck in the UK!
  12. 617aircav Suspended

    Jul 2, 2012
    Did you find this out or you are making it up? Its not even debatable that when a phone is locked its locked to any other sim, be it local or international.
  13. zipa macrumors 65816

    Feb 19, 2010
    None of mine have ever been, but I guess the US still is a third world country when it comes to mobile. My bad.
  14. 617aircav Suspended

    Jul 2, 2012
    Are you saying that in your country carrier locked phones will automatically work overseas? If so, thats awesome.
  15. zipa macrumors 65816

    Feb 19, 2010
    Yes. One carrier actually sells "locked" phones that aren't locked at all. They just say that they are. And why should they care? They sell you the phone on contract, why should they care what SIM you actually use in it, since you'll pay them anyway. I guess they'd rather have you waste a competitors bandwidth and just collect the money from you... :)

    The other carriers prevented the phone from using any other Finnish networks, but you could use whatever international SIM in them while travelling.

    Disclaimer: Haven't bought a locked phone in almost two years now, so things might have changed here as well.
  16. MattMJB0188 macrumors 68000

    Dec 28, 2009
    So don't have AT&T unlock it. Just pay to have a third party to unlock it. Check ebay or google iPhone 5s unlock.
  17. aristobrat macrumors G5

    Oct 14, 2005
    If you use a SIM other than theirs (when traveling internationally), then they can't charge you their ridiculous international roaming rates.

    If you don't sign up for one of AT&T's special international plans (which have monthly recurring fees), they charge US$20 per MB of data (!!!), and US$1.50/minute for phone calls.

    Switch to a pre-paid local SIM, and they stand to lose quite a bit of money!
  18. rui no onna macrumors 603

    rui no onna

    Oct 25, 2013
    Another suggestion, if you don't require LTE and don't to switch plans, why not buy a used 4/4S for $100-150? Because as 617aircav mentioned, you're giving AT&T free money if you pay the ETF while continuing to pay contract plan pricing. Another option is a used iPhone 5c. That has LTE and shouldn't cost you much more than what you'll be paying for ETF.
  19. C DM macrumors Westmere

    Oct 17, 2011
    If you pay the ETF wouldn't you have an "owned" phone at that point and get a discount on the monthly service cost?
  20. gaanee macrumors 65816

    Dec 8, 2011
    I checked with At&t customer service rep. the ETF is just to get it unlocked before the contract expires. Surprisingly, on the monthly billing statements it says $25 for phone and the rep told this is a service fee. So even if you pay ETF, monthly payments don't go down.
  21. rsmith83 thread starter macrumors member

    Jun 8, 2009
    Unfortunately, I have three family members also on my account, so it's all shared minutes. I wouldn't be able to do that. Their phones are all still under contract.

    I've considered this option but I can never get any solid answers about it. Is it reliable? Will it somehow mess up my AT&T SIM or current service? No one seems to be able to give me a straight-forward answer, so I've been avoiding this route.
  22. MattMJB0188 macrumors 68000

    Dec 28, 2009

    It won't mess anything up. It's perfectly legit. You just provide your IMEI number and they unlock it (whoever you choose). It may take a day or two. The morons on this site won't give you a straight answer because they feel your device should be payed in full before its unlocked. Whatever. It's your device so you can do what you want with it.
  23. rui no onna macrumors 603

    rui no onna

    Oct 25, 2013
    Paying ETF should get you out of the contract and should make you eligible for BYOD rates. That helps if you're on Mobile Share Value. Not so much if you're grandfathered to old Family Talk plans.
  24. uwdude macrumors 6502a

    Jul 16, 2014
    Like somebody else said, I think buying a used phone like a 4s or 5c would be the best option. That way also, if something happens to it while you're traveling, your 5s is still at home undamaged and safe. And you've now got a backup "throwaway" phone that you can keep or sell.
  25. rui no onna, Aug 14, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2014

    rui no onna macrumors 603

    rui no onna

    Oct 25, 2013
    Given unlocks were $100 when I checked last year, I've never used them so I couldn't really tell you how reliable those services are.

    We did have 2 iPhones (4 & 4S) with official AT&T unlock that my parents used as well as a bunch of factory unlocked Androids (for me and my brother) when we went on vacation last year so unlocking wasn't a necessity for us.

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