If you've bought an iPad with 3G/cellular capabilities (we discuss whether that's a good idea in our 2014 iPad buying guide), you need to buy and install a SIM card. In this simple tutorial we explain which SIM card you need for each model of iPad - the iPad 2 and iPad Air, as well as the now-discontinued older iPad 1, iPad 3 and iPad 4 in case you've bought one second-hand - and show how to install/insert the SIM card into your iPad.

How to put in a SIM card for an iPad: Which SIM do you need for each iPad model (and iPhone model)?

The iPad Air, Apple's most recent iPad tablet, uses a smaller SIM card called a nano SIM, but older iPads have used different types of SIM. Here's a list of the iPad models and the SIM cards they use:

While we're at it, here are the SIM cards that each iPhone uses:

Information sourced from this Apple support page. This Wikipedia page has more information on the various SIM types, including the much larger full-sized SIM card. The SIM in the iPhones 1 to 3GS is technically a mini-SIM, but it's often referred to as simply a SIM, including in the Apple support page previously linked. However, if you look at quite how massive the full-size SIM is, you'll realise it would be hard to get them mixed up.

iPad with no SIM

What's the difference between a mini-SIM, micro-SIM and nano-SIM?

Just size, really - the quantity and shape of the plastic mounting around the actual important chip bit (those are technical terms). Here's a photo of the three kinds of SIM, with an iPhone SIM-tray tool for size comparison.

Nano-SIM, micro-SIM and SIM size comparison

From left to right: nano-SIM, micro-SIM and mini-SIM card (the last is often just called a SIM).

How to put in a SIM card for an iPad: How to get the right SIM

The easiest way for most people will be to simply ask their data provider. If you're taking out a plan for the first time, you'll obviously need to tell the provider which model of iPad you're using, and they will give you the correct card. And even if you're transferring a data plan from an old iPad to a new iPad which uses a different SIM - going from the iPad 4 to the iPad Air, for example - then you just need to go to your nearest branch and ask to swap. They shouldn't charge you a penny.

However, if there isn't a branch of your provider nearby and you don't want to wait for a new SIM to be delivered (ring them and see how long this will take) then it is possible to do some DIY to convert a larger SIM into one of the smaller sizes.

How to put in a SIM card for an iPad: Cutting down a mini-SIM and turning it into a micro-SIM

To turn a mini-SIM into a micro-SIM you just need to cut away the plastic around the chip - but it's worth warning the casual techie that one slip of the scalpel here will ruin your SIM, so be aware of the risks (and difficulties) before getting started. Nevertheless, it's a manageable DIY job.

The best plan is to download a template that will show you where to make the cuts. Such templates are freely available on the internet, but this one is as good as any. Then you can cautiously file down the sides until the SIM fits neatly and securely into the SIM tray of your new device.

Finally, if this doesn't appeal, you could buy a cutter to do this for you - search for 'micro sim cutter' on Amazon or a similar site and you'll see plenty of cheap options.

How to put in a SIM card for an iPad: Cutting down a micro-SIM and turning it into a nano-SIM

In theory converting a micro-SIM into a nano-SIM is more difficult because nano-SIMs are actually flatter than micro- and mini-SIMs, as well as having a smaller area. But the difference is so small (mini and micro SIMs have a thickness of 0.76mm, whereas nano-SIMs are 0.67mm thick) that it shouldn't be a problem.

Here's a template that shows how to cut down a micro-SIM card into a nano-SIM.

How to put in a SIM card for an iPad: Insert the SIM

Assuming you've got the SIM you need, all that's left is to open the SIM tray on the iPad (we'll be using an iPad Air) and pop in the SIM.

The SIM tray will be on one side of the iPad - on the iPad Air it's on the same side as the volume control buttons.

How to put a SIM card into an iPad

Take the SIM tray tool that was provided with the device and poke it into the little hole - gently at first, then steadily harder until the SIM tray lifts clear.

How to put a SIM card into an iPad

The SIM tray will poke out a little way. Grab it with your fingers and pull the SIM tray out.

How to put a SIM card into an iPad

If everything has proceeded correctly, you'll notice that the slot in the SIM tray is the right size for your SIM card. Because of the single chopped-off corner, it will only fit in one way around, so you don't need to worry about inserting it upside-down or the wrong way around. Pop it in, then reinsert the tray.

How to put a SIM card into an iPad

The iPad will briefly read 'Searching...' while it connects up to the carrier, but you'll soon have access to 3G services.

For more advice on setting up a new iPad, see our tutorial feature: Guide to getting a new iPad up and running.

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