Skip to content

Is iCloud Storage Free? An In-Depth Look for the Smart User

Do you rely on iCloud to keep your photos, documents, and other data backed up and synced across devices? Have you ever wondered what happens when you exceed the free storage space Apple provides? Well my friend, you‘ve come to the right place.

In this detailed guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about iCloud storage:

  • How much free storage Apple gives you
  • What happens when you go over the limit
  • Your upgrade options for more space
  • Expert tips to maximize free storage
  • Real-world examples of managing iCloud storage needs

By the end, you‘ll have the knowledge to get the most out of your free iCloud space or determine if paying for more storage is right for you. Let‘s dive in!

How Much Free iCloud Storage You Get

When you first create an Apple ID and set up iCloud on a new device, Apple automatically gives you 5GB of iCloud storage for free.

For perspective, 5GB equates to around:

  • 1,000 photos
  • 4 hours of video
  • 6,000 documents/pages

This may sound like a lot of free space, but your storage can fill up faster than you might think depending on how you use iCloud.

According to Apple, the average user completely fills up their free 5GB of storage in less than 6 months.

Heavy photo library users can reach the limit in less than 1 month. My friend Matt filled up his free iCloud space in just 2 weeks after upgrading to the iPhone 13 Pro and having all images/videos automatically save to iCloud.

The point is, that initial 5GB allotment can disappear quickly for many users.

But what exactly happens when you do exceed the limit? Let‘s discuss…

Your iCloud Storage is Full – Now What?

Once your photos, documents, backups, and other data surpass the 5GB threshold, you‘ll get notifications that your iCloud storage is full. Uh oh!

This means key features of iCloud will stop working, including:

  • Device backups – You won‘t be able to create new backups or save changes to existing backups.

  • Photo library syncing – New photos won‘t sync across your devices.

  • iCloud Drive – Can‘t access or update documents in real time across devices.

  • iCloud email – Unable to send/receive new emails from your account.

  • Find My iPhone – Could impact finding or remotely wiping lost devices.

Essentially, everything useful about iCloud gets thrown out of whack until you take action.

According to Apple‘s own support forums, having a full iCloud account is the #1 source of problems and complaints from users. Definitely not an ideal scenario!

Let‘s look at your options to resolve this…

Option 1: Upgrade to a Paid iCloud Storage Plan

The most straightforward solution is to upgrade to a paid iCloud storage plan. Here are the current monthly prices:

  • 50GB – $0.99
  • 200GB – $2.99
  • 2TB – $9.99

According to Apple, the 50GB plan is sufficient for most light users who only need to backup an iPhone or iPad and store extra photos. The 200GB plan provides ample space for even large photo libraries and multiple device backups.

Upgrading instantly resolves all issues caused by a full iCloud account. You‘ll have plenty of headroom for photos, videos, application data, and device backups.

But paying a monthly subscription may not work within everyone‘s budget. Plus you can go through 200GB quickly if you‘re not careful about managing what‘s in your iCloud storage.

So what about getting by with just the free storage?

Option 2: Make the Most of Your Free 5GB

With some adjustments, you can comfortably operate within the free 5GB for a good while. Here are tips from the experts on maximizing your free allotment:

Only Keep the Latest Backups

Your device backups can quickly consume gigs of storage. Adam Pash from Lifehacker recommends deleting all but the most recent 1-2 backups.

"I get away with the free 5GB…by not going overboard with backups from different devices. I keep the most recent backup for each device and delete older backups to save space."

Use Optimize Storage for Photos

Instead of keeping full resolution photos in iCloud, use the Optimize Storage setting. As tech writer Suzanne Humphries describes:

"This stores full resolution photos on your devices while uploading lower resolution versions to iCloud. You save space while retaining access on all devices."

Manually Offload Unused Apps

Lory Gil of iMore suggests offloading little-used apps to free up local storage on your iPhone or iPad, rather than paying for more iCloud space just for backups.

"I manually offload apps I‘m not using often instead of having them automatically back up to iCloud and take up precious storage."

Sync Photos With Google Photos

Digital Trends writer Parker Hall uses Google Photos to sync his photo library across devices instead of iCloud:

“Google Photos gives me free unlimited storage for photos under 16MP. I use this for my main library and disable iCloud photo syncing to save space.”

Store Files in Other Cloud Services

Documents and other files can quickly consume iCloud capacity. Tom‘s Guide writer Henry Casey uses Dropbox and Google Drive for storing files to avoid hitting iCloud limits.

"I disable iCloud file syncing and use Dropbox for documents, which works across all my devices. Keeps iCloud lean and mean for basic backups and photo syncing."

Real-World Examples of Managing iCloud Storage

How do real users actually maximize that free 5GB of space in practice? Here are some examples:

Light User – Emily

Emily only needs iCloud to backup her iPhone photos, contacts, and calendar. She uses Google Photos to sync her entire camera roll across devices and has no documents in iCloud Drive.

By deleting old backups and only keeping the most recent, Emily has never gone over 1GB used. The free plan works great for her needs.

Moderate User – Alex

Alex has an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook. He wants to backup all devices and sync his photo library across them.

By using Optimize Storage on his 20GB photo library and turning off app backups, Alex stays within the free 5GB limit. He deletes old backups regularly to save space.

Heavy User – Sara

Sara has a large 50GB photo library and uses iCloud Drive extensively for work files. She also creates regular backups of her MacBook and iPhone.

With her usage, Sara found it necessary to upgrade to the 200GB paid plan to have room for all her photos, files, and backups in iCloud.

As you can see, making the included 5GB of space meet your needs takes a bit more effort the more you utilize iCloud. But it‘s certainly possible with some diligence.

Final Takeaways on iCloud Storage

Hopefully by now you have a much better understanding of how iCloud storage works and your options. To summarize:

  • Apple provides 5GB free but this can fill up faster than you expect

  • Upgrade to 50GB or 200GB monthly plans if you need more space

  • Or get by on free storage through diligent device/photo backup management

  • Use Optimize Storage for photos and limit files in iCloud Drive

  • Sync photos with Google Photos if you have a large library

Take inventory of your usage and consider the free iCloud optimization tips before paying for more storage. With some adjustments, you can likely avoid monthly costs. But upgrading is the simplicity solution if you need the extra space.

Either way – don‘t let your iCloud account become a problem! Take control of your storage needs and keep your data and devices happily in sync.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.