How do I know if my phone is unlocked?

This guide answers all the burning questions you may want to know about locked and unlocked phones.

is my phone unlocked

Thinking about buying a new phone or switching cell phone carriers? That’s awesome! But before doing so, it’s important to know if the phone is unlocked.

This article will explain to you how to check if a phone is unlocked and what you need to do in case it’s locked to a cell phone network.

It’s an easy thing to do. But you may need some guidance because the steps vary from phone to phone and carrier to carrier. Let’s get to it.

Here’s what you’ll learn about in this guide:

  1. What is an unlocked phone?
  2. Benefits of an unlocked phone
  3. Does unlocking your phone delete everything? 
  4. How can I tell if my phone unlocked?
  5. Contact your cell phone carrier

What is an unlocked phone?

In simple terms, an unlocked phone is a device that isn’t tied to one specific carrier. Carriers normally lock phones to their service because they sell subsidized phones.

That way people can’t just buy the phone from them at a discount and then quickly move to another carrier for service. It’s also a good practice to protect phone owners from theft.

Usually, the phone will remain carrier-locked even after you finalized your contract with your carrier until you make a formal request and meet specific conditions. So you can’t pop in a SIM card from a different carrier and expect it to work.

Benefits of an unlocked phone

Whether you like your current carrier or not, it’s always a good idea to have flexibility and options in case you want to switch.

So when you unlock your phone, it gives you the freedom of choice. There are many benefits of unlocking your phone. 

1. No Contract

Nobody likes to be tied to a long term commitment, it gives a feeling of being bonded and definitely discourages you from shopping around for better deals. 

2. Network Freedom

Found a better deal? Switch right away! With an unlocked phone, it’s a no brainer to switch to a new provider with a more attractive plan. An unlocked iPhone works with any provider.

3. Travel

This is, at times, the overlooked benefit of unlocking your iPhone. If you’re traveling abroad with a locked phone, you could be raking in hefty cell phone bills.

With an unlocked phone, you can immediately pop in a local SIM card. You can manage to keep your phone expenses extremely low as you don’t pay for roaming data and roaming network charges.

4. Resale Value

Let’s say you are in the market to buy a second-hand phone; would you prefer a locked or an unlocked phone? Of course, an unlocked phone, as you can use on the carrier of your choice.

So having an unlocked phone increases the resale value of your device. It’s always a good idea to have the device unlocked as soon as you can.

Does unlocking your phone delete everything? 

The lock is a software lock that alters the firmware on your phone, so the phone only locks on to a specific provider. If you’re the original subscriber and your device was locked by your provider, you can put in a request to have the device unlocked. This is the safest way to have your phone unlocked.

There are third party providers who do provide an “unlock service.” However, you do carry a risk of losing data when you engage such third party providers.

One should also be careful about hiring these providers. It’s very much possible that some may turn out to be very unreliable and possibly take your money and not deliver any product/service.

How can I tell if my phone unlocked?

Note: The instructions in Method 1 and 2 apply for both Apple iOS and Google Android platforms.

Method 1: SIM Card

SIM Card tray
Image: Herby Jasmin/Gotechtor

A SIM card (Subscriber Identification Module) allows your device to be identified on a network. When a device is locked, you cannot swap out your SIM card for another provider’s SIM card and expect the phone to work. The lock prevents you from doing such swaps.

So a quick way for you to know if your phone is locked, you can swap out your SIM for another network provider’s SIM card and reboot your phone to see if the carrier’s name at the top of your home screen has changed. Try to place a phone call, if it goes through your phone is unlocked otherwise it’s locked.

Unlocking the SIM card usually involves getting an unlock code from your service provider. Now just unlocking your device will not allow it to be used on any other network. You need to have a compatible network.

In the US, there are two radio networks, GSM (Global System for Mobile) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Different carriers use one of these networks. For example, both Sprint and Verizon use CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM.

So even if you unlock your cell phone on Verizon, you may not be able to use the same phone on AT&T. You will have to check your phone’s device compatibility before you switch.

Method 2: IMEI number

IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity is a 15-digit number that uniquely identifies your phone. You can find this number by typing *#06# on your phone. On an iPhone, this information can be found by going under Settings > General > About from the main menu.

Screenshot: Herby Jasmin/Gotechtor

If you are using a third party to unlock your phone, you will have to share this 15-digit code with them, and in turn, they share the unlock code with you. If you are using your carrier to unlock the phone, then in all probability, they already know the IMEI number. IMEI.info is a website that tells you if your phone is locked or not for a small fee.

Method 3: Phone Settings

This method involves you going to your phone settings. The instructions below will walk you through each step.

Is my iPhone unlocked?

Screenshot: Herby Jasmin/Gotechtor
  1. Navigate your way to Settings.
  2. Tap Cellular, then Cellular Data.
  3. Check for an option called Cellular Data Network.
  4. If you see an option for Cellular Data Network, your iPhone is most likely unlocked. If you don’t, it’s probably locked.

Is my Android phone unlocked?

  1. Head over to your phone Settings.
  2. Go to Connections.
  3. Select Networks (this could be different depending on your phone model and the Android version it’s using).
  4. Select Networks Operators and let the phone search for a network operator. This might take a little while.

If you see a list of available networks, the phone is probably unlocked. To confirm, choose one and try to make a phone call.

In case only one result shows up, or if the Search Networks option is unavailable in the Networks menu, then it’s almost certain the phone is locked to the carrier.

That said, it’s not a very accurate method to determine if the phone is locked. You can always use the SIM Swap method to determine if your phone works on another carrier.

How to unlock a phone for any major carrier

Each carrier has its own policy for unlocking the devices. Usually, all of them have a base criterion to be met. For those devices which are on a payment plan, it’s often required that you need to ultimately pay off the device before you can unlock the phone.

Some carriers want you to be with them for a specific period of time before they allow the unlock. Find below how to unlock your phone for the four major US cell phone carriers.

How to unlock your Sprint phone

Sprint will only activate devices certified to work on their network. Therefore they won’t unlock phones from other carriers.

You should know you need to be a Sprint customer for at least 50 days and the phone can’t be reported lost, stolen, or involved in fraudulent activity. Find Sprint’s policy here.

How to unlock your Verizon phone

Verizon unlock pre-paid and post-paid phones 60 days after activation. You can find Verizon’s policy here.

How to unlock your AT&T phone

AT&T, for prepaid connections, allows unlocking after 6 months, and for postpaid connection, the wait time is 60 days. Additionally, the phone can’t be reported as stolen or lost. Find the AT&T policy here.

How to unlock your T-Mobile phone

T-Mobile allows prepaid customers to unlock after 12 months, and postpaid customers can put in their request after 40 days. You can read the details of T-Mobile’s policy here.

Conclusion

In today’s rapidly changing world, carriers call plans to change dynamically. If you like to have the option to switch to a better-suited plan, then you need to get your phone unlocked. 

Don’t forget to share this guide on your favorite social network.