If you've been wanting to use a SIM card from a company other than your carrier, but can’t because your smartphone doesn't recognize or function with it, then you need to go do what's called unlocking your phone.
Unlocking means that you can use SIM cards from a different carrier and make calls or send text messages through them. This guide explains what the process entails, how it can be done, and where you can find a reliable place to get the job done.
If you'd like to jump straight to our recommended provider, then simply click here.
Otherwise, read on...
What is phone unlocking?
Every smartphone contains a small removable chip called a SIM card. The SIM contains a unique number which allows your network to identify your device and therefore allows you to make or receive calls and send or receive text messages.
Networks however usually 'lock' devices, meaning that no other SIM card will work in your phone except the one they provided. You might think there isn't much point, but the process does bring several worthwhile benefits.
At its simplest level, the process means that you can use it on carriers other than your own. So for example, if you live in the US and are currently locked into a contract with AT&T, then you could unlock your device and make calls using Verizon. If you're living in the UK and your device is locked to Vodafone UK, you could undergo the process and make calls using Vodafone UK. And so on.
The same applies no matter what country you live in and the great thing is that a reputable service provider will serve pretty much all makes, models, carriers and countries.
So, what are the benefits of an online unlock?
Once freed, there are a number of possibilities and benefits as follows:
Save money by using other carriers – You will be able to use other networks to make cheaper calls, send cheaper texts or use a cheaper data plan. You can simply insert another network's SIM card (either temporarily or permanently). This means you will now have wider options when it comes to your carrier of choice.
Travelling abroad/Roaming – Using other networks while travelling abroad can save you an average of 75% compared to the typical roaming rate charged. Operators are well known for charging very high rates for calls or data when you use them outside your country of origin. After unlocking, you can buy cheap throwaway SIM cards from the country you're visiting. You can also keep your SIM, but connect to other (cheaper) carriers that you wouldn't normally have access to.
Multiple bands – Some models such as dual, tri or quad-band, are capable of using different networks while abroad. However, your own provider may be blocking access to this feature. By unlocking, you can use any service while you're away from home and they will often be cheaper than your own. For example if you take your locked Sprint US smartphone to the United Kingdom, it won't detect some UK carriers. If it is unlocked however, these carriers should become accessible. For US readers, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint can recognize international carriers, so you can still have access even when you are not in the United States.
Increase the resale value – If you upgrade and no longer need your old handset, then you might as well sell it. Unlocked devices are worth up to 300% more than locked ones, making the process a very good investment. It also increases the chance that it will sold faster because potential buyers won't be put off for being on a different provider to yours.
Cheaper deals and tariffs – If you see a promotional deal, or better tariff on another network, then you can simply put in another SIM card and use that. That's assuming you're not locked into a 12, 18 or 24 month contract, in which case you can still use the other network, but you will have to pay for the original contract you signed with.
Use other SIMs – Sometimes you may be in the situation where you run out of credit. In this instance you could use someone else's SIM card to make calls through their network. Or perhaps a friend may be having problems with their device, you could insert their SIM card to test if the problem is device related or network related.
Use dual SIM adapters – Once unlocked, you can purchase a dual SIM adapter allowing you to switch between two carriers on one phone.
Unlock once only – unlocking is only a one-time thing. Once unlocked, you never need to do it again.
Why do networks lock devices?
The only rationale for locking is to ensure that you stay with your service provider for a certain period of time. If your mobile is locked, you are less likely to leave and choose another provider.
Don't believe what the sales person tells you about your subsidised devices costing them a lot of money. They get significant discounts from manufacturers and make a very healthy profit from your monthly contract and call/text/data charges. So do not feel bad about freeing your gadget!
How do I check if my mobile is already unlocked?
The quickest way to check if your device is unlocked is to insert someone else's SIM card (whether theirs is locked or not). If you can make calls with that SIM card, then you don't need to unlock your phone and you can probably stop reading!
What are the risks of phone unlocking online?
The largest and least important risk is simply this: "Your service provider might not like you". If you ask your sales representative about unlocking, they may tell you that it's illegal (which is untrue), or that you void your warranty (which is untrue if the unlocking is done properly) or that it can't be done (it can be, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this guide).
These are often misconceptions that operators say are told to protect their revenues and business interests. There are, however, some risks to watch out for if unlocking isn't done properly:
A permanently locked device – Some makes and models will allow you to try unlocking three times. If you fail on the third attempt, you may be permanently locked to your network, with no chance of trying again. To get around this, only use trusted providers such as the company we recommend: unlock-network.com .
Loss of data – Some unreliable unlock codes work by exploiting the device's operating system. This can sometimes mean losing all of your data like your contacts, messages, emails, apps and so on. Again, always choose a trusted provider.
Warranty issues – If you don't unlock through a reputable company, you can void your warranty. This means that if you have any issues, neither your network nor your manufacturer will fix the problem
Bricked device – In a lot of cases, especially using a free unlock code off the internet, the code can render your cell completely useless. This is more common than you think, so be very careful.
So, how do I unlock safely?
We have done a fair bit of research to make this guide and the most reputable site around is currently unlock-network.com, and has been for a long time. Their unique selling point is that they have a direct relationship with handset manufacturers which guarantees 1) the code will work and 2) you won't void your warranty.
There are other lesser well-known companies that provide instant phone unlock codes, so feel free to have a hunt around, but be very careful as there are an equal number of scam websites.
As with many things online, you can usually tell how trustworthy a site is by their design. If a site looks like it been thrown together in a couple of days, then don't go near it or you will risk damaging your mobile.
Can't I do it myself?
Yes, you can if you can find a working unlock code. These can be found on the internet for free, but finding one that actually works is a little like finding a needle in a haystack and the risks are high that you could 'brick' your device if you get the wrong code, as explained in the risks above.
How do I find these free codes?
To find free codes, start by typing in your make and model into Google with the words "free phone unlock code".
Be very careful though, a lot of sites come and go or are usually of very poor quality. Most of them will promote free services, but then eventually take you to some dodgy payment system. There is the odd genuinely helpful site, but unfortunately the scammers have taken over Google's search results pages, so you will really have to do some digging and scrutinize every webpage you find.
To be on the safe side, we highly recommend you spend a few more dollars, pounds or euros to get it done properly. It's a small price to pay in making sure that you won’t “brick" your trusted gadget in the process.
Do I need to download or install any software?
No software is necessary. You just need a code. Don't believe anyone or any website that says you need software to complete this process. The exception is to Jailbreak iPhones, but this is a different technique. See this page for more information on Jailbreaking.
There is one exception, which are very old models that can only be freed via a cable and these can require software. For this method, it is advised to visit your nearest tech service shop in your town and let an expert handle it. Normally this only applies for models prior to 2010.
Is it legal?
Yes – it is totally legal. Service providers may tell you that it isn't, but that is simply a sales tactic because they're afraid you might switch to their competitors. You may have also heard that the process isn't legal in the US, which was true until the Obama administration overturned this law in 2014. It is now legal again.
Are you sure?
Yes, however there is something similar called "unblocking". That IS illegal. Unblocking is when you make a handset work after it has been blocked by a carrier or law enforcement and normally only occurs if a device has been stolen. These two terms are completely different however.
Will it void my warranty?
unlock-network.com, then they will guarantee your warranty isn't voided.This depends on how you get it done. If you use a trusted company like
It is best to get help or advice from a reputable website, to settle any questions about your warranty and avoid future issues, particularly if you have a new or expensive model; just to be on the safe side. Most reputable website will be glad to answer such questions.
Will I keep the same phone number?
Yes you will. The process does not affect your number. Unless of course you change to another SIM card, then the number will change while you're using that SIM.
Will the code expire?
No it is unique and will not expire at any time. Furthermore, the process is a one-time thing. Once done, it will stay like that forever and there’s no need to enter any other code to maintain it.
Who are Unlock Network?
Unlock-network.com are a trusted service provider and have successfully helped unlock all makes and models. They have been in business since 2004, and have already freed over 2 million mobile devices. They also aim to provide superior customer support and guarantee a refund if you happened to receive the incorrect unlock code.
How much does it cost?
The price depends on a number of factors such as your model, the network carrier you are currently subscribed to, and your country of origin, but a cheap SIM unlock might start at $11 (or your equivalent local currency) and go up to $32 or more.
Why do some models cost more?
Some models cost more to get done because in some instances, especially for new models, network carriers won’t release a code due to strict eligibility requirements.
In these cases, the codes are normally requested directly from the manufacturer, which is more costly compared to getting the code from carriers.
Do they provide a guarantee?
Yes. Unlock Network provides excellent customer service and support, and they guarantee to give your money back if the code sent to you is incorrect. You only need to send a video as proof of the dysfunctional code.
Testimonials from Unlock Network:
Here are a few testimonials from people who freed their mobiles:
James S. (United Kingdom) Model: Samsung Galaxy S7
"Was not sure about this service when i seen it as was in the first 6 months of my contract and was told it was not possible.
with the protection of paypal at my back i thought i would give it a shot.
it worked no problem so anyone on the fence about the legitimacy of the website need not worry."
Tiffany (United States) Model: ZTE Cymbal Z-320
"Great service!! To be honest was nothing going to use this company until I read the reviews. I unlocked a family mobile phone. They have real people giving reviews and also being able to pay with paypal was a plus. The code only to about 2 hours for me to recieve and the code unlocked on the first try!! Will use again if I have too!!"
John Ham (Canada) Model: Motorola XT1527
"Yes, this is a great site for unlocking any phone. My received code worked without any problem. I was able to unlock the phone in just few seconds."
You can look at this quick video to learn more:
Ok, what do I need to do next?
You will need four pieces of information before you acquire your code:
1) Your IMEI number (occasionally called ESN)
The number will be in the format: AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D or AABBBBBBCCCCCCD. There are a number of ways to find this code yourself:
- From your dialing screen dial *#06# The number that appears will be your IMEI number
- If that doesn't work, look through your menu for a "Help" or "About" screen and try and find the "IMEI number" or "IMEI code". For iPhone users, here is a useful guide to help you http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1267
- The IMEI number may also be printed on the outside casing of your phone at the back
- If all of those fail, the number should also be found on the 'compliance plate' which is usually located under your battery or inside the battery compartment area (if applicable). It usually looks like a white sticker with some numbers and codes. Look for a 15-digit number similar to the format shown above.
2) Your handset make and model
- For example: Samsung Galaxy S8
3) Your network
- For example: Sprint US or Vodafone UK
- The country that you live in (or more accurately, the country that your network is registered in).