How To Give Your Old iPhone To Your Kids, Cheaply

Let’s say you’ve upgraded to a new iPhone and want your kids to have your old one. More and more, kids have phones. The iPhone is nice, since it doubles as a game device. But you don’t want them to have the smartphone features AT&T charges more for, both to save money and maybe to keep them off the web. Here’s some advice.

Technically, if you’re going to use an iPhone, AT&T will charge you $15 to $25 for a data plan, no ifs, ands or buts. You have to have it. Those are the rules, even if you don’t want data on the phone. In fact, AT&T will even suggest that you need to have the data plan, otherwise you won’t be able to use the phone to update it and so on.

The GoPhone Route

The reality is a bit different. AT&T has pre-paid phones, through its GoPhone service. Want to turn that iPhone into a data-less, data plan-less phone? One way is to turn it into a GoPhone.

Put a GoPhone SIM card into an iPhone, and you can make calls, get text messages and just fine. You even get voicemail. It won’t be the iPhone’s visual voicemail, but your kids will struggle on somehow. After all, their parents did for years.

What you can’t do is get out onto the web, which for many parents is just fine. Of course, you can still get out via WiFi. But you won’t have your kids running around chewing up their prepayments surfing the web.

Where do you get a GoPhone SIM card? Any AT&T store will sell one to you. I wouldn’t tell them you want it for an iPhone. Do that, and you’re going to get the “No, you can’t do that response.”

Instead, find some old AT&T-compatible non-smartphone, take it in, and say you want a GoPhone SIM card for it. You’ll have to top the card up initially with at least $25, I believe, and that lasts 90 days. Text messages and calls cost $0.25 each, and you can add on text messaging bundles.

Don’t have an old phone? Buy one. Sometimes you can get a refurbished basic model online direct from AT&T for as little as $25, and that includes $25 in call credits. Right now, the cheapest phone is $45. That also comes with call credit.

Oh, where to put the SIM card? If you don’t know, look at the top of your iPhone. There’s a small hole, just the right size to put the end of a paper clip into. Push one in there, and the SIM card along with its holder will come out of your iPhone. But the new SIM card into that.

The Family Plan Route

Want your kids on your calling plan? You can do that, too. The key is that you need to put them on using a “dumb” phone. Again, find an old AT&T-compatible non-smartphone or buy a cheap GoPhone. Take that phone in and ask to have it added to your account. You’ll be given a SIM card for it. They’ll probably even put the card in your phone. Take the SIM card out (you know, after you’ve left the store) and put it in your iPhone. Now you’ve got an extra line using an iPhone for $10 per month.

You shouldn’t find the data will work on the iPhone, because that’s not been enabled for the dumb phone that AT&T thinks is on your account. But to be safe, go to Settings, then General, then Network and disable Cellular Data. That should do the trick.

Warning Time

Worried about how AT&T might react to this? Technically, they could boot you from their network. Chances are, they won’t even notice. But yes, do this, and you’re taking a risk. Going the GoPhone route is “safer,” in that you’re only risking that prepaid line.

Obviously, if you start having phone-specific problems, you’re not going to get AT&T support. They’ll think you’re using a different model phone, so you might find if there’s a problem with your voicemail, they might not be able to help. But you’ll probably be OK, in most case.

As for updating the phone, you can do that via iTunes just like a “real” data enabled iPhone. iTunes doesn’t care what SIM card is in your phone. But you will have to have the phone tied to your Apple account. Yes, you can have more than one phone on the same Apple account.

Is it cheating to do this? Technically, yes. If you have qualms, don’t do it. Personally, I wish AT&T wouldn’t consider a “smartphone” to be smart (and charge a data plan for it) if you’ve specifically asked for the smart parts to be disabled. And having been in a number of AT&T stores recently, I’ve heard a number of parents specifically ask for exactly that.

Hence this post :)


  1. says

    If possible do NOT have them insert the SIM into the prepaid phone.

    AT&T typically locks the gophone SIM to the first phone its inserted in for 6 months.

    It’s better to order the phone online.

  2. OCMarisa says

    Thanks for this post. My mother is the lucky recipient of my old 3G, but I anticipate my child will be a future recipient of an old iPhone, so this is very helpful!

  3. BikingBrian says

    To my knowledge, every iPhone sold in the US is locked to its original SIM card, so simply putting in another SIM card won’t work. Did you have to jailbreak the phone first, so you could then SIM unlock it with software in order for the GoPhone or family plan SIM to work?

  4. Rash says

    Agree on what Danny said, it’s only on AT&T’s network.
    Monitoring our kids is important as well.

  5. BikingBrian says

    Hmmm, my experience with the iPhone 2G and 3G that we have in the family is that they were locked to the particular SIM card they came with. Maybe the newer phones are now only locked to AT&T SIM cards? The best thing to do would be to check with a friend’s SIM card before paying for another line.

  6. BikingBrian says

    Danny and others – you’re right, I’ll have to eat my words, I had to do a restore of my wife’s second hand 2G and an AT&T SIM worked fine. I don’t know why my recollection was otherwise before. But I did need to do a jailbreak/unlock if I wanted to use a T-Mobile or someone else’s SIM.

  7. says

    Glad it worked, Brian. You definitely have to jailbreak your phone if bought in the US and if you want to use a non-AT&T SIM. It’s locked to AT&T SIMs, though any AT&T SIM seems to work.

  8. says

    Thanks, Danny. Apparently it’s not quite that easy with an original iPhone, but works fine with later versions. If I pop in a new SIM card, I get the screen on the iPhone telling me to connect to the iTunes software which tries to walk me through registering the phone. That’s ALL the iPhone will let me do at this point.

    In researching, I read that apparently an original iPhone has to be unlocked first. Haven’t gotten to that yet but might give it a shot.

  9. CaliforniaK says

    Most useful blog article of the year. Thank you.

    I inherited an old iPhone 3G that I wanted to use, but I didn’t want to use $99+ in service for data.

    I purchased a GoPhone from (cost about $10 for refurbished phone, $25 for prepaid GoPhone card and $15 in taxes = total $50)

    Today I received the GoPhone and removed the SIM card.

    I inserted a bent paperclick into the small hole on the top of the iPhone, which caused the old SIM card to pop out (in a thin frame). The new SIM card fit in perfectly.

    Powered on the phone, dialed in the prepaid $25 credit (easy, just follow instructions) and VIOLA. I have an iPhone that has a (new) phone number, will send and receive text messages too, and when I am within a WiFi zone I can use all the apps and web services that I like.

    Worked like a charm. Thank you for allowing me to make use of a 3G iphone which, otherwise, would be gathering dust.

  10. BikingBrian says

    Thanks Richard, at least I know I’m not going crazy with my earlier observation posted on 8/10 that this method didn’t work with my 2G the first time. That was my fuzzy recollection from jailbreaking/unlocking that phone about a year ago. On 9/7 I had to restore my wife’s phone for an unrelated reason, and that’s when I noticed the SIM worked without unlocking. I did a bit of digging and found out that an unlock of a 2G is permanent and survives restores, unlike unlocking newer phones.

  11. OCMarisa says

    Hey, just wondering a year later, if there’s any lessons learned or updates? About to do this with an old iPhone 3G, just wanted to make sure nothing has changed!

  12. says

    It should be pretty harmless to borrow another AT&T SIM and try it out, let us know if it works. Though it if doesn’t, then you’re stuck with the jailbreak route, which may or may not work depending on the version of the modem firmware it has installed. I keep my old 3G for overseas travel and have a custom OS 4.2.1 firmware which preserved the unlock. Good luck!

  13. says

    Still works. In fact, even works with an iPhone 4. You can outright say you want to use the iPhone on a pay-per-month plan. The only thing that’s not allowed is any data alllowance.

  14. Scooter says

    Danny, are you saying that I can now pick up an iPhone 4 and ask AT&T for a SIM card and they don’t have a problem with it?

  15. OCMarisa says

    BTW, I did this a couple months ago with my old 3G and gave it to my son. Worked like a charm until a couple weeks ago when that phone got a text from AT&T. Something to the effect of: “We noticed this phone doesn’t have the required data plan. We went ahead And added it for you.” :-(

  16. says

    Scooter, yep. In fact, when I moved one of my sons from an old iPhone 3G to an iPhone 4, he was on a pay-as-you-go plan with a big SIM card that wouldn’t work in the iPhone 4. I called and was told no problem, go into a shop and they’d transfer over to a smaller one. And they did. No hiding that he was using an iPhone 4 or anything like that. I was pretty amazed they didn’t mind. The only problem was I couldn’t do pre-paid data for his phone. They block that. I’m guessing OCMarisa’s case was that the phone was on a contract but without a data plan, and so that’s when they enabled it.

  17. OCMarisa says

    Danny, yes I believe his original phone, the one I took the card out of, is still under contract for a few months and didn’t have a data plan. You think I could switch back to his old phone till the contract is up and cncel the data, then try again? And maybe this time with my old 4 (assuming I’m onto 5 by then…)?

  18. says

    OCMarisa, that’s probably it. If you switch it back, they’ll probably let you cancel the data plan. The bottom line is that if you go pre-paid, the won’t let you have a data plan on the iPhone. But if you go contract, then the iPhone must have a data plan. Sad they won’t let you pre-pay for data. you could likely have his number ported from contract to pre-pay.

  19. says

    Has anyone tried the iPhone unlocking which AT&T made available last month? A friend was thinking of doing that and moving to T-Mobile. I’m not a current AT&T customer, so I need to find a current AT&T customer to do it for me.