5 Best Places to Buy a Used iPhone and What to Ask Before You Buy

When picking up a used cell phone, buy from a trusted site and ask a few key questions before making a purchase.
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Written by Kelsey Sheehy
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Shiny new phones sure are appealing, pricey too. You can save money on an iPhone, or Android phone for that matter, and still get a good one by buying used.

What is a good used iPhone model?

The iPhone 11 and 12 topped the list of best-selling used iPhones in 2023 on Swappa, a popular tech marketplace. With prices as low as $184, an 11 could be had for about one-quarter the cost of a new iPhone 15.

The best places to buy a used iPhone or other cell phone

Finding a trusted site to buy can be tricky. Facebook Marketplace is riddled with scams, and it can be hard to tell whether newer online retailers are legit. Look for a retailer that stands behind the phones it sells and has a return policy.

Seller ratings and detailed descriptions are also helpful when purchasing a phone online, as is the ability to ask the seller questions. More on what questions to ask the seller (and yourself) later.

Here are a few trusted places to shop for a used cell phone:

1. EBay: Vast marketplace teeming with cell phone sellers

If you spend much time online, you know eBay: the place to buy anything, especially cell phones. Sellers can upload photos and give detailed descriptions of the phone’s condition. Buyers can reference seller ratings and contact them with questions before making a purchase. And with eBay’s money-back guarantee, you can return the phone for a full refund if it isn’t exactly as the seller described.

2. Amazon: Lots of pre-owned phones with Prime shipping

You can purchase popular used and refurbished phone models that are sold and shipped from Amazon or a third-party seller. Like with eBay, buyers can read through seller ratings and product reviews to inform their purchase decision. And for added peace of mind, “Amazon Renewed” phones come with a 90-day warranty. Warranties on other phones vary by seller.

3. Swappa: Solid marketplace for anyone looking to buy or sell

You buy directly from sellers through Swappa’s straightforward process. The site reviews listings to ensure the device serial number is clean (read: not stolen) and requires sellers to upload photos of the phone, powered on, next to a custom listing code to ensure they have the device. Swappa uses PayPal for all payments to leverage its proven buyer protections.

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4. Gazelle: One of the original reputable cell phone resellers

You buy the phone directly from Gazelle. Shoppers benefit from a wide selection of phones from a single seller. Gazelle inspects all certified pre-owned devices to confirm their condition and backs up sales with a 30-day return period.

5. Your wireless provider: Most carriers sell pre-owned phones

Pre-owned pricing tends to vary based on current offers from your provider. But buying from a carrier means that you know the phone will connect and be compatible with the network. You also know it’s not stolen and typically has a limited warranty. This purchase could lead to less stress than buying that used iPhone from a site where users can sell their stuff with little oversight, like Facebook or Craigslist.

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What to ask before buying a used iPhone

Buying from a trusted site takes some of the risk out of buying a used phone, but you still need to ensure you can activate and use the phone when it arrives. Here are some things to find out:

What is the serial number? Also known as the ESN or IMEI, this is a crucial piece of information to get because you’ll need it to verify whether the phone has been registered as lost or stolen. If it has, you won’t be able to activate the phone. The serial number will also tell you whether the phone will work with your carrier. Most carriers let you check this online, but you can also go to a store or call customer service. Also, Swappa offers a free IMEI checker on its site.

Is the phone under contract or lease agreement? Phones under a contract or lease can’t be easily reactivated, even with a new carrier, until the agreement is fulfilled. So if the seller has a year left on the contract, it’s likely to be at least that long before you can activate the phone. A good way to avoid contract issues is to opt for a phone advertised as “unlocked” from any carrier.

Does the phone have significant water damage? Moisture erodes a phone's components over time. So while the device may look fine and work well now, it won’t last long if it’s been exposed to water. Unfortunately, you typically can’t look at a phone and see if it has water damage, so you’re trusting the seller to be honest. Apple phones now have a Liquid Contact Indicator, so you can check for water damage once the iPhone has arrived.

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Is it safe to buy a used phone?

To be safe when buying a used phone, don’t pay with cash or directly from your checking account. Instead, pick a payment method that has built-in protections, like PayPal.