Every week we receive dozens of emails from people who are considering buying an iPhone from overseas, or who currently live overseas and are moving to New Zealand with an existing iPhone, and they want to know whether or not said device will work here in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the answer is almost always ‘no’, but read on for the full lowdown.
New Zealand is lucky in that it is one of only a handful of countries in the world where the iPhone can be purchased outright and unlocked. By outright I mean free of any term contract and by unlocked I mean that it is not restricted for use on any one particular network. Once purchased through either Apple’s Online Store or via Vodafone, you are free to connect your iPhone to any compatible network anywhere in the world.
In the USA (which is where most of you ask us about getting them from), it is a very different situation. There, the iPhone is exclusive to the AT&T network and every iPhone sold in the US is locked to that network only. Even if you pay for the mobile outright and don’t enter into a term contract, the phone will still be locked to AT&T. This is also the case for most other countries including the UK (which is probably the second most commonly mentioned country when you contact us).
Can they be unlocked? Not legitimately, no. Software unlocks do exist but they are not authorised by Apple, can invalidate your warranty and are often reversed when you apply a new software update, which can you leave you high and dry without a working phone. Just take a look around our forums and you’ll see the amount of people that this has happened to, so it’s fair to say that this is risky at best. [edit - some carriers around the world allow an authorised unlock, you can check which ones do here. If you are in the category of being currently overseas with an existing iPhone and are wondering about bringing it to New Zealand, talk with your carrier to discuss whether an unlock is possible and under what conditions.]
Then there’s the issue of the warranty. Unlike most Apple gear such as iPods or Macs that come with an international warranty, the iPhone is only covered by warranty in the country of purchase. So even if you did buy a phone from the US, and even if you did manage to unlock it, you’d be left without a warranty and that’s not a good position to be in should something go wrong with your device.
If you’re considering buying a second-hand device from places such as TradeMe, be extra careful to make sure that the phone you’re bidding on is officially unlocked (i.e. bought that way) and not just software unlocked (hacked or jailbroken). Some sellers are less than up-front about this so if it isn’t clear in the description make sure you ask before laying down any money.
The final piece of advice I’d like to give is to be very wary of websites or unsolicited emails that offer iPhones at substantially reduced prices and claim to offer “international warranties” or amazing deals due to “wholesale pricing”. Firstly, Apple don’t wholesale these devices to just anybody — for example, here in New Zealand only Apple themselves and authorised Vodafone dealers can retail them. Secondly, the margin on these devices is very thin and retailers really wouldn’t be able to take anything off the RRP. Offers such as these are almost always a scam and going along with them will invariably land you with a fake iPhone or even stolen goods, so exercise caution!
Well that’s it for this week, class – keep the questions coming!