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How to check if your phone is unlocked

Wondering if your phone is unlocked? Fortunately, it’s usually easy to find out, and easy to unlock it if it’s not.

First, some good news: your phone is probably already unlocked. If you bought it SIM-free then chances are it will be, as will it if you bought it after December 2021 (with rare exceptions) as it’s now required that networks sell them unlocked.

If you bought it before that date then it might be locked, but in many cases still won’t be, and if it is then it’s typically easy to unlock, as we’ll explain below.

In this article we’ll talk you through both how to check, and what to do if you find that your phone’s not unlocked. So grab your phone and get ready to get unlocked.

How to check if your phone is unlocked

The easiest way to check is simply to put a SIM card from another network into your phone. If you don’t have one of these and can’t borrow one from a friend or family member, you can order them from many networks free of charge, or pop into a phone shop and get one.

If you get a signal then your phone should be unlocked, though to be absolutely certain it’s worth trying to make or receive a call (the latter being preferable, since that way you won’t need credit).

Make sure to turn your phone off when swapping SIM cards, and if you don’t have a signal, it’s worth restarting your phone and trying again, just to be sure. When choosing which SIM card to test it’s also worth making sure that you don’t opt for an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) which uses the same infrastructure as your network.

As an example, Giffgaff uses O2’s infrastructure, so if you’re on one of those networks then using a SIM card from the other won’t tell you very much, as it will probably work even if your phone is locked.

For a more complete list, Smarty Mobile, iD Mobile and FreedomPop all use Three’s infrastructure, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile both use EE’s infrastructure, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, and Lyca Mobile use O2’s infrastructure, and VOXI, Virgin Mobile, Asda Mobile, Lebara, and Talkmobile use Vodafone’s infrastructure.

If in doubt, you can see which MVNOs use which infrastructure through a quick Google search, but to keep things simple if you’re currently using a Three, EE, O2 or Vodafone SIM card then choosing one of the other three is a safe bet.

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Other options

An alternate option for checking whether your phone is locked is by contacting your current network and asking. They may however require additional information from you, such as your phone’s IMEI number, which you can find by typing *#06# on your phone’s call screen.

There are other potential methods too. Some apps claim to be able to check, but we wouldn’t advise this approach, especially if the app charges.

If you’re using an iPhone, you can also head to Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Options, and if on that screen you see a ‘Mobile Data Network’ option then your phone is probably unlocked, though this isn’t a 100% guarantee of that.

How do I unlock my phone?

So, your phone’s locked? Don’t panic. Unlocking it is usually quick and simple. The table below will give you a rundown of each network’s unlocking policy – note that if you don’t see a network below, then at the time of writing it doesn’t sell phones or doesn’t lock the phones it sells.

NetworkLocking PolicyCostUnlock
BT MobileDevices sold since December 2021 are unlockedFreeCall 0800 800 150
EEAll devices are now sold unlockedFreeUnlock form
O2Devices sold since April 2019 are unlocked (apart from Doro and Alcatel)Free Unlock form
ThreeDevices sold since January 2014 are unlockedFreeUnlock form
VodafoneMany devices – including all Apple ones – are sold unlockedFreeUnlock form
iD MobileAll phones sold unlocked other than iPhones made before 2018Free (but you need to have been with the network more than 6 months)Contact iD here
Tesco MobileSome phones are sold lockedFreeUnlock form

Your network should be able to unlock your phone for you and these days it’s typically free to get it unlocked.

Some other networks do charge. EE for example charges £8.99 if you’re in contract (though it too charges nothing if you’re out of contract). The fee shouldn’t be much higher than that whatever network you’re on though and many networks offer an online form, making the process simple.

This is the best and most reliable way to unlock a handset, but if for some reason you don’t want to do that some phone shops will attempt to unlock your device for you, as will some apps and online tools, such as DoctorSIM.

These usually cost money though and you don’t typically get the same guarantees that it will work as you would from your network.

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