How to unlock your mobile phone

by , Last Updated: 15 April 2015

Tired of missing out on a cheaper mobile deal because your phone is stuck with one network? We explain how to unlock your phone so you can have the freedom to move to any network you like.

Girl text message mobile phone

What does 'unlocking' mean?

Most mobile phones are linked to a particular network such as Virgin, Vodafone, O2 or EE. This means that the phone is locked to that network and will not work with any others.

Network operators are allowed to lock your phone because they often subsidise the cost of phones when you take out a contract, so want to make this money back before you switch to another phone company.

If you swap your SIM card for one from a different network, it is likely your phone won't function, meaning you are stuck with the provider that came with your phone.

By unlocking your phone you can use it on any network you like, meaning you may be able to get benefit from cheaper tariffs, take advantage of any network-specific deals or if you sell your phone; it will be worth more if it is unlocked. You will also be able to benefit from mobile roaming: using it with a local SIM card when you are abroad.

Are there any disadvantages to unlocking your phone?

Unlocking your phone is entirely legal as long as you have not reported it as stolen or lost.

However, unlocking your phone means altering it, which can invalidate the warranty. If your phone is expensive, it might be worth insuring it if you unlock it; use our comparison to find the best policy for your phone.

How do you unlock your phone?

Is your phone locked?

First of all it is a good idea to check whether your phone is currently locked to a particular network. You can do this by inserting a SIM card from a different network into your phone and switching it on.

If the phone works as usual then there's no need to unlock it and you can enjoy using different networks right away. However if your phone doesn't switch on or displays a message like 'Phone locked to network', then it means you'll need to go about unlocking it.

Contact your provider

You can start by calling your existing network and letting them know you want to unlock your phone. Each network has different rules on when you can unlock your phone, how much they will charge you and how long the process will take.

Some networks will unlock your phone for free, so check this tool on the Ofcom website to find out your network's policy. Some networks charge up to 20.

You will usually have to quote your mobile number, your manufacturer and model number (which can be found on the outer case of your phone) and your IMEI number (a serial number which can be found by typing *#06# into your phone).

Call your network provider, who will then give you an unlocking code. When you have this, you can put your new provider's SIM card into your phone and enter the code. It will then display a message to let you know it has worked.

If you have an iPhone and need network specific instructions, read our guide to your options

Try an online phone unlocking service

If your network will charge you to unlock your phone, it is worth seeing if you can get it done cheaper elsewhere. Some phones can even be unlocked for free using a code you can find yourself on the internet.

However, it is worth noting that not every kind of handset will be covered and you may not be able to find a code for your phone.

If so, you could use an online mobile phone unlocking service, as these can often provide an unlock code in a matter of minutes.

You can find out if a free unlock code is available for your phone or get a range of quotes for a paid unlocking service using the Unlockapedia on Giffgaff's website. Compare the price of each service and how long it will take to what your network quoted you.

Get your phone unlocked on the high street

You can also pay a fee of around 10 to get your phone unlocked on the high street, either at an outlet dedicated to this service or at your local phone shop, but it's worth shopping around to get the best deal.

Some will do this with a code, like the online services, and you may feel that being ripped off is less likely in person. Others will handle the process manually, using a cable to attach it to a computer and some specialist software.

You can also buy the equipment to manually unlock your phone yourself online, although it is only worth considering if you are confident in your abilities in tinkering with technology!

Is it worth paying to unlock a phone?

If you are thinking of unlocking your phone it is worth making sure that the fee you pay to unlock it will be outweighed by savings you will make by having the freedom to switch networks, otherwise it may be best simply to stick with your current network.

You can take your pick of the free SIM cards available at the moment and start enjoying your new network as soon as the phone is unlocked. If you are planning on using a new SIM card in your phone, it is worth saving all the contacts and data from your old SIM to your phone, so that you can transfer all your data right away.


I have been trying to get an unlock code from Orange for 6 weeks now. I don't mind the fee that they charge, but I do mind that they seem to be playing the waiting game. I have contacted them via email, by phone, by letter, via facebook, and I am just getting no response. Lots of promises to call back, to get things done, and to respond, but that's it. They are just not doing it. Do I have any options left? (Unfortunately the usual unlockers are not able to unlock the Orange San Diego.)

by MrPuddington, 23 May 2013

If an iPhone is locked to a server, say 'Orange, would you be able to use other Orange SIM cards in that iPhone? Or would the iPhone be locked to that specific SIM card?

by jamesmw22, 10 Jun 2013

I purchased an Iphone 4 for my granddaughter from carphone warehouse free from any contract or provider, she choose to use vodafone on a sim only contract now she has moved she cannot get a signal so decided to sell the phone the purchaser could not use the phone because it was locked to vodafone what gives them the right to lock her phone. many thanks C.J. Street

by streetbeat, 4 Aug 2013

They have no legal rights locking a sim free phone to any network, if you have brought the phone outright. I.E so you can swap sim cards when ever you want.

by rich1963, 20 Aug 2013

Go check out attiphoneunlocking if you want to unlock AT&T locked iPhones, they can unlock all model and firmware up to date, including the new iphone 5

by crowt22, 4 Sep 2013

I do not know what network my phone is locked to

by madhea60, 24 Sep 2013

in france the same company, Orange, give you the unlock code over the phone and all providers are obliged by law to let you have your phone unlocked free of charge after 6 months into your contract. It creates a much more competitive dynamic market. The UK should learn !

by richa32, 19 Nov 2013

I got an iPhone 4s off eBay and don't know how I can unlock it from vodaphone as i can't get into the phone yet because the people I got it from left the main password on

by jessje, 8 Apr 2014

I want to anlock phone

by kastri, 2 May 2014

I hve been waiting for an unlocking code from Orange for 9 weeks. They took the fee shortly after I made the first request. I have tried to use their complaints procedure, working through the stages set out with no success so far. I am looking at using CISAS next.

by Applesnpears, 18 Sep 2014

Hi Applesnpears, Is the phone that you have a PAYG or a CONTRACT PHONE-- (I have contract)
The next time that you contact them start your call with something like
It is.... on .... as soon as the operator answers,---
with actual time and date of your call
ask them for the "ADDRESS TO SEND ANY LEGAL NOTICES TO THE COMPANY" as you want to make a claim.
as you have paid for the service tell them that they have borrowed your money since (whenever they debited your account )or you made the payment
"You have borrowed my cash for days -
(the number of times that you COULD have actually paid a fee per month) to borrow the cash
I am preparing a claim from....(DATE OF PAYMENT) until this is received at £.......(EACH MONTH)that I need to wait until I receive this.

Try a bit of BS like above mate and see if you get a better reaction from them.
If possible ,and your friend has a mobile with "UNLIMITED or a lot of minutes that are not used
THAT IS REGISTERED WITH A COMPETITOR NETWORK ask if they will let you call ORANGE with that (not EE or TMOBILE as same group)
it will look as if you have already got a DIFFERENT number as it will show up on their screen that it is not for the number that you are wanting UNLOCKED (contract mobile)
Personally, I waited 6 months for this and threatened them with a bill off £180.00 (30 per moth- a pound a say) for the rollover costs. -
After my HEAVY HANDED call like the above- I eventually received this code from them in a few days
Also they may try and delay this by
saying that the code for your particular model has not yet been issued by the manufacturer if a latest model

by backjack, 18 Sep 2014

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