Unlocking your smart phone isn’t as difficult as it used to be. But what does it mean to unlock? Basically, when you buy a phone through a particular carrier, you are “locked” to that carrier’s services. Unlocking your phone, means that not only can your phone use the carrier that you purchased your phone from, but you can now use your phone with any other carrier world wide. Your carrier is now required by law (go government!) to make the unlock codes free.

Okay, so that all sounds great, but why should you consider unlocking your phone in the first place? There’s a lot of reasons, but here’s some that top the list:

1. You want to travel internationally. With an unlocked phone, you can just simply pop out your SIM and insert a local SIM card and voila- you’re making calls like the locals. Don’t feel like you need to unlock your brand new smart phone either, an older one that you unlock to use specifically for international travel will work just as well. This way, you can keep your primary phone active for incoming calls when traveling, but you can use your unlocked phone with a local sim for cheaper outgoing calls (especially for local, in-country calls), and most importantly for data access. It’s not uncommon for data rates with a local sim to be 1/10 the cost of roaming rates.

2. You want to save a buck and switch to a pre-paid plan. Without being locked into a carrier’s restrictive two year contract, you don’t have to fear commitments like that again. Simply unlock  your phone and enjoy the benefits of pre-paid mobile plans.

3. Your contract ended so you want the freedom to switch. With your contract over, this is arguably one of the best times to unlock your phone. Without the pressure of feeling like you need to return to the carrier you’ve just ended with, you can switch around as you please.

4. You’ve reached the end of the road with your phone. It’s time to bid thee farewell to your beloved older edition smartphone, but you’d like to get a little cash for it when you sell it. Unlocking your phone prior to posting it to online sell sites will only help to increase your value as you can have a larger interest in the phone since a broader range of people can use it besides those locked to the same carrier as you.

5. Your kids are begging for a smartphone. Even if you don’t see the benefit in unlocking the phone for any of your own personal reasons, another great plus to having an unlocked smart phone is that it’s a great option for a hand me down to a child. Since your kid won’t be locked into the same carrier as you, therein lies the ability to easily and simply switch them from your carrier, to a different one, and even to a prepaid depending on price. This flexibility is great for kids who will be using the phone primarily for easy access to call and even for kids who are beginning to learn what data is.

So, now that we’ve established why you would want to unlock your phone, let’s look at how you go about doing the unlocking.

First things first, make sure that you didn’t already buy an unlocked phone. If you bought your phone directly from the manufacturer or from somewhere like Ebay, there’s a very good chance your phone is unlocked. Can’t remember? Don’t panic- just give your wireless carrier a call and they can tell you.

Now that you’ve determined your phone isn’t unlocked, this is when you need to call your carrier to put in a request for the free codes. Once your request is processed, your carrier will send you the unlock code that you’ll enter into your phone. Some sites have filled us in on a pro tip that you should let your carrier know that the reason you want to unlock is because you’re going to be traveling abroad- it’s an airtight excuse that will prevent your carrier from become panicked that you’re leaving them and pushing them to start giving you a hard time. Apple even put together a great chart that you can use to learn more about your carrier in the U.S and abroad.

There’s something to be careful about however. Verizon and Sprint, in their older non LTE capable models, do not allow for SIM Cards because they only operate on CDMA technology. This means you cannot put SIM cards into these phones so essentially these phones will die with the carrier they were assigned to from the beginning. An article recently written by Jon Fingas over at Engadget, touches more on this “minor” issue.

It’s also important to remember that carriers are only under legal obligation to provide you with the free codes once you’ve paid off your device. However, carriers are required to post their unlocking policies on their website, let customers know when they are eligible to unlock their phones, unlock devices for all deployed military personnel, and send back an unlock request in two business days. We’ve provided the links for the four major carriers below for your convenience to check it out for yourself:

AT&T                  T-Mobile                    Sprint                   Verizon

If you would rather leave your carrier out of the equation, third party mobile shops still exist in places across the globe, which albeit is surprising, can really benefit you. However, this option will cost money to unlock your phone. The only benefit here is that you don’t have to sit on the phone with a customer representative for your free code.

With the kinds of phones coming out these days (check out our Mobile Phone Buying Guide), being locked into carriers just doesn’t seem fun anymore. It’s the 21st century- we’ve evolved and so have our phones.


If you still have questions about the way to go about unlocking your phone, if your phone qualifies, etc., check out the FCC’s FAQ on unlocking your phone for the official government word: FCC FAQ