Galaxy Note 3

'Unlocked' EU and American Note 3s only region-locked if you first 'activate' them with an unapproved SIM —​ and even then, there's a way back

Over the past day or so it's come to light that "unlocked" Samsung Galaxy Note 3s from Europe and Latin America seem to be locked to SIMs from their specific regions. Note 3 devices sold in these countries were packaged with an ominous sticker warning of incompatibility with SIMs from outside their approved regions. As we reported yesterday, that'd present a serious inconvenience (not to mention expense) for frequent travelers who use local SIM cards when overseas.

Fortunately, though, fresh details have come to light today which point to the situation not being quite as serious as it first seemed. Let's take a look at what's going on with region-locking on the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Galaxy Note 3 SIM lock

Unlocked, except fo​r when it's not

Samsung's sticker doesn't tell the full story.

If you pick up an unlocked, SIM-free Galaxy Note 3 in Europe or Latin America, you'll see the sticker resembling the one above. It's used to seal the box, so it's pretty hard to miss. And after reading it, most customers would come away with the impression that you can't use the device contained within with a SIM card from outside its approved region. For what's supposed to be an unlocked GSM handset, that seems rather unreasonable.

Experiences of Note 3 owners with these unlocked, but apparently region-locked handsets have been varied. After removing our EE (UK) SIM from our own Note 3 we were able to use it with a T-Mobile (US) SIM without issue. But many others, including Nirave Gondhia from UK Mobile Review, who first used a United Arab Emirates SIM in his Note 3, found they were presented with a SIM lock message.

So what's going on? Well, it turns out Samsung's sticker doesn't tell the full story.

Region-locke​d, except for when it's not

The region-lock only kicks in if you first "activate" it with a SIM from outside the list of approved countries.

As it happens, the crucial factor is which SIM card you first use when you set up the phone. Lars from AllAboutSamsung.de was given information to this effect when he got in touch with Samsung Germany, and it's since been confirmed by Nirave Gondhia, who got his hands on additional Note 3s to test the theory. A second Note 3, first "activated" with a UK SIM, could then be used with a UAE SIM — the same one rejected by the first device.

(This also explains what happened with our own unlocked Note 3. It was never region-locked, as we used our EE (UK) SIM to run through the initial setup.)

So the region-lock only kicks in if you first "activate" it — i.e., switch on the phone and run through setup — with a SIM from outside the list of approved countries. It's probably a measure designed to ensnare grey (unauthorized) importers of Samsung phones. And it means you should be very careful about which SIM card you use to activate any "unlocked" Samsung phone from now on.

Swipe to unlock

What to​ do next

Even if you've gotten the SIM lock message, you're not completely screwed.

If you've got an unlocked European or American Galaxy Note 3 and used a local SIM when you switched it on for the first time, you're good — you don't need to do anything. Your Note 3 should be unlocked to use any SIM when you travel outside of the phone's home region.

If you've got (or plan to pick up) a Galaxy Note 3 but haven't switched it on yet, make sure to use a local (same region as the phone) SIM when you switch it on for the first time and run through the initial setup.

But even if you've already used a foreign SIM the first time you switched on your unlocked Note 3, and have gotten the SIM lock message, you're not completely screwed. In fact, there are a few options open to region-locked Note 3s. A local (to the phone) Samsung service center should be able to unlock the device for you, or there are third-party firms you can try (UKMR suggests some in its piece today.)

So hopefully that clears a few things up. The situation is still far from ideal — these are GSM unlocked phones, after all —but at least the vast majority of Note 3 owners who use a local SIM first won't be affected by Samsung's lockdown. For everyone else, it's just a case of paying extra attention to which SIM you use on that crucial first boot.

Update: Samsung statement

Samsung UK has now released a statement basically confirming what we've written above.

"In order to provide customers with the optimal mobile experience in each region including customer care services, Samsung has incorporated the ‘regional SIM lock’ feature into Galaxy Note 3 devices. The product is only compatible with a SIM-card issued from a mobile operator within the region identified on the sticker of the product package. When the device is activated with a SIM card issued from the other region, the device may be automatically locked until it is released at the dedicated service centre.

Once a device is activated normally, the regional SIM lock is automatically released. Users can enjoy the roaming service as usual and can use other region’s SIM card when travelling. The regional SIM lock has been applied to the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S4 devices through a software update in selective markets. The regional SIM lock does NOT affect the device’s features and performance. Users can continue to enjoy all the advanced features of our products."

More: UK Mobile Review, AllAboutSamsung (German)

 

Reader comments

Here's what's going on with the Galaxy Note 3's region-locking

84 Comments

So do you have to use a local SIM card every time you reset the phone, or when you change the ROM? Or is it only the very first initial switch on?

Very first initial switch-on. Once you're activated, a factory reset won't change things in either direction.

I always do my first initial switch-on without any sim card. I play around with this new device for some time, then install some necessary apps and only then, when the setup is pretty much complete, I pull the sim card out of the old phone and put it into the new one. What happens in this case? Is it simply in some unknown state until I put the first sim card in? In other words it is not the exact first boot that counts, but rather the first radio/modem initialization?

well in this case, since you know there are problems depending on which card you use, would it just be best to just do it the way they are telling you is the right way?

So I am in Afghanistan, I bought a note 2 a while back loved it .... but if I buy this note 3 and put in a local Afghanistan Roshan sim card it wont work at all? I just destroyed the screen on my note 2, and was really looking forward to grabbing this phone =0/

Another ridiculous restriction, at least there's a way around it. Never understood the whole network lock philosophy. Presumably, it was originally intended to prevent people from selling a phone supplied with a contract, but even then, why? They've got a person into a contract, the person is paying it, and if they want to get out, they have to pay an early exit fee, so what benefit does a network lock give to anyone? If someone wants to purchase a phone, either by means of a contract, or paying up-front for the device, they should be free to do whatever they like with that device and should not be restricted in any way, especially considering the very high cost of modern devices.

Fitzy89 I dont think you understood the concept of region locking....its has nothing to do with network locking. ..you can still move across any network without any problems if you have an unlock device. its to stop illicit traders importing the device from one country to another.

Importing into say North Korea could be so they locked it down like this.

Makes sense but Samsung should unlock it for free if you screwed up the first time

Posted via your wifes, girlfriends phone

Oh Yes, I'm sure this was all a benign move to combat trading into north korea....

Do believe everything your corporate overlords tell you?

Honestly I don't give a rats ass, just pointing out a purpose to region locjing

Posted via your wifes, girlfriends phone

Alex,

Great info, and thanks for looking into it. Can you please change the wording in the "what to do next" section to be more explicit? Based on the rest of the article, my interpretation of what you meant by "LOCAL SIM" and "FOREIGN SIM"

Local to the phone's original market
and Foreign to the phone's original market

(ie if released in europe, use an EU sim, not a US sim).

However, I think the common, gut-reaction interpretation to these words (mine included) is:

Local to me.
and Foreign to me.

In which case, it sounds like you're telling someone in North Carolina they can use an AT&T sim to unlock this phone.

By local and foreign, I mean what you think I mean :)

Local to my UK Note 3 would be any EU SIM.

Foreign to my UK Note 3 would be any non-EU SIM.

its not really that big of a restriction just use your local sim first to unlock it.

here is where it talks about it at ukmobilereview

so all the european note 3 buyers should at least know the solution now if they plan to work or go abroad

It is a bit better than yesterday but still unacceptable to me so my decision to avoid Samsung products still stands. Trying to complicate grey import?

Why do you buy imported Samsung's? Simple answer:

They just don't sell unlocked phones in specific markets. In the US, the only way to get the S 4 or Note 3 unlocked, unbranded without any carrier bloatware is to buy an imported EU model. The same applies if you want a model with better third party support since Samsung provide unstandardized hardware with different CPU/GPU depending on market. Their behavior just make import necessary.

Other brands that provides unlocked phones in their own stores (Sony) or go through their own retail channels (Oppo, Xiaomi) don't "suffer" from import. There is no doubt that Samsung act on behalf of carriers and other interests that want the customer to buy the "regional" version, especially if it is available from carriers ONLY, which is the case in the US. If I circumvent the carriers and buy my Note 3 from Europe and put a prepaid SIM in, I am a prospective lost sale for them. The "better" situation for them and Samsung (which is a very carrier friendly company, offering special editions etc) is that I buy the Note 3 on contract, obviously.

Even if the block is a little less tight, it is still not acceptable since it works against the free movement of products. It is also worth to mention that if there would be no EU, I am pretty sure that Samsung devices would need to be activated in their own country, i.e. a UK device needs a UK SIM, a German one needs a German SIM etc.

On top of that, we have the Samsung Knox - something that I certainly don't accept at all.

It is clear that Samsung is the "Carrier Best Friend" and want to please them - their whole product strategy with anti-standardization etc and "regional versions" are very strong indicators.

Well u always can buy a unlock code either from eBay or unlockr or so and unlock ur american simlock phones easy and fast. And as of bloatware that is able to get away to just is a little bit more complicated. For example I am running an LG G Pro Att version that is now official a 988 instead an 980 USA att version. Meaning nothing in the software is att bloated and also can u use WiFi tether with no calling 611 att first. The only thing still reminding u that it is a att phone is the back cover with the att symbol on it.

Posted via Android Central App

Unless you ever do a factory reset...

This is a pretty retarded move. Most of the kind of people who buy grey imports aren't going to buy a local version simply to get around this lock, they're going to buy a different phone.

Alex replied above: a factory reset doesn't affect the process, once the "unlocked" phone is initially activated with a regional SIM.

Posted via Android Central App

that's stupid. as a overseas customer of clove I can't order this phone because no one will activate it for me in UK and if it does what happen if I change ROM?

Posted via Android Central App

Maybe because you first activated it with a local sim, that the radio portion would stay the same, as long as your ROM(or you) doesnt change the radio, you should be good. Im no dev.....but it sounds logical to me.

I could be wrong but, I beliebe the lock is software based. So, once activated it's no longer an issue unless you activated with a SIM that caused a SIM lock

This is a real bad bad bad deal indeed. Samsung becomes the USA with that stupid simlock shit. Normally u where always in the clear with international phones but now Samsung is starting shit. It seems the companies that get most successful start changing the stuff that made them successful and start digging there own grave. What idiots. That's all I gonna say about this.

Posted via Android Central App

What's next? Remove SD cards and removable batteries. The US Carriers need serious regulations, they are just making up their own powers and are unchallenged. The FCC needs to start locking down the carriers and their made up BS to screw the customers over at every angle and limit them completely. The Citizens own the airwaives, not the carriers, the FCC leases it on our behalf. I wish we had the regulations of EU and Canada here in the states for the BS Corporations pull.

Verizon thought about expanding into Canada and then read up on all the regulations Canada has and decided not to do it because they wouldn't have carte blanche to do what ever they want like they do in the states.

Haha Verizon didn't wanna move on with their plan to expand. Canada or for a fact the rest of the world doesn't want such controlling companies. So much to the land of free. Often ur less then free in the USA. At least when it comes to carrier and companies and there shit.

Posted via Android Central App

It is an example that samsung starts to be like usa carriers and starts locking phones now. That is bull....

Posted via Android Central App

I'm pretty sure this article is stating that the phones are unlocked. You're going to be using your phone in your region anyways. So just activate the phone with your number then go traveling Duh.

Posted via Android Central App

Well what if u buy the phone new. Like some ppl do. Then wanna use it in the USA but the phone will be locked because it isn't a European country. Then u r screwed. Nice job Samsung.

Posted via Android Central App

Screw you Samsung, I was close in buying Note 3 but now will switch. a person pays for unlocked, should get unlocked. no single customer should remember to first activate a phone with proper region sim card when the phone is purchased. its' samsung's business to tackle the illegal importers, not one customer should be impacted.

then you are missing out on the chance to own what could be the most advanced phone right now. how difficult is it to wait and think over exactly what is happening or find solutions? they must have their reasons for it, considering that other markets like asia are not sim locked

Of course they have their reason... to make more money. All that fluff about providing the best customer care is typical PR BS.

If you actually want an UNLOCKED phone, what "could be the most advanced phone right now" could also be as useless as a paperweight. And the reason they don't do it in certain regions like Asia/Pacific, is because those are the regions people import INTO, because Samsung products are so stupidly over-priced here.

Samsung is locking down their products more and more, trying to force people into their ecosystem, buying only their products and only on their terms...

I recently purchased this samsung galaxy note3 in Toronto, Canada. My main reason for buying this expensive smart phone was to take advantage of the Wind.com unlimited data offering so I can finally access the Internet for free and just pay for basic cell phone monthly use.I presently want to install a 128gb SanDisk micro sd card which is not the sim memory card already inside .Is this phone compatible with a 128 gb memory microsd card? Apparently on the Samsung blogs or android central blogs some people stated that it does work ok.Can anyone give me a feedback confirmation before I spend more money on another gadget that may not work.I would appreciate any information and your effort to advise me. REGARDS, bobcat445 @ROGERS.COM

Posted via Android Central App

Absurd play by Samsung, why do they care where the device is used. It's an unlocked phone the only point of sim locks was contracts, you're selling this device off contract.

This will only accomplish two things.
First and foremost, piss off samsung customers.
Second get gray market importers to open the boxes and activate the phones before they import them, really getting around this couldn't be easier it's a really stupid lock and a really stupid corporate decision.

"activate the phones before they import " ...Or ship a local payg sim card with instructions. I'm sure those who save money by importing will understand the extra steps involved.

If all you need is the sim card it's even worse. I was thinking the sim card would need to connect to the wireless network as well to complete the activation.

That's a question that remains I guess.

After using two unlocked nexus devices in a row the GSM Galaxy Nexus and then the Nexus 4
and going back to a bootloader and sim locked AT&T S4 , even though I was smart enough to not upgrade to mf3 and can still work around the bootloader I hate having these locked down phones. They are a pita and their is no reason for them.

I'm going back to sim unlocked / bootloader unlocked phones like the nexus, as soon as the Nexus 5 comes out, guess I have to add region unlocked to my qualifications list now.

Sounds like things are not as bad as first thought. Hope to hear more from owners who have proved the theory in practice.

What's the point in this if you can just bypass it by going to a service centre? Is there a cost attached or will they refuse to unlock it if it's an import?

Here's a thought. Does the SIM actually need to be active, or will any old SIM do? If any SIM, even a deactivated one, will work, then importers could just throw an old SIM into the box, the customer could pop it in first, and they're all set.

Samsung is getting worse than Apple by pulling these anti-customer stunts, the Android market marketshare and profits is getting to their head!!

I'm still not convinced, that Samsung is the primary culprit, here. This could potentially limit sales of their unlocked handsets, which Samsung does make a nice profit from.

I think the carriers, European and American alike, amongst others, may be starting a targeted campaign against unlocked handsets. Unlocked handsets are THE biggest threat to carriers. Period.

It's an opinion; possibly preposterous, but my opinion, nonetheless.

Posted via Android Central App

If it carrier's, it American carrier's
European carrier's don't benefit from this, buying unlocked handsets you can use on any carrier is already a common practice there, it doesn't help force customer's into contracts in Europe. It's not like people are buying american versions of phones and importing them to Europe, at least not as often as most of ours come sim locked.

However, pre-paid in the states is just starting to take off, and buying unlocked high end handset's complete's the picture and erodes any benefit from following the herd and signing a two year contract in America. This is about the growing prepaid/mvno market in America, which our carrier's wish would go away.

Even T-mobile wishes the mvnos would go away and people would just use their more expensive prepaid.
That's the entire reason AT&T made gophone more competitive and introduced AIOwireless.
They didn't start offering AT&T sim's on straight talk again until they had a more competitive option to promote.

Trust me, I won't let them off that easy, lol. I always have my suspicions about market leaders and their "customer-oriented" behaviors.

But, I do think the carriers have their hands in the cookie jar, too.

Posted via Android Central App

""In order to provide customers with the optimal mobile experience in each region including customer care services, Samsung has incorporated the ‘regional SIM lock’ feature into Galaxy Note 3 devices"

Ask the Samsung rep to define optimal mobile experience.

I'm looking at getting a new phone to replace my GNex right now, and I can safely say that I'm crossing Samsung off the list.

I don't care if it works/doesn't work so long as I follow their procedures, I shouldn't have to in the first place, so I'm going to vote with my wallet.

Samsung: don't make your problems into mine.

Looking forward to the N5!

So let's all vote with our wallets and not buy these phones until they stop this practice. They are not the only game in town by any stretch.

This is good news... But what happens if the Note 3 is activated with a UK Sim Card on roaming.
Would it still work?
My father sent me the Note 3 and should be here by Tuesday and I got my working o2 sim card.

PS: Briton visiting mum in Venezuela.

Sammy should have just explained it better on the box, even got me riled up after buying one yesterday. So far it's been amazing. Best phone out there.

Posted via Android Central App

All I can say is thanks to AC and Alex for warning us and explaining it.

So far I have never used a Non EU SIM. But it is a future possibility and I am VERY glad to know how this works.

In response to the update from Samsung. I hate how companies can start a press release with something like, "In order to provide customers with..." enter some line of B.S. here. Then just think that it somehow makes everything fine. Did this really provide the customer with anything other than on inconvenience? I'm pretty sure they didn't do this for the "customer's" interest...

I wonder if the software updates for existing s4's (like mine, the i9505 which was bought/activated in the EU in May) will enable this region locking such that since I do not have a valid EU SIM to reactivate it, it would then become region locked since all I have is a ROGERS and a T-mobile SIM. I use the phone in the US/Canada currently.

The same or a comparable sticker was on my Galaxy S4 LTE purchased via my phone provider a few days ago.

"So the region-lock only kicks in if you first "activate" it — i.e., switch on the phone and run through setup — with a SIM from outside the list of approved countries."

By the way, what if setup/activation was performed without a SIM card?

I don't care how easy this process is but the whole idea is just stupid. Does that mean that I cannot buy a Note 3 in USA and take it to some other part of the world as a gift?...S in Samsung stands for Stupidity..Ultimate stupidity....

let's say i bought a device from england, and i can get a european sim card easily. but i'm about to use it elswhere. when i first set up my phnoe, using eu sim, will it do if i do it in the us or australia or do i have to do it in europe so it connects to gsm?

BritishWitwicky says:

"This is good news... But what happens if the Note 3 is activated with a UK Sim Card on roaming.
Would it still work?
My father sent me the Note 3 and should be here by Tuesday and I got my working o2 sim card.

PS: Briton visiting mum in Venezuela."

I am also interested to know about this case and the similar one mentioned by Amir Sharon just above.
Curious to know if a EU region-lock Note 3 would allow the correct activation if first I insert a French Sim Card while being abroad (and so with roaming calls but with deactivated roaming data of course - which could be activated for a bit if need be).

I'm a Hong Kong resident and yes it seems that here I can buy a Note 3 without the region-lock feature implemented.
But Samsung has decided that the Hong Kong market will receive Note 3 with only 16Gb of memory, where as most/all other markets will receive 32/64Gb.

So before hearing about the region-lock feature, i was thinking to buy a EU version (all the way around as usual grey import transactions lol) but now I'm not sure it's worth the hassle just to get a version with more internal memory as there's still the Micro SD Card possibility.
I have checked the versions released in Singapore and they offer indeed 32/64Gb (presumably also region-lock free since this restriction seems to not apply anywhere in Asia). So will think a bit more about what to do, import a 64Gb version from Singapore or go with the local 16Gb version.

Anyway, the fact that Samsung has released only the 16Gb version in Hong Kong tends to confirm that their strategy is to limit grey market transactions, as most of this market is issued from Hong Kong.
They could have implemented the region-lock feature in Hong Kong as well to enforce the slowing of grey market, but here the Note 1 and 2 have been HUGE SUCCESSES (in terms of market shares - since it's a relatively limited population of 7 millions) and they might have been more concerned about the image.

Though even if let say they have sold 700K Note 2 in Hong Kong which would represent a 10% market share, that would mean Samsung would give more attention (in terms of image) than the 1-2M units they could sell in USA or 2-3M units they could sell allover EU (that's just figures i pick up randomly to illustrate).
This is just to contradict with what I just said in the previous paragraph.

Hi (sorry for my English)

I buy the note 3 from studenmobile . nl it is Netherland webshop for phone

I use the Dutch sim card (Vadafone, Tele2, T-mobile) for calling chatting internet.

As i read a lot of news about this. I should can now just put Thai sim card in it already. But it not working it still ned a clod for unlock the sim.

I try all the Thai Sim card i have.... AIS, True Companay, DTAC. None of it working.

I also call to Samsung support in Netherland. Samsung Service - en Informatielijn
Tel: 0900-SAMSUNG (0900-7267864) (10 c/m)

I get 3 different answer.
First one She only say just follow what the box say if you have problem with it just change the phone within 7 day.

Second one say.. I just go to the any simlock free shop for ask for helping. But the phone will only working a about 14 Day in Thailand if i make it a simlock free and use Thai Simcard. Or if i want to use longer i have to ask from Thai provider.

Third one. She not even know what I'm talking about. I mean she not know about this model. When i say Galaxy note 3,she not know., SN-N9005 she not know. I have to told her the serial number and many thing before she know that this model is available.

From the all answer I get. It seem like they not aware this problem yet in Nederland. Or they not being train yet what they have to do. Or they being trail only say do what the box say if you do not want it just return and buy something else.

I also go to Samsung Service Center (Maastricht) that in the Vadafone shop . First thing i feel is they not welcome me as I am a customer because I did not but the phone from them. What they only say just try to call to where i buy this phone. So what the point to be a Samsung Service Center if you not help costumer who buy the Samsung phone.

Now i think i have to wait till this thing be aware in Nederland.

If someone also from NL whom have this phone. Do you have a same problem ?

thank you for reading

Got my Note 3 from Hong Kong where I work. Activated it there with a 1010 sim. Worked fine. Brought it to Thailand today and put in an AIS local sim. Calls and texts work fine. But no data. F#ck me. What a joke...

Does this mean it's locked?
Works fine on wifi.
What to do?

This decision is identical to the failure of anti-piracy acts of the past: This doesn't affect the pirates because there are clear work-arounds but it does affect the legit buyers who actually travel.

And even though I have multiple SIM-cards from numerous regions, I will avoid upgrading to another Samsung device as a matter of principal. I hear HTC make pretty good phones too.

AGREE, THE WORST IS THAT SAMSUNG CHARGE AGAINST ITS CUSTOMERS FOR THE SINS ON THEIR DISTRIBUTION CHAIN.

Sorry Sammy, No Galaxy this time I go for HTC.

What I am unable to understand is the basis behind the region lock. If this was a way to "ensnare grey (unauthorized) importers of Samsung phones"... then that means Samsung is unable to prevent devices getting stolen from their own warehouses - a big security flaw on THEIR part. If they cannot control things that they are supposed to have direct control on, then what right do they have to control how I a possible new customer operate the device that too after I have paid the full price... What are the consumer support groups around the world silent with this and allowing a company to dictate unfair practices arising from a FLAW in their own physical security system. I am still in two minds now whether to go to SONY/ HTC/ stay with APPLE or go back to NOKIA? I have a week to make up my mind -- I certainly hope common sense prevails and companies take responsibility of their OWN actions instead of hard balling the customers.

okay i pretty confused the whole thing and i heard so many things from others. basically i want to know is i'm using a 3 UK network sim and when i travel to hong kong i planning to use 3 network again is that going to be locked? can someone reply me pls. i set up initally without a sim as i remember cause it's a 4g ready

i unlocked my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 from safeunlockcode .com. Code received didn't work on my phone at first, so I contacted the Help Desk and they were quite efficient helping me get the problem sorted.

Hi! I didn't know about the sim-lock issues until I got the sim locked screen when I used a foreign sim to first activate my phone. I'm thinking of doing a factory reset, then inserting a local sim to solve this problem. Will this work? Please reply soon. Thanks!