If you’re thinking of switching cell phone providers, you might wonder if your phone is unlocked. With an unlocked phone, you have the freedom to move to another carrier with relative ease. But if your phone is locked, you aren’t so lucky.
Let’s see how to check if your phone is unlocked, what this means, and how to proceed if your device is locked.
What Does It Mean When a Phone Is “Unlocked”?
Before we look at the actual process, it’s important to define what an “unlocked” phone actually is. In this case, we’re not talking about your phone screen being locked with a passcode, fingerprint, or similar (we’ve covered what to do if you forget your iPhone passcode or forget your Android phone’s password). Having an unlocked phone is also different than having a jailbroken or rooted device.
Instead, an unlocked phone is one that’s available to use on different cell carriers. With an unlocked phone, you can switch to a new carrier and use the new SIM card to connect to the new service without any hassle.
This contrasts with a locked phone, which is only available to use with the carrier you purchased it from. If you buy a phone from Sprint (for example) and it’s locked, you can’t simply buy a SIM card from another carrier and start using a different service. Your phone will only work with Sprint unless you unlock it.
Let’s find out how to know if your phone is unlocked next.
How to Check If Your Phone Is Unlocked
Below are a few methods you can use to check if you have an unlocked phone.
How to Tell If Your iPhone Is Unlocked
On iOS 14 and later, there’s an easy way to check if your iPhone is unlocked. Head to Settings > General > About and find the Carrier Lock field. If you see No SIM restrictions here, your iPhone is unlocked. Anything else means that your iPhone is locked to your carrier.
On earlier versions of iOS, you can head to Settings > Cellular (or Mobile Data in some regions) > Cellular Data Options (or Mobile Data Options). If you see an option called Cellular Data Network (or Mobile Data Network) here, then there’s a good chance that you have an unlocked phone.
However, this second method isn’t foolproof and can differ depending on your carrier. For example, on our unlocked iPhone bought from Apple and using Mint Mobile service, this option didn’t appear. Thus, even if you don’t see this, your phone might still be unlocked.
Check If Your Android Phone Is Unlocked
Android doesn’t provide an easy method for checking your SIM status like iOS 14 does. However, there is a similar method that isn’t perfect but is worth a try.
To check this, head to Settings > Network & internet. Next to Mobile network, look for a Plus button, which lets you add a secondary network (if your device supports it). This won’t appear if your phone is locked to one carrier.
The above refers to stock Android; the process may be different on your phone. And if this option doesn’t appear, your phone might still be unlocked. To be sure, you should continue onto the next method.
Check for an Unlocked Phone Using Another SIM Card
To make sure your phone is unlocked, you should ideally test it with another SIM card. This gives you concrete proof whether your phone is locked.
Assuming you don’t have a second SIM card from another carrier sitting around, you can borrow one from a friend who doesn’t use the same carrier as you. If this isn’t an option, try a cheap prepaid SIM available at drugstores or Walmart.
You can also buy a starter kit from a company like Mint Mobile for a small cost. These are intended to help you make sure the new carrier works on your existing phone, making them an inexpensive way to check for an unlocked phone too.
Here’s how to check your phone with a second SIM:
- Make a phone call with your current SIM to confirm everything is in order. If you don’t want to bother someone, call a local automated weather service.
- Assuming the call works correctly, hang up and shut off your phone.
- Use a SIM removal tool, bent paper clip, or similar pointed object to eject your current SIM and swap it for the new one.
- With the new SIM in place, turn your phone back on.
- Place a call again.
If the call goes through with the second SIM, your phone is unlocked. However, if the call doesn’t work or you see a prompt to enter a SIM unlock code, your phone is locked.
Find If Your Phone Is Unlocked Through Your Carrier
If you’re still unsure after trying all the above, you should contact your carrier to find out if your phone is unlocked. The company will be able to tell you for sure, though it might take some time to hear back from them. Try visiting a retail store if it’s convenient.
The company will likely need your phone’s IMEI number to check this for you, so make sure to have it handy ahead of time.
In general, if you bought your phone directly from Google, Apple, or another company, it’s most likely unlocked. Phones purchased directly from your carrier, especially ones still on a payment plan, are likely locked.
What If My Phone Is Locked?
As you’ve seen, with a locked phone, you can’t use any other carriers with it. This means that if you want to switch to another provider, you’ll need to unlock it first.
If you bought your phone from your carrier and are still paying for it, chances are that the company will unlock your device when you pay it off. However, this differs by carrier, so you’ll have to ask to make sure. Some carriers require you to submit a form to unlock your device.
See our guide to unlocking your smartphone for more detail on this.
Considerations With Locked Phones
Some people don’t mind having a locked phone because they stay with one carrier for a long time. But if you’re fed up after looking into this, you should consider buying unlocked phones in the future.
This will give you more flexibility and avoid locking you into one carrier’s pricing for 24 months at a time. You might want to try an MVNO like Google Fi to save on data costs, or maybe you want the flexibility to use an international SIM while traveling.
Next time you buy a phone, double-check to make sure that it’s unlocked. Sellers like Best Buy and Amazon sell both unlocked and locked phones, so it’s easy to confuse them.
Finally, if you ever buy a second-hand phone, you should make sure that it’s not locked to the previous owner’s carrier before paying. Otherwise, you may end up with a device that you can’t use.
Unlocked Phones Rule
Now you know how to check if your phone is unlocked and what this means for you. While locked phones aren’t the end of the world, we recommend unlocked phones if you have a choice. With a bit of luck, your carrier will unlock your locked device so you can use it anywhere.
If you’re considering switching providers, know that there are a lot of options available to you.
Image Credit: wk1003mike/Shutterstock
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