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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!

how to unlock a phone

When you bought your phone, there's every chance that your network locked it in to 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?

why should you unlock a phone

Now, we're not saying you have to unlock your phone, or even that you should. But there are certainly a lot of good reasons to do so.

It's worth checking out these possible motives, just in case you've never realised that unlocking your phone was the solution to your problem!

  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 to 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 Three.

    We've got the lowdown on how to get O2 Priority and Three's Wuntu on any network, but for either 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 us Brits will once again have to pay extra to use our phones on the continent.

    That's already the case for anyone travelling outside the EU, and 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!

  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!

How to check if your phone is locked

how to check if your phone is locked unlocked

Before you go through the rigmarole 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, trying 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 to unlock a smartphone

how to unlock a smartphone

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

There's also some extra good news for those of you whose contracts have expired – this process should be free! 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.

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:

Unlock EE phoneEE

The main details

Time taken to unlock: Up to 10 days

How to unlock: Online form

Pay monthly

Cost: £8.99

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

Extra conditions: None

Anything else to know?

Any Apple device (including iPads) purchased from EE on or after 1st November 2015 will automatically become unlocked after 21 months.

Check out EE's website for full details.

Unlock an EE phone »

unlock o2 phoneO2

The main details

Time taken to unlock: Up to 72 hours

How to unlock: Online form

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

Pay as you go

Cost: £15 (deducted from your phone credit)

Extra conditions: You must have bought the phone at least 12 months ago

Anything else to know?

If you've got one of the high-end phones offered by Apple or Samsung, O2 won't unlock your phone until you've paid off your Device Plan in full.

Check out O2's website for full details.

Unlock an O2 phone »

Unlock Sky Mobile phoneSky Mobile

The main details

Sky 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.

Unlock Tesco Mobile phoneTesco Mobile

The main details

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

How to unlock: Dial *#06# to get your device's IMEI. Note it down, and then call 0345 301 4455

Pay monthly

Cost: Free

Extra conditions: None

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: None

Anything else to know?

If your phone or tablet has only recently been released, you may not be able to unlock it straight away. If this is the case, Tesco Mobile will tell you when you contact them to unlock your device.

Check out Tesco's website for full details.

Unlock a Three phoneThree

The main details

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

How to unlock: 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.

Check out Three's website for full details.

Unlock a Three phone »

Unlock Virgin Mobile phoneVirgin Mobile

The main details

Time taken to unlock: Up to 28 days

How to unlock: Call 0345 6000 789

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.

Unlock vodafone phoneVodafone

The main details

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

How to unlock: Online form

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 »

How to unlock an older phone

how to unlock an old phoneCredit: 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 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 guides on how to get Three's Wuntu and 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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