The benefits of unlocked phones are many. They allow you easily to switch carriers to lower your monthly bills, you'll save when traveling abroad, and they tend to sell for more than their locked counterparts.
But how can you tell for sure if your phone is unlocked?
If you bought your phone direct from Apple or Google, it's probably unlocked and you're free to insert a SIM from any carrier.
If on the other hand you bought your phone on a payment plan or under contract from your carrier, there’s a good chance that it’s locked to their network. They do this to ensure that they get back any subsidies they might have handed out.
Here’s two easy ways to check - plus a bonus option for iPhone users!
Method 1: Call Your Carrier
While it might not be the fastest way due those endless automated menus, the most dependable way of finding out the lock status of your phone is direct from your carrier.
Once you’ve made it through the maze of prompts to a live agent, ask “Is my phone unlocked?”
They might require some identifying information to verify the account. If you have multiple phones on the account, be sure to know the model number and phone number of the device in question.
Method 2: Swap the SIM
Swapping your SIM with one from another network is another option for checking if your phone is unlocked. In most cases, the SIM is located in a dedicated slot on the sides of the handset or underneath the battery for phones with removable batteries.
If you have a friend on a different carrier, you can ask to borrow their SIM for a few seconds. The entire process only takes a minute or two. There’s also no worry of surprise charges as long as you don’t use the phone while their SIM is inserted.
Keep in mind that some carriers share networks. If you visit the carrier site and look for a “bring your own device” or “SIM only” plan option, you can usually see which carriers or networks they support. Also, simply using a prepaid SIM from the same carrier will not verify unlock status either. If you already have service on the phone, calling the carrier is still the most reliable option.
Can’t find a friend willing to help? You can pick up a prepaid SIM from another network or call a carrier store nearby and ask for options. Most offer SIM kits for free or a small fee if you say you’re planning to switch carriers.
Once you have your new SIM:
Once it has finished booting, give the phone two minutes to check in with the carrier of the new SIM.
If your phone is unlocked, you should see that you have service and that you can place a call. If your phone is locked, you’ll get a prompt asking for a code to unlock the carrier settings.
Bonus Method: Check Your iPhone Settings
If you own an iPhone, there’s one extra option available! The wording for the menus you need vary slightly by region and carrier. However, these steps should get you to the information you need.
Tap Cellular or Carrier
Look for the Cellular Data Network or Carrier Data Network setting. If you see this option, your phone is unlocked!
Tips & Warnings
If you’ve found out your phone is locked, you have a number of options for unlocking it. We have a comprehensive guide outlining all of your options. Planning to switch carriers? Our plan comparison tool can help you find the best deals in your area!
In most countries, it is legal to unlock your phone once certain conditions are met.
Before buying a used phone, you should always check if it's unlocked.
Did we miss your favorite way to check the lock status of your phone? Did our tips help you out? We want to hear about it! Leave us a comment in the box below or reach out on Facebook.