March 6, 2011

I Finally Got my iPhone Working in South Africa!

In a testament to the somewhat slower pace of African Time, I was thrilled to get my American iPhone working here in South Africa after less than 12 months! (In fact, today is exactly our 1-year anniversary as expats in South Africa, March 5, 2010 was our first full day here - click here for my very first blog post about moving in). I had previously blogged about whether or not your iPhone will work in South Africa, and I'm afraid I really don't have much new information. Yes, it will work, IF you succeed in jailbreaking and SIM-unlocking it, so that you can use your Vodacom (or MTN or Cell C) SIM card in it. Sounds easy, but that bit of hacking actually proved to be fairly complicated in my case (they say it depends on the version number and what hacking code is out there).

The Apple reseller I had initially taken  my phone to in order to have it jailbroken (I have a 3G) kept it for a few weeks, only to inform me that it couldn't be done until new code was out. So it was put on the backburner (or rather on my South African to-do list, which is at the bottom of the pile and does not see much movement). I kept using my iPhone's calendar (linked via Wifi) and grocery shopping app and was pretty much resigned to the hassle of toting two phones around with me (and not being able to sync anything with my Samsung piece of $#%&). Then one day my friend Graham spotted me with my iPhone and, being an iPhone user himself and somewhat of a techie, offered to jailbreak it for me. I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect and happily sent him off with it. He set to work very enthusiastically, but became a little less eager as time went on and nothing seemed to work. Apparently, the previous jailbreaking attempt by the Apple reseller had left my phone in some sort of cellphone purgatory - neither here nor there.

A few months later I had almost given up on it entirely, in fact eying some blackberry deals at the Vodacom shop (and only  not buying one due to feelings of guilt after just having spent a fortune on new tires, if you remember that story). Then Graham informed me he was flying to Vietnam on  a business trip, and would I want him to try and have the guy at the airport, who's done previous odd cellphone jobs for him, fix it for me. I did, and believe it or not, having my iPhone travel across half the world did the trick. The Vietnamese hacker even repaired the cracked screen for me, which would have cost a fortune at an official Apple Store. Thank you Graham!

The phone now works beautifully with my Vodacom SIM card, and I also got email and internet working by taking it in to the Vodashop and having some settings adjusted (it cane probably be done over the phone too but you do have to enter new internet settings). But see what I mean? Not great advice for all you expats bringing your iPhone to South Africa, unless you're planning to fly via Vietnam and visit a certain hacker at the airport. The best idea is probably to have the unlocking done back home, where you'll likely find more places capable of this kind of work. If you've had any of your own experiences regarding iPhones in South Africa, I'd love to see your comments.


Kelly said...

I also brought my iPhone over from the US, but sadly was unable to unlock it. I had one of the unlockable base bands, so I ended up carrying around 2 phones for about a year until my regular phone was due for an upgrade. Now I'm stuck with 2 iPhones-might just sell the unlocked one when I visit the US again. I wish we all had hacker connections in Vietnamese airports!

Sine said...

Sorry to hear that, that's too bad. I carried around two phones as well for the longest time, the iPhone for my calendar, contacts, and grocery list, and the Samsung to make actual calls. It was a drag because I felt like I had to be vigilant even more with all these phones to potentially lose or have stolen, and my contacts ended up so screwed up between the two phones. So I was very happy to have my iPhone back. In hindsight I should have just done what you did and bought another one to save me the trouble.

Anonymous said...

If you have a US iphone 4, you "need" to get a Gevey Ultra SIM. They're only $35 in the US (have someone inter-office mail you one if you are already here). No need to jailbreak or anything. Details can be found here:

And, yes, you can cut down a normal sim card into the shape of a micro-sim. Lots of shops will do it around the area (found one in sandton city), but with a steady hand, and a sharp knife or pair of sissors, you can cut your own.

Good luck.

cxx. pk. said...
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