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Unlocking a mobile phone? A guide to unlocking any phone or network

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Unlocking a mobile phone

Phone unlocking: the basics

phone unlocking sim and phone

More and more Britons are getting their phones unlocked. That was born out by a uSwitch survey that revealed we spend an incredible £48 million per year on unlocking our handsets.

It’s not hard to see why the numbers are on the rise.

Not only does an unlocked phone let you take advantage of cheap SIM only deals across the entire range of networks. It also makes it easier to pass on your old phone to a family member or friend.

But although mobile phones have been a huge part of our lives for the best part of 20 years, confusion still surrounds the process of getting them unlocked. And that's where we come in.

On this page, we’ll outline some handy tips around unlocking your phone. We’ll also talk you through the major UK networks’ policies, so you'll know exactly what you've got to do to get your phone unlocked.

And we’ll dispel some persistent myths around the subject. For instance, is it illegal? Should you really be paying to get your handset unlocked? And if so, how much?

Are there risks involved? And what happens to your warranty? Read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know...

Getting your phone unlocked? In the market for a good SIM only deal? Here's our pick of the best around.


What does it mean when a phone is locked?

unlock your mobile phone

When a handset is locked it means it will only work with the provider from whom you bought it.

If your phone is locked it won’t automatically become unlocked when your contract expires with your provider.

You’ll have to specifically ask your carrier to unlock it. We’ll explain how it works in due course.


Is your phone unlocked? How can you find out?

It’s simple to find out if your phone is locked. Simply insert a SIM card from another carrier (you’ll be able to get one free from a phone shop or by ordering one online) and see if the name of the network appears on your handset.

If it does and you’re able to use your phone, it’s unlocked.


My phone’s locked. What now? Is it legal to unlock it?

how to unlock mobiles

If you want to unlock your phone, you have several options.

One way is to take it to a local, independent phone shop which will usually charge you a fee of around £15 for the service.

Another method is to do it yourself by getting hold of a code or using a special data cable and software. However, you do need a fair degree of technical know-how to do so.

Contrary to what many consumers think, it’s not illegal to unlock your phone with either of these methods. However, in both cases you risk invalidating your warranty.

But the safest and smartest way of unlocking mobile phones, and the way we recommend, is to call your network and ask them to unlock it.

Whether a charge will apply and how fast and readily they’ll unlock it depends on your carrier’s policy. We'll take a look at all the major networks' policies below.


I'm going to unlock my phone via my network. How does it work?

When you contact your network to unlock your phone by phone, they'll ask you for your IMEI number. This is an identifier that’s unique to your phone and enables your network to discern make and model, as well as its serial number.

You can get the number in a variety of ways. But perhaps the easiest is by opening phone app, then entering *#06# using the keyboard. The IMEI number will flash up on the screen instantly for you to take down with a piece of paper. Or with your phone’s Notes app.

Alternatively, if you’ve got an iPhone you can find it via your Settings app. First open up settings, then press ‘General’, followed by ‘About’. You’ll find it towards the bottom of the screen.

Got an Android phone? You can also get your IMEI through the Settings part of your phone. Once you’ve opened Settings, go to ‘About Device’ and thence to ‘Status’. And there you’ll find it.

Once you’ve provided your network with your IMEI they can start the unlocking process.

How long it’ll actually take and whether a charge applies depends principally on your network’s policy. However, it’s also affected by whether you’re a pay monthly or pay as you go customer and by the make and model of your phone.

We examine each of the major networks' policy on phone unlocking further down the page.


Why should I unlock my phone?

uSwitch studies show the the most common reason for unlocking a phone is to take advantage of well priced SIM only deals.

When your phone's unlocked, you're not limited to tariffs offered by the network you bought your phone from. You can take your pick from the whole market.

Just as important is that really good SIM only deals tend to be up for grabs for a limited period only.

Having a SIM only deal gives you the freedom you need to chop and change and snap up the best offers while they're still around.

Many people unlock their phone when they want to sell it. Generally unlocked phones command higher prices and sell faster than those that are still tied to a network.

If you're a frequent traveller and want to save money on roaming charges by using SIMs from overseas networks, you'll need a phone that's unlocked.

Compare SIM only deals here: SIM only deals comparison

Can I unlock my phone for free? How long does it take to unlock my phone?

uSwitch's survey into phone unlocking revealed that the time it takes to unlock a phone and the price you should expect to pay is one of the areas where Britons are most confused.

That was borne out by the finding that almost one-third of consumers think that unlocking a phone will be instant.

In reality, it takes to get your phone unlocked depends on your provider. But you should be mindful that you could be waiting for anything between a few days or up to 30 days for the process to be complete.

To clarify your network’s policy, check out our network-by-network guide below.


Network by network guide to unlocking policy

How easy it is to unlock your phone largely depends on your network's policy. Here we look at each of the UK major carriers in turn, so you can see where you stand.

Three - How to unlock a Three phone

Does Three lock phones?

unlock three phone

If you bought your phone from Three after December 13th 2013, it won’t be locked. That goes for pay as you go phones, as well as those bought on contract from Three.

Phones bought before this point will, however, be locked to Three.

Is there a charge? Does a time-limit apply?

No charge applies. Three will unlock your phone free of charge.

Three does not enforce a time limit. You can unlock your pay monthly phone at any time during your contract.

How long does it take?

Expect a wait of up to seven days.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Three phones are already unlocked when you buy them. So you won't need to talk to anyone from Three.

Virgin Mobile - How to unlock a Virgin Media phone

unlock virgin phone

Does Virgin Mobile lock phones?

Virgin Mobile pay monthly customers phones are unlocked.

Pay as you go customers aren’t so lucky, though, with Virgin Mobile opting to lock certain models to its network.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

To unlock a Virgin Mobile phone, pay as you go customers will be charged £15.32. However, after you've owned the phone for 12 months, it's free.

How long does it take?

If your Virgin Mobile pay as you go handset is locked, you’re looking at a wait of up to 30 days for the process to be completed.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

To unlock your handset, get in touch with Virgin Mobile's customer support team by calling 789 from your Virgin Mobile handset. Alternatively, you ring 0345 6000 789 from any other mobile phone or landline.

EE - How to unlock an EE phone

unlock phone ee

Does EE lock phones?

Pay monthly and pay as you go EE phones are locked to its network.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

EE will only unlock pay monthly phones after six months. To unlock an EE pay monthly phone you need to ring 150 from your EE phone. If you're still under contract, a charge of £8.99 applies. If you're out of contract, however, it's free.

Be aware that you can only unlock a pay monthly phone if you've had your contract for 6 months or more.

EE will unlock pay as you go or SIM only devices can be straight away, with no time limit. A charge of £8.99 applies, unless you bought the phone directly from EE. In which case, there's no charge.

How long does it take?

The time it takes to unlock pay monthly and pay as you go phones on EE depends on which brand of handset you’ve got.

An iPhone or iPad has a wait of up to seven days attached.

If you’ve got any other brand of handset or tablet, expect a wait of up to ten days.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Call 150 from your EE phone. Or 0800 956 6000 from any other mobile phone or landline.

Alternatively, use this online form.

O2 - How to unlock an O2 phone

are o2 phones unlocked

Does O2 lock phones?

O2 locks most pay monthly phones and pay as you go phones.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

O2 pay monthly customers are not subject to a time limit and can unlock their phone free of charge at any point in their contract.

However, the sole exceptions is the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which O2 was not unlocking at the time of writing.

O2 pay as you go customers must wait at least 12 months after purchase before they can unlock their handset. A charge of £15 applies, which O2 deducts from customer’s airtime balance.

How long does it take?

O2 unlocks pay monthly phones within 72 hours. Customers unlocking a pay as you go O2 phone will be sent a code to unlock their phone within three days of O2’s receipt of a phone unlocking application form.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Call 202 from your O2 phone or ring 0344 8090202 from any other phone or a landline.

Prefer not to talk to anyone? You can also unlock via O2's site or through the MyO2 app.

Vodafone - How to unlock a Vodafone phone

unlock phone vodafone

Does Vodafone lock phones?

All Vodafone pay monthly and pay as you go handsets bought after July 2013 will be locked to the network.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

Vodafone customers on pay as you go can unlock their phone for free.

To be eligible to do so, PAYG customers must have used their phone number with the handset for at least 30 days.

Pay monthly customers can also unlock their handset free of charge.

How long does it take?

For pay as you go and pay monthly customers, Vodafone stipulates a wait of up to ten days.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Call 191 from your Vodaphone handset, or 03333 040 191 from all other mobiles or landlines.

Tesco Mobile - how to unlock a Tesco Mobile phone

tesco mobile logo hero

Does Tesco Mobile lock phones?

It does. But Tesco Mobile pay monthly and pay as you go phone customers can unlock their handsets pretty easily.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

Pay monthly Tesco Mobile customers can unlock their phone for free. However, depending on the handset a time limit may apply. Essentially, this means that you not be able to unlock phones that were recently released.

Pay as you go Tesco Mobile customers can unlock their phones for no charge, provided they wait 12 months after it was first activated. A charge of £10 applies if you want to unlock a pay as you go phone before 12 months is up.

How long does it take?

Tesco Mobile customers usually face a wait of seven working days to receive their unlocking code. However this varies according to the handset. It could take up to 20 days.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Call 4422 from your Tesco Mobile phone, or 0345 301 4455 from any other mobile phone or landline.

iD Mobile - how to unlock an iD Mobile phone

iD Mobile logo

Does iD Mobile lock phones?

With the exception of iPhones, all iD Mobile handsets sold with a pay monthly iD contract are unlocked at the point of purchase. In the case of iPhones, the handset will be unlocked six months after the contract started.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

Locked iPhones on iD Mobile bought on a monthly contract can be unlocked for free, within the first six months. As indicated above, thereafter they're unlocked anyway.

How long does it take to unlock?

Unlocking a locked iPhone on iD Mobile takes between three-five days.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

Call 7777 from an iD Mobile phone, or call 0333 003 7777 from any other mobile or landline.

Sky Mobile - how to unlock a Sky Mobile phone

Sky Mobile hero

Does Sky Mobile lock phones?

All Sky Mobile phones are supplied unlocked.

Is there a charge to unlock a phone? Does a time limit apply?

Because Sky Mobile phones are supplied unlocked, there is no charge for unlocking them. Nor does a time limit apply.

How long does it take to unlock?

Sky Mobile phones are unlocked from day one.

How do I get in touch to unlock it?

If you find your Sky Mobile phone isn't unlocked, you can reach customer support on 0330 041 2639.

Which network's best for coverage? We weigh them up here: guide to network coverage

Category: Guides
Tagged: networks

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