7 Things to Do When Switching iPhone Carriers

Tips to make the transition from one carrier to another smoother

The advertised prices for iPhones can be deceptive. Getting an iPhone for $99 can only happen if you're eligible for a phone upgrade with your current phone company, or if you're a new customer. If you've had an iPhone with one iPhone carrier — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon — and are still in your initial two-year contract, getting those low prices means needing to switch. Plus, moving to a new carrier can get you better service or features. But changing isn't always simple. Here's what you need to know before you switch iPhone carriers.

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Figure out Your Cost to Switch

Switching isn't quite as simple as canceling your old contract with one company and signing up for one with a new carrier. Your old company won't want to let you — and the money you'll pay them — go so easily. That's why they charge you an Early Termination Fee (ETF) if you cancel your contract before its term ends.

Many times, even with the cost an ETF (which is usually reduced a fixed amount for every month you've been under contract), moving to another carrier is still the cheapest way to get the latest iPhone, but it's good to know exactly what you're going to spend so there's no sticker shock.

Check your contract status with your current carrier. If you're still under contract, you'll have to decide whether to pay the ETF and switch or wait until your contract expires.

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Make Sure Your Phone Number Ports

When you move your iPhone from one carrier to another, you'll probably want to keep the phone number that your friends, family, and colleagues already have. To do that, you have to "port" your number. This allows you to ​keep your phone number, but move it and your account to another provider.

Most numbers in the U.S. can port from one carrier to another (both carriers have to offer service in the geographic location where the number originated), but to be sure, check that your number will port here:

If your number is eligible to port, terrific. If not, you'll have to decide whether you want to keep your number and stick with your old carrier or get a new one and distribute it to all your contacts.

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Can You Use Your Old iPhone?

In almost all cases, when you switch from one carrier to another, you'll be eligible for the lowest price on a new phone from the new phone company. This means getting an iPhone for $199-$399, rather than the full price, which is about $300 more. Most people changing from one company to another will take that offer. If you're only moving for lower rates or better service, but not a new phone, you need to know if your phone will work on your new carrier.

Because of their network technologies, AT&T and T-Mobile-compatible iPhones work on GSM cellular networks, while Sprint and Verizon iPhones work on CDMA networks. The two kinds of network aren't compatible, which means if you have a Verizon iPhone, you can't simply take it to AT&T; you'll have to buy a new phone because your old one won't work.

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Buy a New iPhone

Assuming you are planning (or have been forced) to get a new iPhone as part of your upgrade, you need to decide what model you want. There are generally three iPhone models available — the newest, and the model from each of the previous two years. The newest model costs the most but also has the latest and great features. It will generally cost $199, $299, or $399 for the 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB model, respectively.

Last year's model usually costs just $99, while the model from two years ago is often free with a two-year contract. So, even if you don't want to pay a premium for the cutting edge, you can still get a great new phone for a good price.

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Choose a New Rate Plan

After you've decided what phone you want to use on your new carrier, you need to choose what monthly service plan you'll use. While the basic outlines of what each carrier gives you — calling, data, texting, etc. — are fairly similar, there are some important differences that can end up saving you a lot. Check out the rate plans from the major carriers in the linked article.

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Back-Up iPhone Data

Before switching, make sure to back up the data on your iPhone. You'll want to do this because when you get your new iPhone and set it up, you can restore the backup onto the new phone and you'll have all your old data ready. For example, losing all of your contacts would be a headache. Fortunately, you can transfer those from iPhone to iPhone fairly easily. 

Luckily, backing up your iPhone is easy: do this simply by syncing your phone to your computer. Each time you do this, it creates a backup of the contents of your phone.

If you use iCloud to back up your data, your steps are slightly different. In that case, connect your iPhone to a Wi-Fi network, plug it into a power source and then lock it. That will begin your iCloud backup. You'll know it's working due to the spinning circle in the top left corner of the screen.

When you're done backing up your phone, you're ready to set up your new phone. You should also read about restoring your backed up data during the set-up process.

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Don't Cancel Your Old Plan Until After Switch

iPhone in hand

Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images

This is crucial. You cannot cancel your old service until you're up and running on the new company. If you do that before your number ports, you'll lose your phone number.

The best way to avoid this is to do nothing with your old service at first. Go ahead and make the switch to the new company (assuming you still want to, after reading the previous tips). When your iPhone is successfully running on the new company and know things are working fine — this should just take a few hours or a day or so — then you can cancel your old account.

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