When you buy a smartphone from a carrier, it is usually locked — meaning it has a software code that ensures your mobile device only connects to a specific network and cannot use or receive a signal from any other provider.
Unlocking the device allows you to use any SIM card you want, whether you want to switch networks or use a prepaid plan.
Before unlocking your phone, how much does it cost? Here’s everything you need to know about the cost to unlock a phone.
- Part 1. How Much Does It Cost to Unlock a Phone?
- Part 2. How Do I Unlock My Phone?
- Part 3. How to Unlock a Phone from the USA Network for Free?
- Part 4. How to Unlock a Phone from the UK Network for Free?
- Part 5. How Long Does It Take to Unlock a Phone?
- Part 6. How Do I Know if My Phone is Unlocked?
- Part 7. How Do Third-Party Phone Unlocking Services Work?
- Part 8. Factors To Consider Before Buying a Phone With a Contract
Part 1. How Much Does It Cost to Unlock a Phone?
1.1 Cost to Unlock a Phone by the USA Network
Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Law which grants the right to unlock phones in 2014, mobile carriers agreed to make unlocking free and fair.
Phone unlocking is a relatively simple process, and there is no extra charge to do it. Because some phones have network bands that are unique to the carrier, they may not work properly on your preferred carrier after unlocking.
If the carrier network can’t unlock your phone, you can use a third-party unlocking service which will cost about $28.
1.2 Cost to Unlock a Phone by the UK Network
You can unlock your phone for free with major UK networks, even if you’re still under agreement. The networks include:
- Virgin Mobile
- Tesco Mobile
Expect to spend about £19 if you need to use an online service to unlock your phone instead.
1.3 Cost to Unlock a Phone by a Third-Party Service
Most unlocking services operate similarly. You buy an unlock code from their website for a price, usually under $100. Most vendors require a down payment.
Reputable unlocking services provide quick services and offer customer support. Here are some trusted third-party unlocking services:
Below is an estimate of how much it costs to unlock a mobile phone using third-party services for different brands.
|iPhone||$20 to $80 for some carrier models|
|Google Pixel||$28 to $50. Up to $80 to $90 for some models|
|Samsung||Starts from $3. Between $20 to $30 for higher-end models. Costs up to $80 for some models.|
|OnePlus||Between $60 to $80|
|Huawei||Between $30 to $80|
|Nokia||Starts from $13|
|Sony||Between $15 to $35|
|LG||Between $10 to $25|
Generally, the cost of unlocking an AT&T-locked phone is less than that of the other three major carriers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint).
Additionally, costs for unlocking abroad, such as in Japan, the Philippines, and India, vary. You might need to look into the available services for phone unlocking in these areas.
Part 2. How Do I Unlock My Phone?
Usually, asking your network carrier is the easiest and cheapest way to get your phone unlocked.
If you’re no longer under agreement, you’ll get it done for free. Even if you’re still under contract, all major carriers should let you unlock your phone for free.
Most network carriers ask you to fill out an online form and the next step depends on your device.
- For an iPhone, you can use a new SIM once your carrier confirms it’s unlocked.
- For other devices, like Samsung, you have to get an unlock code.
If you have a used phone, it may be more difficult to unlock it because many networks insist that the original user do it. This is sensible because it raises the hurdle against phone theft.
There are unlocking services that may be able to help you, usually for a fee. However, you should look for such services in stores rather than online, where you may fall victim to shady websites.
Some stores will only charge you if they successfully unlock the device, while others will charge you regardless of the outcome.
Part 3. How to Unlock a Phone from the USA Network for Free?
Network providers have requirements that devices must meet to be eligible for unlocking. Your IMEI number is one of the requirements for eligibility.
You can find the IMEI number for your device on the box it came with or even on the phone’s body. You can also check it in Settings under the About phone section or by dialing *#06#.
Here are the unlocking requirements and processes for different carriers:
3.1 Unlocking a Verizon Phone (Android or iPhone)
Verizon’s phone unlocking policies are simple.
Verizon locks devices for 60 days after activation, whether they are prepaid or postpaid. After 60 days, Verizon unlocks the device if it hasn’t been reported as lost or stolen or flagged as fraudulent.
On request, Verizon will unlock the phone for deployed military professionals before the 60-day period ends.
Fore more details: How to Unlock a Verizon Phone to Use on Another Network?
3.2 Unlocking an AT&T Phone (Android or iPhone)
Before AT&T unlocks your phone, you need to ensure your device meets the following requirements:
- Your phone isn’t active on another AT&T account.
- You don’t have a past-due account balance.
- Your device hasn’t been reported as stolen, lost, or involved with fraud.
- Your phone has had paid service for at least six months.
- If you have a term agreement or an installment plan, the number assigned to the device must’ve been active for at least 60 days.
- You need to complete the agreement or pay off your plan.
- Military personnel can unlock their phones without completing the plan, but they have to continue paying the bill as usual.
AT&T provides an online unlock request form for you to fill out. Enter your AT&T mobile number, or the IMEI number for your AT&T device if you’ve switched.
After submitting the completed form, you will have 24 hours to click the link in the confirmation email. AT&T will then send you unlocking instructions via email or text.
For more details: How To Unlock an AT&T Phone Yourself for Free
3.3 Unlocking a T-Mobile Phone (Android or iPhone)
T-Mobile also uses the standard eligibility criteria for smartphone unlocking. Here are the requirements:
- Your device must not be reported as blocked, lost, or stolen.
- The T-Mobile account associated with your phone must be in good standing.
- Your device must have been active on T-Mobile for over 40 days.
- Active military professionals are eligible to unlock their devices upon presentation of deployment papers.
Once unlock eligibility requirements are met, some Android phones from T-Mobile can be unlocked via Settings. Others such as older Samsung devices can use T-Mobile’s Device Unlock app.
However, not all phones can be unlocked using these methods – there isn’t an iOS version of the Device Unlock app. T-Mobile should send you unlock notifications and instructions if your iPhone is eligible.
3.4 Unlocking a Sprint Phone (Android or iPhone)
Since Sprint merged with T-Mobile, you can get help from both customer support teams.
Sprint devices active since 2015 are automatically unlocked. For older phones, you have to meet the following requirements by Sprint:
- Your device has been on Sprint’s network for at least 40 days.
- Payment plans have been completed or paid off.
- Your Sprint account that associated with your phone must be in good standing.
Part 4. How to Unlock a Phone from the UK Network for Free?
4.1 Unlocking an EE Phone
If you have an Oppo, Google Pixel, or OnePlus phone, it is already unlocked. Other devices can be unlocked for free by filling out their online form. You’ll need your IMEI number.
For more details: How to Unlock EE/Orange Phone Free for Any Carrier
4.2 Unlocking a Sky Mobile Phone
After December 2021, all Sky Mobile phones are sold unlocked, so you don’t have to worry about unlocking.
Learn more from this post: Are Sky Mobile Phones Unlocked to Any Network?
4.3 Unlocking an O2 Phone
Most O2 phones aren’t locked. They include:
- iPhones bought after August 2018.
- Huawei dongles bought after April 2019.
- Most new phones shipped since January 2019.
The exceptions are Alcatel and Doro devices, which are still locked to O2.
If you have a locked O2 device, the easiest way to unlock it is through the My O2 website.
- Sign in to My O2.
- Select More from the menu bar.
- Select Unlock your device.
You can also reach O2 through live chat or by calling 4445 from a prepaid phone or 202 from a postpaid phone.
Android users will receive an email with a code to unlock the device. iPhone users will receive a text and should be able to use a new SIM card immediately.
If your phone is really old, unlocking can take up to 10 days, but it should be less for newer phones.
You may like: How to Unlock O2 Phone without Account?
4.4 Unlocking a Vodafone Phone
Many Vodafone devices including Apple devices purchased after 1 January 2022 are already unlocked. If your device is locked, simply fill out their online form to get the network unlock code.
According to Vodafone, devices are typically unlocked within 72 hours. However, they may need to contact the device manufacturer or check your information, which could take up to 10 days.
Learn more details: Vodafone Unlock: FAQ, Code, Form, and Cost
4.5 Unlocking a Three Phone
All devices purchased after January 2014, are pre-unlocked. If your device is older, you can unlock it by completing their online form.
For more details: How to Unlock Three Phone (iPhone/Android) to Any Network Free
4.6 Unlocking a Tesco Mobile Phone
To unlock a Tesco Mobile phone for free, simply complete their unlock request and follow the instructions.
You should get the code within 7 working days.
Still confused? Read our guide on how to unlock Tesco Mobile.
4.7 Unlocking a Virgin Phone
All Virgin mobile phones sold today are unlocked, so you’re good to go. For former phones, you need to meet all their unlock requirements before unlocking, including:
- Your phone must not be blacklisted
- Your Virgin accout must be in good standing
- Your phone must be either HSPA or LTE compatible
For more details: How to Unlock Virgin Mobile Phone?
Part 5. How Long Does It Take to Unlock a Phone?
Requesting an unlock is a simple and stress-free process that usually involves filling out a form or making a quick call. After completing what is required of you, you’ll only have to wait for the unlock to be completed.
This varies depending on the phone and the network service you’re using. Generally, you can expect your iPhone device to be unlocked within 48 hours. For other devices, unlocking can take from 24 hours to several days.
Part 6. How Do I Know if My Phone is Unlocked?
If you purchased your phone after December 2O21, it should be unlocked. Many phones sold before that time were also automatically unlocked, but others were locked to certain networks.
The simplest way to determine whether your phone is unlocked is to get a SIM card from a different provider and insert it into your phone. If there is no signal, this indicates that your phone is locked; however, you should restart the device as delay happens sometimes.
After restarting, try making a call. If it doesn’t go through, your phone is probably locked.
Part 7. How Do Third-Party Phone Unlocking Services Work and Are They Trustworthy?
Third-party unlocking services can obtain unlock codes. Typically, an algorithm generates an unlock code using your phone’s IMEI number. Third-party phone unlocking companies get access to the algorithm through reverse engineering or from the unlock codes’ databases of major providers.
If you don’t meet your carrier’s unlock requirements but still want to unlock your phone, a third-party unlocker is a good option. Major unlocking services usually have unlocking codes for the major carriers.
However, using third-party unlockers can be quite risky. They charge a fee and thus need your financial card information. Some services will also ask you to ship your phone to them and that can cause problems
If you’re checking online, do your research and read reviews to ensure that other customers have had success with unlocking services. Review the terms and conditions carefully to know what you’re getting from the service.
Part 8. Factors To Consider Before Buying a Phone With a Contract
Before buying a phone, you should consider the following factors.
- If you want to buy a specific model, check the offers for it across major carriers.
- Check the unlocked cost of the desired phone. Go for the unlocked version to save the cost of unlocking in the future.
- You can also buy a prepaid device from a carrier. Prepaid phones come with prepaid cards.
- Prepaid devices don’t have a contract and carriers often sell them at a discounted price.
- Since there’s no contract to pay off for prepaid phones, the unlock eligibility requirements are far more flexible.
- Prepaid phones are not widely used, and thus they offer low-end devices.
- Consider your options carefully before going for a discounted phone or agreeing to a long-term phone contract with a carrier.