Selling locked phones has been banned since December 2021, but many devices sold before that were tied to a specific network.
Unlocking the device means that you can use any SIM card you like, whether you want to switch to a new network or use a pay as you go plan. Here’s how you safely unlock your phone – without spending a penny.
What do I need before I unlock my phone?
Different network providers have their own rules about how and when you’re allowed to unlock a device. It’s important to bear these in mind, as using the wrong process could cause you problems. That said, typically you need the same information to get started.
Make sure you have:
Your mobile phone number
Any account numbers, log in details and passwords
The name of the phone manufacturer, e.g. Apple, Samsung or Google.
The make and specific model of your phone.
The IMEI number -you can find this on the box the device came in and is often included in the settings on your device. Otherwise, you should be able to get it by dialling *#06#.
You may also need:
A PAC code (if you’re moving to another network and want to keep your phone number the same)
A STAC code (if you want a new phone number with the new network)
How do I unlock my phone?
Usually, the cheapest and most straightforward way to unlock your phone is by asking your network provider. If you’re out of your initial contract, the company must do this for free. Even if you’re still in term, all the major networks should allow you to unlock fee-free.
Most phone networks ask you to fill in an online form. What happens next depends on your device. If you have an iPhone, you can usually just use a new SIM card once your network has confirmed that it’s unlocked.
If you don’t have a new SIM, perhaps because you’re planning to sell the device, you can simply back up to iCloud and then erase your device. With other devices, such as Samsung handsets, your provider should send you an unlock code. You need to enter this code into the handset before a new SIM will work.
If your phone is second hand, it might be trickier to get it unlocked, as many networks insist it needs to be done by the original owner. This makes sense, as it’s an extra barrier to criminals stealing phones.
There are unlocking services that might be able to do it for you, usually at a cost. Experts suggest that you should look for high street stores offering this service, rather than going online where you could fall foul of dodgy websites. Some stores only charge you if they’re successful in unlocking the device, while others make you pay whatever the outcome.
If you’re looking online, do your due diligence, read reviews to make sure that other customers have been successful. Be sure to check the terms and conditions carefully to see what you’re getting.
Be warned, if you use a high street store or online website, you could invalidate the phone’s warranty. This means you have less protection if the device is damaged. Make sure you’ve tried asking your network first, before you go down this route.
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How do I unlock my phone with an IMEI number?
Your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number is a unique identification for your specific device. It’s normally 15 digits long, and you can find it in one of 3 ways:
On the box your phone came in
In the settings on your phone
By dialling *#06#
Usually, you need the number to unlock any device. Start by speaking to your network provider, then consider a high street store if that doesn’t work.
How much does it cost to unlock a phone?
All the major networks now offer to unlock your phone for free even if you’re in your contract term. This includes:
If you need to use a high street store or online service, you should expect to spend around £10.
How long does it take to unlock a phone?
Requesting an unlock is a quick and pain-free process, usually involving filling in a short form or making a quick phone call. Once you’ve done the admin your end, you might find you have a wait on your hands before the unlock is completed.
This varies depending on the device you have and the network you’re with. Generally, most providers say you can expect an iPhone device to be fully unlocked within 72 hours. Other handset manufacturers can vary from anything between 15 minutes and 10 working days.
How do I know if my phone is unlocked?
If you bought your phone after December 17, 2021, it should be unlocked already. Many devices sold before then were also unlocked automatically, but others were tied to a network.
By far the simplest way to find out if your phone is unlocked is to borrow a friend’s SIM card from a different network provider and try popping it in. If there’s no signal, this suggests the phone is locked, however, it’s worth restarting the device as sometimes there’s a delay. Try making a phone call after the restart. If you’re not connected – it’s probably locked.
You might be asked for a SIM unlock code, in which case, you know you’ve got a locked device.
Phone unlocking by major networks
EE – How to unlock an EE phone
EE says that if you have any of the following devices, it will already be unlocked:
All Google Pixel devices
All Oppo devices
All OnePlus devices
For other handsets, you can unlock online for free using their online form – starting with your IMEI number.
O2 – How to unlock an O2 phone
O2 says the majority of its devices aren't locked. This includes:
Apple devices bought since August 1, 2018.
Almost all new devices shipped after January 2019
Huawei dongles bought since April 2019.
Alcatel and Doro devices are the exceptions – they’re still locked to the O2 network.
If you’ve got a device that is locked, for instance an older handset, the easiest way to unlock it is on the My O2 website.
Log in to My O2 on your browser
Select ‘More’ in the menu bar at the top of the page
Choose ‘Unlock your device’.
You can also contact O2 via live chat or call 202 from a Pay Monthly phone, or 4445 from a Pay As You Go phone.
O2 should send you an unlocking code. iPhone users are sent a text, at which point they should be able to use a new SIM immediately. Android owners get an email with a code that needs to be entered onto the handset.
If you have a really old handset, O2 says this can take up to 10 working days, but it should be far quicker with modern devices.
Sky Mobile – How to unlock a Sky Mobile phone
All Sky Mobile devices come unlocked, so you don’t need to do anything.
Tesco Mobile – How to unlock a Tesco Mobile phone
To unlock a Tesco Mobile phone free of charge, you just need to complete an online unlocking request and then follow the instructions.
Tesco says it will text you within 7 days with the code and a link.
Three – How to unlock a Three phone
All devices bought after January 1, 2014, are already unlocked.
If you have an older phone, you can get it unlocked by filling in their online form
Virgin – How to unlock a Virgin phone
Virgin says that all the mobile handsets it has sold are already unlocked, so you should be good to go.
Vodafone – How to unlock a Vodafone phone
Vodafone says that many of its devices, including all Apple products, are already unlocked. If you find your device is locked, you can simply fill in this online form to get the code you need.
The network provider says it typically unlocks devices within 72 hours. However, it says sometimes it will need to check your details or contact the device manufacturer, which could take up to 10 working days.