How to activate your iPhone 6 on T-Mobile

If you went the prepaid route and ordered T-Mobile's no-contract iPhone 6, you may have no idea what to do once it arrives.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
5 min read


Did you preorder a T-Mobile iPhone 6 or 6 Plus from Apple? I did. Read on for my tale of woe, or skip ahead to "Options for Activation," below, if you just want help getting service.

No more two-year phone contracts. Not now, not ever.

That was my thinking when I splurged on the no-contract iPhone 6 from T-Mobile. Reselling my previous iPhone would help defray the cost, and I'd be free to try T-Mo for a month or two, then take it to a less-expensive MVNO if I wanted (more on that below).

But when the new iPhone arrived, I didn't know what to do next. There was no information in the box about activating the phone, creating a T-Mobile account, porting my current number, or anything else. Because I'm not currently a T-Mobile customer, I didn't have a SIM card I could just pop in.

(For the record, if you are a T-Mo customer and do have a matching SIM card, it's probably just a matter of, well, popping it in.)

Sure, I was able to set up the iPhone, sign into my iTunes account, and restore my backup from my old phone. But then what? I still didn't have service.

Instructions not included

Because calling customer-service departments ranks up there with getting a tooth filled, I went to T-Mobile's Web site. Surely they'd have some big, splashy banner: "New iPhone 6 owners, click here!" Nope. In fact, I couldn't find anything related to activating a phone. (After a Google search, I did find T-Mobile's phone-activation page -- but the first thing it asks for is an activation code, which was nowhere to be found.)

Um, what activation code? My iPhone 6 arrived without one. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Plan B: Find a store and get help from a human. The store locator told me there was a T-Mobile outlet in my nearby Walmart. Easy enough, right? Except, no: Walmart apparently no longer handles prepaid T-Mobile phones, only postpaid. (Whatever that means. I mean, I know what it means, but it makes no sense. I might have better luck at an "actual" T-Mobile store, the guy told me.)

Ultimately, I gave in and called T-Mobile customer service. After a 7-minute wait on hold, a heavily accented gent (who I could barely understand) told me, sure enough, I'd need to talk to the Prepaid Department, and transferred me over there.

That's when it got really terrible. This time, I had a very difficult conversation with a heavily accented woman, who seemed to be working from a script (natch) and got totally thrown when I diverted her from it. She asked for my T-Mobile account number; I explained that I didn't have an account, that's why I was calling. After a long silence, she asked for my phone number. Er, which phone number?

We went around and around like this for some time. I frequently had to repeat myself, and she frequently asked questions that didn't pertain to what I wanted -- which was simply to create a new line of service and port my existing number. In the end, it seemed like everything was all set -- but I still found myself without a confirmation number, any kind of T-Mobile account information, or even a phone number to call for updates.

A day later, when I still didn't have service, I decided to visit the "real" T-Mobile store in my nearby mall. There I had to pay $10 for a new SIM card, despite the fact that the iPhone 6 had arrived with a T-Mobile SIM already installed. What the heck, T-Mo? The CSR I'd spoken with on the phone didn't mention this. And if I she had, would I be looking at a week-long wait to get the SIM in the mail?

Note to T-Mobile store staff: This exists. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Also, two reps at the store had no idea that T-Mobile's Simple Starter Plan ($45/month for unlimited talk/text and 2GB of capped data) even existed. When I insisted it did (having seen it online), they "found" the option and got me all signed up. Finally. (Note to anyone who might be porting a number from Virgin Mobile: You'll need to supply T-Mo with your Virgin Mobile account number, and the only way to get that number is to call Virgin Mobile. Sigh.)

Bottom line: This was a terrible customer-service experience from start to finish. Maybe some crucial document got left out of the box, or maybe T-Mobile assumes people who order a phone from Apple will instinctively take it to an Apple or T-Mobile store for activation. Maybe the oversight actually lies with Apple. Whatever the case, I suspect anyone new to T-Mobile will run into the same head-scratcher: Got the iPhone 6; now what?

Options for activation

New customers will need to buy a Nano SIM for the T-Mobile iPhone 6, even if it came with one. T-Mobile

If you didn't slog through my story, the key takeaway is this: For new customers, the fastest way to get your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus activated on T-Mobile is to take it to a proper T-Mobile store (by which I mean a standalone store, not one shoehorned into a Costco, Walmart, or the like). I have no doubt you could accomplish the same thing at an Apple Store, but those aren't nearly as ubiquitous -- and good luck getting anywhere near one in these initial post-launch weeks.

You can also call 877-453-1304 to take a stab at getting your phone activated by a CSR. If you're porting your number from another carrier, make sure you have the corresponding account number and PIN/password.

Finally, if you don't mind waiting a bit, you can head to T-Mobile's Bring Your Own Phone page. Although the iPhone 6 isn't listed (um, what?) and doesn't even appear if you search for it, just scroll down a bit and select the T-Mobile SIM Starter Kit - Nano SIM. It's $10 -- but, oh, wait, it's "free with promo code FREESIM." (Thanks a lot, T-Mo store! I want my $10 back.) From there you can choose a plan and so on. Just keep in mind it'll probably take at least a few days for the kit to arrive in the mail.

Or you could skip T-Mobile altogether

According to a T-Mobile rep, if you paid full price for the iPhone 6, it's already unlocked. That means you can take it to any other GSM carrier, including AT&T, Consumer Cellular, Cricket Wireless, H2O Wireless, Straight Talk, and so on.

As with T-Mobile proper, you'll need a SIM card, and you'll have to go through the porting process if you want to bring your number. But that's the beauty of the unlocked phone: You're not tied to a single carrier for two whole years.

If you ordered a T-Mobile iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, share your activation story in the comments.