Have you traveled somewhere to realize that you can’t use your phone on their networks?
That’s likely because your phone isn’t unlocked.
However, you can change that. You can either purchase a device that’s already unlocked or unlock your existing device.
With unlocked phones, you don’t have a device that’s tied to a specific carrier. Due to the lack of restrictions, you can sign up for whatever cellular provider in any country around the world. As long as your phone supports their networks.
Dive into this guide on how an unlocked phone works, network unlocking an existing device, and frequently asked questions about this topic.
The Basics of Unlocked Phones
Keep reading to understand what an unlocked phone is, some of the benefits of doing so, and a trove of other information to help you understand this subject.
What is an Unlocked Phone?
An unlocked phone is a smartphone that isn’t attached to a specific provider. If you don’t already have an unlocked phone and need one for your next trip, you can unlock your existing device with the help of your cellular provider or third-party software.
Why Buy an Unlocked Phone?
Since an unlocked phone doesn’t tether you to a specific network, you’ll have more carrier choices if your phone supports their network band.
Having the freedom to choose from various carriers is especially important when you’re traveling. Because if a carrier doesn’t support your phone, you’ll have to purchase a new device.
If you’re traveling overseas, plan to sell your second-hand phone later, or don’t want to lock yourself to one provider, opt for using unlocked phones.
Should I Unlock My Phone?
Whether you should unlock your smartphone depends on how you’ll use your phone. Moreover, another deciding factor is whether you’re willing to make some sacrifices.
For instance, the benefits of unlocking a phone include:
- International usage: you don’t have to worry whether your phone will work on most foreign networks
- Easier to sell: if you sell your phone on a second-hand market, you’ll more likely find a buyer due to the phone’s network flexibility
- Easy to switch to new carriers: rather than having to purchase a new phone if you’re tired of your current provider.
Unfortunately, nothing comes without downsides. Neither does unlocking your phone. For instance, certain phones don’t support network bands. So, if you buy an unlocked phone or use your current device, a network may support Global System for Mobile (GSM) Communications while you have a Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) supported phone.
Because of the incompatibility, you won’t be able to use your phone on all networks. However, I recommend looking into the primary carriers of the location you’re traveling to and seeing what networks they support.
Moreover, another downside of unlocked phones is that you may not have access to as many perks that come with a phone locked to a cellular provider.
How Do I Find Out if My Phone Is Unlocked?
The easiest way to determine whether you have an unlocked phone is to borrow a subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a friend or family and insert it into your smartphone. Keep in mind that when you’re testing your phone, restart it before you can confirm whether it’s unlocked.
Suppose you’re thinking about finding a mobile app to tell you whether your phone is unlocked—don’t. Using untrustworthy mobile applications may cause a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
When looking for a phone to purchase, vendors or product descriptions usually notify you whether you’re looking at an unlocked phone. If you want to double-check, you can always contact the seller to make sure.
How Do I Unlock a Phone?
You could find a trusted third party to unlock your device, or you can do so by spending time on the phone with representatives from your current cellular provider.
Throughout this next section, I will cover what you need to unlock your phone and information on how to unlock your phone locked on various networks.
What Do You Need To Unlock a Phone?
The process for unlocking your phone varies by network. Because of this, each provider will require different information. Moreover, ensure that you unlock your phone before leaving your provider. Otherwise, you may run into trouble later on.
However, in general, to unlock your phone, you’ll need the following:
- ESN, IMEI, or MEID: you can find these numbers in your phone’s settings under the About section
- Phone number
- Deployment papers: for military personnel who want to unlock before your contract expires
- Contract: ensure your contract expires; otherwise, the terms may prevent you from unlocking your device
- Social security number
Is Your Carrier a GSM or CDMA Provider?
CDMA-supported phones won’t work on GSM networks. Moreover, the same goes for GSM phones and CDMA networks.
Some famous American GSM providers include AT&T and T-Mobile. Also, a couple of CDMA networks include Verizon and Sprint.
If you’re traveling overseas, foreign networks will usually support GSM networks. However, it’s best to make sure before registering for a plan.
If you want an easy way to determine whether your phone supports GSM or CDMA, navigate your smartphone’s settings and click About (Android) or About Phone (Apple devices). Afterward, search for the label IMEI, MEID, or ESN.
If your phone supports GSM, it’ll have an IMEI number. Otherwise, MEID and ESN numbers mean that your device supports CDMA networks.
Another factor that you’ll need to take into consideration is eSIM vs. SIM cards. Some devices use embedded (eSIM) cards as opposed to SIM cards to prevent waste. However, a few devices only use eSIM cards, which means that you need a network that supports eSIM cards.
How Do I Unlock My Phone From My Network?
The following guide will give you general information on the requirements and the process of how to unlock your phone with various popular providers.
Always check the provider’s websites to see if their requirements or ways to unlock your phone have changed because these companies can change their policies at any time.
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Sprint has criteria that you have to meet for your phone to be eligible to be unlocked. Moreover, if you have a device with Master Subsidy Lock (MSL), you can’t unlock it.
Sprint made it easy to unlock their devices because a couple of days after it becomes eligible for an unlock, Sprint will do the unlocking for you. However, if you’re in the military and need to deploy earlier than when your phone becomes eligible, Sprint allows you to bypass their requirements if you can submit deployment papers.
AT&T makes unlocking your phone painless by having you enter information and following their prompts. With this method, you won’t have to worry about waiting for anyone on the phone.
Once you’ve had your Verizon phone for 60 days or are in the military and deploying overseas, you’re eligible for an unlock. Fortunately for you, Verizon will automatically remove the lock once your phone is postpaid.
However, if you own a Verizon prepaid phone, insert a new SIM card into your locked device and enter one of two codes when your phone relays the prompt:
Boost Mobile Phone
If you have an account with good standing, have been with Boost Mobile for at least a year, and your device isn’t reported as lost, you’re eligible for an unlock. Moreover, you’ll need to ensure your phone was made in 2015 or later.
To unlock your phone with Boost Mobile, call 1-888-266-7848 and go through their prompts.
First, check if you’re device is eligible for an unlock by logging into your T-Mobile account.
Afterward, you’ll have to follow different paths to unlock your handset, depending on what type of phone you use.
If you’re using an iPhone, you have a couple of choices. Either back up your phone and erase everything or insert a new SIM card into your device.
Otherwise, if you’re using an Android, go to the following pages and execute these steps after navigating to your phone’s settings:
- Connections or Network or Internet
- SIM or Mobile Network settings
- Advanced settings or Network Unlock
- Select Permanent Unlock
- Restart your device
Frequently Asked Questions About Unlocked Phones
Navigating through the world of unlocked phones can prove to be tricky. That’s why I’ve gathered a lot of commonly asked questions about unlocking smartphones.
Is It Legal To Unlock My Phone?
At least in the United States, it is legal to unlock your phone thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. Moreover, because of the act, you also won’t face penalties for unlocking your phones.
Conversely, keep in mind that I mentioned the downsides of unlocking your phone earlier in this article. So, in a way, those are a sort of penalty.
Can I Unlock My Phone for Free?
Unless you’re using a third-party service to unlock your phone, then yes, you can unlock your phone for free.
Is Unlocking My Phone Worth It?
While unlocking your phone can have a lot of benefits, there are a couple of downsides to doing so. As with every other action you take to plan your trip, look at your situation before deciding whether you want to unlock your phone.