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How to activate a new iPhone

If you've recently purchased a new iPhone to be shipped to your home, you're probably wondering how you're going to get it up and running.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
New iPhone at startup

What a new iPhone looks like when first turned on.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The first time I bought and activated a new phone at home was around ten years ago, and I was amazed at how painless the process was when I did it myself instead of going to a store. Since then, I've only gotten phones this way, and I don't think I'll ever go back.

Before the DIY era, setting up and activating a new phone was reserved for the phone carrier employees. 

Buying a new phone was akin to buying a new car: You'd save up for it, research for weeks (or months), then go to an authorized retailer, and spend the better part of an afternoon in between making small talk to a sales employee and signing agreements, to walk out with a shiny new thing -- albeit a little poorer. 

Also: Which iPhone is right for you?

Nowadays the process is as simple as buying it online from a retailer and following some prompts to set it up. We'll walk you through the steps to set up a new iPhone and how to troubleshoot any obstacles along the way.  

How to activate a new iPhone

1. Turn on the new iPhone

Okay, get excited. This is the best part: Unbox your new iPhone and discover all the goodies tucked inside with your shiny new phone. Right, it's just a charging cable.

Also: How to tell if your Lightning charging cable is fake

Next, turn on your new iPhone by pressing and holding the power button on the right side of the device. The screen will show the word "Hello" in different languages. Just swipe up on the screen to open the setup guide.

Hand holding phone with Apple logo

The Apple logo comes up at startup.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Choose Quick Start or set up manually

If you already had an iPhone you're replacing, Apple gives you the option to set up the new one automatically by holding the old device near the new one.

Option to Quick Start or set up manually

Quick Start or manual setup.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Connect to Wi-Fi and follow prompts

Select your Wi-Fi network if you're in range of one. If your iPhone has a SIM card, this is the time it should successfully connect to your cellular network. The new iPhone 14 lineup only uses eSIM, and, depending on the carrier, your phone may prompt you to activate your eSIM.

Also: eSIM vs SIM: What's the difference?

After this, follow the prompts to continue activating your new iPhone.

My phone carrier is Mint Mobile, which does support eSIM. However, I had to skip the cellular network connection and activate my eSIM via the Mint Mobile app. When I did this, the app said this service wasn't available. If you have Mint Mobile, you may have to contact customer service to have them send you an email for your eSIM activation.

You can also learn how to transfer your number to one of the new eSIM-only iPhones.

Data & Privacy section of iPhone setup

After you join a Wi-Fi network, tap through the Data & Privacy information.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Follow the prompts to set up Face ID and passcode

Face ID uses face recognition to unlock your iPhone, use Apple Pay, log in to apps, and make other purchases and downloads without having to enter your passcode or, in the case of logging in to apps, your password. 

Setting up Face ID involves letting your iPhone use its TrueDepth camera mechanism on the notch or dynamic island on your iPhone to learn your facial features. 

At this point, you can also set up a passcode to unlock your iPhone.

Face ID section of iPhone setup

Set up Face ID.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

5. Transfer data and apps

Your brand new iPhone is a clean slate, so you'll have the option of using a backup, another phone, or skip altogether. Here are the options to transfer apps and data:

  • Restore from iCloud Backup: An iCloud backup can easily transfer most of your information, apps, and media.
  • Restore from Mac or PC: People commonly use a computer backup for an iPhone's media.
  • Transfer directly from iPhone: This option lets you use your old iPhone to transfer the data and apps to the new one, simply by allowing the action on your older phone and holding them both near each other.
  • Move data from Android: If you're one of the many making the switch from Android phone to an iPhone, choose this option and follow the steps to move your data from Android to your new phone.
  • Don't transfer apps and data: This option lets you start from scratch, without transferring any of your previous data to your new iPhone.

Also: How to back up your iPhone with iCloud or Mac

Transferring data in iPhone setup

Choose one of the ways to get started with your previously backed up data.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

6. Sign in using your Apple ID

An Apple ID is the way to log in to all things Apple. If you're new to iPhones, then you can tap on "Forgot Password or don't have an Apple ID" to create an Apple ID. Everything you do on your iPhone, iPad, iCloud, and all Apple products will be linked to your Apple ID. 

After you log in using your Apple ID, you can move on to follow prompts to allow automatic updates, set up iMessage, FaceTime, and Location Services.

7. Set up Siri

Setting up Siri can help the smart voice assistant learn how your voice says different phrases, so your new iPhone will prompt you to read a few phrases for Siri, like "What's the weather today?" and others. 

Also: How to change Siri's voice

8. Adjust the final settings to finish setting up your new iPhone

After Siri is set up, simply follow the next prompts to finish adjusting different settings like Apple Pay, Keychain, Screen Time, and display settings.

Transfer Complete popup for iPhone

Setup is complete.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET


Do I need to call my phone carrier to activate a new iPhone?

You don't typically need to call your phone carrier to help you activate your new iPhone, but it will depend on the carrier. When you buy a new iPhone from your phone company, like Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile, it'll easily connect to the cellular network at setup. If you buy it directly from Apple, you'll have the option to choose a phone carrier from a list of a few companies or choose to set it up later.

How do I activate an eSIM?

An eSIM can typically be activated at setup, but if you're having issues connecting to your cellular network when you initially set up your new iPhone, you can skip this step and finish it later.

As I mentioned above, I use Mint Mobile, so when I got my iPhone 14 Pro Max from Apple, I chose to set up a phone carrier later, since Mint wasn't one of the options. Once I received my iPhone and set it up, I couldn't activate the eSIM at setup, so I skipped that step and once the iPhone was up and running, I followed these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Cellular
  3. Tap on Set up cellular

I had to chat with Mint's customer service because eSIM activation was disabled on the Mint Mobile app, but they sent me an activation email within 24 hours.

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