Having an unlocked phone means you can use any SIM for any network, anywhere. Rather than be tied to a single network and overcharged every time you leave the country, you can swap out the SIM for a local one wherever you are to get cheaper, local call rates. So how do you check if you phone is unlocked?
Also see our article Cheapest Cell Phone Plans
All major carriers, like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile all carrier lock their phones. Other carriers in other countries do the same, but it isn’t universal. There are a couple of ways to check both iPhones and Android phones to see if they are locked. First let’s look at why they are locked.
Networks lock phones to their network during a contract to stop you going elsewhere. This is partly to protect their investment while you’re still paying for the phone and partly for purely business reasons. If your phone only works on one carrier network, they have a customer for the lift of that phone and can charge you whatever they like. Which is where unlocking comes in.
There are two types of phone unlocking, carrier unlocking and bootloader unlocking. Carrier unlocking frees up your phone to be used with any SIM on any network. Bootloader unlocking, or jailbreaking in Apple-speak allows you to load custom software onto your phone. We are only concerned with carrier unlocking here.
Universal check to see if your phone is unlocked
There is one universal way to find out if your phone is carrier locked or not. That is to put a SIM from a different carrier into your phone and see if it works. If you know someone on another carrier, simply swap SIMs, boot the phone and see if it finds a network. If you get signal bars and can make a call, your phone is unlocked. If you cannot, it isn’t.
You can also call your carrier and ask them.
How to check if your iPhone is unlocked
If you want to see if your iPhone is unlocked you can check the Cellular setting. It isn’t a guarantee that it is unlocked but it’s a good indicator if you cannot try a different SIM.
- Navigate to Settings and Carrier on your iPhone.
- Select Cellular and look for the Cellular Data Network setting.
If there is an entry called Cellular Data Network, chances are that your iPhone is unlocked. Locked phones do not have this option as this is where you can manually change carrier.
How to check if your Android phone is unlocked
Depending on your model of phone and version of Android, you should be able to get an indication of whether your phone is unlocked or not in the settings menu.
- Navigate to Settings and Networks. Your phone may say Cell Network or Mobile Network, depending on where you are.
- Select Network operators and then Search networks.
- Let the phone search for available networks. It might take up to a minute.
- Connect to one of the other carriers and see if you get a signal and can make a call.
If several results come back, chances are your phone is unlocked. However, this isn’t a guarantee because many carriers have reciprocal arrangements with each other. One carries customers in out of coverage areas for another carrier in return for the second carrier doing it for them in their own out of coverage areas.
Most major carriers will unlock your phone for you if you ask them to. Some won’t do it until you are halfway through your contract and some will make you wait until the end when your phone is completely paid for. Check with your carrier to see where they stand on the issue. A legit network unlock is easier than the other methods as you just take it into one of their stores and get them to do it for you.
Using an unlocker tool or phone shop
If you want to know for sure if your phone is unlocked, get an unlocker tool or app or visit one of the thousands of phone shops around the country. Every city has one and they will check and unlock your phone for a reasonable fee. There are apps online that say they can do the same thing but I have never used one so cannot attest to how effective they are.
Checking IMEI online
Many tech websites and phone ‘experts’ will tell you to visit an IMEI checking website, enter your IMEI and it will tell you whether your phone is locked or not. The trouble with these sites is that they are notoriously inaccurate. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. Plus, you really don’t know what they are doing with that IMEI number after you enter it into the site.