Phone iMessages

How to Make iMessages Work When You Switch SIM Cards

In iOS by Patricia Rey Mallén9 Comments

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.

iPhone 5 iMessages

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.

 Girls with iPhone

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.

iPhone face down

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.

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!

Images via Judit Klein (hand with phone), Mizoguchi Coji (white iPhone on bench), Miki Yoshihito (girls with phones), William Hook (white iphone)

Are iMessages and FaceTime no longer working after switching SIM cards on your iPhone or iPad? Here's what you can do to fix the problem.
About the Author

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City. She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

Comments

  1. Is it possible that, rather than a bug, it was engineered to be hostile when you unlock the phone and switch SIM cards? Do you think Apple benefits, perhaps indirectly, from those expensive travel packs?

  2. I few days ago I came to England from Canada for school. The first day, me and my classmates went to a Three store and all got pay as you go sim cards for our phones (that we had unlocked before we left Canada. Immediately after i set up my sim card I couldn’t turn on my iMessage without wifi, and when I had wifi, it would say “Activation Failed” when i tried to turn on my iMessage in my setting but it would still let me send iMessages from my email address but not my UK phone number.

    After being on the phone for hours with Apple tech support people, and Three tech support people, they literally gave me dozens of different possible solutions but nothing worked.

    This is the only article I’ve found that actually describes what has been going on with my phone. So far I’ve tried everything but “Reactivate the Sim as if it was new.” when i take my sim card out and put it back in it doesn’t prompt me to set anything up again it just reconnects me to cell phone service.

    Is there anyway that i can reset my sim card somehow or somehow get my phone to derecognize and recognize it again? My phone is driving me crazy.

    Also not I’m the only one in my class of 19 that traveled here who is experiencing this problem with the iPhone

    1. I have the exact same question and I’m having the exact same issues. Going crazy over here! I got a sim in Chile and Argentina with no problems and now I’m in Spain and all of the sudden this happens. I purchased my phone from Apple unlocked. It’s a 7 plus. PLEASE HELP ASAP!

  3. I traveled from Canada which is my home to Vietnam bought a SIM card and installed it. Everything worked except some people I could not iMessage.
    What fixed it for me:
    Go to settings/iMessage/send receive
    Touch your Apple ID at the top of the screen and “log out”
    Next log back in, a restart may or may not be necessary.
    This also worked in Macau China when iMessage failed to work properly.

  4. It’s truly pathetic, but this is the only good and complete solution I have found to this issue – I leave my USA SIM card at home, in the USA, in an old iPhone which remains on a charger the whole time I’m gone. Then, when I insert a new SIM card abroad, those in the USA who are texting me are still able to do so.

    When you don’t do this, when you get abroad and put in a new SIM, your old phone number becomes dis-associated with your Apple ID, and people texting you at home are no longer able to do so.

    It’s a debacle. For a “instant messaging” service linked to your Apple ID to have so much trouble keeping in touch with you… it’s pathetic.

  5. We had this same problem. It turns out that as part of the activation process, Apple sends a “silent” SMS message to your phone to verify you actually own the new number you are trying to activate (see https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201422). If your new prepaid SIM doesn’t include SMS messaging in the initial fee, as happened to us with a prepaid Vodafone SIM in Spain, you’ll need to add money to your prepaid account to cover the cost of receiving SMS messages. We added 5 euro to our account to pay for SMS, turned iMessage off and on on the phone, and it immediately activated.

    We also found that we could not use a US credit card to pay for the Vodafone reload. But we found there are several websites, including a service from PayPal (https://www.xoom.com/money-transfer) that let you use US cards to instantly reload phones around the world. This worked great for us.

  6. I just spent three hours trying to figure this out and absolutely agree with Rocky so thank you so much for the suggestion. Had reset everything, taken my sim out, logged in and logged out, set up a new apple id… anyway the solution was the “silent” apple sms comes at a fee so if you add a small amount of credit this will cover this and then enable the iMessage going forward
    – phew!

  7. I tried them all – finally I took the SIM card out and put it back in and it finally works again!! Thank you thank you thank you!!
    So simple to fix it 😭

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