Where can I take a phone to be unlocked?

Having an unlocked phone provides more freedom and flexibility to use it on any carrier. However, most phones purchased directly from carriers come locked to only work on that carrier’s network. Thankfully, there are many options to get your phone unlocked so you can use it on other networks both here and internationally.

What does it mean for a phone to be unlocked?

When you purchase a phone from a carrier like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint, it is usually locked to only work on that carrier’s network. This means you can only use that phone with a SIM card from that specific carrier. An unlocked phone can accept any SIM card from any carrier and work on their network.

Here are some key things to know about locked and unlocked phones:

  • Locked phones can only be used with the carrier they are locked to
  • Unlocked phones can be used with any carrier that uses the same technology (GSM or CDMA)
  • Unlocked phones offer more flexibility to switch carriers or use local SIM cards when traveling internationally
  • Carriers lock phones to deter theft and ensure customers finish contract terms before switching
  • Once a contract is completed, carriers may provide an unlock code or unlock the phone upon request

Why unlock your phone?

Here are some of the top reasons you may want to unlock your phone:

  • Switch to a new carrier – An unlocked phone makes it easier to transition to a new carrier and keep using your existing phone.
  • Use internationally – Unlocked phones can accept local SIM cards when traveling overseas for affordable access to phone and data.
  • Resell value – An unlocked phone typically has a higher resale value because it has more versatility.
  • Flexibility – You aren’t tied to a long-term contract and can change carriers any time you want.
  • Frequent travelers – Use local SIMs to avoid roaming charges in different countries.

Requirements to unlock a phone

Here are some typical requirements carriers have in order to unlock a phone:

  • The phone must be fully paid off – It cannot still be on a payment plan.
  • The contract terms must be completed – Any service agreement or commitment must be finished.
  • The account must be in good standing – There cannot be any outstanding balance or fees.
  • Only the account owner can request the unlock – Some carriers require proof you own the account.
  • Basic customer identity verification is required.

Many carriers have relaxed their unlocking policies in recent years due to new laws and recognizing customer demand. Some now voluntarily unlock devices after a certain time period, typically 60 days from the last payment.

How to unlock a phone

Here are some steps for how to request your phone be unlocked from a carrier:

  1. Confirm your device qualifies based on the carrier’s policy – You’ll want to check it meets any requirements like being fully paid off and contract completed.
  2. Contact customer support and request unlock – This can usually be done via phone, online chat or through your account.
  3. Provide any required documentation – You may need to submit proof of ownership or ID verification.
  4. Receive the unlock code – Carriers will provide this upon verifying you qualify, often in 1-5 business days.
  5. Input the unlock code provided – Follow instructions to input the code into your phone which completes the unlock.

It’s important to get the unlock code directly from your carrier and not use any unofficial third-party services. Entering incorrect unlock codes too many times can get your phone blacklisted.

Other unlocking options

If your carrier refuses to unlock your phone or you need it done more urgently, there are some other options:

  • Third-party unlocking services – Companies like DoctorSIM and UnlockBase can unlock phones for a fee without the carrier’s help.
  • Phone retailers – Many local phone shops offer an in-store unlocking service for a small charge.
  • Online forums – Sites like Ebay, Craigslist or XDA Developers have users who can provide unlocking services.
  • Unlock code websites – Sites like UnlockBoot and UnlockUnit have databases of unlock codes and instructions.
  • DIY software tools – Apps like Ultrasn0w or SigmaKey can unlock some iPhone and Samsung models.

However, third-party unlocking services come with risks. Make sure to research the company’s reputation thoroughly beforehand. Also, unlocking a phone without authorization from the carrier could violate the purchase terms and conditions.

Places that unlock phones

Here are some of the most common places you can get your phone unlocked:

Cell phone carriers

Going directly through your cell phone carrier is always the best official option. Here are unlocking policies for major U.S. carriers:

  • AT&T – Unlocks devices automatically 60 days after last payment or can request immediate unlock if deployed military.
  • T-Mobile – Unlocks devices immediately after fully paid off and 40 days active on network.
  • Verizon – Unlocks most phones automatically 60 days after activation, older devices may need to contact support.
  • Sprint – Unlocks eligible devices automatically after 50 days active on network.

Third-party unlocking services

Companies that specialize in unlocking phones and provide services like:

  • DoctorSIM
  • UnlockBase
  • CellUnlocker
  • Unlock River

They typically charge $15-30 and can unlock devices without carrier support. This gives faster unlocking but voids manufacturer warranty.

Phone retailers

Many local independent phone retailers offer unlocking services done in-store. Prices are usually around $20-40 and done while you wait.

Online marketplaces

Individual unlockers advertise services on sites like:

  • eBay
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • OfferUp

Provides affordable unlocking but less assurance on reputation. Need to be comfortable providing details and shipping device.

Unlock code websites

Sites like UnlockBoot, UnlockUnit and FreeUnlocks provide instructions and unlock codes. This allows you to DIY but not 100% guaranteed to work.

Questions to ask about unlocking

Here are some important questions to ask when getting your phone unlocked:

  • Does unlocking this model void the warranty?
  • What are your fees for this service?
  • How long does the unlock process take?
  • Do you need any special account information from me?
  • Will I receive an official unlock code from the carrier?
  • Do you provide any guarantee your service will work?
  • Can you provide references from past customers?
  • Do I need to send you my phone or can you provide remote unlock?

Asking these questions upfront ensures you pick a reliable unlocking option and know exactly what the process entails.

What to avoid when unlocking

Be cautious of the following risky practices when unlocking a phone:

  • Sending payment before receiving the unlock
  • Using unofficial third-party unlocking services
  • Inputting too many incorrect unlock codes
  • Attempting to unlock a phone still on a payment plan
  • Providing personal information to unknown unlockers
  • Using free or cracked unlocking software
  • Not reading what the unlocking voids in terms of warranty

Avoid anything that seems suspicious or too good to be true. Stick to carrier and trusted unlockers to limit risk.

Pros and cons of unlocking

Here is a summary of the main pros and cons to weigh when considering unlocking your phone:

Pros Cons
Use on any carrier Voids manufacturer warranty
No long-term contracts Risk of improper unlocking
Resell at higher value Upfront cost for unlocking service
Use local SIMs when traveling May be tied to service terms
Switch carriers anytime Lower security against theft

Frequently asked questions

Is unlocking a phone legal?

Yes, unlocking cell phones was made legal in the United States with the passage of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in 2014. However, carriers may still impose service terms and conditions on unlocking eligibility.

Can unlocked phones be re-locked?

Some carrier-branded phones can actually be re-locked after the unlocking process through a reset. This is rare but can happen with older models. Re-locking is not possible on unlocked phones purchased directly from the manufacturer.

Do all CDMA networks unlock phones?

No, CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint have historically kept devices locked more often than GSM networks. However, unlocking policies have relaxed in recent years across all carriers.

Can you unlock a leased phone?

Typically leased phones cannot be unlocked until they are fully paid off and the lease purchase option is completed. Unlocking before formally owning the device would violate the lease.

How can you tell if your phone is unlocked?

You can request the unlock code from your carrier and see if it accepts the code without errors. Also try inserting a different carrier’s SIM card to check if that network shows up.

Does factory reset unlock a phone?

No, a factory reset will wipe the data and settings on a phone but does not unlock it from the carrier. You need to obtain and input the unlock code to actually unlock it.

Can I unlock a phone myself?

It is possible to unlock some phone models yourself using DIY tools and unlock code databases. However, this has risks of inputting incorrect codes or bricking your phone if not done properly.

Is it better to buy an unlocked or locked phone?

In general, buying a factory unlocked phone directly from the manufacturer gives you the most flexibility. But carrier deals can make a locked phone very affordable, which you can eventually unlock.


Unlocking your phone provides more freedom but also comes with some risks. Always unlock through your carrier if possible and research any third-party unlock service thoroughly first. An unlocked phone gives you more control over which networks you use both domestically and internationally.