How to unlock your phone in the U.S.

Unlock your phone

Generally, phones sold by carriers are locked so they can't be used on a competitor's network. This way a carrier ensures that you stick with them for the duration of your contract. The practice is quite common among wireless carriers around the world, including those in the United States. Fortunately, after February 11, new rules were put into place, which makes it much easier to unlock a phone tied to a U.S. carrier.

Why should I unlock my device?

This usually makes sense for a carrier locks your device to their network... They offer their handsets at subsidized rates and they want to make sure you don't jump ship as soon as a cheaper phone package comes around. However what happens when your contract with the carrier has ended, and you want the freedom to sell your device, or let's say you want to travel abroad and use a SIM in a foreign country.

Still, it is important to remember that your phone doesn't immediately become usable on every global network just because it is unlocked. Compatibility depends on the frequencies and bands that a carrier provides their voice and data services, as well as on which frequencies and bands your phone can technically operate on.

How do I know if my phone is locked

Usually, phones purchased at carrier stores are locked. The same goes for carrier-branded phones sold via retailers and online stores. Recently smartphones are being sold as "contract-free" at quite reasonable prices, but they too are locked to specific U.S. networks.

When you purchase a device from a retailer, it's important to check if you have the words "factory unlocked" attached to your purchase. If you don't know, you can still check by simply swapping your SIM card with one from another carrier - you can probably borrow one from a friend or relative. If your phone connects to a different network, then it is likely unlocked. You can also check our guide on how to find out if your iOS or Android device is unlocked.

What do I need to unlock my phone?

We recently did a detailed article on some of the key features on unlocking your smartphone in the U.S. While the conditions you have to meet may differ from carrier to carrier, it generally boils down to the following:
  • The price of the phone must have been fully paid. All service commitments and installment plans must be complete. All early termination fees (if any apply) must be paid in full.
  • Your account with the carrier must be in good standing.
  • Carriers only unlock phones tied to their own network. Don't ask AT&T to unlock a T-Mobile phone or vice versa.
  • The phone must not be flagged as lost, stolen, blocked, or associated with fraudulent activity.
You can check each carrier's individual unlocking policies below.

Verizon | AT&T | Sprint | T-Mobile

How to unlock your phone on Verizon

Verizon Verizon, despite being a CDMA network, offers GSM-compatible devices and the newer handsets happen to be GSM unlocked. This applies to 4G LTE devices and most 3G devices activated on the carrier's postpaid service. Only Verizon's Global Ready 3G cell phones might ask you for a code when switching to another provider's service – just type "000000" or "123456" and you should be good to go.

Unfortunately, network compatibility and coverage might be an issue, depending on your device's specifications and on the frequencies the carrier you're switching to provides service on. It is best to contact your carrier before bringing a Verizon phone onto its network.

How to unlock your phone on AT&T

AT&TAT&T has a web page dedicated to cell phone unlocking right here, along with an online request form. In a nutshell, your device has to be active under your account, and if you took advantage of an early upgrade, you must first wait for your 14-day return period to expire before requesting your unlock code.

Postpaid customers must have been active for no less than 60 days before unlocking. Prepaid customers must have been active for at least six months of paid service. Keep in mind that it might take up to 2 working days before you receive your unlock code.

When you file your unlock request form, you will have to provide your device IMEI number. You can learn how to find your IMEI on our forum.

How to unlock your phone on Sprint

SprintAccording to Sprint, all handsets offered through the network after February 2015 will automatically be unlocked when they become eligible. If you have a handset launched before February 2015, Sprint will let you know that you're eligible for an unlock either via text message or in your bill notification. You'll have to contact Sprint Customer Care for assistance at that point.

It is also possible to unlock inactive devices, although the process may require over-the-air updates to be performed. Contact Customer Care for specific instructions. Keep in mind that even if you have your Sprint phone unlocked, it may not be fully compatible with other carriers' networks. Best results should be expected when moving to a Sprint MVNO, such as Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, FreedomPop, or Ting. Regardless of which carrier you're switching to, contact them to ensure that your unlocked Sprint device will work on their network.

How to unlock your phone on T-Mobile

T-MobileYou must contact T-Mobile's Support Service to request an unlock code for your phone. To be eligible, a device must have been active for no less than 40 days on the requesting account.

As far as prepaid phones go, they must have been active for at least a year. Furthermore, smartphones must have been refilled for at least $100 before they become eligible. The requirement is only $25 if you have a basic phone. Additionally, a line of service is allowed no more than 2 unlock codes per 12 months of service.

source - Verizon | AT&T | Sprint | T-Mobile | FCC

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