What Is My Phone’s IMEI and What Is It For?
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Updated by James Frew on 10/28/2017

You have have heard of the term IMEI, or seen it listed on your phone’s original packaging. At first glance, its not really clear what exactly you are meant to do with it, or what the IMEI even is. The common advice is to always note down your IMEI number in case its lost or stolen — and for good reason. Your IMEI number is unique to your device, and can be used to identify its make, model, and serial number.

As smartphones have become more readily available — and more valuable — they have become a target of thieves around the world. Against this backdrop, having a record of your IMEI number is not to be underestimated. So, what exactly is an IMEI number and how do you find yours?

What Is An IMEI?

The International Mobile Equipment Identity — or IMEI — is a unique numerical identifier for every mobile device. This number helps to differentiate each device from one another. If you take your phone in for repair they will track it using the IMEI to differentiate it from the other 51 million iPhone 7’s sold in 2016. A standard IMEI number is a 14 digit string, with an additional 15th check digit for verifying the entire string. There is also a 16 digit variation that includes information on the device’s software version, known as the IMEISV.

What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? Apple iPad Code

Since 2004, the IMEI appears in the format AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D. The sections labelled A and B are known as the Type Allocation Code (TAC). The TAC portion of the IMEI identifies the manufacturer and model of the device. For example, the Google Pixel TAC code is 35-161508, while the iPhone 6s Plus is 35-332907. Some models have multiple TACs depending on revision, manufacturing location, and other factors — the iPhone 5C has a total of five different TAC codes.

The six C digits represent your device’s unique serial number, and these are defined by the handset manufacturer. The D portion of the IMEI is a check digit that ensures the IMEI meets the Allocation and Approval Guidelines. The check digit is displayed on packaging to prevent incorrect IMEIs to be recorded, but it doesn’t make up part of the documented IMEI.

Finding Your IMEI

There are a couple of ways you can go about finding your device’s IMEI. The most universal approach is to head to your device’s dialer app. Tap in *#06# and the IMEI will be displayed on the screen.

What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? IMEI Dialler Screenshot

If you have an Android or iOS device then the IMEI can be found under Settings too. On iOS head to Settings > General > About and the IMEI will be displayed. Copying the IMEI is as simple as tapping and holding on the number. Android devices may vary, but generally heading to Settings > About Phone > Status should display the IMEI.

What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? IMEI Settings Android iOS Screenshot

If you can’t access your device, there are other ways to find your IMEI too. The retail packaging should have a label with the IMEI displayed. If your device has a removable battery, then the IMEI is often listed underneath the battery. Many devices have the IMEI printed on the back. Others, including the iPhone 6s and above, have the IMEI inscribed on the SIM tray.

Why Should IMEI Care?

The main purpose of the IMEI is to provide each device with a unique identification. In practice, the IMEI is very similar to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) used in the automotive industry. Although sometimes confused, the IMEI number is entirely separate from your SIM number and cannot be changed. When you connect to a cell network, the provider captures both numbers to enable their service. The SIM number identifies your subscriber account Why Do Cellphones Need a SIM Card? Why Do Cellphones Need a SIM Card? Haven't we come far enough with technology that such a thing as SIM cards shouldn't matter anymore? What is a SIM card and why is it so important? Read More , while the IMEI only identifies the device.

If your device is lost or stolen, you can contact your provider who may be able to place a block on the IMEI number, preventing it from being used to connect to the network. Your provider may also be able to contact other networks, asking them to also block the device. Law enforcement often keep records of lost and recovered phones too, identified by their IMEI. Since there is no good reason to change the device’s IMEI, the practice is illegal in many regions.

What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? Lost Phone Deposit Photos
Image Credit: nanaplus/Depositphotos

While it may be illegal to change the IMEI of a device, it does happen. Thieves in particular will attempt to take non-blacklisted numbers and apply them to their stolen devices in order to make them usable again. For this reason we recommend that you never share or post your IMEI number online 5 Examples of Information You Should Never Post Online 5 Examples of Information You Should Never Post Online What do you post online? Do you share your location, your home, your bank details? Perhaps you share them inadvertently? If you're unsure, check our tips and tricks to avoid posting personal information online. Read More , or else you may find your device cloned.

What Will You Do With Yours?

The IMEI number is one of the most important and unique ways of identifying your device. If you haven’t already, you should locate it and take note of it right away. Keep a record of your IMEI somewhere safe How to Keep Your OneNote Notes Secret and Safe How to Keep Your OneNote Notes Secret and Safe If you use OneNote for highly sensitive documents, you need to take this precaution. You don't want your details falling into the wrong hands! Read More , so it’s there if you ever need it. If you are looking for a digital safe, then a password manager might even do the trick 7 Clever Password Manager Superpowers You Have to Start Using 7 Clever Password Manager Superpowers You Have to Start Using Password managers carry a lot of great features, but did you know about these? Here are seven aspects of a password manager you should take advantage of. Read More .

You can check what your IMEI says about your handset by heading over to IMEI.info. If your phone is lost or stolen then you have options. There are Android 2 Easy Ways to Recover a Lost or Stolen Android Phone 2 Easy Ways to Recover a Lost or Stolen Android Phone These methods can help you find your lost or stolen Android phone or tablet. Read More and iOS apps 8 Ways To Find a Lost iPhone (& What To Do If You Can't Get It Back) 8 Ways To Find a Lost iPhone (& What To Do If You Can't Get It Back) If your iPhone goes missing, you need to look for it and find it as soon as possible. Here's how. Read More that will help you trace your missing device, even allowing you to factory reset it remotely. It may look like your phone is gone for good, but make sure to keep the IMEI number handy in case an unclaimed device surfaces.

Do you know your IMEI number? More importantly – have you recorded it? Have you ever needed it after your phone was lost or stolen? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Rachel
    October 4, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Does the mobile operator know my IMEI number?

  2. Anand Kumar
    December 17, 2014 at 4:18 am

    You can decode IMEI to identify Manufacturer, Brand, Model, some technical
    capabilities and valid devices. And carrier use IMEI to identify in case your phone lost - stolen and blacklist this device.

    Have many website to check your IMEI number to get details about your phone like manufacturer date, factory, purchase country, purchase date and blacklist information like imeidata.net. I hope that help.

  3. Anonymous
    November 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    nice article very well written .... some thing i can ...makeuseof ..... really no kidding

  4. Keith D.
    November 19, 2012 at 2:46 am

    Wow! I never knew! But... shouldn't I now feel... you know, ENLIGHTENED?! lol

  5. Ole Funch
    November 17, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Thx - good article ?

  6. vineed gangadharan
    November 16, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    so we can track people if we have their imei???

  7. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I set my Monte to send a message to my other number in case it's stolen and the thief tries to insert new SIM card. The message includes the phone's IMEI.

  8. Robert Wm Ruedisueli
    November 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

    More interestingly to give you an idea of how deeply embeded the IMEI is, on many phones you can reflash flash everything on the entire phone to stock, and replace or wipe the SIM card, and it will still not wipe the IMEI, because it is encoded onto the ROM sectors on the CPU which are usually exceedingly hard to flash or otherwise alter.

    • Knut H. Flottorp
      November 16, 2012 at 10:02 am

      It is IMPOSSIBLE to change according to the GSM specifications.
      But as said above, there are some that have not read this.
      Beware that the most likely response should you manage to change the IMEI is that the phone will be rendered useless - "Bricked".

  9. blm
    November 16, 2012 at 7:33 am

    You say "it comes highly recommended that you never share or post your IMEI online", then point people to imei.info, where they're prompted to... enter their IMEI online. Brilliant.

    • Knut H. Flottorp
      November 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

      You can share your IMEI with everybody, it is utter worthless.

      The registration number of a CDMA phone is something else, that someone from the FCC should explain to you. It is only used in the US. The SIM-card with the MSIDN ("phone number") and IMEI is a GSM standard.

      The IMEI is NOT consulted except initially, to configure your phone for VAS such as multi-media messaging, this is stored on the SIM the first time the phone connects to the network, allowing this to be changed as you move around in other countries. The purpose of the IMEI is to block a stolen phone, and identify phones on contract.

  10. Usman Mubashir
    November 16, 2012 at 6:42 am

    older phones have imei stored in

    *#06#

    phones with more than one sim facility have more than one imei

  11. Dimitris
    November 16, 2012 at 6:30 am

    how to find EMEI on windows phone :
    call -> dial -> *#06#
    (it works on the most phones not even smartphones (old nokia and sony ericsson))

    Also :
    settings -> about -> more info

    • Alba Spam
      November 16, 2012 at 10:52 am

      thank you

  12. Knut H. Flottorp
    November 16, 2012 at 3:33 am

    IMEI is the identification of the phone itself, while the number - MSIDN (Mobile Subscriber ID Number) is on the SIM as you say, and what is used to dial to you.

    You operator has an equipment register: The IMEI register that is consulted every time someone initiates a request for resources - like place a call or send a message. The HLR (Home Location Register) and VLR (Visitor LR) are the main parts of the mobile network centre switch. A phone that is stolen should be blacklisted in the IMEI immediately, and propagated to all other GSM operators. However, some people came up with the notion of using the IMEI to "lock" the phone to a specific operator for a time - 2 years, and enable this to barr usage by others operators. So they drop the trace of stolen handsets. Beware of this should those that steal your handset also use your phone and you are charged for this usage. According to the GSM standard, as long as you have reported your phone - your phone number (MSIDN) is enough - they should have stopped that call from being placed, and you are not liable for the cost that they incurred for faulty installation.

    With a good management system, the operator should be able to locate your phone within 100 feet from where it last was on, so before wiping out a phone that you dropped in your office, your operator should be able to tell you that "it is in your office and you did not drop it on the way home, and it has been in the same place now for 3 hours, so should be the same place tomorrow morning."

    • Cody Richards
      November 16, 2012 at 4:52 am

      Please remember that most mobile operators will not attempt to locate a phone without intervention from emergency services. Carrier location is mainly for E911 services. Any location service that your carrier provides is just value add.

      • Robert Wm Ruedisueli
        November 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

        You can install "phone home" software on many phones, that allows you to retrieve the phone.

        I wish they also made "blanking" software that removes all your passwords and data from the phone as well.

        • Knut H. Flottorp
          November 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

          Wrong Cody.
          The operators have systems that manage the networks - "OSS". Should you have a dropped call, it will show up as a network fault and with repeated failures the operator will "do something" like install a 'repeater" to improve the coverage.

          That the operator does so little is their problem. Operators such as Vodafone and AT&T may seem impossible to confront and they will try to bill you for those calls. But send that invoice on to the FCC or Ofcom for review. There are so many stupid, incompetent consultants that have been hired.

        • Knut H. Flottorp
          November 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

          On all GSM phones the used ("subscriber") and the keys and data including encryption that identifies this is contained on the SIM - Subscriber Identity Module.

          The phone itself is identified by the "Equipment code" - IMEI and is a structured serial number that is discussed here. It is like the chassis number combined with the motor number of your car and found in the registration documents and used by the police to trace stolen cars - that you find in the Vehicle registration documents.

          The CDMA phones does not have this.

          Smartphones have apps that retrieves these numbers and I have software installed that will wipe out all my files, passwords and settings, erase the OS and make the phone useless. I have used a variant that used face recognition that worked fine, but this has been replaced by software more generally available and demanded by those that send me confidential information. But the IMEI is unchanged, so should they install new OS, and replace the SIM, the operator will have it "blacklisted" and could call the police to collect it. They will not do that for one phone, but activate 1000 phones at the same location, and await for the Men in Black.

        • Lisa Santika Onggrid
          November 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

          Very informative. So if our phone goes missing we could ask our carrier for locating it if we have the IMEI number? Should've known this before.

      • Knut H. Flottorp
        November 16, 2012 at 10:28 am

        We have murder investigations where the phone and the phones of various suspects are traced weeks after, and submitted in court as evidence.

    • Tanka Sarma
      October 13, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      Hi Sir, May we get lost Phone through imei
      if i get then how may i get lost phone i have
      lost my phone around rs 16000 and i had buy phone on the date of 02-09-2017
      but my phone is take by pick pocketer If Get who use my phone then mail me in this no i already take FIR in my loca police station at Bangalore my phone details are

      Brand VIVO 1609
      IMEI1 863715033996850
      IMEI2 863715033996843

      • Knut H
        October 13, 2017 at 9:02 pm

        You have to submit the IMEI to your operator and they can even tell you where the phone is if someone uses it - or where it was last used on the network. The best is that they keep a record of stolen phones, and can inhibit the phone being used. The IMEI has mor digits than this - but tell your phone company that your phone was stolen - and they must flag it as stolen, and then block everyone that tries to use it. They can approach you and give it back, and you can say "thank you" to your phone company and they will unlock it.
        The problem is that many consultants are not aware of this, and the operator´s call cantre may be reluctant to help because they do not know. But it is mandatory and very simple to do.