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Is Your Smartphone Carrier Unlocked? Here's How to Check

Discover the benefits of carrier-unlocked smartphones and learn how to check if your phone is unlocked or locked. Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about smartphone carrier freedom.

Updated: June 24th, 2023

Is Your Smartphone Carrier Unlocked? Here’s How to Check

Guide to Carrier-Unlocked Smartphones

If you’re considering purchasing a smartphone, it’s essential to understand the difference between locked and unlocked phones to find one that best suits your needs and budget.

A locked phone is a smartphone bound to a specific carrier, meaning you cannot use it with another cellular network. In contrast, an unlocked phone is not tied to a specific carrier, allowing you to use it with any compatible carrier of your choice.

To determine if your phone is carrier-locked or carrier-unlocked, it’s helpful to understand the difference between factory unlocked and carrier unlocked phones.

Factory Unlocked vs. Carrier Unlocked

Both factory-unlocked and carrier-unlocked phones can be used with any carrier, but they differ in origin. A factory-unlocked phone is not affiliated with any carrier when purchased and has no carrier-specific branding or software, allowing you to use it on any carrier supporting the phone’s wireless technology.

A carrier-unlocked phone is initially sold as locked by a specific carrier and later unlocked by the carrier or a third-party provider. Once unlocked, you can use it with any carrier of your choice.

However, being “unlocked” doesn’t guarantee universal compatibility. Some phones may only work with CDMA or GSM networks, while others can connect to both. GSM is mainly used by T-Mobile and AT&T, whereas Verizon, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular utilize CDMA.

If your phone is designed to work on CDMA, it won’t work with GSM (even if it’s unlocked) and vice versa. Furthermore, some phones may only support some of a carrier’s bands, leading to poor coverage or performance.

It’s crucial to verify mobile network compatibility for your unlocked phone before purchasing.  Check mobile network compatibility for your unlocked phone.


How to Check Your Android Smartphone’s Unlock Status

To determine whether your Android smartphone is carrier unlocked, follow the steps below:

SIM Card Test:

This is the easiest way to check if an Android phone is carrier unlocked. Perform the test with these steps:

  1. Confirm the current SIM card and phone are working: Make a call to someone, such as a family member or friend, to ensure the phone works with the current carrier-specific SIM.
  2. Power off your Android phone: After confirming the phone and SIM are functioning, switch off the phone and remove the SIM card. Use the appropriate SIM card removal tool.
  3. Insert a different carrier’s SIM card and power on your Android phone.
  4. Check if the phone accepts the new SIM card: Try making a call with the new SIM card. If the call connects, your Android is carrier-unlocked. If not, the phone is locked to a specific carrier. A carrier-locked phone often displays a “SIM card not supported” message when a new SIM card is inserted. Additionally, the phone may not show signal bars and won’t make calls or send messages.

Using the Device’s Settings:

You can also check your phone’s lock status through the Android settings. Follow these steps (they may vary depending on the manufacturer and Android version):

  1. Launch your phone settings and open “Network & Internet.”
  2. Tap the “plus” icon to see if the phone displays other networks. For some phones, you may need to navigate to Settings → Connections → Mobile Networks → Network Operators.
  3. If the phone shows other networks, it is unlocked. If it only displays the current carrier’s network, the phone is locked.

Using an Online IMEI Checker

To check your phone’s unlock status using an IMEI checker, follow these steps:

  1. Obtain your phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number: You can find the IMEI number of your Android phone using various methods. For older models, the IMEI number may be displayed on the back cover or under the removable battery. Alternatively, go to Settings and find the “About Phone” feature, where the IMEI should be displayed. You can also dial *#06# on your phone’s dialer to view the IMEI. 
  2. Visit an IMEI checker website: Use a reliable IMEI checker, such as IMEI.info or IMEI Pro. 
  3. Enter your phone’s IMEI number into the dialog box on the IMEI checker website and click “check” or a similar command. Your IMEI number should contain 15 digits.
  4. The website will display information about the Android phone associated with the provided IMEI, including the unlock status.

Contacting Your Carrier

If you prefer not to go through the steps above, you can simply call your carrier to determine if your Android phone is locked or unlocked. You can find your carrier’s contact details online or in your phone’s user manual.

How to Check iPhone Unlock Status

iPhones differ slightly from Androids, so some steps may vary when checking whether the phone is carrier-locked or unlocked. Here’s how to check an iPhone’s carrier-lock status:

Using Device Settings:

  1. Go to Settings, tap on General, and then tap About.
  2. Scroll down and look for Carrier Lock. If it says “No SIM restrictions,” your iPhone is unlocked, meaning you can use any carrier. If you see something else, your iPhone is locked.

How to check if your iPhone is unlocked using a SIM card:

If you don’t want to use your iPhone’s settings or can’t find the necessary information, you can try a SIM card from another carrier.

  1. Test the current SIM card and phone: Ensure your iPhone and SIM card work correctly.
  2. Power off your iPhone: Shut off your iPhone and remove the current SIM card. Use the appropriate tool to open the SIM card tray.
  3. Insert the other SIM card: After removing the current one, insert a SIM card from a different carrier. If you don’t have one, borrow one from a friend or family member.
  4. Test the new SIM card: Power on your iPhone, and test the new SIM card by making a call or sending a message.
  5. If your iPhone is locked, you’ll receive an error message when attempting to make a call. If your call goes through, your iPhone is unlocked.

Using an IMEI Checker:

You can use online tools or IMEI checkers to determine whether your iPhone is unlocked. The process is the same as for Android.

However, the process of obtaining the IMEI number might vary slightly. Follow these steps to find the IMEI number on your iPhone. Find the IMEI number on your iPhone.

Alternatively, you can contact your carrier to find out if your iPhone is carrier-unlocked.

Unlocking a Carrier-Locked Smartphone: Potential Issues and Solutions

You can unlock a locked smartphone, whether it’s an Android or iPhone. However, you may encounter issues when trying to unlock your phone or after unlocking it. Here are some potential issues and their solutions:

Meeting Carrier Requirements:

Carriers often offer unlocking services after you’ve fully paid off your phone or your contract has expired. The process varies by device and carrier. Although the requirements for unlocking a phone may differ based on the carrier, here are some common requirements:

  • You must have purchased the phone from the carrier.
  • Your phone should not be reported lost or stolen.
  • The carrier must not have blocked your phone.
  • You must have a good standing account with the carrier—no past due or unpaid balances.

If you don’t meet these (plus additional carrier-specific) requirements, you won’t be able to unlock your phone.

Solution: Ensure you’ve met all the basic and carrier-specific unlocking requirements before trying to unlock your phone.

Paying Off Any Remaining Device Balances:

Before a carrier unlocks your phone, you must pay off device balances as agreed upon. However, you might not know if (or how much) you owe the carrier if you buy a secondhand phone.

If the balance has not been paid in full, you won’t be able to unlock your phone. So, if you bought the phone second-hand, you might have to pay off any remaining device balances before the carrier unlocks the phone.

Solution: Before buying a second-hand phone, ensure the seller has no pending balance with the carrier.

Dealing with Blacklisted Devices:

If you don’t meet the carrier requirements as agreed, or if your phone is reported lost or stolen, the carrier may blacklist the phone. After that, you won’t be able to unlock the phone.

Solution: When buying a phone, confirm with the carrier whether or not the phone is blocked.

Benefits of Having an Unlocked Smartphone

If you’re looking to buy a smartphone, consider purchasing one that is not carrier-locked. Here’s why:

Carrier Freedom:

An unlocked smartphone gives you the flexibility to switch carriers. The phone has no contracts, restrictions, or ties to a particular company or carrier. You are free to choose from different carriers, including Verizon and T-Mobile.

International Travel:

Locked phones are incompatible with other carriers, meaning you won’t be able to use your phone with a foreign carrier when traveling internationally. In this case, you may need to get a temporary device.

With an unlocked phone, however, you can switch carriers when traveling and continue using your phone, as long as the carrier is compatible with your phone’s technology.

Better Resale Value:

Factory unlocked phones tend to be more expensive compared to their locked counterparts because they offer users freedom and flexibility. They allow for easy switching between carriers and SIM cards, especially when traveling internationally.

As a result, you’ll likely find a buyer for your unlocked phone more easily and sell it at a higher price.

Final Thoughts:

Before buying a phone, it’s important to check the carrier unlock status. You want to know if the phone is locked to a specific carrier or can be used with any carrier. Carrier-unlocked phones are more versatile and have a higher resale value.