When you purchase a handset through a network provider such as Virgin, 3, Orange or Vodafone is will come linked – or locked – to that network. Essentially, this means the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card that comes with the phone will only work for that provider, and switching providers means you have to get a new phone – or unlock your existing one.  Unlocking your phone allows you to use any network you like, which means you can find the cheapest prices on calls, text and data. Sim-only plans are some of the most flexible and best value options available for frequent users, especially when travelling abroad.

Heading Out on Vacation? A Quick Guide for Unlocking Your Mobile Phone

How to unlock your phone

A good place to start is to find out if your phone is, indeed, locked. Try swapping out your SIM card for a card from a different network, and try turning it on.  If the phone works normally, you don’t need to worry about unlocking it. If you bought your phone outside a network, this may be the case. On the other hand, if your phone won’t turn on, or displays a message like ‘Phone locked to network’, well, that seems pretty self-explanatory.  Try contacting your existing network first to see what their policy on unlocking phones is. Under EU regulations they must allow you to unlock your phone if: You are a pay as you go customer with a phone that is at least a year old or you have reached the end of any minimum term contract.  Each company has its own procedures and fee structures for unlocking phones. You may be required to give up to a month’s notice and pay a fee up to £30.  This will involve contacting your network provider either by phone or filling out a form. The information you will probably need will include (but not be limited to) your mobile phone number, your manufacturer and model number (which is on the case of your handset) and your IMEI number (a serial number you can retrieve by typing *#06# into your handset).  You will then receive a PAC (Porting Authorization Code) which will unlock your phone, and allow you to transfer your number from one network to another.  In addition, there are several websites available that provide free unlocking services. However, not all handsets will necessarily be covered. You can also pay around £10 to have your phone unlocked on high street – at your local phone shop, or a dealer dedicated to this service. It is worth your time (and money) to shop around.

You can also unlock your iPhone by ‘jailbreaking’ your phone, but this is a whole other area that is different than unlocking your phone. However, if you want to unlock your iPhone without going through your provider (who will go through Apple) you will have to ‘jailbreak’ it first.  If you are thinking of unlocking your phone, make sure the savings you will reap are worth the cost. Beyond the actual cost of having your phone unlocked, if you have a warranty or insurance on your handset, ‘jailbreaking’ will certainly void them, and unlocking your phone may do so as well.  Also, if you are planning on switching out SIM cards, remember to first save all your contact numbers and other data from your old SIM card to your phone, so you have it to transfer to your new card. Other than that, you can pick from any of the free SIM cards available as soon as your phone is unlocked. For the frequent user happy with the phone they own, they often find this to be not only the most reasonable, but most satisfying mobile phone experience.