One of the promoted specifications on the new Apple iPhone 4S is the "world phone" capability, but it isn't quite the world phone that many international travelers who use GSM phones are used too. Macworld has a good article explaining how "worldly" your new iPhone 4S really is and as you can see it turns out the Verizon iPhone 4S may actually be the best option for international travelers. Given that I am traveling to Nokia World in London in just over a week, I just went through the entire SIM unlock process with Verizon on my new 32GB White iPhone 4S and wanted to explain the process in detail for you.
Options for international usage
There are two ways you can use your new iPhone 4S internationally, (1) roaming directly through your US carrier partner agreements or (2) by using an international/local microSIM card with coverage in the country you are visiting. The easiest, and most expensive, option is to simply call up your carrier and enable the global option on your phone. Sprint and Verizon include global microSIM cards in your phones already so you are set after enabling the service.
I personally have and enjoy using a Truphone Local Anywhere SIM that gives me a local Seattle phone number with excellent international rates. This SIM allows me to travel all over the world with the same number and enjoy competitive rates without having to search around for local SIM cards. I get voice, data, and text with this SIM and can test it before I leave on my trips.
At this time Truphone only has standard SIM cards so I purchased this microSIM cutter from Amazon. Don't worry, it comes with two microSIM to SIM card adapters so you can always use it with other phones with standard SIM card slots. I cut down my Truphone SIM and was ready to go.
Step-by-step to SIM unlock
Here are the steps I took to unlock my Verizon iPhone 4S and test it with my Truphone SIM.
Call up Verizon customer service
Tell them that you wish to perform an "international unlock" so that you can use a "SIM card from an international carrier" and you do NOT want the Verizon global option that uses their own SIM with roaming agreements. They will tell you that you can only perform one SIM unlock once every 10 months and if you haven't done it in the last 10 months you should be good to go.
Verizon will email you an unlock agreement that you must read and then verbally agree too.
The Verizon rep will then have you turn off your iPhone. They will then do some things on their end that takes about 5 minutes.
The rep will then tell you that you need to put your international SIM in your phone and then connect via a computer and iTunes or via WiFi to perform the activation. As you can see in my screenshot, I performed the activation via WiFi and after that you are good to go.
I put in my Truphone SIM and after a couple seconds it roamed to T-Mobile USA and confirmed my SIM card slot was unlocked.
I will be able to fully test and confirm this works outside the US too in just over a week. As Gloria also points out in this ZDNet article, there is some confusion around the Sprint SIM card unlocking capability.
FYI, I tried putting in an AT&T microSIM card and it will not activate in the Verizon iPhone 4S. You need a valid international or international service card like my Truphone SIM to use the SIM card slot.