Can you use an iPhone without a SIM card? Yes, you can. But the tricky part is activating and setting up the phone in the first place.

If you'd like your child to be able to use a spare phone without a SIM card - just accessing data via Wi-Fi, turning it effectively into an iPod touch - or you simply haven't got a spare card available, you'll be glad to know there are various ways to activate and use an iPhone without a SIM. In this article we walk you through the best approaches.

On a related note, you may also be looking for a way to activate the iPhone without needing to be connected to a Wi-Fi network. We have a method that will allow you to do this too.

Expect this process to be more challenging if your iPhone is locked to a certain carrier. For the purposes of this tutorial we will assume you've got an unlocked iPhone or have access to a carrier-specific SIM that you can use temporarily. If not, find out how to unlock an iPhone so you can use any SIM and How to fix the 'Could not activate iPhone' error.

This guide covers all iPhone generations from the 3GS through to the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max.

How to activate an iPhone without a SIM or Wi-Fi connection: iPhone unlock

Activate your iPhone using someone else's SIM

We'll start with the easiest workaround. This is aimed at those who don't have a SIM of their own but are able to borrow a SIM from someone else, just for the duration of the activation process. (That might sound like a cop-out, but most people should be able to find someone willing to lend a SIM card - and don't worry, our next method doesn't require a SIM at all.)

What you'll need:

  • A SIM removal tool
  • A kind friend who's prepared to let you borrow a SIM
  • If your iPhone is locked to a particular carrier you may need to make sure the SIM you borrow is from the same network
  • Access to a Wi-Fi network

Here's how to activate your iPhone:

  1. Remove the SIM from the lender's iPhone.
  2. Put the SIM in your iPhone.
  3. Go through the usual setup options, including logging on to your Wi-Fi network.
  4. Wait while the iPhone activates.
  5. Remove the SIM and hand it back to your friend.
  6. You can now use your iPhone; you just won't be able to make phone calls (unless you do so using Skype, FaceBook Messenger, WhatsApp or FaceTime).
  7. When you return the SIM to your friend they will be able to put it back in their phone and continue to use it as normal.

Activate your iPhone using iTunes

This method's effectiveness appears to depend on whether the phone is locked to a particular network. If your phone is locked and you have a SIM from that network handy you are best off activating the phone using the method described above.

The principle reason to use the iTunes method is if you have no Wi-Fi access.

What you'll need:

  • An unlocked iPhone
  • A computer running iTunes

And here's how to activate your iPhone using this method:

  1. Check iTunes is up to date, or if you haven't already got iTunes, download it for free through Apple's website.
  2. Once you've installed iTunes, connect your iPhone to your computer.
  3. You may see an onscreen prompt saying "There is no SIM card installed in the iPhone you are attempting to activate", which indicates that the phone is locked to a particular carrier. In which case, you need to find a suitable SIM to borrow so you can activate the iPhone. You will only need to use the SIM during activation. (And if you're using a SIM you won't need to activate via iTunes.) See the above method to activate your iPhone.
  4. Assuming the phone isn't locked to a carrier you will see an onscreen prompt in iTunes explaining what you need to do and the details you need to fill in to activate your iPhone.
  5. Once activated, you'll be able to use your iPhone on a Wi-Fi network, just as if it was an iPad or an iPod touch.

Activate your iPhone using the emergency call feature

You may have seen reports suggesting that you can activate an iPhone without a SIM card by calling the emergency services.

Not only do we want to dissuade you from calling the emergency services unnecessarily, we would also warn you that when we tried this method out it didn't work at all. We believe that the software flaw this method exploited has been patched.

Jailbreak your iPhone

If all else fails you can always attempt to jailbreak your iPhone. This does void your warranty, but if you've got an old iPhone that's carrier-locked, it might be the best way to get it working again.

We've got a full guide on how to jailbreak an iPhone, which goes through the best methods (and warns about the risks). This will hopefully allow you to activate and unlock your handset.