Do you know how to unlock your phone? Well, if you're interested in a bring your own phone plan, you'll find that you need to make sure you can activate it with another carrier.
This won't be possible if your phone is locked, according to the FCC.
These days, it is completely legal to unlock your mobile phone and bring it to another carrier; but it wasn't always this way. Consequently, this article is a guide for you to free your locked phone from its previous carrier network.
Since the unlock process differs for each carrier, I have summarized how to unlock a cell phone using each major network provider.
In This Guide
Up until 2014, public-law stated that it was illegal to unlock your cell phone without your carrier's permission, according to CBS News. At this time, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed by President Obama. As stated by Whitehouse.gov, the act repealed the law so that consumers are now free to unlock their old or used mobile phones and use them with other carriers.
Now that it's legal, most cell phone carriers will allow customers to buy used cell phones or use their old phone to activate a plan on their carrier network (This is called a BYOP Plan). This means more cell phones are being recycled and people are paying less for their plans. Consequently, many people are wondering how to unlock a cell phone, especially since many bring your own phone plans require your phones to be unlocked.
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CDMA vs. GSM Networks
The CDMA network and GSM network are the two different types of cell phone networks with two different cell phone unlock procedures. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA while AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. Here's the difference between the two.
GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communication. With a phone from a GSM network, all you'll need is a PUK code (Personal Unlocking Key) to unlock your SIM card on your device. As I said, AT&T and T-mobile both have phones with GSM SIM cards you can unlock.
CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access. If you want to unlock iPhones, Androids, or other phones from a CDMA network, the phone needs to be reprogrammed in order to be unlocked. You can call your carrier for help with this.
Factory Unlocked Phones vs. Unlocked Phones
When trying to implement a cell phone unlock on a GSM SIM card for a phone, you may come across two types of unlocking: factory unlocking and regular unlocking. Factory unlocked phones are different from unlocked phones for one reason: they have been unlocked by the phone's carrier instead of by a third party.
Pro Tip: If you want to do a hard reset or factory reset to clean out your phone, do it before you unlock the phone. If you complete a hard reset or factory reset after unlocking your phone, the reset could re-lock it.
What You'll Need
If you want to know how to unlock your phone, you'll have to get some things together. Here's what you'll need:
IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. Ultimately, the IMEI of your iPhone, Windows, or Android device is your cell phone's unique identity number. You need it to unlock your phone.
To find it, try dialing the code *#06#. Your IMEI number should then appear on your mobile phone. If not, it may also be located in the battery compartment.
Finding your iPhone's IMEI
An iPhone's IMEI may be located in a different spot than other phones. If you need the IMEI number on your iPhone, Apple iPhone has an entire page dedicated to finding it on your specific Apple device.
2. Phone Number
You will need to provide your phone's number to unlock it.
3. Full name of account holder
You will also need to know the full name of the account holder. If you want to unlock a used phone, ask if the network provider will unlock it without an account.
4. Account number and pin or password.
You'll need the account number and password to unlock your cell phone. If you don't have an account, call to make sure they will allow you to switch to their network.
Read More: Looking to switch to a new network? Our guide will explain everything you need to know.
Unlocking a Phone via Carrier Network
Once you've collected your information, call the service provider you are switching to and make sure your phone will work with their network. It doesn't matter whether you have an Android phone, Apple iPhone, or Windows phone, but your network provider is important.
Additionally, the phone's previous carrier is important. Different providers connect via different networks. Therefore, you need to make sure your phone will work fully before you switch. Apple details iPhone unlock directions on their website to unlock the iPhone.
Unfortunately, unlocking a phone is different for each major service provider including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Metro PCS. Read on to discover how to unlock iPhones, Android devices, and Windows devices on any of these networks.
Related: How to Find a Lost Phone
How to Unlock a Verizon Phone
Most of Verizon's iPhones, Android phones, and other phones come already unlocked. If you don't get so lucky, Verizon is always willing to help. Here are some requirements you have to fulfill before you learn how to unlock your phone.
- Your contract must be finished with no missed payments or overdue bills.
- Your phone cannot be reported lost, stolen or associated with fraud.
1. Postpaid plan policies and instructions
- If you purchase a postpaid plan with Verizon, it's likely your phone won't be locked. If you have or buy used 4G LTE cell phones from Verizon, your SIM cards will definitely not be locked. You should not need a SIM unlock code to activate your phone with another network as long as you meet the requirements above.
- Verizon does lock non-iPhone, 3G World Device SIM cards that have been activated with a postpaid plan. If you have an older phone that's not an iPhone, the PUK code to unlock is either "000000" or "123456." The user guide for your phone should direct you to the phone's programming menu where you can input the SIM unlock code.
- If you have any questions or cannot find your phone's user guide, call Verizon for help at this number: (800)-922-0204. You can also contact them using *611. They will unlock your phone for you if you ask them.
2. Prepaid plan policies and instructions
- Verizon does not lock 4G devices on its prepaid phone plans, with the exception of their Phone-in-a-box prepaid phones. These are restricted to Verizon prepaid services for one-year after activation or until you have made enough payments. The minimum payment amount is usually specified on the back of your Phone-in-a-box package.
- Once you have either made the payments or waited a year, the code to unlock your phone is also either "000000" or "123456." Verizon will help you unlock it at your request.
- In relation, Verizon does not lock 3G devices on prepaid plans except for Verizon's Phone-in-a-box prepaid phones. These phones are restricted to Verizon's prepaid services for six months after activation. They are also restricted to one year of use before they can be unlocked.
- Once your time is up, the code to unlock your phone is the same as above. Contact Verizon with any questions.
How to Unlock a Sprint Phone
Not all phones are capable of being unlocked under a Sprint cell phone plan.
Additionally, even after your phone undergoes a Sprint unlock, it may not work fully with another carrier. If you want to unlock your Sprint Network cell phone, you have to call them and ask. Here are the Sprint network's policies regarding locked phones.
- They can only Sprint unlock your phone if your SIM card is capable.
- They will only unlock your SIM card if your cell phone has been active with Sprint for at least 50-days.
- All payments and agreements must be completely settled before Sprint will consider unlocking your phone.
- Sprint will not unlock a phone that has been reported lost or stolen.
If you meet all of these requirements, Sprint will happily unlock your phone for you. They even sell SIM unlockable devices now. If you purchased a new phone from them after February 2015, they will unlock it automatically as soon as it becomes eligible. You can call their customer care number at (817)-698-4199 with any questions.
Additionally, if your cell phone has been inactive for a while, it may take Sprint a little while to get it unlocked. They will sometimes have you update the phone "over-the-air" to ensure the unlock programming has been transmitted to your cell phone. SIMilar to Verizon, they cannot guarantee that your phone will work with another carrier once it is unlocked.
How to Unlock an AT&T Phone
Determining how to unlock your phone on an AT&T plan is a little different from other networks. First, you need to see if your phone is eligible.
- In order for your phone to be eligible, it can't be reported lost or stolen. It also can't be involved in fraudulent activity, according to AT&T's website.
- All contract commitments must be finished and plan fees must be paid.
- The phone cannot be activated on someone else's account.
- You can still unlock a device if you don't have an AT&T account, but it must meet the requirements above. Also, keep in mind that AT&T may charge a fee to unlock phones for non-customers.
1. Business Accounts
- If you want to unlock a phone that is activated on a business account, you can. Just make sure you have been given permission by a current or former AT&T business customer.
2. Service Commitment or Installation Accounts
- There are some specific policies to note in this instance. If you've upgraded your phone early, for example, you'll need to wait out the two-week buyer's remorse period before you can unlock your old device.
- Additionally, your account must be active for at least 60-days before you can be eligible to unlock it.
- AT&T will notify your account as soon as your phone is eligible.
3. Prepaid/Go-Phone accounts
Your phone must be active for at least six months to be eligible for an unlock on a prepaid AT&T phone plan.
Luckily, AT&T makes the unlock process easy whether you have an account or not. Their website houses a "device unlock portal" where you can type in the account holder's full name, phone number, email address, and whether or not you are an AT&T customer.
Then, follow the steps to submit an unlock request. It may take a couple days, but you should receive instructions to your email address to unlock your phone if you're dubbed eligible.
How to Unlock a T-Mobile Phone
The T-Mobile network will unlock your phone for free within two business days if it is eligible. If you want to know how to unlock a T-Mobile network phone, you'll need to know a few things first.
- T-Mobile has an unlock limit of two phones per year.
- The phone cannot be lost, stolen, or associated with fraud.
- You'll have to either complete your contract or have made at least 18 months of payments on your two-year contract in order to be eligible. There is also the option of switching to a monthly SIMple Choice Plan.
- Make sure all payments are paid off and your account is in good standing with no overdue bills.
1. Postpaid accounts
- In addition to the requirements above, your phone has to be active for at least 40-days before you can get it unlocked on a postpaid account.
- T-Mobile may ask you to prove that you purchased the phone.
2. Prepaid Phones
- With any of T-Mobile's prepaid plans, your phone has to be active for at least a year before you can get it unlocked.
- If your phone hasn't been active for a year, you must have paid a minimum of $25 in refills for a basic phone or $100 in refills for a smartphone since your first use.
- T-Mobile may also request proof of purchase for prepaid phones.
If your phone ends up meeting the requirements above, call T-Mobile's customer service number at (877)-746-0909. They will send you an unlock code and the directions to unlock your phone. If you have a T-Mobile MyTouch, see the T-Mobile MyTouch unlock directions on T-Mobile's website.
How to Unlock a MetroPCS Phone
MetroPCS works differently than the rest of the providers mentioned here. First, if you want to know how to unlock your MetroPCS Phone for its plans, there are just a couple requirements to note.
- Your phone has to be active for 90-days before you can unlock it.
- Your phone must be a MetroPCS Phone.
MetroPCS actually has an application that allows you to unlock certain types of phones. You can use their app to unlock phones including:
- Alcatel Fierce XL
- Coolpad Catalyst
- HTC Desire 626s
- Kyocera Hydro Wave
- LG G Stylo, LG G Stylo White, LG K7, LG Leon LTE, LG Stylo 2 Plus
- Samsung GS7 Black, Samsung Galaxy Core Prime, Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, Samsung Galaxy J7, Samsung Galaxy On5
- ZTE Avid PLUS, ZTE Obsidian
In order to unlock these phone, follow these steps.
- Connect to data via 3G, 4G, 4G LTE or Wi-Fi.
- Click on "device unlock" from the application list.
- Click continue.
- Pick the permanent unlock type.
- If it goes through, restart the device. This should activate the unlock.
There are separate instructions to unlock your phone if it's not on this list. These instructions apply to unlock iPhones as well.
- Call Metro PCS Customer Service or go to a corporate MetroPCS store and ask for the unlock code.
- You'll need to provide your phone's number, the full name on the account, and the account billing pin number.
If your phone is eligible, MetroPCS will unlock your phone for you.
How To Unlock a Virgin Mobile Phone
If you want to implement a Windows, Android or iPhone unlock with Virgin Mobile, there are a couple of requirements.
1. Your device cannot be reported lost or stolen.
2. The device has been active on the associated account for at least 12 months.
3. If you meet these requirements, call Virgin Mobile customer service at 1-888-322-1122 to ask them to unlock the iPhone, Android or another phone you're trying to unlock.
Overall, figuring out how to unlock your phone can be really easy or extremely difficult. It all depends on your carrier's options and requirements. It also depends on your phone. If you have studied the instructions and advice above, though, you shouldn't have an issue. For more information, check out the FCC's guide here.
Now that you are knowledgeable regarding how to unlock a cell phone, you're ready to get a new plan! You can build your new cell phone plan here.