If you bought your phone from a cell phone carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile, there's a good chance that you don't actually own that phone. If you're still paying monthly bills for it, or just have it locked to the network, the phone carrier has some say over it.
That's where unlocking comes in. When you unlock your phone, you get full ownership of the device. This means that you can then switch cell phone carriers without having to buy a new device.
Although every carrier has a slightly different unlocking process, they're all similar. Here's how to unlock your phone, no matter which carrier you're signed up with.Advertisement
How to unlock your phone
Meet the prerequisites
Before you can unlock your phone, you'll need to fulfill a few terms.
Additionally, most carriers require you to have kept the phone locked on their network for some period of time, ranging by carrier from 40 days (for T-Mobile) to one year (Boost Mobile).
Request the unlock
If you've met all the terms and conditions required by your carrier, you can ask for the unlock. Again, every carrier makes you go through a slightly different process - for example, AT&T has an online portal you need to fill out - but you can't go wrong by calling your carrier's customer service line. Worst case scenario, they point you in the right direction.Advertisement
If you call and they tell you that you're eligible for an unlock, request it. It might take a few days, but once your request is processed, you'll receive a confirmation email or letter. While you're waiting for that confirmation, keep your SIM card in your phone.
Important: The big exception to these steps is Verizon. When you buy a phone from Verizon, it's locked for 60 days. But after those 60 days, as long as your account is in good standing, the phone will be unlocked automatically. You don't need to contact them or fill out any forms.
For further detail on the requirements and processes of major carriers, see our guides on unlocking phones from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Boost Mobile.Advertisement
Once you've unlocked your phone, you can feel free to cancel your carrier contract and move to another company. All you'll need to do at that point is switch out the SIM card in your phone.How to stop robocalls and spam calls on your iPhone or Android phoneHow to block your number and hide your own caller ID when making phone callsHow to set up a custom voicemail greeting on your iPhoneHow to remove the SIM card from your iPhone to replace it or throw it away