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Mobile Phones

How to unlock a phone

Has your pesky network tried to tie you down? Find out how to unlock your phone in just a few simple steps!

iphone and pattern of padlocks

When you bought your phone, there's every chance that your network locked it into their system. This makes it incompatible with SIM cards from other networks, forcing you to take out a plan with them.

We won't go into the nitty-gritty of just why networks do this, but the fact is that they do, and it could see you missing out on another provider's cheap SIM only deals and exclusive offers. But not if you unlock your phone.

Despite what you might have heard, unlocking a phone is perfectly legal. In fact, nowadays it's arguably easier than ever, and you can usually get it done directly through your network. So, sit tight, as we show you how to unleash the true money-saving potential of your phone!

This guide is for unlocking phones, not unblocking. A phone will be blocked by a network if it's reported as lost or stolen, and unblocking it is illegal.

Why should you unlock your phone?

drake hotline bling video

Credit: Cash Money Records Inc

Now, we're not saying you have to do it, or even that you should – but there are certainly a lot of good reasons to unlock your phone:

  1. You want a cheaper contract

    Love your phone, but not so keen on your contract? If your network won't give you a cheaper tariff (or won't go as cheap as you'd like), your only option is to take your business elsewhere and get a SIM only deal. But unless your phone is unlocked, this won't be possible.

    When your device is finally unlocked, use our mobile phone deal comparison tool to make sure you haven't gone through all of this to get a duff deal.

  2. You want to take advantage of a network's exclusive deals

    Our deals section (and, more often than not, the freebie section) is always packed with offers for customers of O2 and Vodafone.

    We've got the lowdown on how to get O2 Priority on any network (sadly there's no equivalent hack for Vodafone VeryMe), but for the trick to work, you'll need to have an unlocked phone!

  3. You want to use a local SIM while you're abroad

    The EU has now largely banned roaming fees, but with Brexit on the horizon, there's a chance that we'll once again have to pay extra to use our phones on the continent. Some networks have said they have no plans to reintroduce roaming fees if we leave the European Union, but that's far from a guarantee.

    And if you're travelling beyond the EU, you'll usually have to pay roaming fees already. One of the cheapest solutions is to get your hands on a foreign SIM and use that instead but – you guessed it – you'll need an unlocked phone for this to work too.

  4. You want to sell your phone

    Looking to upgrade? Well, once you've seen how much you could get for recycling your old phone, check out eBay and the like to see what the going rate is there.

    If you decide that selling your phone is the best course of action, make sure it's unlocked first. Even the UK's most popular network only has about 30% of the market, so if you're trying to sell a locked phone, you'll be missing out on at least 70% of potential buyers. And, in the world of online retail, fewer buyers equals lower prices.

    However, since unlocking your phone can cost money, you should do some research to check whether or not locked versions of your phone are going for that much less – otherwise, you'll end up losing money.

How to check if your phone is locked

ron swanson smashing phone with hammer

Credit: NBC

Before you go through the process of unlocking your phone, spare your blushes and check whether it's already unlocked.

To do this, you'll need to try using your phone with a SIM from a network other than your own. If your handset is locked, it will say so on the screen – but if you're not sure whether it's working or not, try calling it from another phone. If it rings, it's unlocked.

If you haven't got a spare lying around, get your hands on a free SIM. Or, if you can't wait for it be delivered, ask your mates if they'll let you borrow theirs for a couple of minutes.

How much does it cost to unlock a phone?

phone with lock and key on screen

More often than not, it should be free to unlock your phone. Thanks to the government (and it's not often that you get to say that), networks can no longer charge an unlocking fee to pay monthly customers who are out of contract.

And even if you're still in contract, your network may still unlock your device for free – if it's even locked in the first place, that is. Nowadays, more and more networks are selling all of their devices unlocked, meaning unlocking it never needs to be a concern.

That said, some networks continue to lock phones to their SIMs – and in some cases, there will be a charge for unlocking the device. However, as the most that any of the major networks will charge is just over £15, we'd say the benefits by far outweigh the cost.

Read on to find out just how much your network charges to unlock a device (if at all!).

How to unlock a smartphone

person using phone

Fortunately, most modern phones can be unlocked using the same method. So, if you're looking to get in on O2 Priority Moments, this is the section for you!

Depending on your network, the specifics of how to unlock your phone will be slightly different. We've got the lowdown on all the major names, so just click to jump to yours:

Bear in mind that the info given for how long it takes to unlock a phone refers to maximum times – often your phone will be unlocked much sooner!


ee logo

EE

Unlocking an EE phone

Time taken to unlock: Up to 10 days

How to unlock an EE phone: Online form or call 150 from your EE phone

Pay monthly

Cost: £8.99 (or free if you're out of contract)

Extra conditions: You must be at least six months into your contract, and have paid your bill in full

Pay as you go

Cost: Free if you bought your device from EE. If you bought it second-hand, a charge of £8.99 applies

Extra conditions: Second-hand devices must be at least six months old and not have been reported lost or stolen

Anything else to know?

Any Apple device (including iPads) purchased from EE on or after 1st November 2015 will automatically become unlocked after 18 months.

Check out EE's website for full details.

Unlock an EE phone »


o2 logo

O2

Unlocking an O2 phone

Time taken to unlock: Up to 72 hours

How to unlock an O2 phone: Online form or via the My O2 app

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Pay as you go

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Anything else to know?

Almost all new devices sold by O2 since January 2019 are now unlocked, with this extending back to 1st August 2018 for all Apple devices bought directly from O2. The only phones sold by O2 that are still locked are those made by Alcatel and Doro.

Check out O2's website for full details.

Unlock an O2 phone »


Unlock Sky Mobile phone

Sky Mobile

Are Sky Mobile phones unlocked?

Sky Mobile has never locked phones on either its pay monthly or pay as you go packages. If for some reason your device is locked to Sky Mobile, you should contact them directly to resolve the issue.

Tesco Mobile logo

Tesco Mobile

Unlocking a Tesco Mobile phone

Time taken to unlock: Usually within seven days, but it can take up to 20

How to unlock a Tesco Mobile phone: Online form

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: You may have to wait up to 12 months to unlock a phone that has recently been launched

Pay as you go

Cost: Free if you bought your phone over 12 months ago – otherwise it costs £10 (deducted from your phone credit)

Extra conditions: You may have to wait up to 12 months to unlock a phone that has recently been launched

Anything else to know?

If you're unsure whether your device is pay monthly or not, Tesco Mobile will let you know when you submit your unlocking request.

Check out Tesco's website for full details.

Unlock a Tesco Mobile phone »


Three logo

Three

Unlocking a Three phone

Time taken to unlock: Often straight away, but it can take up to seven days

How to unlock a Three phone: Online form

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Pay as you go

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Anything else to know?

If you bought your device from Three on or after 1st January 2014, your phone should already be unlocked.

Unlock a Three phone »


Virgin Mobile logo

Virgin Mobile

Unlocking a Virgin Mobile phone

Time taken to unlock: Up to 30 days but usually quicker

How to unlock a Virgin Mobile phone: Call 0345 6000 789 (or just 789 from a Virgin Mobile device)

Pay monthly

Price: Free

Extra conditions: None

Pay as you go

Price: Free if you bought your phone over 12 months ago – otherwise it costs £15.32

Extra conditions: None

Anything else to know?

Pay monthly customers' phones should already be unlocked, as should some (but not all) devices owned by pay as you go customers.

Vodafone logo

Vodafone

Unlocking a Vodafone phone

Time taken to unlock: Often within 48 hours, but it can take up to 10 days

How to unlock: Online form or call 191 from your Vodafone handset

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Pay as you go

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: You must have used a Vodafone SIM in the device for at least 30 days

Anything else to know?

Nope!

Unlock a Vodafone phone »

 

Video tutorial for unlocking a phone

If you don't believe us when we say just how easy it is to unlock a phone, check out the video below and skip to 2:46.

In the space of a few minutes, he shows you how to unlock a phone on a whole host of networks!

How to unlock an older phone

nokia 3310

Credit: Kevin Steinhardt – Flickr

Still rocking a Nokia 3310, or another (almost certainly inferior) retro phone? Whether you’re a technophobe, use it as a no-frills festival phone, or you’re just a total hipster, these little (or sometimes large) things still have their place in life.

If you’ve got one of these golden oldies, we come bearing good news – they can be unlocked too! In fact, in some instances, it can be even quicker than unlocking a smartphone.

  1. Unlock codes

    Plenty of old Nokias, LGs, Panasonics and Siemens phones can be unlocked simply using a few codes that have been made freely available online. To check if an unlock code for your device is out there, use giffgaff’s nifty Unlockapedia tool.

    Before you do, make sure you know the make and model of your phone, the network it’s locked to, and the IMEI (which you’ll find by dialling *#06#).

  2. A cable attachment

    Using a cable to unlock your phone should be treated as your last resort, in the event that all other avenues have been exhausted. It’s also the most complicated method of doing things, so unless you really know your way around technology, pay someone else to do it.

    As well as online unlocking companies, high street phone repair shops will often offer this service too. Smaller stores like this are much more likely to be up for negotiating on the price, so check out our guide to haggling like a pro!

    If you reckon you’ve got the technological prowess to handle this yourself, unlocking cables can be found on eBay and phone accessory sites. But we’d strongly advise you read some expert guides before going through with it all!

So now you’ve got an unlocked phone, what are you waiting for? Go check out the best SIM only deals, and head over to our guide on how to get O2 Priority Moments without having to switch networks!

Unlocked phone or not, you should definitely get your hands on these money saving apps.

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