When a handset is locked it means it can only work with the network provider that you purchased it from, which can be quite an inconvenience if you want to switch carriers for better rates or even give your old phone to a friend or family member.
In the case of U.S. cell phones, legislation and the Federal Communications Commission have recently made the process of unlocking your device much easier. Now it is not only legal to unlock your device, but you can also avoid third party contractors and in most cases, go directly to your provider and request to unlock your phone.
We’ll go through the basics of the process necessary to unlock your device, allowing you to take your equipment to the carrier of your choice.
What you need to unlock your device
Before you unlock your device, be aware that the process may require a certain amount of time and phone calls to your carrier, so it’s definitely best to unlock it before you leave your current carrier. While different carriers come with different restrictions and requirements, they all require you to know your IMEI number to unlock your device.
The IMEI number, or International Mobile Equipment Identity number, is used to globally identify your phone. It is a 15-digit number used to check various bits of information, such as the country of origin, manufacturer, and model number of your phone. Any network provider you call to have your device unlocked will ask for this number.
For most phones, the easiest way to find the IMEI number is to dial *#06# on your keyboard. If you own an iPhone, you can go to the Settings App > Generals > About to find it, and in the case of an Android phone, it can be found through Settings > About device > Status.
As of now, if you decide to unlock your phone through your network provider, you will need to learn their specific guidelines either from their website or by making a phone call to their customer service center.
In the case of Verizon’s 4G LTE devices, the carrier admits that most of them are already unlocked, however, specially branded World Devices and prepaid handsets do demand that you make a request to unlock them. Most of the time this will be necessary to do with the assistance of a store tech.
In the case of AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, they all come with their own set of requirements that can be checked on their websites. Most of them require you to be a subscriber to their service, and that your current contract or installment plan is fully paid off. A call to customer service or a visit to their official websites will provide you with the full guidelines on unlocking your device.
According to the standardized unlocking policies provided by the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CITA) for cell phones and tablets, all carriers in the U.S.A. are required to unlock a phone that’s paid in full if the customer requests it. Also, carriers are required to unlock the phones of U.S. military personnel upon request.
Third-party unlocking services
Third-party unlocking services are another way to unlock your device. While you will find that many of their online prices range from a few dollars to $60 on average, most of them work by paying upfront in exchange for an unlock code that arrives via email.
While they differ mostly by name, it’s important that you check comments on the website and reviews before committing to any, as you could be running into a scam. Reputable unlocking services will offer a customer service line to assist with code issues, a few of the most popular are: DoctorSIM, Release My Code, MobileUnlocked, UnlockBase and Cellphone Unlock.
Buying an unlocked phone
Most companies available in the U.S. offer unlocked phones on their websites. Huawei, Sony, Google, Apple, HTC are a few of the most popular companies who do this, and while they’re usually more expensive than a regular phone, some companies may offer payment plans to alleviate the burden.
You can also find unlocked phones at Amazon and Walmart. Although prices may be high, buying an unlocked device can be worth it, as it gives you the opportunity to pick the plan with the best terms, allowing you to save money in the long run. If you plan to travel overseas often, having an unlocked phone will make it easier for you to get a new SIM card and start using it immediately regardless of where you are.