Unlock Your Phone to Bring It With You to a New Carrier

Understand what unlocked phones are and how they work

Illustration of a hand unlocking a phone with a key.

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Unlocked smartphones are not restricted to a certain carrier, which means you can use an unlocked Virgin Mobile phone on Verizon, for example, instead of having to buy a Verizon-specific phone.

However, you do need a SIM card in order to get service. The point of unlocking the phone is to allow it to accept a SIM card from a different carrier so that the user can make phone calls, send text messages, use the new carrier's mobile network, etc.

Purchasing and using unlocked cell phones and smartphones is becoming more popular and for good reason. It can give you the freedom to use your phone as you like and can save you money in the long run.

Why Are Phones Locked in the First Place?

A carrier might lock their phones for use on their network only so that consumers will be more apt to stay with them. In other words, a locked phone keeps the user in place, paying for the service that the phone is supported It's one-way carriers lure customers into sticking with them and not switching services.

For example, if all iPhones were locked to the AT&T network, and you want an iPhone, you'd have to switch over to AT&T in order to use it. However, by unlocking the iPhone in this hypothetical situation, you could then use it with your own carrier like T-Mobile or Verizon.

Also, if you love the phone you're using with Sprint but would like to take it to Virgin Mobile, it might not be worth your time to unlock the phone. You might just stay with Sprint and keep paying your monthly bills to avoid having to unlock your phone.

Getting a Sim Card for an Unlocked Phone

Buying a SIM card can be tricky. Some carriers sell them but might make you commit to their service plan, which doesn't make sense considering you have the unlocked phone to avoid this type of commitment in the first place.

You can also find prepaid SIMs from some third-party sellers. These can be a great idea, especially if you're planning to travel internationally. You could, for example, buy a SIM with a phone number local to the country you'll be visiting. This lets you make local calls while you're there, instead of paying for international calls.

How to Unlock a Cell Phone

If you need to unlock your phone, you have to contact the carrier that you're using it with or the one that the phone was used with while it was being used.

Follow these links for device unlocking policies from some of the major cell phone carriers:

This information should apply no matter who your phone manufacturer is. For Android phones, that includes: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc. And of course, for iPhone's it's Apple.

  • Verizon: Does not lock their 4G LTE devices, and no code is needed to program them for use with any other carrier. They also do not lock their 3G devices, other than their non-iPhone 3G World Devices.
  • AT&T: Your device must be designed for use on, and locked to, the AT&T network; can not be reported lost or stolen; all service commitments and installment plans completed and early termination fees paid in full; and cannot currently be active on a different AT&T customer's account.
  • Virgin Mobile: Virgin Mobile will only activate devices certified to work with Virgin Mobile services, and cannot unlock phones from other carriers.
  • Sprint: The device must be or have been active on the Sprint network for a minimum of 50 days and the account must be in good standing.
  • T-Mobile: The device must have been active on the T-Mobile network for at least 40 days on the requesting line; the associated account, even if canceled, must have a balance of zero; and the the user requesting the unlock should not have requested more than two mobile device unlock codes per line of service in the last 12 months.

    Unlocking a phone before you've completed the agreed upon service contract, will probably result in early termination fees in order to cancel the contract.