How to fix “Waiting for activation” issue in iMessage and FaceTime on iPhone and iPad

You may encounter iMessage and FaceTime activation issues when setting up a new iPhone or switching phone numbers or carriers. In this post, you will see how to fix “Waiting for activation” errors in iMessage and FaceTime. We will go through several possible solutions for this specific issue and similar ones related to the activation of these essential communication services.

Fix Waiting for activation error in iMessage and FaceTime on iPhone

The symptoms

There are several possible error messages that indicate an activation issue with FaceTime or iMessage, but the most frequent one is the “Waiting for activation” error that appears in the iMessage or FaceTime panels in the Settings app, as pictured below.

waiting for activation imessage

I recently encountered a slight variation of this issue where not only the “Waiting for activation” message was showing up, but the phone number I was trying to activate with iMessage was grayed out with a spinning wheel next to it. My case was somewhat unusual because I was trying to activate a secondary phone number on the same iPhone. This is not impossible, but this is definitely not a scenario that most people will encounter.

Other error messages you could encounter might say:

  • Activation unsuccessful, or
  • An error occurred during activation, or
  • Could not sign in, please check your network connection.

Although the verbiage is different, these are all pretty much the same issues: you can’t get FaceTime and iMessage to work.

Fix: Waiting for activation

There are many things you can do to troubleshoot this issue related to activating iMessage and FaceTime on your iPhone or iPad. I have listed them in the order they should be performed.

1. Make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi or cellular

This is quite obvious, but if you don’t have any cellular or Wi-Fi connection, iMessage and FaceTime won’t be able to check in with Apple’s servers to start the activation process. Just make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi and have cellular service.

2. Turn Airplane mode on and off

Maybe the activation issue is just a dumb hiccup in the system. Before going any further in the troubleshooting of your problem, try turning Airplane Mode on, wait a few seconds, and then turn it off.

Airplane mode on and off on iPhone

3. Set the correct time

When Apple tries to authenticate you for iMessage or FaceTime, the activation server will expect the time between them and your device to match. To avoid any issue, go to Settings > General > Date & Time, and set the time and date to Set Automatically. Additionally, make sure the time zone is the correct one.

4. Turn off iMessage and FaceTime, then restart your device

This is a possible solution offered to me by Apple when I called them about my issue. In my case, it didn’t help at all, but you probably want to try that and see how it goes for you. Apparently, this is a trick that helps many people.

In iPhone or iPad Settings, go to Messages and turn off iMessage. Then, in Settings, go to FaceTime and turn off FaceTime. Finally, reboot your device and enable the two options again.

Turn off iMessage on iPhone and turn it back on

5. Make sure your cell plan lets you send and receive SMS

This is not obvious, but if you are trying to activate FaceTime and iMessage on an iPhone, Apple might try to send you an SMS as part of the activation process. This SMS is typically invisible to the user as all happens in the background, but this is basically the equivalent of Apple sending an SMS to the phone to verify its status. If you can’t send and receive SMS messages, which I admit would be quite unusual, then Apple might not be able to authorize the device to activate FaceTime and iMessage. In this case, double-check with your carrier that you can indeed send and receive text messages. In most cases, restarting the iPhone and ensuring you have sufficient SMS/call balance should help.

6. Add credit if you’re a prepaid user

This is directly related to the previous possible solution. If you are on a prepaid plan, you might not have enough credit to send a text message. Again, if you don’t have an active plan, you might not actually receive a text message that you will be able to read, but the SMS protocol might be used to activate iMessage or FaceTime on your device. While troubleshooting my iMessage activation issue recently, I saw many people who were on prepaid plans. These people had to add a dollar or so of credit to their account to make sure they could send and receive SMS if needed.

7. Reset network settings

As we discussed above, Apple does a bit of SMS trickery to activate FaceTime and iMessage on your device. So if you’re having either Wi-Fi or cellular network issue, Apple won’t be able to activate your device over these two services. To rule out issues related to your connectivity, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Reset > Reset Network Settings.

Reset Network Settings iPhone

Once the reset is performed, you will have to enter your Wi-Fi password again, but at least you will be operating on a clean slate as far as networking goes.

In case network reset doesn’t work, you can try resetting all settings.

8. Wait for 24 hours

Apple also suggested it might take up to 24 hours to activate iMessage and FaceTime. Since you don’t have anything better to do, maybe just sit back, relax, and wait a day or so to see if things magically start working again.

9. Check Apple’s server status

Sometimes, the fault may not be on your side but on Apple’s end. Go to the official System Status page and make sure FaceTime, iMessage, iCloud Account & Sign In, iOS Device Activation, etc., have a green dot next to them, which signifies they are working correctly.

10. Sign out of your Apple ID and sign in again

Still no luck in activating iMessage and FaceTime? Follow these quick steps to sign out of your Apple ID or iCloud and then sign back in. After this, restart your iPhone and try reactivating iMessage and FaceTime. It should be successful now.

11. Put your SIM card in a different phone, then reset that phone

I haven’t seen this solution anywhere on the internet, but this is the only thing that worked for me when my grayed-out phone number wouldn’t activate iMessage. All I did was pop out the SIM card and put it in a spare iPhone I had on hand. The same issue happened on that phone, but after going to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase All Content and Settings, everything worked fine. I then put the SIM card back in my main iPhone, and iMessage activated almost instantly.

In retrospect, resetting my main phone, to begin with, could have done the trick, but I would have had to set up the entire phone all over again, which would have been a huge waste of time.

In case you need help:

12. Update to the latest version of iOS

As always, in these sorts of situations, it might be a good idea to update to the latest version of iOS if you are having some issues. That’s especially true if you are still sporting a version of the operating system that is one year old or more. To update to the latest iOS version, go to Settings > General > Software Update.

13. Reset all content and settings

The activation issue may actually be a device-specific issue, and unfortunately, you might have to reset the device and set it all up again. To do so, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase All Content and Settings. This will wipe out your device and will let you either set it up as new or set it up from a previous iCloud backup.

I hope one of these solutions will work for you and that you will fix your waiting for activation issue. If you have other tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

iMessage tips: