Upgrading to new iPhone SE: advice on best way to purchase?

I own a 1st generation iPhone SE, and (given how long in the tooth it’s gotten) plan to replace it with the (relatively) new 3rd gen SE.

I’m debating between 2 methods for purchasing a new iPhone SE:

  • Buy the new SE from Apple, and swap the nano-Sim from the old SE to the new SE, to transfer my phone number. (I’ve done something similar in the past.)
  • Upgrade through the carrier (AT&T). (Never done this before.)

My 2 priorities:

  • Want to move my phone number from the old SE to the new SE, at a convenient time for me. (E.g., don’t want AT&T to automatically do it on the day I buy a new SE through them.)
  • Want to keep my old SE – both as a reference for app settings/configurations while I’m setting up my new SE; and down the road, as an iPod equivalent for playing music. (I.e., don’t want to do a “trade-in”.)

All other priorities (price, convenience of purchasing) are secondary.

Given this: any recommendations/advice for which purchase method to use? Any pitfalls to warn me about?

Any feedback much appreciated!

I upgraded from a 1st generation SE to a 3rd generation last year. I was told that I wouldn’t get all 5G capability if I just swapped the SIM since it was outdated. I went through my carrier (Verizon) so I got a new SIM. The number did move at that time, but the old SE is still usable, just without the phone/cellular part.

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The original SE did not support 5G so your SIM card does not support 5G. You need a new SIM card. I did the same thing – upgrade from original SE to SE3 – and it was necessary to get a new SIM.

However, the SE3 also supports eSIM so you might not need a SIM card at all. I was unable to get eSIM to work and ended up with a 5G SIM card.

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I’ve bought from Apple when I bought a phone meant for my carrier (Verizon - iPhone 13 Pro, and a 13 Mini for my wife) and both were activated when I wanted as part of the initial setup, and not before; both were eSIM, which is fine with me. It was seamless and worked perfectly for us. And I’ve also bought two several phones from Apple that were unlocked in which I put an existing SIM from an older phone in. Obviously they were not activated for that number until I put the SIM in.

I know for Verizon you would need a new SIM if you want 5G, but I didn’t think that was the case for AT&T. (I may be wrong.) Either way, 5G hasn’t been a big feature upgrade for me - in fact, I locked my phone to LTE for a while because it was more reliable for me than using 5G. So you may not be missing much if you stick with your old SIM and it doesn’t support 5G.

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My old T-Mobile SIM that I had used in an original SE worked just fine on my 12 mini for 5G. Whatever phone gets the SIM has the number — there’s no “activating” or any other shenanigans which is why I love physical SIMs compared to eSIMs. But ultimately, it depends on your specific carrier if you’ll have to get a new SIM just to use 5G bands.

IME (and location of course) 5G has been all about network availability (slightly better), not throughput (essentially unchanged). Lots of hype, little to get really excited about.

If you move the SIM card, the new phone should connect to the network and get your number. But you might not have support for all the latest network features (e.g. 5G).

If you find that you don’t have 5G connectivity, you can always contact AT&T and have them give you a new SIM card for your account. The SIM will need to be activated after installation, but that’s usually a pretty straightforward process. If you’re unsure, go visit an AT&T corporate store (not a third-party reseller) and their staff should be able to do it.

If you get a new phone via AT&T (or if you buy from Apple through your AT&T account), then the new phone will include a new SIM card. Your old phone will remain fully operational until you activate the new SIM card (which should happen automatically as a part of setting up the new phone.)

Your old phone no longer be able to access the mobile network after its SIM card is removed/deactivated. If you want to use it in the future, just insert a valid SIM card (whether from your own account or someone else’s).

I would upgrade through AT&T. Although I don’t use them, I’ve done many upgrades through my carrier (Verizon). There have occasionally been some migration glitches during the SIM activation, but most of the time it just works. Just be sure to follow the included directions to the letter.

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Just to clarify, I believe all phones purchased from Apple now come with an eSIM ready to be activated for your account rather than a physical SIM card. Even the SE.


The SE still has a physical nano-SIM socket. iPhone SE - Technical Specifications - Apple

At this time, only the 14 series requires eSIM support.

As for what is pre-installed when you order from Apple, I don’t know. eSIM wouldn’t surprise me. If you order it from AT&T, you might get something different.

Where I live, Costco has just begun an exclusive relationship with ATT. Among the “bennies”

Remarkably generous trade-in allowances
A $100 gift card for each new device purchased.

I have no idea whether an old SE would qualify for any trade value, but it’s worth checking. An iPhone 12 Pro gives you a $1000 trade in value.

FWIW, as a long-time AT&T customer with (at one time) five phones under contract, I just push the easy button: I buy from Apple and indicate my AT&T account somewhere in the process, which kicks in whatever promo AT&T happens to be running at that time. When the new phone arrives, I follow the on-screen prompts to initialize it from iCloud, and then proceed with the online activation process. The old phone stops working, and the new one takes over.

These days I trade in my old phone, but if you don’t want to, just keep it in Airplane mode to shut off the cellular radio and save on battery. Makes a fine iPod Touch.

I purchased an SE3 directly from Apple to replace my SE2 then moved the Consumer Cellular SIM card into the SE3 and waited…11 minutes later all worked perfectly.

(And just a comment about Consumer Cellular which apparently uses the AT&T network. I switched to CC after having been on AT&T for many years. Saved about $32 per month, no change in service quality).

I did this in late Nov. 2022. Went from an old SE to the 2022 model. I didn’t use the nano-SIM at all. The new phones all support eSim, which can be set by the carrier without a physical SIM. This allows you to install a physical SIM when you need it (for example, when traveling abroad). My carrier is T-Mobile and they activated the phone from their end following a phone call. So, I purchased the phone at an Apple store, where we set it up, but to activate my number I had to contact T-mobile and have then activate the eSim. It took a bit of fussing because I have a business account and didn’t have the security info T-mobile needed on my person. Had to go home to get it, then call them from there from my still active old phone. The new phone does support 5G.

Who is your carrier? The eSim feature works with T-mobile.

The new SE supports eSim as well.

Yes. eSIM was introduced in 2018 in the iPhone XS. Every iPhone made for the US market since then has support (some models sold to other regions are dual-nano-SIM without eSIM support).

The 14, however, is the first model to drop the physical SIM socket. The US model, A2649 has no physical SIM socket. Other models, sold to other regions (A2881, A2882 and A2883) still have a nano-SIM socket. And one model (A2884) is dual-nano-SIM without eSIM. (Similar patterns for the 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max.)

Source: Mactracker and Techwalls.


See this previous thread about iPhone SE3 and SIM/eSIM.

Just wanted to thank everyone who posted on the thread. I really appreciate the information you provided – particularly confirming the legitimacy of moving the SIM from the old SE Rev 1 to the new SE Rev 3, and the warnings about the old SIM potentially not supporting 5G connectivity. The detailed background info was particularly welcome; it provided me with a solid foundation to make decisions with.

FYI, everything went swimmingly: I purchased an unlocked SE Rev 3 from the Apple Store, and after getting it set up (using WiFi), I moved the old SE Rev 1 SIM card to the SE Rev 3, and voila – worked perfectly.

I’ve decided to wait before going to the AT&T store to get a 5G SIM card (it’s tax time, and I’m busy helping several family members with theirs, as well as doing my own). I live in Seattle, so I suspect the 5G would provide a benefit, since 5G coverage is supposed to be prevalent here. However, I have little use for high-bandwidth-demand applications when I’m out and about (90% of the time, data access is through Wi-Fi), so it’s definitely not a priority.

Thanks again for your help!

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I have bought 2 iPhone SE from this person over 6 months. Don’t know him/her, both phones arrived perfect and continue to function. One still has AppleCare working.

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