Recently I learned the hard way that my $700, unlocked, globally capable dual-band iPhone 5 was essentially useless as a phone outside of the US. My disappointment was matched only by my frustration with my carrier back in the States, Verizon.
The main reason I’d bought the iPhone was to have a truly global phone that could work anywhere in the world using local SIM Cards. This is after all is the cheapest way to use your cell phone to make calls, send texts and stay connected to the Internet while abroad.
The problem was not with the phone itself, but with Verizon. Before I left the US, I called customer service and had them unlock the phone as they’re legally obligated to do. This in theory would allow me to use third party GSM SIM cards while travelling in South East Asia. Alas, to my great dismay, I discovered that Verizon found yet one more way to screw over its customers.
Before leaving I also suspended my service for two months. This is an obvious move that all medium to long-term travellers make in order to avoid $70/month cell phone bills while abroad. After all, if your abroad you certainly aren’t using domestic cell phone networks, so why pay?
Well, the moment I suspended my service, Verizon relocked my phone so I couldn’t use it with any third party carrier. Had I kept paying the bill, I could have used my phone abroad with any carrier – but that would utterly defeat the purpose of having a global phone. This means, in essence, my iPhone is only usable with Verizon. Bullocks.
There are two ways around this problem. 1) Buy your iPhone direct from Apple. You will pay the full price for the phone, there will be no subsidy from your carrier, but it will be truly unlocked. 2) Jailbreak your iPhone. The key to jailbreaking is NOT to update your IOS software to the latest version. It takes hackers a while to roll out new jailbreaks for IOS updates. Also, avoid buying your iPhone from Verizon. Their security protocols make it more difficult to unlock their phones than those of AT&T, Sprint or T-mobile.
If I could redo my purchase, I’d buy the phone direct from Apple, and then sign up for monthly plan with T-Mobile. I would NOT sign a two-year contract with Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. The reason is simple – those plans have inflated monthly rates to offset the cost of the subsidy for the phones.
I hope this helps you avoid the same mistake that I made: relying on Verizon for my “unlocked” iPhone.