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In America, as in several other countries, mobile carriers sell phones with special offers or price cuts. But such phones are also often locked to their network. You can’t swap out the SIM card and use a different carrier’s network.

It’s unnecessarily restrictive, isn’t it? You should be able to use any SIM you want on this phone you purchased legally. And you can. Here’s how.

Is It Legal?

The U.S. has flip-flopped about the legality of unlocking phones Is It Legal Or Illegal To Unlock My Smartphone In The US? Is It Legal Or Illegal To Unlock My Smartphone In The US? Unlocking your cellphone is now legal in the United States thanks to a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Obama, but it only lasts until 2015. Care to learn more about the legality of... Read More 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.

3 Ways to Find Free Unlocking Codes for Mobile Phones unlock phones legal 670x389

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 only “after you have fulfilled the applicable service contract, completed the device installment plan or paid an early termination fee.”

Is Your Phone Locked?

3 Ways to Find Free Unlocking Codes for Mobile Phones unlock phones padlock 670x369

So, how can you tell if your phone is locked or not? Well, unless you specifically bought an unlocked phone, chances are that it is locked. It’s why we always recommend that you buy unlocked phones and save hundreds of dollars Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds Never Buy a Phone From Your Carrier! Buy Unlocked Phones and Save Hundreds Unlocked phones can cost a fortune, but the savings more than make up for it. You can save thousands by not signing a contract. We've got six phones that come contract free! Read More .

Why Should You Unlock?

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.

3 Ways to Find Free Unlocking Codes for Mobile Phones unlock phones why 670x446

Unlocked phones also help tremendously when you’re travelling 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.

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 only about letting you use any SIM card from any carrier, as long as it is compatible.

3 Ways to Find Free Unlocking Codes for Mobile Phones unlock phones sim card 670x446

It cannot break the GSM-CDMA limitations of the phone GSM Vs. CDMA: What Is the Difference and Which Is Better? GSM Vs. CDMA: What Is the Difference and Which Is Better? You may have heard the terms GSM and CDMA thrown around before in a conversation about cell phones, but what do they really mean? Read More . 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.

You don’t get access to any developer features or hidden commands in the phone. It is not the same as jailbreaking your iPhone Should You Still Jailbreak Your iPhone in 2015? Should You Still Jailbreak Your iPhone in 2015? It used to be that if you wanted advanced functionality on your iPhone, you'd jailbreak it. But is it really worth it at this stage in the game? Read More or rooting your Android Do You Still Need to Root Your Android Phone? Do You Still Need to Root Your Android Phone? Rooting used to be a necessity for many, but as the years have gone by, is it still as useful? Read More .

Ways to Unlock Phones for Free or Cheap

So, let’s say you have a locked mobile phone, and want to get it unlocked. You want the safest and least expensive way possible, of course. Here’s what you can do.

1. Go to the Carrier

The first and best route is to go to the carrier. If you are eligible to unlock your phone, then it’s completely free!

The FCC says: “Participating providers may not charge existing or former customers additional fees to unlock a device if it is eligible to be unlocked. Providers may charge a fee to unlock eligible devices for non-customers and former customers.”

Here’s how to check if your phone is eligible to be unlocked:

If your phone is eligible, then either request to unlock it online or go to a store. Here are the direct links to contact each carrier:

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Verizon: Contact Verizon at *611 from your Verizon Wireless Prepaid phone, or (888)294-6804.
  • Sprint: Contact Sprint Customer Care by dialing *2 from your Sprint phone, or call 888-211-4727

2. Get an Unlock Code Online

Ideally, you should unlock your phone through the carrier. But if you aren’t eligible by their terms and still want to unlock it, you’ll need to get it done via a third party. But it probably won’t be free.

Note: This method is a little iffy to use with iPhones now. We have a full guide to unlocking your iPhone Everything You Need To Know About Unlocking iPhones Everything You Need To Know About Unlocking iPhones If you bought your iPhone direct from Apple, you've got an unlocked phone that's good for use with any network. But what if you bought it through your mobile carrier? Read More , and we suggest you follow that.

The internet is full of websites that sell unlock codes. Depending on the country you are in, the manufacturer of the phone, and the carrier you use, you should expect to pay up to $30. Don’t spend any more than that if the seller asks, because you will find it cheaper elsewhere. You can get some codes for as low as $10.

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We checked online reviews and testimonials to find sites that usually work, and offer refunds in case the code didn’t work. Here are some of the best:

While all of these are paid websites, you can get free unlock codes on Free Unlocks. This site is a part of the TrialPay network, by which you can get the first code from the site for free. You will need to sign up for TrialPay as a part of it, of course.

Online reports show customers of Free Unlocks repeatedly got the free codes, and successfully unlocked their phones.

3. Use a Free Software for Samsung Androids

If you’re using a Samsung Android phone, one desktop software claims to also unlock devices for free. Wondershare’s Dr. Fone Toolkit is a paid program for Windows, but the trial version is free.

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With the trial version, you can try out the SIM unlocking service for free. You will find it under the More Tools section, and you will need a USB cable to connect your phone to the computer.

Dr. Fone Toolkit is a little old and might not support all Samsung phones, but it claims to work with over 400 models across 60 countries. Here’s a full list of supported devices.

And in case you’re worried, Dr. Fone has an active customer care service, offers a money-back guarantee, and says the software won’t affect your data.

Download: Wondershare Dr. Fone for Windows

Do You Buy Locked or Unlocked?

When you’re buying a new phone, we suggest you always get an unlocked device. Even for iPhones, that’s why it’s best to buy from Apple directly Why I Bought My iPhone Straight from Apple (And You Should Too) Why I Bought My iPhone Straight from Apple (And You Should Too) Rather than buying my new iPhone 6s Plus from my carrier, I bought it straight from Apple themselves. It turned out to be a great decision — here's why. Read More .

Do you buy locked phones through carriers, or do you prefer to buy unlocked phones that give you full freedom?

Originally written by Dean Sherwin on Aug 9, 2009

somrak jendee via Shutterstock

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  1. Pierre
    July 9, 2017 at 1:18 am

    this guys over Unlockauthority dot com are good also

  2. Don Diego
    July 7, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    The guy shows us how to unlock a LG but when I go to (UnlockRiver.com), they only show ''Apple and BlackBerry. Can somebody please tells me how to do it?

    Thank you

  3. bummed
    June 29, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    This site is a seconday search engine and doesn't do anything to help unlock.

  4. bummed
    June 29, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    tHIS LINK IS A SECONDARY SEARCH ENGINE. IT IS NOTHING USEFUL.

  5. bummed
    June 29, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    This site is account suspended and locked. Anybody else have a working free unlock site?

  6. adam
    June 9, 2017 at 2:30 am

    None of those work. Nice job.

  7. muniirah
    May 12, 2017 at 11:53 am

    hey... am requesting for info about how to unlock my L.G nexus 5 and 420G ......cant read any sim cards from uganda

  8. Chella
    April 15, 2017 at 5:19 am

    Can anyone please help me!! I need to lock One Touch Pixi 4G LTE! Imei # 354161071139267

    • Jay
      October 11, 2017 at 11:56 pm

      Its 3622894 you are welcome

      • Shannon F
        October 19, 2017 at 4:11 pm

        I have a Samsung J3 at 10 month Mark with Virgin I need unlocked for my son to use with another Sprint carrier. I see you provided an unlock code above. Could you please help me or at least point me in the right direction? I have an IMEI # but am hesitant to provide in comments.

  9. Kathy Garvin
    April 11, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    no but you have to fulfill an offer. same thing as buying

  10. Audrey
    January 20, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I forgot my unlock sim code for Alcatel one touch fierce