How to Check if Your Cell Phone is Unlocked

Nicholas Jones | September 11, 2019

If you’ve purchased a cell phone recently, it’s likely already unlocked. But if you’ve had it for a while or if you’re planning to purchase a used phone, you should check to see if it’s locked or not. 

You don’t want to get into a situation where a used phone you’ve purchased doesn’t work on your cell carrier. 

There are a few ways to tell if your phone is unlocked. The steps differ for iPhones and Androids, but we’ll go through them both below.

What does it mean if a phone is unlocked?

If a cell phone is unlocked, it means that the phone can only be used on one specific carrier’s network, like only on Verizon service, or only on AT&T. Carriers will install software on the phone to lock it to their network.

Carriers lock phones to their service so phone buyers can’t purchase a subsidized phone from a carrier at a discount and then quickly move to another carrier for service. Or to prevent theft on newly purchased phones.  

It’s a good idea to check a used phone to see if it’s locked before you purchase it. Why? If the phone is unlocked you can use it to receive mobile phone service from the carrier of your choice. If you purchase a new phone, it’s still ideal to make sure it’s unlocked in case you want to switch carriers. 

If the phone is locked, it can be used only on the carrier it’s locked to. That could make a big difference to you when you decide to purchase a used phone. 

Keep in mind that the unlocked phone may not work completely the same on another carrier network because of different technologies.

Is My Android Phone Unlocked?

Read here for how to check if an Android phone is locked.

Method #1

  • First go to Settings.
  • Go to Connections.
  • Go to Networks (maybe Mobile Networks or Cellular Networks, depending on your phone model and the version of Android OS it’s using).
  • Select Networks Operators.*It may take a short time for the phone to search for available networks.

If available networks appear, the phone is probably unlocked. To make sure, choose one and try to make a call.

If only one result comes back from the network search, or if the Search Networks option is unavailable in the Networks menu, then the phone is most likely locked to the carrier.

However, keep in mind that this method is not 100% accurate. To confirm your phone’s status try using this next test. It’s a little more complicated, but it’ll give you a final answer on if your phone is locked or unlocked.

Method #2

For this test you need two SIM cards for your phone from two different carriers. 

  • First, turn off your phone’s power. 
  • Remove your phone’s SIM card with a removal tool or a paperclip. Watch this video for how to tell if an Android phone is unlocked.
  • Replace the SIM card with the other SIM card from a different carrier. 
  • Turn on the power again. 
  • You can now see that the carrier’s name at the top of your home screen has changed.
  • Now dial a call.

If the call connects, your phone is unlocked. If you now can’t place a call, the phone is locked to the first carrier. At this point, you may also see on the screen a message explaining that the phone is locked.

Is My iPhone Unlocked?

Read here for how to check if your iPhone is unlocked.

Method #1 

  • First go to Settings and then Cellular. 
  • If you see a Cellular Data option under the Cellular menu, then your iPhone is unlocked. 
  • If you don’t see “Cellular Data Network” as an option under Cellular, then the phone is locked.

However, this method for checking your iPhone’s status isn’t foolproof. For that reason we recommend that you also use the method below, if you can. It’s more complicated, but it’ll give a definitive result on whether your iPhone is locked.

Method #2 

For this test you need two SIM cards for your iPhone from two different carriers

  • First, turn off your phone’s power. 
  • Then open your iPhone’s SIM card slot with a removal tool or a paper clip. If you don’t know how to do this, watch this video.
  • Remove the phone’s SIM card and replace it with the other card from a different carrier.
  • Turn on the power again. 
  • You can now see that the carrier’s name at the top of your home screen has changed.
  • Now dial a call.

If the call goes through, your phone is unlocked. If the call doesn’t connect, the phone is locked to the other carrier. At this point you may also see on the screen a message explaining that the phone is locked.

How to Check if a Boost Phone is Unlocked

If you’ve purchased a Boost Mobile phone, there are a couple of requirements before you can unlock it. Your account must have been active for at least 12 months, the device must be unlockable, and the account must be in good standing.

If you meet these requirements listed above, call 1-888-BOOST-4U to unlock your Boost phone.

AT&T, Verizon, & Sprint Phone Unlock Requests

If you have an AT&T or Verizon phone follow these steps to unlock your phone. 

To unlock your AT&T phone, first go to att.com/deviceunlock/ and select “Unlock your device”. Complete the form and submit it. Look for an email so you can confirm your request and then you’ll receive an email shortly with the status of the request. For detailed instructions go here

Verizon prepaid and postpaid phones remain locked for 60 days after activation then will automatically become unlocked at the 60 day mark. So no steps are necessary here! 

Sprint customers can unlock their postpaid cell phone by calling their customer service line at 888-211-4727. Devices made after February 2015 are usually unlock capable. Learn more here.

What to do if Your Phone is Locked

Now that you’ve learned how to check if a phone is unlocked, What do you do if it’s locked? 

If the phone is no longer under contract or if it was purchased outright, rather than on an installment payment plan, you can have it unlocked by the carrier. The Federal Communications Commission (in the U.S.) requires carriers to unlock phones that are not under contract.

If you’re the phone’s original purchaser, getting it unlocked is simple. Just contact the carrier’s customer service department to request an unlock. You’ll receive instructions on how to unlock your cell phone. 

If you’re buying a used locked phone from the original owner, have them unlock the phone before you pay for it.

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