If you’re on a contract, the chances are your phone is locked. A locked phone means that the device can only be used with one network provider, and while initially that restriction may not be an issue, in time you may want to switch mobile providers for a variety of reasons.
Despite confusing rumours, unlocking a phone is completely legal. But there are a few steps to the process and we’re here to make sure that you’re equipped with the right tools to do so.
Do you ever see a perfect, cheap mobile phone deal but it’s not on your network? Well, if you unlock your phone then you can finally take advantage of those bargains. Perhaps another network provider offers a tariff better suited to you or has better coverage in your area. Unlocked handsets open the doors of possibility and choice.
Moreover, if you plan on selling your handset later on, then it’s also worth more unlocked, simply because it’s available for purchase by consumers on all networks, rather than just the one.
However, you must bear in mind that in some cases unlocking your phone can invalidate your warranty, so always check with your provider first.
You’ll need a few bits of information to unlock your phone, but don’t worry – it’s all relatively straightforward. First, your network will ask you to provide your phone number and the account holder’s name. Whilst you’ll be sure to have this information if you’re the original owner of the handset, if you’ve bought a second-hand device there can be complications around proving ownership, which can prohibit your network unlocking it – we’ll talk more about this later. You’ll also need to know the phone manufacturer and model…
Critically, you’ll need to know the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. This is how networks identify your specific handset. You may have seen this on the box your phone came in, but if you can’t locate it don’t fret – simply dial *#06#. You’ll then see a 15 digit unique number which includes all the essential information about your device.
Armed with this info, you’re ready to get your unlocking code.
The safest – and usually quickest – method is to call up your network provider, supply the information above and then they will provide you with an unlocking code (some networks may just do the whole process for you – so sit back and relax!). Most networks will now unlock your phone completely free of charge too, but we advise checking their policies first to be sure.
As mentioned, you might not always have all the information required, especially if you’ve purchased the phone second-hand. In this case, there are still a few options available to you.
You can purchase an unlocking code online; however, we do advise doing some research on the platform, or person, from whom you are buying to ensure it’s reputable and trusted. Always read the terms and conditions and see what systems are in place in the event the code doesn’t work. Alternatively, if you have an older handset then you may want to check out GiffGaff’s database of free (yes, free!) unlocking codes. Just know that there typically won’t be results for the newest models.
If none of these options yield success then you can get your phone unlocked on the high street or by a third party service. Typically, this will cost slightly more and you may need to hand your phone over for the duration of the process, so we recommend doing your homework. But hey, you may get a good deal.
Once you’ve received your code and activated it, unlocking times differ from network to network. The good news is that across the board it’s generally much quicker than it used to be, however there are still significant variations. For example, unlocking an O2 handset will take about 72 hours, however with Virgin Media it can take up to 28 days.
Each network will have their own criteria too. Therefore, you may have to meet certain requirements to be able to unlock your phone, such as having the handset for a minimum length of time. Make sure you plan ahead to ensure your phone is unlocked in good time.