Galaxy Note 3 SIM card region locking – what you need to know

by: Chris SmithSeptember 28, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Region Locked 2013

More details about the Samsung’s newly discovered region locking “feature” of the Galaxy Note 3 (and other Galaxy handsets) are available, and the picture – while still puzzling – is not as bleak as we have initially thought.

For some reason, Samsung is enforcing a new SIM-locking policy for new handset purchases including the fresh Galaxy Note 3 that’s now available in many markets. In what follows we’ll try to explain what it is, based on what’s officially known about it, how it works and how to unlock such devices.

Region locking vs carrier locking

We’ll start things off with a comparison between region locking and carrier locking because that’s the first confusion one could make when reading those stickers.

Carrier locking is the procedure through which mobile operators lock mobile devices that are sold for a subsidized price on their network. The owner of the device can unlock the device to use on other carriers at the end of their contract, for a fee, or according to the unlock policy of the carrier in question. Carrier locking is not related to region locking and it’s a practice that’s common in the mobile universe where most devices are sold with new contracts (from one to three years depending of the carrier that sells the device). That’s how carriers make sure that one way or another their customers pay in full (and then some) for that shiny new device they have purchased for a much lower price than what the factory-unlocked version of the handset costs.

Region locking is Samsung’s new practice of having a device manufactured after July 2013 lock if not activated in the region the device was intended to be sold – the list includes the Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 mini, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2. It’s not clear why Samsung resorted to this particular practice, but the whole SIM card locking is not related to mobile operators in this case. In fact, this kind of locking will most likely apply to Galaxy devices that are sold for full price, which are therefore SIM unlocked (or factory unlocked), meaning that they’re not locked with a carrier, and we’ll explain below how it works.

note 3 europe region lock

Finally, this kind of region locking would apply only to brand new devices, meaning that if you have purchased a used unlocked Galaxy handset from the list above, you should not worry about region locking, as the device has been activated before either in the right region from the start, or unlocked for a different region after its initial purchase.

Region locking – How it works

From the get-go, we’ll note that this clearly is a complete PR mess for Samsung. Instead of clearly explaining its intentions with this SIM card region locking thing, the company decided to go the quiet route by letting users discover the notices on the boxes of freshly shipped Galaxy Note 3 units.

Messages like the one below created plenty of confusion, as it was implied that Galaxy Note 3 units purchased in certain parts of the world will not work with SIM cards from other regions of the world, thus making it impossible for frequent travellers to swap their local SIM cards with international SIM cards when they’re abroad:

[quote qtext=”This product is only compatible with a SIM–card issued from a mobile operator within UK/Europe (as defined EU/EEA, Switzerland and the following Non-EEA countries Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M), Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino, Serbia and Vatican City.)” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

After reading the note you’d think that Samsung, for some reason, would be willing to force users into relying on their home carrier for their mobile services while abroad via roaming – including voice, text and data – which is certainly not something frequent travelers would appreciate, as roaming charges can easily be avoided by using a local SIM card.

Realizing its mistake – but did it really? – Samsung then explained that SIM region locking only applies to devices intended to be sold in a region and activated in a different one for the first time.

UK Mobile Review has tested out the SIM region locking “feature” on Galaxy Note 3 units purchased in the UK (see video below that was recorded before Samsung explained how things are supposed to work):

When using a UK SIM card first with the handset, the publication was able to use any other SIM card thereafter, non-EU regions included – in this case a UAE SIM card was used.

When using the UAE SIM card first with the handset, the Galaxy Note 3 was locked, meaning it needs an unlock code before working with a non-EU SIM card. However, in this case any SIM card from the EU region (or the region the phone was intended for purchase) will still work with the handset, even if it’s used after the non-EU SIM card was unsuccessfully tried.

How to unlock and other unanswered questions

Why does this happen? That’s not clear, as the company is yet to really explain why it resorted to such means.

GigaOM speculates that Samsung is interested in stopping certain buyers from purchasing their desired unlocked handsets from a different region of the world for a better price. That certainly makes sense, although we wouldn’t be able to confirm it yet, exactly because Samsung is not revealing more details.

We could further speculate that Samsung may be trying to prevent the theft and/or massive imports of Galaxy devices that would then be sold in various regions, but would such a practice really work?

In case you’ll end up buying one of these supposedly-unlocked-but-region-locked Galaxy devices – meaning that they haven’t been activated with a local SIM in the region they were supposed to be sold before being imported into your region – you’ll have to go to Samsung or one of its local partners and ask for an unlock code for your device.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 aa 8

From the looks of it, the unlock code will be offered free of charge by Samsung, at least according to what the company said to a German publication, but the language of that press material is not clear either. In this case, why is Samsung even bothering with this procedure? If there’s not going to be a fee to be paid by the consumer, why try to region lock handsets in the first place? Just to give your employees and/or partners more work? After all this is Samsung, which means we’re looking at a huge number of handset sales per quarter, which in turn means that plenty of those Samsung devices that sell for full price (or unlocked) could be affected by region locks.

Alternatively, you can always look for online unlock services that will offer unlock codes for you, but a fee is usually involved in such cases.

Then again, let’s not forget that users likely to be affected by this new Samsung policy already pay the full price for the device they choose, so paying extra to have it unlocked is far from fair.

Samsung certainly has to offer more details on how handset unlocking will work in this scenario and how exactly it will be done.

Like we said before, this practice may only affect buyers that purchase unlocked handsets. On-contract devices will work with a SIM card from the carrier the device was purchased from for a subsidized price and will not work with other SIM cards from that country or other regions of the world anyway.

But unfortunately, unsuspecting buyers willing to pay a lot of cash for an unlocked Galaxy Note 3 (or any other Galaxy device from the ones mentioned above) may find themselves unable to use it for a while especially if they purchase it while travelling in a different region.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 aa 7

While Samsung does have a note on the package of the Galaxy Note 3 advising users of the region locking procedure – as we have told you the note is hardly explaining the whole thing in a clear fashion – such a practice is not exactly acceptable, and it’s certainly surprising to see Samsung quietly push it.

Will other handset makers use similar practices? After all, as long as their handsets are purchased and used, why does it matter so much where they were bought from? If certain users are willing to buy a Galaxy Note 3 from a different region hoping for a better deal, why would Samsung try to prevent such a move? After all, if Samsung is willing to sell the device for less money in one region, why does it matter who buys it, especially if there won’t be an unlock fee thereafter? Is Samsung phone importing such a booming business that it’s putting a squeeze on Samsung’s bottom line?

One way of “getting away with it” would be to also get a prepaid SIM card from that region and activate the handset before using it in another region. Of course “getting away with it” is the wrong way of putting it in the first place – as we said before, you would be paying full premium price for an unlocked device.

And let’s not forget that such region locking procedures come with some added hassles of their own. Apparently not all devices that are properly activated in their right region can then be used with a non-region SIM card – check out the xda-developers Source link below.

Finally, Samsung should also explain how it’s region locking its handsets, at least for those tech enthusiasts that care about such details.

That said, while the whole region locking thing should be a lot clearer now, we still wait for the South Korean company to shed more light on this rather shady new practice.

We’ll keep you updated with more news about Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 region locking in the coming days.

See Now: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Review

  • terminator

    And this ends my love affair with Samsung. I’m a frequent Traveller, and I have different SIMs for different countries. I only buy factory-unlocked phones at full price, do Even if I can get an unlock code from Samsung, it’s irritating that after paying up front, I still have to undergo this extra trouble on my hard earned money. Rubbish.

    • Anthony Evans

      so use a sim from the attended country first and you should be all good..

      • Jimbo

        No, it is not all good. Yes, it seems like you can use the phone with sims from other regions once you unlock the phone first. But why should we accept this? There is NO benefit to the consumer and just because we can live with it does not mean it is ok. Why do companies have to become dicks when they get to the top.

        • Good point. I also think like this. What is this all about? There is no benefit or anything that can advance technology. This more of control – controlling the freedom of the internet? Maybe…..

      • terminator

        So for every region I go to I should buy a brand new Galaxy? Or I should pay outrageous roaming fees to use the SIM from the region I bought the phone? Cos buying a phone for every region would much cheaper, but terribly stupid. Are you for real? Thanks but No thanks >:-(

        • Anthony Evans

          No you buy one phone unlock it by using the right region sim in it and then use whatever sim you want in it.

          • Josh

            so if i already activied using my region simcard(Indonesia), i can change the simcard when i move to german or US

          • Blazin

            YES, WE CAN !!!!

          • Mira

            Hi. I bought the galaxy note from UK and ive activated it with my UK number. But then when i try to use my Malaysia simcard, the phone is still locked? What should i do to use this phone as i’m back in Malaysia and want to use this phone here. Pls help me lol

          • weed

            That’s not good. You bought an unlocked phone off contract, there’s no carrier lock? There seem to be unresolved issues with the region locks, it’s not yet fully explained. You are not the only one reporting this, until Samsung explains it fully no one should buy any of the affected models.

          • APai

            “affected models”
            yeah, it’s infected by greed.

          • terminator

            That doesn’t work. I did that once with an iPhone I bought in the UK. Unlocked it in the Apple Store, and in Australia it didn’t work.

            Even if it worked ( which it doesn’t), why put paying customers under unnecessary stress? They will lose customers because of this.

          • AlienDW

            Man you didn’t read all the article right?
            Once you buy the phone in your country and activated with the sim of that region, the phone is unlocked, no extra trouble or extra fee.. the only problem is if in your travels you buy a phone in another region and you dont activate it with a local sim

          • terminator

            That is what I’m saying. You’re the one not reading what I wrote. I bought the iPhone inn Birmingham, and unlocked it in BIRMINGHAM at the Apple Store. And it didn’t work. There is clearly an issue with the region locking thing. I’m not the first person complaining about it. A very bad idea imho

          • terminator

            And another problem, if you travel with a region locked phone, your warranty is useless outside that region. When you request a service in a phone from another region, like I did in this case after I presented Evidence to the store in Brisbane, they said I had to take it back to the UK. That was the end of the phone for me. I bought another truly unlocked phone. No hassles

          • KaL

            Why is this so hard for people to understand? Lol if the demand drops for the note 3 because of this it will be better for people who understand the concept of sim locking because they will get the galaxy note 3 cheaper.

            I never knew stupidity could be so beneficial.

          • APai

            forget the concept of understanding things, just reject any anti-consumer moves and put these monopolies to place. it starts with this, and then we start ceding more and more freedom.

          • moni

            bahahah ikr !! i wish these ppl make this issue bigger. as long as i get a cool phone lol

      • KaL

        Been saying this. People want everything spoon fed to them nowadays.

        Anyways, my opinion on why samsung didn’t explain it thoroughly is because they don’t want the grey/black market to get a heads up.

        Right reason. Wrong method.

        • APai

          why are they interested in capping the grey market is beyond me. people forego their warranty with grey market. that in itself is a huge negative to a lot of people. the grey market sales will be pretty small. this seems to me more like greed and consolidating their market position. note doesnt have a rival

      • lil bit

        A gigaom user posted this:

        “I just spoke to Christopher Cross (a Tier 2 rep) in Samsung UK who was calling me back to explain position on region lock.

        – He said that there is a region lock and that it’s application after
        activation is a “grey area” which they have been discussing with
        engineers all day.

        – He said there is no way currently to get service centre to remove regional lock.

        – He agreed that there are some SIM providers outside Europe on whitelist.

        – He confirmed that this region lock policy applies to galaxy 3 and 4 and note 2 and 3 which are being distributed now.

        – He said that this will apply to all Samsung mobiles accepting Kitkat mobile update due to come out shortly!!!

        They are still waiting for further update from Samsung management
        this evening. He recommended I do NOT buy Note 3 if I am concerned about
        region lock at least until clarity as to whether can be removed.”

    • On a Clear Day

      You missed the point in the article where it stated that as long as the phone is first activated in the region for which it was intended to be sold that thereafter you can use a sim from wherever you travel.

      I too would be upset if – as the article initially suggests because no upfront qualification was strongly voiced to stop us from going down that path – that Samsung was engineering phones that were not travel compatible, but that upon further investigation is not the case.

      Moral of the story for Samsung? Find out who instituted this policy and suggest that they be more circumspect next time in terms of explaining the purpose behind their doing. (At least they didn’t send you to the middle of the desert to die of thirst or across a jet runway when using their app.)

      • terminator

        Please go through the entire thread, especially my other replies. More often than not, after the so-called activation in the home region it still doesn’t work elsewhere!

  • Michael

    The only losers here are the tight asses trying to save a few bucks by buying online and getting grey imports. Lol suck shit to those

    • Dan

      What an idiotic thing to say. I live in Asia and have relatives in the EU and US. It is not uncommon for us to gift one another with cellphones (4-band for worldwide GSM compatibility) during family reunions, and this region-locking is going to be a hassle.

      I suppose your whole family still lives within 10 miles from your ancestral village? For the rest of us, the world is our village.

    • smeddy

      Don’t be stupid. What’s most important right now is getting a clear explanation. I’ve been wanting this phone all year, but if I can’t use it in both the UK and Australia, then I can’t buy it. I’m spending months in both places this year.
      I really don’t want this to go from a ‘must-buy’ to a ‘cant-buy’.

    • Ravo

      Michael must be a Samsung rep.

  • Chris

    There’s not going to be many of these seen in Duty Free then..

  • Kaifa

    These companies desire to be global but they act as if they were local organizations.

  • APai

    “what you need to know”
    avoid the damn phone. show samsung the middle finger

  • VinnieColaiuta

    Another point to raise is on those phone with dual sim slot… what happens then???

    • Yamukelela

      Stupidity. Mess. Madness. I will no longer buy Samsung phones

      • Yamukelela

        What a mess

  • AJM

    Not good …. Wait for the HTC One Max….

  • Gary

    Why Samsung makes things complicated.

  • willreys

    Is this means that if I buy my note 3 in the UK I have to use it in the UK first with a UK sim then I should be able to take it anywhere in the world and should work with any sim? Am sorry am a bit confuse

  • yuri


    • Most likely it will reset to factory defaults. Factory defaults includes information as to final destination of handsets.

    • Q.

      Good question.

  • omar

    Ok . what if i activat the a
    regional sim card.and in a different country idecide to format my devise so , i will need the regional sim card un luck the devire

  • Gin

    I’m guessing this has something to do with warranties on the devices. In the past I’ve requested service on an unlocked handset, only to be told I had to send it back to the originating distribution country.

  • Nope!

    Well, in Sweden this does not work as some claim (activate in home region first then everything is OK with foreign SIMs).. I’ve activated a phone with a Swedish SIM, then tried to swap to an Australian card, get the lock screen. Useless, phone is being exchanged for something from another brand, last Samsung product for me.

    • hoggleboggle

      Seems to work here in the UK. I activated it on a UK network then stuck in an old AT&T sim. No lock screen or anything, although I couldn’t use it as it ran out of credit ages ago and I doubt it was unlocked for international use.

      • envy

        That’s because usa is not on the blacklist on the phone.



  • Q.

    It’s not as bad as originally thought. I’m still going to recommend people a Galaxy device made after July 2013, as long as as it’s through official channels e.g. carriers, major retailers.

    That still does not excuse what Samsung has done. A lot of people buy online on sites like Amazon from independent sellers, because it’s either cheaper or not available in their country. Then there are other people that are given phones as gifts. Also, there are people that are now confused by this fiasco and will be put off Sammy devices.

    Samsung shot itself in the foot here. The only way they can deal with the mess is by getting J.K. Shin/high ranking person to explain why they are doing it and officially say that Samsung will unlock the device if problems occur.

  • CAL

    After waited a year to buy the note 3 tobe disappointed buy Samsung greedy business tactics. will look for another brand of phones that is (GSM)

  • fastow2012

    I was undecided between the Note 3 and LG G2, now there is no doubt at all…I am heading straight for the G2 no matter what Samsung says later…I never want to hear from them again…

  • moses

    what happens if let’s say i buy it in the us then go to uk.can i activate it with my us sim card while i’m in the uk?

  • Onweel2

    Sorry but the method that Samsung say in German is not working. So Hear my story. and please try to find out the truth.

    I buy the note 3 from studenmobile . nl it is Netherland webshop for phone. I live in Nederland. The phone come with no contact.

    I use the Dutch sim card (Vadafone, Tele2) for calling, chatting, internet. for 2-3 days. So now my phone should already register? or activated ?

    What si “activated with a local SIM” mean ? you writing

    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 need a clod for unlock the network.
    I try all the Thai Sim card i have…. AIS, True Companay, DTAC. None of it working.

    I also go to Samsung Service Center (Maastricht) that in the Vadafone shop . They not know this problem. 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.

    Please help

    • Lil bit

      Yep, Samsung telling lies, lots of people can’t use their non-regional SIM even after activating with their regional SIM. There’s more going on here, and Samsung’s silence confirms it, the truth is too much for people to accept I think?

  • Onweel2

    and by the way…. USA sim in EU phone or Eu sim in USA phone is working.

  • Knobskin

    Wow this is completely pointless and shows Samsung is simply money hungry! There is no justification in this! Pure joke!! If I spend full retail on the phone I should be able to use it as I please!

  • Dave Weinstein

    Hmm… the evasiveness of Samsung clearly indicates that this is just a first step.

    They’re trying to get us used to the idea that region locking is just a fact of life and that we shouldn’t complain about it (or expect unlocked phones).

    The ONLY purpose is channel control. Samsung doesn’t wants to be able to make their distribution deals stick, and doesn’t want phones shipped into markets that they haven’t done specific deals for.

    There is NO consumer benefit, and over time, they will turn the screw and make the locks more selective and permanent.

  • Lil bit

    Too many reports about SIMs from other regions not workimg even if activated with local SIM first. Seems there is more to it than Samsung admits to. Well, me and my unlocked European Xperia Z with Asian SIM are unaffected, this is what UNLOCKED means.

  • Blowntoaster

    I think Samsung should’ve done a proper PR job with this. Understand the whole reason behind it, but they could have saved a lot of unnecessary dissapointment and whining by doing it right…

  • Onweel2

    So now if someone need prove this is it.
    Sorry for long video but i not edit anything.

    Please do not say i have no problem when i put USA sim card in EU phone or EU sim card in USA phone. There is no problem about it.

    • Randall Tnl

      Sammy is getting too bloated in the head. It’s their take it or leave it strategy as they think they produce the “best” phones in the world that you must buy or regret for the rest of your life.

  • Christian Lindqvist

    Im thinking this is some kinde of conspiracy with the carriers of the world to get traveling people to pay the insane roming fees!

    • Onweel2

      That also what i think of. Becasue in couple of years from now. Eu-palement shall force all the network here to stop charge (or pay less)for roaming in Eu country. So they will lose a lot of money that why now they do this.

  • Boby

    I love the Note 3. Because of its slim sleek look I bought a cover for it…bye bye to the leather back. I went for the Spigen cover I saw here

  • It’s not a problem at all. Use GalaxyUnlocker software and it removes the region-lock as well:

    • Onweel2

      Yes. It not the problem for me to spend 15-20 US. but i just want to fight for my Right. and I want people to know that they not speaking the truth.

      and Samsung Service center or Samsung Sopport line (10 Euro Cent per mintue) is bad and not helping customer at all

    • RBell6

      ? GalaxyUnlocker doesn’t list the N9005 as a device they can unlock…

      So far the only unlocking service I’ve seen confirmed is as used by UK Mobile Review.

  • Milind

    I’m not sure why you don’t think it’s as bad as you originally thought. It’s just plain awful. Even if I use a SIM from the same region (even that is unacceptable), there is still no guarantee that a SIM from another region would work later. HTC was trying very hard to lose my business with their locked bootloaders, delays in releasing their drivers, sealing batteries, etc. They succeeded. My last two phones were Samsungs. Samsung can kiss my ass if they think they are going to earn my business with this downright consumer hostile behavior. I was undecided between the Note 3 and Nexus 5. Samsung just made my mind for me. And if Nexus 5 doesn’t cut it, I’ll look at either the LG G2 or the new Oppo.

  • liran

    I would expect such a disgusting move from apple maybe, but from sumsung ???? I have been loyal to samsung galaxy since s1, and I currently have the note2 but this region lock can make me leave samsung for good

  • wannabedub

    I previously owned the Galaxy, Galaxy Nexus, and now the S3 and at the time of the S4’s release I decided to wait for the Note 3 which now I will obviously not be buying. Above all, this looks like an appleish greedy attitude by Samsung whereby loyal consumers pay for shady commercial practices carried out by others. These locks earned Samsung milions of customers over apple but I guess for Samsung there just isn’t enough profit that can be made hence behaving like the competition. I’m gutted and disappointed and that’s it for samsung in my pocket since I often use US sim cards and that’s why I pay for fully unlocked phones!!

  • Adonis Checo

    Will the factory unloked galaxy note 3 work with metropcs

  • Ivar

    My note 3 is region locked as well as sim locked.its an USA AT&T locked phone…
    I have already transferred my contract and wish to use my phone in India.I contacted for my sim unlock and they say they wont be able to help me with sim unlock if i root my phone…
    for region unlocking i need to root my phone so can i unroot it after i have region unlocked my note 3…I hope the region lock wont be back after i unroot it

  • liza

    i am seeking for reliable code providers for the motive to unlock Samsung Galaxy Note 3. from where i buy the code? i visited safeunlockcode .com , is it will be good to buy code from them?

  • Hussien Tabaja

    My note 3 didn’t read any sd card I don’t no why please can help me

  • Sam-no-Sung-anymore

    Oh I love watching my galaxy note 3 lying on my table coz not able to use it since I move to some other region. This smart phone company over smart the users who are their supporters by giving different smart reasons. There has to be fair balance. Why should the company take all the rights and make all the users feel ‘it sucks!’ Well, even if there’s gonna be millions of people who’d continue to go with samsung….I’d say there are many other smart phones from different brand and not inferior to Samsung. Plus without making the users life sucks!!! Hey…let’s simplify it….ppl buy this gadget to make life easier, useful, get entertainment and fun ..not frustration or headache..they don’t spend money to get extra frustration. Remember, every giant can fall. Samsung, are you that giant that everybody gets pissed off?