How to Switch Phone Carriers

Easily transfer your mobile phone number

Whether your current mobile contract is up or you've found a better plan offered by another carrier, switching mobile phone carriers is relatively simple to do—even if you want to keep your old phone number. Here's how to switch phone carriers.

Things to Consider Before Switching Carriers

Before you start the process of switching mobile phone carriers, there are a few essential things you need to check first.

A SIM card next to a smartphone.
AndreyPopov / Getty Images
  • Does the new carrier offer coverage in your area? It's important to check whether the carrier you want to go with offers the appropriate network coverage you need in the areas you spend the most time—places like home, work, the cottage, your parents' house, your children's school, the gym, and so on. You can check out the coverage maps online for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
  • Will your current phone work with the new carrier? If your phone is an older model and you want to keep using it, it could be possible it's not supported. To check, you'll need to find your phone's IMEI number, then enter it online to check your device's compatibility with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
  • Is your current phone locked or unlocked? To switch carriers, your phone can't be locked by your current carrier. If you currently have or have previously had a contract with your current carrier, there's a good chance it's locked, and you'll need to unlock it before you can make the switch. Find out how to unlock a phone on every major U.S. carrier.
  • What's the best plan for you? The best plan for you will depend on how you use your phone and your budget. When looking for plans, make sure to read everything and avoid getting swept up by the deals and perks without considering any of the restrictions. Check out the best cheap plans, the best prepaid plans, the best family plans and the best senior plans.
  • What are the costs of switching? If you're not currently locked into a contract with your current carrier, the costs of switching should be minimal. You might just have to pay $10 or so for a new SIM card, but if your current phone was originally provided by your carrier, you might have to buy it out from them. If you're currently locked into a contract and you want to break it before it's set to end, you could face early termination fees up to $200, but there are some techniques you can use to help minimize these fees.

How to Switch From Your Old Phone Carrier to a New One

Once you've considered the information above, taken the necessary steps to prepare, and made the decision to switch to a new cell phone carrier, actually making the switch is easy.

The following instructions assume you've already considered the major factors discussed above and you've taken the necessary steps to unlock your phone if it was previously locked by your current carrier. We're also assuming you're transferring your current phone number to your new carrier.

  1. Decide how you want to go about switching phone carriers. You can typically do this in three different ways:

    • Online, at your carrier's website;
    • On the phone by contacting a sales representative; or
    • In person by visiting your carrier's nearest store location.

    Whichever way you choose, the steps are virtually the same. The online route is a self-serve process designed to be easy and straightforward to follow, but if you're more comfortable having someone do everything for you, you might want to speak to someone on the phone or in-store.

    Don't cancel your plan with your current carrier. If you do, your current number can't be transferred. Your new carrier will handle everything that's necessary to transfer your number from your old carrier.

  2. Obtain a SIM card from your new carrier. If you're completing this process online or by phone, you'll be asked for your credit card information and the SIM card will be mailed to you.

  3. If you're receiving your SIM card by mail, you'll need to activate it when you receive it. You should be able to do this online or by phone.

    Voicemail messages will not be transferred over, so before you activate your new SIM card and start the transfer, make sure you listen to any old messages.

  4. Know which plan you want. If you're doing this online, select the appropriate plan from the carrier's website. If you're doing this by phone or in person, tell the sales rep which plan you'd like to get.

    If you're speaking to a sales rep by phone or in person, it's a good idea to also come prepared with a list of questions, if you have any. For instance, if you're required to buy out your phone from your old carrier, you can ask your new carrier if they offer some kind of credit to help offset the cost (which many are known to offer).

  5. Provide the necessary information your new carrier needs to set up your account and transfer your phone number. Some of the information you'll be asked for include:

    • Your device type and IMEI number;
    • Your name and address;
    • Your phone number;
    • Your payment information; and
    • Your account number from your old carrier.
  6. Confirm the transfer of your phone number to the new carrier and wait for the transfer to complete. This can take as little as an hour or two, but it won't take longer than one business day.

    During the transfer process, you'll be able to make outgoing calls and texts if you leave your old carrier's SIM card in your phone, but incoming calls and texts will go to your new carrier.

  7. Remove your old SIM card from your phone during or after completion of the transfer and replace it with your new SIM card.