Are you buying or selling a phone? In either case, one of the most important things you’ll need to know is whether the device is unlocked or not. The good news is that there are some simple ways to find out.
In this article, I’ll show you how to tell whether your iPhone or Android phone is unlocked. And if it’s not, I’ll show you how to unlock it.
Unlock Your Phone on These Major Carriers
Table of Contents:
First, let’s start with some basics about your mobile phone and what it means to unlock it.
What Is an Unlocked Phone?
An unlocked phone is one in which the operation of the device is not contractually bound to a carrier such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. If you’re still under contract and paying monthly for your phone, the service provider “locks” the phone into its network so that it won’t work on any other carrier’s service.
How Can I Tell if I Have an Unlocked Phone?
If you bought your phone from your carrier and continue to make monthly payments on it, it’s likely locked into the network that sold you the device. On the other hand, if you paid for your smartphone upfront, it might be unlocked, but that’s not always the case.
Here are three ways you can tell if your phone is unlocked.
1. Check Your Settings
To tell if your iPhone is unlocked, go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data. If you see Cellular Data Network, then your phone is probably unlocked. While this method is the easiest, it’s not foolproof.
There are a lot of different Android phones out there, so there are many different Settings configurations. But in general, you can go to Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Network Operators and tap Search Now to see if the names of other carriers come up. If multiple carrier names show up, your phone might be unlocked. This method works a lot of the time but is not always 100% accurate.
2. Contact Your Carrier
Call the customer service number of your carrier to ask whether your phone is unlocked. Here are the phone numbers for some well-known wireless carriers:
- AT&T: 1-800-331-0500
- Verizon: 1-800-922-0204
- T-Mobile: 1-877-453-1304
- Sprint (now part of T-Mobile): 1-866-275-1411
- Metro by T-Mobile: 1-888-863-8768
- Cricket Wireless: 1-800-274-2538
- Mint Mobile: 1-800-683-7392.
- Straight Talk: 1-877-430-2355
- Boost Mobile: 1-833-502-6678
3. 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 Wireless Carriers
Many carriers now sell phones advertised as unlocked. Others have simple steps you can follow to unlock your phone, including special rules for deployed military personnel.
Please note that, if the phone you want to unlock has been reported lost, stolen or involved in fraudulent activity, none of the major carriers will unlock it.
Before you request that your phone be unlocked, you need to have some basic information handy including:
- Your phone number
- Basic account information (name, password, etc.)
- Your phone’s IMEI number
Using that information, here’s how to unlock your phone on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint.
How To Unlock Your AT&T Phone
AT&T allows you to submit an unlock request for your phone. But note that the company says on its website, “The wireless number assigned to the device must be active for at least 60 days. Wait 48 hours after you make your final payment to submit your unlock request.”
Some of AT&T’s other requirements to unlock your phone include:
- You can’t have a past-due balance.
- You need to have your company’s permission if it’s a business phone.
- The phone can’t be active on another AT&T account.
If your phone meets the requirements and you send an unlock request, once it’s approved you’ll get an email with information on how to unlock your device and insert the new carrier’s SIM card.
How To Unlock Your T-Mobile Phone
T-Mobile has made it easier to unlock your mobile phone. However, the carrier says it will unlock only T-Mobile devices.
T-Mobile allows you to request an unlock code by logging into your account and contacting Customer Care online or by calling 611 from a T-Mobile phone. There is a T-Mobile Device Unlock App for Google Pixel phones, but the app is not available for other Android phones or any Apple phones, as July 2022.
On its website, the company says, “Once a device becomes eligible for unlocking, T-Mobile will automatically and remotely unlock the device within two business days if the device supports remote unlock.”
The carrier goes on to say that for those devices that it can’t remotely unlock, “T-Mobile will send a notification to the device within two business days of it becoming eligible, with next steps to complete the unlock process.”
For T-Mobile to unlock your phone:
- Your account must be in good standing.
- The device must be sold by T-Mobile.
- Your phone must meet the unlocking requirements for prepaid or postpaid devices.
How To Unlock Your Verizon Phone
Verizon’s unlocking policy lists different rules for postpaid and prepaid devices.
Unlocking Rules for Postpaid Verizon Phones:
- Verizon says on its website that if you buy the phone from it, the device will be locked for 60 days after purchase. If bought from a Verizon partner, the device will be locked for 60 days after activation. After that, Verizon will automatically remove the lock.
Unlocking Rules for Prepaid Verizon Phones:
- If you buy a prepaid phone from Verizon, as well as certain devices from its retail partners, it will be locked for 60 days after activation. Then the lock is automatically removed.
If you purchased a 4G Phone-in-a-Box from one of Verizon’s authorized retailers, the carrier says, “You should review the back of the box to determine the lock period applicable to that device.”
As for a 3G phone, Verizon no longer posts the unlocking instructions on its website. If you still have one of those older phones, here’s what those instructions were: “The simple code to program such 3G devices for use with another carrier is either 000000 or 123456.”
How To Unlock Your Sprint Phone
Because of the merger, you may be wondering if T-Mobile is able to unlock Sprint’s devices. A T-Mobile customer service representative told me in July 2022 that if you bought your phone from Sprint, you still have to contact Sprint to get your device unlocked.
Contact Sprint at 888-211-4727.
In most cases, Sprint will automatically unlock postpaid phones activated since 2015. Please note that, just because your Sprint phone can be unlocked, that doesn’t mean the device or all of its functionalities will work on other networks.
Some key requirements for unlocking a Sprint phone include the following:
- You’ve used Sprint as your network for at least 40 days.
- You’ve completed your contract.
- Your phone is SIM unlock capable (this involves enabling the device’s SIM slot).
The company says if you can’t use SIM unlock, you may be able to get an associated MSL (Master Subsidy Lock) code, if the phone was manufactured before February 2015. All you have to do is call Sprint Customer Care at the number listed above.
If you choose to contact your carrier to request that your phone be unlocked, note that the process could take up to 72 hours. To make sure that the process is successful, you may want to reach out to your carrier to confirm (like I did).
Thinking about bringing an unlocked device to a new cell phone service provider? Make sure you avoid this mistake before you switch!