How to Fix iMessage “Waiting for Activation” on iPhone

Updated October 8th, 2020.

Is your iPhone stuck “Waiting for activation” when you turn on iMessage in the iOS Settings? Have you tried everything suggested in Apple’s Knowledge Base article, but still iMessage says “Waiting for activation”? Have you been turning iMessage off, turning it back on, restarting your iPhone, and waiting 24 hours, and still iMessage is “Waiting for activation”?

If so, you’re not alone! It seems iMessage is waiting for activation on a lot of iPhones: a Google search for “how to activate iMessage” yields 546,000 entries. I haven’t read them all, but as far as I know none of them suggest the method described here.

In my opinion, you’ve come to the right place.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: turn iMessage OFF, turn FaceTime OFF, sign OUT of iCloud, turn OFF your iPhone. Now, in this order: turn your iPhone ON, turn iMessage ON (signing in there), turn FaceTime ON (signing in there too), and then– and only then— sign into iCloud. Voilá!

  • In Settings, go to Messages and turn off the switch for iMessage.
  • Also in Settings, go to FaceTime and turn that switch off too.

If you were to follow Apple’s instructions, or any of the other articles about this, you’d next switch iMessage back on, or you’d turn your iPhone off, then back on, and then you’d switch iMessage back on… and then you’d still see “Waiting for activation.” Frustrating.

Here’s the magic.

  • After you’ve turned off iMessage and FaceTime in Settings, go to the very top part of Settings, where you see your name, and Airplane Mode, and WI-Fi, and Bluetooth. Tap on your name, leading to the screen with “Apple ID” at the very top, and “Sign Out” at the very bottom. Signing Out is what you’re going to do.

It would be a great idea to have a good look at the iCloud settings before you sign out. It’s likely that your iPhone will remember those settings but just in case, write them down.

  • Now we’re going to sign OUT of iCloud. You’ll have to put in your Apple ID password to do it. When you sign out, you’ll get a big message about saving a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out. Read it carefully. You DON’T want to save a copy on the iPhone.
No, you don't want to save a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out.
No, you don’t want to save a copy of the iCloud data onto your iPhone before signing out.

Everything you’re removing from your iPhone is stored on the iCloud server anyway, and you’re going to be signing back in to iCloud shortly, so you will get it all back very soon. So, sign out, and DON’T keep a copy of the iCloud data on your iPhone. Rest easy, it’s still on the iCloud server. You’ll see a message about “Removing iCloud Data.” Don’t worry you’re removing iCloud data from your iPhone, not from the server. (Don’t save a copy “just to be safe.” If you do save a copy of your iCloud data on your iPhone you’ll end up with duplicates and a big mess when you turn iCloud back on later. So don’t do that.)

  • Turn your iPhone off. Then turn it back on.
  • Go to the Settings. Resist temptation: do NOT “Sign in to your iPhone” at the top of the screen. Instead, scroll down to Messages, and sign in with your Apple ID credentials there. This is made a bit more difficult than it has to be due to there being no place to put your password. That’s OK– put in your Apple ID, then tap the Return key. That’s what produces the password box. Put in your password and then tap Sign In. In a moment– possibly after adding a six-digit two-factor authentication code– your phone should, probably, possibly, hopefully, indicate that iMessage is on, with NO message about “Waiting for activation.”
  • As long as you’re at it, go to FaceTime settings (Settings/FaceTime) and sign in with your Apple ID there too. Like iMessage, FaceTime should turn on without a “Waiting for activation” message.
  • Now go back to the first screen of Settings, tap “Sign in to your iPhone,” and sign in (same as above, you will have to tap Return after entering your Apple ID, otherwise you will never see the password box). Check that your iCloud settings are the same as they were before you signed out of iCloud, and correct them if they aren’t. You’re done!
After turning on iMessage, sign in to your iPhone.
After turning on iMessage, sign in to your iPhone

Just One More Thing

In iCloud settings, you probably want to turn ON Messages. With Messages in iCloud turned on, if you delete a text message from your iPhone, it will also delete from your other devices (Mac, iPad) that have Messages in iCloud turned on. That’s pretty handy.

Messages in iCloud turned on.
Messages in iCloud turned on

This is a new-ish feature– your iPhone has to be on 11.4 or later, and your Mac needs to be on 10.13.4 or later, otherwise the feature isn’t even there for you to turn on. It you have the option, you probably want to turn it on. I have an article about that here.

So, did it work? Let me know in the comments. If it did work, please share this article with your Facebook and Twitter friends. As far as I know, this method has not been published anywhere else on the web, and a lot of people have this problem. Help spread the word. Thanks to my friend Andrea for having faith that I’d figure it out for her when she had this problem.

Copyright 2008-2023 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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6 thoughts on “How to Fix iMessage “Waiting for Activation” on iPhone

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  1. I was worried about iMessages problem, but after reading your article i followed your steps and it’s very helpful for me.I can solve my problem by your article. Thanks for this wonderful piece of article and keep posting.

    1. This one can be tricky. Try this: find the Library folder (the one at the top level of your hard disk). In there, find the Preferences folder. In there, find the file. Change the name on that– put “old” on the end of it, that will do it. Then restart the Mac. See if you can do the iMessage activation after that. During the restart a new will be created. If it hasn’t solved your problem you can delete the new one and rename the old one and you’re no worse off.

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