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Will my iPhone 5 Work Around the World?

Packing your iPhone for travel Packing the iPhone

I was mere seconds away from buying the new iPhone 5 (available for pre-order since this morning), but then I wondered…

Will my iPhone 5 Work Abroad?

Will the iPhone 5 work when I travel?” is a question you have to ask yourself before sinking $600-$800 on it.

A global-ready phone is more important to me than having a bigger screen, so I had to know.  I investigated… and here’s what I found out.

Apple Provides Different iPhone 5 Models to Different Countries.

To work on different LTE networks around the world, Apple had to make 3 (yes, three) different iPhone 5 models.  If you want to browse the web with that super-fast LTE speed, wherever you are, you should read how these models differ.

First, a ultra-quick mention how phones talk to your phone company…

A Techie 10-Second Primer on Phone Communication

There are two technologies for phones to talk to the cell tower: CDMA and GSM.  From an expat’s view, the whole world uses GSM, except for the US and Japan, who use CDMA.  (Yes, like the metric system, the US stands apart from the rest of the world.)

If you need to read much more about GSM/CDMA differences, click here. Otherwise, read on about the iPhone.
So, Apple had to manufacture 3 different iPhone 5 models to accommodate the different LTE networks around the world.  The models dictate what technology (GSM/CDMA) they use.  This is different than the iPhone 4S, which could utilize both GSM and CDMA.

So, What iPhone 5 Will I Have?

(Answer: Where do you live?)

If you live in Canada, your iPhone 5 will be the GSM model – specifically, model A1428

If you live in Japan, your iPhone 5 will be the CDMA version, model A1429

If you live in the US, it’s down to the phone company you bought it from.

If in the US, and you bought from AT&T, your iPhone 5 will be GSM, model A1428

If in the US, and you bought from Verizon or Sprint, your iPhone 5 will be CDMA, model A1429

UPDATE: If in the US, and you bought from Apple (their unlocked / no contract version), then you get the A1428.

(Thanks Deyner, and everyone keeping the comments so helpful.)

If you live in Europe, your iPhone 5 will be a GSM model, regardless of the phone company, iPhone 5 model A1429

Technical Details from Each iPhone Model’s Perspective

The A1428 model (Canada and US AT&T network) is GSM.  The A1428 supports UMTS/HSPA+DC-HSDPA (frequencies 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz), GSM/EDGE (frequencies 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), and LTE bands 4 and 17.

The A1429 model comes in two different flavours, one CDMA and one GSM:
The A1428 GSM model supports LTE in Asia (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, too) as well as LTE in Australia, Germany, and the UK on bands 1, 3, and 5.

The A1429 CDMA version supports Sprint’s and Verizon’s LTE networks in the US, the KDDI network in Japan on bands 1, 3, 5, 13, and 25.

Important: The CDMA version will also support GSM bands.  This means the CDMA iPhone 5 will be compatible with some GSM networks. BUT…the CDMA A1429 will not support LTE on GSM networks in the US.  Whew… got that?

Reference: http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

 

Wait, Will It Freakin’ Work or Not?

It comes down to this: Yes and no.

YES:  If you’re travelling between countries that share the same bands and standard, you’re in luck.  Unlock your phone, buy a local SIM from the kiosk on the street – BOOM, you’re as good as a local with a locally provided iPhone 5.

NO: After reading the above, you might learn your iPhone 5 can’t make use of the host country’s LTE network.  That said, if you’re sipping cappuccino or slurping Tom Yum noodle soup, you got extra time.  Enjoy the sights and then look back at your phone.  :-)

Update: Confirmed Verizon Sells Unlocked iPhone 5

From a reader last night:

I was on the phone with Verizon a few days ago on another matter and happened to ask How to unlock my i-Phone 5 when my contract was up and I plan to us it in Thailand. I was told that ALL Verizon  i-Phone fives are sold unlocked and I only need to swap the SIM card. I presume that it could be used on any GSM network that uses one of the local broadcast frequencies supported by the i-Phone 5.

If you live in the US, jump here to see some guy’s comparison between Sprint, Verizon and AT&T iPhone 5s. He also mentioned the Verizon iPhone sold as unlocked.

If Reading Nothing, Read This

Bottom line is this: if your iPhone 5 is a GSM model (whether A1428 or A1429), it will work with GSM networks around the world.  However, the super-fast LTE connectivity will happen in the region your phone is designed for (whether North America or Europe/Asia).

Note: when you’re buying an unlocked iPhone 5, you should be buying at full price (=$600-$1500 US$ depending what country you’re in). If you’re paying a subsidized price (normal in the USA), then it’s very likely the phone’s not unlocked.

Disclaimer:

Now, before any serious tech aficionados call me out, let me say I am not an expert, nor do I work for any of the companies mentioned above.  If you’ve got expertise, complaints or Apple fan-boy sputtering to add, please feel free to comment below.

 

But Wait – There’s More!

You see how the iPhone 5 models work around the world.

But there is much more to this site that I’m sure you’ll like.

Check out this page called New Here?

Please share with friends

If you found this page (or some other pages of mine) useful, please, please spread the word.

Click the Facebook LIKE button below and share with your friends. Thank you much.

   Your Expatyourself Apple fan-boy,

   -Jeff

 

{ 179 comments… add one }

  • Joe September 30, 2013, 10:24 am

    Hi

    Thanks for the article. Seems to be the only useful one out there. Can you just confirm that if I get a 5s from Hong Kong it will work perfectly in the UK. That is how i have read this but dont want to buy one, get home and it not work

    Thanks again

    • Jeff October 1, 2013, 9:57 am

      Hi Joe,

      I can’t personally confirm the HK 5s will work in the UK, but I have very strong feeling that LTE will work fine.

      The cellular tech in the 5s and 5c are far more advanced than in the earlier iPhone 5 models. So, the iPhone 5s from Hong Kong (model A1530) covers all the same LTE bands as expected in the UK (plus more).

      Good luck, and if you get a chance to let us know, please do.

      -Jeff

  • Matt October 1, 2013, 9:23 pm

    Hello Joe.

    What put me off about the HK model is that my understanding is that Apple presumably want as few iPhone model variants as reasonably possible. If the HK version accesses everything in the UK (and more), why would they make the UK version? Surely they would just add the UK (and France and Germany) to the A1530 list? That’s my worry!

    Matt

  • jeanne October 13, 2013, 4:05 am

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for all the great info! I just had one concern. I am planning on purchasing an unlocked iphone 5 from Sprint. The person I’m buying it from claims that it will work with any GSM carrier. I’ve read from other articles that with the Sprint iphone 5 people have problems with the text messaging. They cannot send texts using other carriers domestically and abroad. Is this true?

  • Greg October 13, 2013, 11:34 am

    Based on the Apple 5S specs page (copied below) it looks like the A1453 model covers ATT and Verizon plus most of the world standards. That sound right to you? I wonder what model they sell in the Apple store (unlocked).?

    Model A1533 (GSM)*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 19, 20, 25)
    Model A1533 (CDMA)*: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 19, 20, 25)
    Model A1453*: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26)
    Model A1457*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20)
    Model A1530*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20); TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40)

  • Dayo October 20, 2013, 5:47 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    Please I would like to know if its possible to order for an iPhone 5S (factory unlocked) from the US and be able to use it in Nigeria where I live.

    I saw an option of a T-Mobile contract free iPhone 5S that needs to be activated with a T-Mobile sim that comes with the iPhone, after which I can use it internationally. I still need clarifications on this option.

    Thanks.

    Dayo.

    • Brad October 21, 2013, 3:38 am

      Nigeria is not on the list of covered countries: http://www.t-mobile.com/coverage.html

      • Dayo November 5, 2013, 6:12 am

        Hi,

        Does anyone have an idea on when Apple intends to start selling unlocked iPhone 5S. Or where to possibly get one in the US.
        Thanks.

        Dayo.

  • Jan Bottcher November 3, 2013, 9:27 pm

    Hello
    I live in Vancouver BBC Canada and would like to purchase iphone 5s
    Would this phone work in Australia and Poland ?
    Thank you
    JB

  • along December 29, 2013, 6:24 am

    hi,
    if i buy an iPhone 5 from egypt, is it a lock set? can i use it in malaysia? how can i know wether the iphone is lock set or not?
    thanks.

  • Dominique Anne Cojuangco December 31, 2013, 1:24 am

    Hi, I would just like to know if I purchase an iPhone 5s from Bahrain (Middle East) will it perfectly work here in the Philippines? Hope you’ll reply my question. Thanks!

  • Robert February 6, 2014, 12:47 am

    Hey,

    Another ‘just want to make sure i’m reading this right’ question. I have a Korean iphone 5 A1429. It will be unlocked once I buy myself out of my contract with my Korean carrier. I’ll be back in the US for a few months then off to Europe to teach for 6 months/a year. I’m not that concerned with having LTE service while i’m back in the states, but do you think I’ll be able to get data and service with a GSM carrier (for example i know t mobile uses GSM).

    Thanks for the posts they are really helpful!

  • peter smith February 15, 2014, 10:43 am

    Can i use sprint network iphone 5s over here in Nigeria?

    • Jeff February 15, 2014, 1:38 pm

      If it’s unlocked, you bet. Nigeria has a wide range of cellular providers using GSM: MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Globacom and Etisalat.

      You’ll probably not get full LTE speeds, but 3G is for sure.

      Just be sure that Sprint iPhone is really unlocked. :-)

      • peter March 25, 2014, 9:57 am

        can i be able to unlock my iphone 5s sprint network?

  • Ivy March 22, 2014, 1:50 am

    Hi Jeff!

    I want to buy the iPhone 5s in China (Shanghai), and I want to use it for when I’m back in the Netherlands.

    So my question is, would this phone work perfectly in the Netherlands? I mean, for example: can I just use wifi/3G or 4G?

  • peter March 25, 2014, 9:52 am

    you sure my iphone 5s sprint network be unlocked?

  • Jens March 31, 2014, 5:01 am

    Hi Jeff
    Im from South Africa and traveling to America will my iphone 5 work there ?

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