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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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, 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.
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 and iOS apps 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!