How to Switch Phone Carriers

Easily transfer your mobile phone number

What to Know

  • Contact the new carrier via website, phone or in-person visit. Obtain a new SIM card and activate it.
  • Select a plan and provide your information, including your phone type and old carrier account number.
  • Replace the old SIM card with the new SIM card.

This article explains how to switch phone carriers and lists several factors you should consider before switching carriers.

How to Switch Phone Carriers

These instructions assume you're transferring your current phone number to your new carrier and that you've already considered the major factors listed at the bottom of this article and taken the necessary steps to unlock your phone if it was previously locked by your current carrier.

  1. Typically, you can switch phone carriers in three ways:

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

    Whichever way you choose, the steps are the same. The online route is a self-serve process designed to be easy 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 a 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 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 need to activate it when you receive it. You should be able to do this online or by phone.

    Voicemail messages don't transfer, so before you activate your new SIM card and start the transfer, listen to any old messages.

  4. Know the 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 want.

    If you're speaking to a sales rep by phone or in person, it's a good idea to be prepared with a list of questions. For example, if you're required to buy out your phone from your old carrier, you can ask your new carrier if it offers a credit to 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 includes:

    • Your device type and IMEI number
    • Your name and address
    • Your phone number
    • Your payment information
    • 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.

What 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.

  • 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, and T-Mobile.
  • Will your current phone work with the new carrier? If your phone is an older model that you want to keep using, it might not be supported. To check, you find your phone's IMEI number, then enter it online to check your device's compatibility with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
  • Is your current phone locked or unlocked? When you 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, 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 have to pay $10 or so for a new SIM card, but if your current phone was initially provided by your carrier, you might have to buy it out. 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.
  • How do I switch phone carriers without paying an early termination fee?

    Check with the new provider for details, but the large carriers all offer a fee, credit, or gift card to cover the cost of early termination for new customers. As of mid 2022. Verizon pays the early termination fee up to $350 for new customers. T-Mobile reimburses a remaining balance and early termination fees up to $650 via trade-in credit and virtual prepaid card.

  • How long does it take to switch phone carriers?

    The fastest method is to go to a carrier storefront and complete the process in person. It may only take a few minutes to activate your new service, but the process will be completed within a day regardless. If you switch carriers on the web or by phone, you have a SIM mailed to you, which adds additional time.

Was this page helpful?