Fix an “Activation Error” After an iPhone Reset / Restore

Jul 2, 2014 - 7 Comments

Activation Error on iPhone

If you’ve ever reset an iPhone to factory default settings or restored a device to set it up as new, you may have run into this “Activation Error” message when going to set up the iPhone again. The accompanying message is somewhat vague and not particularly helpful, saying “Activation request could not be completed. If the problem persists, please contact customer care.” If you happen to be near an Apple Store then sure you can contact Customer Support or stop in to the Genius Bar to get past the Activation Error screen, but that’s not always practical. Fortunately, there are at least two other ways to get past the activation alert message and continue setting up the iPhone as usual.

Before anything else, make sure you’re connected to a functioning wi-fi network that is able to connect to the broader internet. Sometimes a very restrictive router can be the culprit and may block the iPhone from attempting to reach Apple’s activation servers, so simply joining a functioning network does the trick, allowing the iPhone to communicate with the outside world and skipping the screen.

Option 1: Try Again

At first glance, the “Activation Error” screen is completely inactive, there are no actionable buttons or toggles, and you’re left with no functioning screen elements to do anything, right? Right, but the Home button does work to bring about a menu, so here’s what you’ll want to do:

  1. Press the Home button until a menu appears with three options: “Emergency Call”, “Start Over”, and “Wi-Fi Settings”
  2. Choose “Start Over” – this goes back to the very beginning of the iOS setup screens, letting you choose language, wi-fi router, etc
  3. Go through the process again, if you see the “Activation Error” screen again, then just run through this process a few more times

Bypassing Activation Error on iPhone with the menu options

I ran into this recently when clearing out an unlocked iPhone for gifting to a friend, and discovered that after about five attempts of selecting “Start Over” it finally worked and the Activation Error screen was bypassed. Whatever is going on behind the scenes is obviously somewhat busy and clearly a reliable service, so just have some patience and try a handful of times, you’ll almost certainly get past the screen eventually.

iPhone Activation Error screen

Or if you’re impatient and you have a SIM card handy, jump to option 2, which should work the first time without having to try repeatedly.

Option 2: Use a Working SIM Card

Got a functioning SIM card laying around? Just plug it into the iPhone and then do the “Start Over” trick as mentioned above, and you should skip right past the “Activation Error” screen and be on your way configuring the iPhone as usual.

SIM Card

Using a working SIM card is probably the easiest thing to do and it doesn’t require a handful of Start Over attempts. I’ve read off-hand reports of any original carrier SIM card working for this purpose, but I can’t confirm that, mostly because I don’t have a handful of old SIM cards laying around. But what does work is using a functioning SIM card with the original carrier, whether the phone is locked or not.

If you have any difficulties with this approach, be mindful of the SIM card carrier in use. For example, if you successfully unlocked the iPhone from AT&T you might want to try using an AT&T SIM card to “activate” the iPhone initially, and then once the configuration is complete you can switch to the alternate carrier SIM, be it T-Mobile or whatever other carrier you’re attempting to use. This SIM card swap trick has worked for quite a while, particularly for unlocked iPhones that are being used on outside networks.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPhone, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting


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  1. Json says:

    You can bypass Activation errors by using any original carrier SIM card, it doesn’t need to be for an active account or a valid phone number – so even if you or a coworker has an old one sitting around in an office desk somewhere, it will work to pass activation. It just needs to contact the activation server, verify that it’s good (ie: not stolen) and then you’re good to go.

  2. anonymous says:

    use a valid sim card. worked for me.

  3. anonymous says:

    I stumbled onto a iPhone 5s laying in the bathroom of a Club here in south Africa . but I cannot get my icloud to bypass the original owner and ive tried the 112 calling method by I literally get no were … what do I have to do …???

    • Jerky says:

      How about you return the iPhone to the original owner rather than try to “bypass” it yourself?

      • blankman says:

        That would be dumb. Who goes to the trouble of returning things they can profit from?

        • Jeb says:

          Its good karma and the right thing to do! Why steel someones item they saved money to purchase.. and many photos and personal information are on there that they will miss :( Some people….

          • ace72 says:

            Thats the problem with this world. $500 won’t make you as valuable in the years to come as much as being a good sumaritan will >.<

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