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How to Unlock Your Phone From Any USA Carrier (2022)

How to Unlock Your Phone From Any USA Carrier (2022): When you purchase a cell phone from a carrier, it generally comes locked — meaning it includes a software code that ensures your mobile device connects only to a specific network so you can’t get or use a signal with any other service.

Have you ever been told you can’t use your phone on a new carrier because it’s “Locked?” When you’re in the process of making the switch, it’s not unlikely you’ll run into this issue. It’s commonplace for carriers to sell phones with discounts and promotions to please customers – under the condition that you’ll stick around for at least a few months. (Similar post: ESIM Vs. SIM Explained, What Is The Difference)

While most cell phone operators offer unlocking services after you’ve fully paid off your phone and all installments, or your contract term has expired, it doesn’t always happen automatically. AT&T, Boost Mobile, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Virgin Mobile, Xfinity, and many more offer unlocking services. The process can be tedious and differs depending on the provider, so we’ve broken down the steps for each one. It’s generally a good idea to unlock your phone when it goes off-contract. On the Apple side, if you paid for your iPhone in full upon purchase, then it’s probably unlocked already. Unlocked phones are generally worth more than locked ones.

Is It Legal to Unlock Your Phone?

The US has flip-flopped on the legality of unlocking phones for some time. But the final verdict by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is resoundingly in favor of the consumer. Yes, it is legal to unlock phones.

More importantly, the FCC has mandated that all carriers should unlock phones for their consumers for free if a consumer so desires. (Similar post: Things To Consider Before You Buy An Unlocked Smartphone)

That said, you need to know whether your phone is eligible to be unlocked. The FCC isn’t giving you a free pass to con the carriers. It explicitly states that you can unlock the device only “after you have fulfilled the applicable service contract, completed the device installment plan, or paid an early termination fee.”

So, how can you tell if your phone is locked to its network or not? Well, unless you intentionally bought an unlocked phone, it’s most likely locked.

Things you’ll need before unlocking

Unlocking a phone you’ve paid off typically only takes a few steps, if not unlocked automatically. It’s a good idea to unlock all your devices before you switch networks because it’ll be far more difficult once your account becomes inactive. Even if you don’t intend to use your old phones, you never know when you might need it. Eligibility differs from carrier to carrier, but you might need to gather some information to unlock your phone, so have these prepared before you begin:

  • The primary account holder’s essential information
    • Social Security number
    • Account PIN
    • The street address and zip code associated with the phone bill
  • Proof of purchase of the locked phone
  • Find your phone’s IMEI number

Guide on How to Unlock Your Phone From Any USA Carrier

Unlocking a Verizon phone

Verizon’s requirements for unlocking a device are very straightforward. There’s no request form or need for customer service – the unlock happens automatically.

  • Purchase and activate the device on Verizon
  • Keep your account current by making payments on time
  • 60 days after the purchase, your phone will automatically unlock

This means that whether you paid in full or are on a payment plan, you can change carriers after 60 days.

Unlocking an AT&T phone

At AT&T, unlocking a device is consistent across its various plans and methods of paying for a device. Here are the requirements:

  • The phone has to be attached to an active AT&T plan
  • You paid in full when you bought the device
  • You paid off your device installment plan early
    • If the phone was paid off early, it must be at least 60 days from the original purchase date.
  • It must not have been reported as lost, stolen, or involved with fraud
  • Your account balance is current and has no past-due bills

For AT&T PREPAID phones, you must have service for at least six months before being able to unlock the device.

If you meet all these requirements, then head over to the AT&T website and fill out the device unlock the form. The requested changes won’t be made instantly – you’ll have to wait up to five business days for confirmation to arrive in your inbox.

Unlocking a T-Mobile phone

T-Mobile has different requirements for its Prepaid and Postpaid users. The prerequisites to initiating an unlock for either type of plan are as follows:

  • You had to have bought the device through T-Mobile
  • The phone must not have been reported as lost or stolen.
  • Your account has to be in good standing, meaning you’re caught up on your bills.

Check off all the initial requirements. Here’s how you become eligible for unlocking devices on Postpaid plans:

  1. Wait 40 days from the activation date.
  2. If financed/leased, all payments must be made. You need to pay off the device in full.

For Prepaid plans:

  1. Wait one full year from activation.
  2. If the phone was activated less than a year ago, you must have paid more than $100 in refills since activation.
  3. Only 2 device unlocks are allowed per year

If you meet the requirements, you can request an unlock in your T-Mobile account or by calling customer service.

Unlocking a sprint phone

Now that T-Mobile and Sprint have merged, their device unlocking policies are nearly identical. Both carriers will automatically unlock devices remotely within two business days from the date you become eligible. Sprint’s criteria are:

  • The device must be sold by Sprint
  • The phone cannot be reported as lost/stolen, associated with fraud, or flagged for any reason
  • Wait 40 days from activating on Sprint’s network
  • All installments and lease bills must be complete. The device needs to be totally paid off.
  • Sprint could ask you to verify proof of purchase

If your device is inactive and no longer being used, you’ll need to contact Sprint’s customer service to request an unlock.

We’ve gone over the big guns. Let’s talk about how to unlock a phone from smaller carriers. Several of these have been recently acquired by major companies, streamlining the process.

Unlocking a Metro by T-Mobile phone

Metro by T-Mobile – formerly known as Metro PCS – is best known for its affordable prepaid plans. While this service is operated by T-Mobile, the unlocking procedure is slightly different and works like this:

  • You must purchase the device from Metro.
  • There can be no reports of the device being lost, stolen, or blocked.
  • It must have been 180 days since the device was activated.

If you meet the requirements, you can complete the unlock process. Apple devices are automatically unlocked after meeting the threshold. Metro has published instructions for Android devices.

For devices not on the list, such as iPhones, you can contact the Metro customer service line at 888-863-8768 or visit a local corporate store to request an unlock code. Do keep in mind that you’ll be asked to provide the phone number of the locked device, the account owner’s name, and the account billing PIN.

Unlocking a Boost Mobile phone

Following Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile, Boost Mobile’s customers are now part of DISH Wireless. That brings in some new requirements compared to what you may have had before. For starters, you should know whether your device is even eligible for an unlock, as some pre-2015 devices may not be.

Boost Mobile won’t automatically unlock your phone or notify you whether you’re eligible or not, so you need to keep a track of your progress. You can only make an unlock request by calling Boost Mobile’s customer service line.

Here are the eligibility requirements:

  • It must be a SIM unlock capable Boost Mobile device.
  • It must not be reported lost, stolen, or flagged as unlockable.
  • The device has been active for 12 months or more on the account.
  • The device’s account is in good standing and active.

Unlocking an UScellular phone

From 2016 onwards, most of UScellular’s phones are sold as unlocked but those activated earlier may need an over-the-air update. On the US cellular website, you can find a list of the phones that are sold as locked. These phones are locked for 120 days by default, but there are ways to unlock them sooner if you’re a postpaid plan user:

  1. Pay for your device in full and have an account in good standing
  2. Be a former customer who has completed all financial obligations with US Cellular

Prepaid plan customers are stuck waiting out the full 120 days. After that, the phone will be unlocked automatically.

Now that you’ve unlocked your phone, you’re free to choose whatever carrier you like! We’ve created an assortment of incredible plans to suit the needs of any style user – from power users to talk & texters. We invite our blog readers to get a SIM card starter kit on us – totally free – and give US Mobile a try.

Why Should You Unlock Your Phone?

The biggest benefit of unlocked phones is that you are no longer at the mercy of a single provider. You are free to change networks as you see fit so that you can use the SIM that best works for you in any region of the USA.

Unlocked phones also help tremendously when you’re traveling abroad. Land in any country, buy a local SIM card, and use it. It’s going to be much cheaper than racking up international call and data charges. (Similar post: How To Tell If Your iPhone Is Unlocked & What Does It Mean?)

Finally, unlocked phones are excellent backup devices. Whether your main phone isn’t working, or someone needs to borrow a device for a few days, an unlocked device gets the job done.

What Unlocking Does and Doesn’t Do

It’s pretty simple. SIM unlocking a phone is about letting you use any SIM card from any carrier, as long as it is compatible. You don’t get access to any developer features or hidden commands on the phone.

It cannot break the GSM-CDMA limitations of the phone. So, unlocked phones from GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile will let you fit SIM cards from GSM networks. But you can’t fit SIMs from CDMA networks like Sprint and Verizon. And vice versa.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use an unlocked phone on any carrier?

Most 4G LTE and 5G-enabled devices are compatible with any carrier after being unlocked. Older devices using 3G can only work on the network they’re made for: either CMDA or GSM.

Unlocking your phone is completely legal thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, passed by President Obama in 2013.

What are Carrier Restrictions?

Carrier restrictions are limitations imposed on your phone by your cellular provider, preventing you from using a competitor’s service. A carrier locks a phone by adding a software code during manufacturing.

Why would I want an unlocked phone?

Unlocked phones have the ability to change carriers with ease. There are no limitations to swapping SIM cards, porting your number, or starting a new line on a new carrier with unlocked devices. 
Common reasons to unlock a phone include relocating to a place where your current carrier has poor coverage, paying off your phone installment plan and looking to switch to a prepaid plan, and taking advantage of promotions and deals that carriers offer to new customers.

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