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You want to change networks, but your new SIM card won’t work in your phone. Baffled, you call the new network, only to learn that your smartphone is locked to the first network, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Of course, this isn’t strictly true. If you’re using an Android device (we’ve already covered SIM card unlocking for iPhones 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 ), there’s always something you can do.

A SIM Unlock Is Not Rooting

Before we proceed with our look at unlocking Android phones, let’s briefly look at what unlocking the network/SIM is, and what it is not.

It’s simply the process by which you enter a specially-generated code into your phone’s keypad in order to break the restriction placed on the device by the network that shipped it. This enables you to insert a compatible SIM card from a different network and connect to their service.

muo-android-simcardlock-simcards

Unlocking the SIM does not root your phone; that would be unlocking the bootloader Take Control: Android Rooting Guide Take Control: Android Rooting Guide As of the writing of this guide, approximately 80% of the world's population owns their own cellphone. Out of those, 1.08 billion are smartphones. Read More , which is a different thing entirely. Both types of unlock are legal, although a SIM unlock often requires help from the network/carrier.

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Is Your Phone SIM Locked?

Not all phones are SIM/network locked. To find out if yours is, you can begin by checking the documentation for the device. If the word “unlocked” appears on the initial receipt/invoice, you can be largely certain that it is not locked to a particular carrier.

You can, of course, contact your carrier to ask if the phone is locked to their network, or you can just try another SIM card with the phone. If you pop in a SIM from a different carrier and it doesn’t work, you know it’s locked.

Phones bought directly from a manufacturer or third-party retailer like Motorola, OnePlus, or Amazon for an unsubsidized price (usually $500-$700) are more likely to be unlocked than phones purchased from carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T for subsidized prices (usually free to $200).

But if you’ve discovered that your Android phone is locked to a particular carrier/network, how can you unlock it?

SIM Unlock App Scams

The first thing you should not do is head to Google Play and look for SIM unlock tools. These services have very poor reputations and are more than likely scams. At best, they don’t unlock your phone for you.

Steer clear!

What you should also avoid are downloadable “phone unlock tools” that are prominent on download sites and the Bittorrent network. These are more often than not laced with Trojans and other malware Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats When you start to think about all the things that could go wrong when browsing the Internet, the web starts to look like a pretty scary place. Read More , and are very rarely suitable for the phone you’re trying to unlock (contrary to the download’s description).

Safe, legal means exist for unlocking your smartphone’s SIM/network relationship.

Ask Your Carrier to Unlock Your Device

Amazing as it may seem, you can get in touch with your carrier about SIM unlocking your phone or tablet — and this really is your best option.

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Since February 2015, it has been possible for American cell phone owners to ask their networks to unlock their devices to switch carriers, bringing the USA in line with the European Union (and reversing an unpopular law passed in 2013 New US Law Prohibits The Unlocking Of Cell Phones Starting Saturday [Updates] New US Law Prohibits The Unlocking Of Cell Phones Starting Saturday [Updates] A controversial new US law goes into effect on Saturday 26 January which prohibits cell phone users from unlocking their devices so they can be used with another carrier. The new law, which is overseen... Read More ). Carriers must also inform customers via a notice on the monthly bill whether the device is eligible for unlocking.

Begin by finding out if your phone can be unlocked. There is an eligibility clause on smartphones bought on contract, and if the initial two-year deal isn’t yet up, then you’ll need to pay an early termination fee to break the contract, get the unlock code, and be free to use another SIM.

For those of you who bought your phones outright, usually you’ll need to wait a full 12 months from the time of purchase, and ensure that your bill is paid up to date before the network will give you the unlock code.

How to SIM Unlock Your Android Phone

To break the network/SIM lock, you’ll need to confirm the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity, a unique code used to identity your phone What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? What Is My Phone's IMEI and What Is It For? You might have heard the acronym “IMEI” and know it relates to the identity of your phone, but do you know exactly what it’s function is and what it's used for? Read More on any network) number of your phone or tablet.

muo-android-simcardlock-imei

In Android, the IMEI number can be quickly found by dialing *#06# or by opening Settings > About phone > Status > IMEI Information. With this 15-digit string handed over, the network should be able to provide you with a PIN code to enable your device to use the new network’s SIM card.

(Note that the full process can differ across networks, and your new network may require you to input a specific code to work with that carrier.)

This is particularly useful if you’re travelling overseas, for instance, and don’t have a dual SIM device.

While American carriers are not permitted to charge for this service, in the UK and Europe your network may charge a small administrative fee for unlocking your phone.

Find a Reputable Smartphone Unlock Service

If your network is not accommodating requests to unlock your phone, then you can try one of the reputable online smartphone unlock services. However, finding such a service can be difficult.

We would advise that you only use such a service if you’re absolutely desperate and there is no way that your network will unlock the device. These sites, which require your IMEI for creating the unlock code, are unregulated, and while there is a certain amount of protection afforded from making a payment via PayPal, they’re not always reliable.

A couple that we have tried are www.safeunlockcode.com and sim-unlock.net, but there is no guarantee that these services will work for your smartphone or tablet.

Did You Unlock Your Device?

SIM unlocking your smartphone or tablet isn’t ideal for everyone. We would recommend that you spend a good deal of time weighing up the pros and cons of this process, and what you hope to gain from such a move.

Is the target carrier offering a better deal on connectivity? If you live in a city or large town, local Wi-Fi (secured with a VPN) might be a better Save Money On Your Smartphone Bill: Cut The Mobile Internet Save Money On Your Smartphone Bill: Cut The Mobile Internet How much are you paying for calls and mobile Internet? Is your iPhone really worth that type of outlay? Do you use your Android tablet enough to justify paying over $50 a month? Read More (and almost certainly cheaper) option.

Have you unlocked your Android device? How did it go? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credit: JAKRAPHONG via Shutterstock.com, Brian A Jackson via Shutterstock.com

  1. Greg
    November 23, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    What an absolute garbage useless article

    • Christian Cawley
      November 23, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Hey Greg, thanks for your comment. It was garbage and useless, but hey!

  2. Nitsan
    October 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    What about the option of doing a 5-minute call via a European carrier? That's supposed to be the proper way to unlock it, and after you can switch back to your carrier.

    I haven't done this, but assuming this works my question would be - can you do it from the US with a European SIM that has roaming? Can you do it by calling a European number with such a SIM?

    If anyone has any knowledge of this 5-minute call method, that would be great.

    • Christian Cawley
      October 19, 2016 at 7:21 am

      I haven't heard of this method, but if someone could comment and share their experience of it working,I'd be very interested.

  3. Swati
    September 30, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Hi sir but no calling option my t mobile tablet how to possible unlocked my tablet

    • vishal
      October 3, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      Hi swati if you got answer or solution pls share with me. I also needed this method.

  4. Esau
    August 6, 2016 at 6:54 am

    When you get a code where do you put it?

    • Christian Cawley
      August 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      You should be prompted for a code when you try to use a new SIM card.

      • swati
        September 30, 2016 at 11:54 am

        Ya I am trying new sim but network loked option show my tablet plz tell me code

    • swati
      September 30, 2016 at 11:51 am

      No code

  5. Lee
    July 29, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Bought code from optus website and I don't know where to input it, I have an oppo f1 optus locked and on.their website they have no instructions on how to do it, I put a non optus sim and when I turn it on it says network lock and I either press dismiss or emergency call, nowhere to put my $80 code, please help

    • Francis
      August 3, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      just swap out the sim card and when u reboot your phone they will ask you for the unlock code

  6. Sofala
    June 12, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    I was given two codes from my network provider, neither work. It's a Moto G what are my options, can you unlock the phone without codes?

    • Christian Cawley
      June 12, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      I would suggest speaking to them again.

  7. mohammed pasha
    May 3, 2016 at 11:12 am

    imei missing

    • Andrea Baker
      June 8, 2016 at 10:56 am

      If anyone is having a problem with their code or is looking for a place to get a code to unlock their phone, I would suggest giving unlockyoursim.com a go. It doesn’t cost at all, you just need to complete a short survey (I know, one of those!) but it worked for me so.. it’s worth trying out.

      • Moi
        August 5, 2016 at 8:28 am

        DONT TRUST unlockyoursim.com. DIDNT WORK. IM TIRED OF THESE STUPID SCAMS TO GET PEOPLE'S DETAILS SO THEY CAN USE THEM TO SEND MORE CRAP YOU DONT NEED. JUST DONT FALL FOR THEM...

  8. manny garcia
    October 20, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    i used YZcOMUNICATION.S .OVER AT EBAY !! IN LESS THAN AN HOUR I GET THE UNLOCK CODE FOR MY PHONE !!!! ITS CHEAP ....AND DONE IT MORE THAN 11 TIMES ,CAUSE I BUY AND RESALE FROM EBAY CELLPHONES .....

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