You paid the total price of your phone and now you want to take it to a provider with lower rates? Normal. But most likely, your cell phone is locked by the operator, which prevents you from moving directly to another company. Luckily, the legislation and the Federal Communications Commission have made the process to unlock the cell phone easier than ever. And further: this commission replaced an earlier decision made by the Library of Congress that interpreted the unlocking of cell phones as a violation of copyright.
However, the fact that unlocking a phone is legal does not mean it is easy to do. We will explain how to do it, and see if you can finally cut ties with your current provider.
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What you will need
Before doing anything, you will have to keep in mind that unlocking a cell phone is not a fast process. You may need to make several phone calls and surely you should devote some hours of work.
In addition, unlocking the phone before leaving your current company will be a very wise option, as that may help you in the process.
With that in mind, you need to know:
- The name and account number of the telephone holder
- The device IMEI
- The phone number
- The Social Security number, or the account holder's password
- A contract payment plan and / or finished device
- When you have all this information, it will be necessary to see how each operator facilitates (or not so much) the unlocking.
With a Verizon phone
Although Verizon uses CDMA instead of GSM, most devices come with an unlocked SIM card slot.
According to Verizon, its 4G LTE devices are not locked and, if you want to switch to another company, you don't need any code to reuse the phone with other networks.
Although Verizon phones equipped with SIM can be used in AT&T, T-Mobile or other GSM companies, the phone will need to have roaming GSM radios to make phone calls and send messages in the United States.
While the latest Verizon phones will work very well in GSM bands in the United States, their mileage will vary when it comes to LTE support.
Verizon does not have an online unlock request, but you can call 800-711-8300 and request the unlock of your SIM.
The procedure is a bit different for postpaid 3G devices on the Verizon network. Most are not locked, but require a code – "000000" or "123456" – to enable third-party cellular compatibility.
Verizon Special Brand World Devices, on the other hand, cannot be unlocked without the assistance of a store technician, which you can request by dialing 800-922-0204.
As for prepaid devices, the vast majority of Verizon 3G phones can be unlocked with the code “000000” or “123456”, but Verizon Prepaid Phone-in-the-Box phones are locked for 12 months after of its activation. And you will also have to call the Verizon customer service line, that is, at 888-294-6804 to begin the process.
Unlock an AT&T phone
Unlocking an AT&T phone is a bit more complicated than with Verizon. This is the checklist of the prerequisites that you must meet to unlock your device in AT&T:
- You must be a current or former AT&T subscriber.
- The device in question must be from AT&T.
- It must not have been reported lost or stolen.
- It must be attached to an account with "good reputation", that is, it is not associated with any fraudulent activity.
- You must not be active in an account other than AT&T.
- You must have been active for at least 60 days with “no past due or unpaid balance”.
- If you have updated very soon, you should wait until the “buyer remorse” period of 14 days passes before unlocking your old phone.
Unlike Verizon, AT&T offers an unlock request form that you can fill out online. After sending it, you will have 24 hours to click on the link within the confirmation email that will arrive.
After about two business days, AT&T send instructions to unlock your device by email. AT&T no longer specifies a hard disk unlocking limit of one year, as was the case before. And unless you're sending a hundred unlock requests a month, you shouldn't worry.
Apple iPhones, however, do not need an unlock code. Instead, after receiving the email specifying that your unlocking request was approved, you will only have to take out your AT&T SIM card and insert the one from the new company.
In the case of prepaid devices (AT&T / GoPhone), the company requires that the devices have been active for at least six months. The network offers limited unlock support through the 800-331-0500 phone, but does not unlock the devices by phone.
Unlocking a T-Mobile phone
There are several things to keep in mind if you want to unlock a T-Mobile phone:
- It must be a T-Mobile device.
- It must not have been reported lost, stolen or blocked.
- It must be attached to an account that has not been canceled and has a "good reputation."
- You must have been active for at least 40 days.
- If the device is subject to a service contract, at least 18 consecutive monthly payments must have been made.
- All payments must have been made and the device fully paid.
- Have made less than two unlocking requests, per line, in a single year.
- T-Mobile may request to see proof of purchase.
If your phone is prepaid, it must have been active for at least one year, and the account associated with it must have had more than $ 100 in recharges. If you meet those requirements, you can use the Android application for mobile devices T-Mobile to complete the unlock process. Alternatively, you can unlock your cell phone through a live chat with a T-Mobile agent or by calling 611 from a T-Mobile device or 1-877-746-0909 from any other phone.
Unlocking a Sprint Phone
Before unlocking your Sprint phone, you should make sure that your device and your account meet the requirements listed below:
- It must be a Sprint device.
- You must have a national SIM that can be unlocked.
- It must not have been reported as lost, stolen, blocked or associated with other fraudulent activity.
- It must be linked to an account with "good reputation".
- The phone must have been active for at least 50 days.
- There should be no outstanding payments or fees.
- Have made less than two unlocking requests in a single year.
And if you are unlocking the phone for international use, there are other requirements that you need to meet:
- The device must be able to unlock an international SIM The device and the associated account must have been active for at least 90 days
Prepaid Sprint Forward devices also have some additional requirements:
- The device must not have been reported lost or stolen and illegible to be unlocked.
- The device must have been active in the account associated for at least 12 months with the account active at that time
- Sprint Forward devices must also be unlocked by a customer service representative, but don't worry, you can contact Sprint Prepaid Customer Service at 855-639-4644.
If your device is currently inactive, you should call Sprint Customer Service at 888-211-4727 to help you unlock it. Be prepared to potentially force a wireless update to unlock it, and you may need to undergo additional validation to ensure that your device can be unlocked.
If you are a member of the US army deployed abroad and you want your Sprint phone to be unlocked, the requirements mentioned above continue to apply, in addition to both the account holder and any relative associated with the same account, they must be active members from a branch of the United States army and you will need to have the documents for deployment abroad, if applicable.
However, there is a big warning when it comes to Sprint's unlocking capabilities. Because the company, like Verizon, is based on the CDMA network, Sprint-branded phones that have been manufactured with a SIM slot in recent years cannot be unlocked and used with a SIM card from a different company.
Sprint says that national SIM card-based devices released after 2015 will automatically unlock when they are eligible.
Alternatively, you can request an unlock through an online chat with a customer representative or by calling 888-211-4727.
Uniquely, Sprint offers a short-term unlock for international travel. If you meet the above requirements, you can log in to your online account and navigate to the corresponding page.
You simply have to click on the “My account” tab, select your phone from the resulting list and select “Unlock device to use international SIM” in the “Manage this device” drop-down menu. If you prefer to have a Sprint representative during the process, you can request a phone unlock by calling 888-226-7212.
Unlocking a prepaid phone or one already paid
There are people who prefer prepaid phones or pay the entire amount at once. In these cases, unlocking them is, for the most part, relatively simple.
While there is already a generalized unlocking policy, the CITA Association presented a set of standardized unlocking policies for cell phones and tablets with which AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon have already begun to comply.
The agreed terms require operators to unlock a fully paid phone, or a prepaid phone in service for one year, if a subscriber makes such a request.
In addition, cellular providers have to alert subscribers when their phones are eligible for an unlock. And finally, phones for US military personnel must be unlocked upon request.
Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon have complied and AT&T policies were basically in line with the new terms.
Third-party unlocking services, in general, differ only in name. This is how most of them work: you must go to their website, provide a payment in exchange for an unlock code and wait for the code to arrive by email.
Prices vary depending on the device, but usually range from a few dollars to over $ 50 dollars.
Most of these services require you to pay in advance and there is always a risk that someone will keep your money and never give you the code. Therefore, it is better before seeing which services are more reliable before making any payment.
Reputation unlock services also often have customer service lines in order to help with problems that arise. And usually they send the codes quickly. If you notice that users complain that the codes take days, weeks and even months to arrive, it is better that you do not choose such a service.
These are some of the third party resources we know:
Buy unlocked phones
Another option is to buy phones that are already unlocked or that are already free. Many phone manufacturers sell unlocked phones, including Sony, Huawei, Google, Apple, HTC, and more on their websites.
Some of these companies also offer payment plans. Retailers such as Amazon and Walmart also sell unlocked phones, often with high upfront costs. The benefits of an unlocked or free phone is that you will not have to waste time or money trying to unlock them and you can choose the operator you want. The freedom to change companies at any time, in addition, can help you save money according to the plan you choose.
* Article updated on November 13, 2019 by Daniel Matus.