The best ways to buy an unlocked iPhone X

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iPhone X
Don't lock yourself to a carrier -- buy your iPhone X from Apple instead.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

It might not seem like it at the time, but buying an iPhone for full price upfront is probably the cheapest option. Swallowing the $1,000 purchase price of an unlocked iPhone X isn’t easy. However, you won’t wind up tied to carrier contracts that trap you for a year or two. Plus, you can pick a cheap, $10-per-month prepaid data plan instead.

In the European Union, Apple sells unlocked phones from the get-go. If you buy a new iPhone from Apple on launch day, it will not come tied to a carrier. In the United States, SIM-free iPhones usually go on sale a few weeks after launch.

Today we’ll look at how and where you can buy a SIM-free, unlocked iPhone.

Unlocked iPhone X from the Apple Store

The very best way to buy an unlocked iPhone is from the Apple Store — either online or in person at an actual store. This way you get to take advantage of Apple’s generous 14-day return policy, and the ease of returning something if you do decide you don’t like your new iPhone X. And if you’re buying right now, you can enjoy Apple’s extended holiday returns policy, which runs until January 8, 2018.

To purchase an iPhone X SIM-free, just choose that option during the online buying process. Or tell the Apple Store assistant when you buy.

iPhone Upgrade Program

Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program is like a cellphone contract, only without the hassle. Great for buying an unlocked iPhone.
Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is like a cellphone contract, only without the hassle.
Photo: Apple

The iPhone Upgrade Program is like a cellphone contract made with Apple instead of with a carrier. You pay a monthly fee (from around $35 for the 64GB iPhone 8, up to $56 for the 256GB iPhone X), and you get a new iPhone every year. The good news is that iPhones purchased with the iPhone Upgrade Program come carrier-unlocked. So, if you enroll, you need never worry about lock-in again. Or rather, you need never worry about carrier lock-in: You’re still in a contract with Apple.

Another advantage of the iPhone Upgrade Program? It includes an AppleCare+ extended warranty from Apple. That means that if and when you drop your iPhone down the toilet, or smash the screen, you can get it repaired much more cheaply. You also enjoy an extended two-year warranty.

This is a great option if you don’t want to pay the entire iPhone cost up front. The iPhone Upgrade Program is interest-free, so the total for the high-end 256GB iPhone X would be $1,347.84 — the most of the iPhone X ($1,149) plus Apple Care+ ($199). And of course you still need to find a cellphone company to actually get you connected.

Unlocked iPhone X from your carrier

If you insist on buying your iPhone X from a cellphone carrier, make sure they sell you a SIM-unlocked model. Otherwise, you’ll run into trouble selling it when you get a new iPhone or using a local SIM if you travel to another country.

In the United States, Verizon provides its iPhones unlocked, but elsewhere in the world you’ll need to check with your local carriers. Yes, that’s a pain, but not as much of a pain as being locked in. And frankly, this is yet another reason that buying the iPhone direct from Apple is your best bet.