How to unlock your phone on any carrier

Cezar Renta

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unlock a phone on any carrier

Having a carrier locked phone is fine until you decide to switch to a different carrier, perhaps one with lower rates or you want to insert a SIM from another carrier into your device. Luckily, it is possible to unlock a phone on any carrier and even more, the process has been simplified thanks to new legislation and the Federal Communications Commission. In other words, you can now unlock your cell phone without violating any laws.

As great as this may sound, unlocking a phone is a different process from one carrier to another so we’ll discuss the process on a case by case basis.

How to unlock a phone on any carrier

Before anything else, you should know that unlocking your phone is not an instant process. You will likely need to make a few phone calls and we also recommend you unlock your phone before switching to a different carrier.

unlock a phone on any carrier

To begin with, here’s what you will need to unlock you phone:

  • The account holder’s name and account number
  • IMEI number of your device
  • Your phone number
  • The account holder’s Social Security number or password
  • A completed contract and/or device payment plan

Unlock an AT&T phone

To unlock an AT&T phone there are several prerequisites you need to meet:

  • You need to be a former or current AT&T subscriber.
  • The device you want to unlock must be from AT&T.
  • If you are a current subscriber, your current contract or installment plan must be fully paid off, and this includes early termination fees. If not, pay off your entire plan early and wait 24 hours before submitting a request.
  • Your device must have not been involved in fraud or reported as lost or stolen.
  • The account to which the device is attached must have “good standing”.
  • The device must not be active on another AT&T customer’s account
  • The device must have been active for at least 60 days with “no past due or unpaid balance”
  • If you upgraded early your will need to wait for the 14-day “buyer’s remorse” period (30 days for business customers) to pass before unlocking your old device.

AT&T provides an online unlock request form and you can use either your AT&T mobile number or if you already switched carries, the IMEI number from your AT&T device when filling the form.

Once you submit the form, you will need to click on the confirmation email link sent to you within 24 hours. Then, AT&T will send instructions for unlocking your device via email within two business days since the request was made. If you’re using prepaid services (AT&T Prepaid/GoPhone), they should have been active for at least six months before requesting the unlock.

Those who are in the military won’t need to complete their contract or installment plan they can email AT&T their TCS or PCS documents

Also, you should know that Apple iPhones don’t need an unlock code. After you receive the email that specified your unlock request was approved simply remove your AT&T SIM card and insert the SIM card from your new carrier to start the setup process.

While AT&T doesn’t officially unlock handsets over the phone, they do provide unlimited support via its dedicated line, 888-211-4727 (or 855-639-4644).

Unlock a Verizon phone

While Verizon is using CDMA instead of GSM for channel access, most of their devices have an unlocked SIM card slot. Verizon says that their 4G LTE decides aren’t locked and you don’t need to unlock them if you want to switch to a different carrier.

Verizon phones that have SIM slots can be used on other GSM carriers, including T-Mobile and AT&T. Recent Verizon handsets usually work properly on American GSM bands but things are not set in stone regarding LTE support.

There’s no online procedure for submitting an unlock request to Verizon but you can call 888-294-6804 to request a SIM unlock.

If you have a postpaid 3G device from Verizon you should know most aren’t locked but if you want to enable third-party cellular compatibility you will need to enter a code – “000000” or “123456”.

The company’s specially branded World Devices can’t be unlocked without help from a store tech but you can request it by calling Verizon’s support line at 800-922-0204. 

If you have one of Verizon’s off-the-shelf Phone-in-theBox prepaid handsets you should know they are locked into the network for 12 months after activation so there’s no way to unlock them earlier.

Unlock a Sprint phone

To unlock a Sprint phone, you must first make sure that you meet the following set of requirements:

  • The device must be from Sprint.
  • If unlocking for the domestic United States, the device must be domestic SIM unlock capable.
  • If unlocking for international use, you need to make sure the device supports international SIM unlock.
  • The device must not have been reported lost, stolen, or blocker, or associated with other types of fraudulent activity.
  • The account to which the device is attached must be “in good standing”.
  • The device must have been active for at least 50 days on the requesting line.
  • There must be no outstanding or pending payments or fees.

Furthermore, Sprint Forward prepaid devices have other requirements as well:

  • The device must not have been reported as lost or stolen, or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked.
  • You will need the help of a customer service representative which you can do by contacting Sprint Prepaid Customer Care by dialing 855-639-4644.

U.S. Military members deployed overseas still need to comply with the requirements listed above. Also, you and any relatives on the same account must be active members of a branch of the United States Military and overseas deployment papers are required as well.

Sprint uses a lesser known networking technology called CDMA. For this reason, all Sprint-branded phones with a SIM slot manufactured in the past few years can’t be unlocked to support SIM cards from other carriers.

According to Sprint, domestic SIM card-based devices launched after 2015 will automatically unlock as soon as they become eligible. However, you also have the option to request an unlock by calling 888-211-4727(*2 from a Sprint device) or  via an online chat with a customer representative.

Interestingly, Sprint provides short-term unlocking for international travel. If you meed the requirements described above you can find this option once you log in to your Sprint account. Switch to the My Account tab and select the Unlock device option to use international SIM from the Manage this device pop-up menu. Nevertheless, if you need help from a Sprint rep you can request an over-the-phone unlock by calling 888-226-7212.

Unlock a T-Mobile phone

Like any other carrier, T-Mobile also has a set of standards you will need to meet if you want to unlock one of their devices.
There are several things to keep in mind if you want to unlock your T-Mobile phone:

  • The device must be from T-Mobile.
  • The device must not have been reported lost, stolen, or blocked.
  • The device must be attached to an account that has not been cancelled and is in “good standing”.
  • The device must have been active for at least 40 days on the requesting line.
  • If the device is on a service contract, at least 18 consecutive monthly payments must have been performed. 
  • If your phone is leased through JUMP! On Demand or you are using T-Mobile’s Equipment Installment plan all payments must be made and the device must be fully paid for before requesting an unlock.
  • You’ve made fewer than two unlock requests, per line, in a single year.
  • Proof of purchase might be requested by T-Mobile.
  • Prepaid handsets need to be active for at least one year and the associated accounts must have had over $1000 in refills.

Assuming you satisfy the above requirements, you can go through the unlocking process with ease by using the T-Mobile Mobile Device Unlock Android app. There are also options to unlock your phone by calling 611 from a T-Mobile phone or 1-877-746-0909 from any other phone, or via a live chat with a T-Mobile customer rep.

Unlock a prepaid or fully paid phone

If you own a prepaid or paid-in-full device, unlocking it is a bit simpler. Despite the existing generalized unlocking policy, the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CITA) issued a set of standardized unlocking policies for cell phones and tablets. According to the terms, carriers are required to unlock a paid-in-full device or a prepaid phone in service for a year if a subscriber requests it.

Furthermore, carriers are obligated to alert subscribers when their phones are eligible for an unlock. Last, but not least, carriers have to unlock phones for U.S. military personnel upon request. All carriers, including the most popular ones such as Sprint, AT&&, T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular have complied.

Third-party unlocking services

There are many third-party unlocking services available but the truth is most of them work the same. You visit their website, pay for an unlock code and wait to receive it via email.

Prices vary a lot and they can range from a few dollars to as high as over $50. It’s worth mentioning that most third-party unlocking services required upfront payment and there’s always a change you will never receive a code in return. We recommend to thoroughly research a service before you decide to give them money.

Reliable unlocking services will provide customer support online and/or via the phone to help you if you’re having any issues with your code. If you’re looking for a third-party unlocking service here are some of the best available options:

With that said, here are some third-party resources:

While I’m sure you’re reading this post because you’re trying to unlock your device you should consider purchasing a phone that’s already unlocked in the future. Numerous phone manufacturers sell unlocked phones and some of them even provide payment plans. It’s true you will need to pay a bit more in some cases but it’s more than worth it knowing your phone will work with most carriers out of the box and to avoid any future hassle.