How to fix the iPhone No Service error while roaming


IPhone no service error
Just switch this setting to fix the iPhone No Service error.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country with your iPhone or iPad, you may have come across the dreaded No Service error. This happens when you get off the plane and switch on your iPhone. But instead of connecting to a cellular network, your iPhone just spins its wheels and refuses to connect.

Apple offers a support page to help out, and a zillion forum pages serve up advice, but none seem to cover this particular tip, which I discovered after hours of painful futzing with settings.

How to fix the iPhone or iPad No Service error

The No Service message pops up when your iPhone can’t connect to a network, or it connects to a carrier but can’t establish a connection to the internet, or even to the cellular call network. You may even see the name of a carrier appear in the top left spot on your screen, but then it disappears.

The problem affects the iPad and the iPhone. The no service error could have several causes, and you can explore them all on the Apple support page. But before that, you should try this fix — because it is quick and easy.

Switch LTE or 4G to 3G

Just switching off LTE might fix the No Service message.
Just switching off LTE might fix the No Service message.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To fix the No Service bug, just toggle the LTE or 4G setting to 3G. To do this, head to Settings>Mobile Data>Mobile Data Options> Voice & Data, and tap 3G. That should do it, but you may need to toggle Airplane Mode (tap the little airplane symbol in Control Center) to force your iPhone or iPad to reconnect.

That’s it. The problem seems to be — in my testing — that you can’t always roam on 4G. So, if your regular phone service is 4G/LTE, and you roam to a country where the carriers don’t support 4G roaming, your connection will fail. You’d expect it to fall back to 3G, just like it does when a 4G network isn’t available, but it doesn’t.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the foreign carrier supporting 4G/LTE in general. It’s just that roaming phones can’t connect to 4G.

This bug is even more likely to hit you if you’re roaming in Europe. The European Union recently abolished roaming charges, so folks are more likely to travel without ever swapping out a SIM card for a local one.

If this fix doesn’t work, you can start exploring Apple’s own options, but for me this is almost always the problem when traveling. If you can’t connect, just switch from 4G to 3G, and you should be good to go.

This seems like something that should be automatic, especially since the failure mode is so catastrophic — i.e. you can’t get any connection at all, not even voice. Perhaps Apple will fix this problem in a future iOS update. Until then, the fix is easy when you know how.