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Last updated: 4 September, 2017
If there’s one thing we really don’t love here at Too Many Adapters, it’s roaming charges. We’re big advocates of taking phones on the road, of course, we just prefer not to pay a fortune to use them. That’s why we recommend unlocked smartphones and local SIM cards for almost every traveller.
Cheap data connections in the form of local SIM cards come in handy for a myriad of things when you’re travelling, and we recommend buying one if you’ll be in a country for any length of time. They’re typically readily available and straightforward to install, and let you use your phone just like you would at home.
Well, mostly. As it happens, iPhones can have a bit of trouble adjusting to their new location, and while they’ll easily recognize the new SIM card for voice calls, other features of the iPhone may not be quite so compliant – especially iMessage and FaceTime.
This little kink first came to haunt me on a trip to Panama. Both the calling feature and WhatsApp happily accepted the new SIM, and I didn’t think to check other apps until a friend e-mailed me, a little bewildered, asking me why I wasn’t replying to my iMessages.
Puzzled, I checked the settings on my iPhone, only to find both iMessages and FaceTime were disconnected. Well, technically, they were “waiting for activation,” the screen told me, but the end result was the same: they didn’t work.
It wasn’t a fluke, unfortunately, as the same thing as happened on other trips – going back to Mexico after Panama, to Spain to visit family, to the US for work. I’m hardly the only one, either: I found plenty of complaints during one particularly-desperate attempt to fix the problem.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Why It Happens
The iMessage bug doesn’t only happen when changing to an international number, but also if you change providers within the same country, and even when upgrading to new operating system.
The first time it was widely reported was after the iOS 7 launch in 2013, and Apple admitted there was a bug preventing iMessages and FaceTime from working properly on both iPhones and iPads in certain situations. The company promised to have a fix ready for the next software update.
Alas, it didn’t — users still had problems in both iOS 8 and iOS 9. For now, iPhone and iPad users are left to their own devices to find a cure.
How Can I Fix It?
A quick search for remedies show a myriad of little tricks to fix the problem, but no foolproof solutions. Here’s the simplified version, with the most successful approaches first – if they don’t work for you, just work your way down the list.
Have you Turned It Off and On Again? No, Really.
IT departments the world over have said it loud and clear: the first order of business when trying to fix anything tech-related is turning the device off and on.
This step is two-fold in this case. You should first try to turn iMessages and FaceTime off for a few minutes, then back on and check if the app has picked up the changes.
If that doesn’t help, turn off your iPhone or iPad, and fire it back up again. In most cases this will have done the trick. If it didn’t, keep reading.
Unlink Your Apple ID
If the restarts didn’t fix things, it’s time to try signing out your Apple ID. Turn off iMessage or Facetime, then log out your Apple ID (from Settings – iTunes and App Store). Log back in again, then turn on iMessage or Facetime once again.
This will start the activation process. If it succeeds, you’ll see a list of previous email addresses and phone numbers that have been associated with the app at some stage. Go through and remove any that are no longer valid, or that you just don’t want to receive messages any longer.
If the activation fails, continue with the following steps.
Set Date and Time to Automatic
It sounds silly, but something as simple as the wrong date and time can prevent iMessage and Facetime from activating correctly with your new SIM. The easiest way to ensure this isn’t a problem is switching the Date and Time settings to ‘automatic’, which can then force the messaging apps to work.
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Reactivate the Sim as if It Was New
When everything else fails, go right back to the beginning: take out the SIM card and start afresh. Begin again with the process of setting up the new card, let the device recognize the number and check that iMessages and FaceTime have started working. Sometimes all that is needed is a little push.
If you are staying in a particular country for a while and will have that SIM the entire time, you might want to restore your device through iTunes with the new SIM card inserted. It takes a little time, and please make sure you successfully run a full backup before you start, but this last resort usually cures it all.
Add a Little Credit
To confirm you own the number you’re trying to activate, Apple sends it a ‘silent’ SMS. In some cases, that SMS can be chargeable — and if your SIM plan doesn’t include text messages, or you don’t have any credit on your phone, that SMS will never arrive. End result? iMessage doesn’t activate.
To get around it, just add a little extra credit to your phone, then restart it and check iMessage again. An alert commenter first mentioned this approach to us (thanks, Rocky!), and other readers have since confirmed it also worked for them. Definitely worth a try!
Wait It Out
Finally, sometimes all you can do is wait the bug out. iMessages and FaceTime can take up to 24 hours to successfully activate. In this case, patience may truly be a virtue.
Has this messaging bug affected you during your travels? Did you manage to get things working with one of these approaches, or some other way? Let us know in the comments!