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I no longer buy my smartphones subsidized because I just can’t stand paying north of $2,000 in service fees over the course of my contract. Beginning with the iPhone 4s and onward, I’ve been purchasing my iPhones contract-free and unlocked. Of course, this means paying the full price upfront.

On the flip side, contract-free iPhones are unlocked out of the box, which gives me the freedom to switch carriers as easily as popping in another SIM card. Although a bunch of oversea markets have had the fully unlocked iPhone 5s for several weeks, Apple has now finally started selling the device in the United States through its online store…

It’s worth mentioning Verizon’s full-price iPhone 5s also comes unlocked, though only if you buy it via the Apple Store. Similarly, T-Mobile’s GSM-based iPhone 5s models sold by Apple have been unlocked since launch as well.

The SIM-free unlocked iPhone 5s (model number A1533) is available in space gray, silver and gold, each in 16/32/64GB storage tiers costing $649/$749/$849. The colorful iPhone 5c has been available SIM-free since its launch in September.

Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac first spotted the change:

Apple today released an unlocked GSM version of the iPhone 5s on its online store for the United States. This version of the iPhone 5s includes the same exact capabilities of the non-unlocked models, but does not include a SIM card. Users who buy this version of the iPhone will need to supply their own SIM card.

The central benefit of an unlocked iPhone is that it can work on many GSM networks across the globe with no contract. For frequent world travelers, this option is worth looking into.

Apple explains:

If you buy iPhone for T-Mobile, it will arrive with a nano-SIM card already installed that you can activate by visiting an Apple Retail Store or a T-Mobile store or by calling T-Mobile. If you buy a SIM-free iPhone, you will need to purchase a GSM-compatible nano-SIM card separately.

In the United States, you can purchase such a SIM from AT&T or T-Mobile. When you travel internationally, you can use a nano-SIM card for iPhone 5s from a local GSM carrier. The unlocked iPhone 5s model is A1533 (GSM). For details on LTE support, see www.apple.com/iphone/LTE.

The online Apple Store at press time said the SIM-free iPhone 5s was available to ship in 1-2 weeks versus 3-5 days for iPhone 5s models that ship with a T-Mobile SIM.

iOS 7 teaser (iPhone 5s ad 002)

It should be noted that the unlocked SIM-free iPhone 5s is GSM-only device so it will work on AT&T and T-Mobile which use the standard, but not on Verizon’s CDMA network. In fact, these phones will work with just about any GSM carrier in the world, making SIM-less iPhones especially appealing to world travelers.

The SIM-free unlocked iPhone 5s has not yet arrived to Apple Stores, but should become available in a few weeks, ideally before Black Friday officialy marks the start of this year’s holiday shopping craziness.