When looking for ways to save on monthly bills, one strategy to accomplish that involves switching cell phone carriers. But in order to do that, you generally have to have an unlocked phone.
Unlock your phone on these major carriers
First, let’s start with some basic questions and answers about your mobile phone and what it means to unlock it:
How can I tell if I have an unlocked phone?
An unlocked phone means that operation of the device is not contractually bound to a carrier like Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T or any of the others. If you happen to still be under contract and paying monthly on your phone, the service provider “locks” the phone into its network, meaning that it won’t work on any other carrier.
On the other hand, if you paid full price for your smartphone, it could very well be unlocked. There are several ways to tell if your phone is unlocked. Here are three:
Check your settings
- iPhone: To tell if your iPhone is unlocked, to go to Settings> Cellular> Cellular Data. If you see Cellular Data Options, then your phone is unlocked.
- Android: If you have an Android, go to Settings> Connections> Mobile Networks> Network Operators and see if other carriers will come up. If it shows a network, your phone may well be unlocked, but this method is not fool-proof.
Contact your carrier
Call the customer service numbers of Verizon (1 (800) 922-0204), T-Mobile (1 (877) 453-1304), Sprint (1 (888) 211-4727) or AT&T (1 (800) 331-0500) and they will tell you if your phone is unlocked or not.
Switch SIM cards
Another way to determine whether your phone is unlocked is by inserting a SIM card from another carrier and seeing if you can make a call. If your call successfully connects, then your phone is unlocked and should work with other SIM cards.
How to unlock your phone on the major carriers
Many carriers now sell phones advertised as unlocked. Others have simple steps you must follow to unlock your phone, including special rules for deployed military personnel:
How to unlock your AT&T phone
AT&T allows you to submit an unlock request for your phone, iPad or other smart devices. You don’t have to be an AT&T customer, either. The company says, “As long as you have an eligible device designed to work on our network, we’ve got you covered.”
The requirements include that you’re 60 days clear of your completed two-year contract. The phone also can’t be reported lost or stolen. Check out the full eligibility requirements.
If your request is approved, you’ll get an email with steps to unlock your device and insert the new carrier SIM card. For iPhone, you’ll have to contact Apple Support.
How to unlock your T-Mobile phone
T-Mobile has made it easier to unlock your mobile phone, as well. Unlike AT&T, T-Mobile says it will only unlock T-Mobile devices.
T-Mobile allows you to request an unlock code by contacting them online or via phone (1-877-746-0909 or 611 from a T-Mobile phone) for the steps. There is also a T-Mobile Unlock App for Android, but none for Apple.
The requirements include that you’ve had service on T-Mobile for at least 40 days and your account is in good standing. The phone also can’t be reported lost or stolen. Check out the full eligibility requirements.
How to unlock your Verizon phone
Verizon has different rules for pre-paid phones vs. post-paid phones, depending on how fast your wireless data network is.
The company says that it doesn’t lock most phones, especially its 4G LTE devices. However, when it comes to 3G devices (with the exception of its iPhones), the smartphones are locked.
“The simple code to program such 3G devices for use with another carrier is either ‘000000’ or ‘123456,’” the carrier says. Most instructions can be found in the device’s user guide. If not, you can dial *611 from your Verizon Wireless phone or call 800-922-0204 for customer service.
How to unlock your Sprint phone
Sprint says that it will only activate devices certified to work on the Sprint network. They won’t unlock phones from other carriers.
The company says customers can request a SIM unlock and/or the associated MSL (Master Subsidy Lock) Code by calling Sprint Customer Care at 888-211-4727. Sprint Forward customers are encouraged to call Customer Care at 855-639-4644.