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How to unlock your mobile phone

By Dan Howdle | Saturday, May 14th 2022

Unlocking your phone brings freedom to your handset. Once it's unlocked you can use it on any network, so you can take advantage of all those cheap SIM only deals. It's a legal process, and you can sometimes unlock your phone for free.

You can unlock your phone in many ways. Whether you choose to rely on a dedicated unlocking expert or have a crack at it yourself, here's every way you can possibly do it.

Before you get started

If you bought your phone from somewhere other than a mobile provider, it might not need unlocking. It's easy to find out simply by inserting a SIM card from another provider. If the phone works as normal then it isn't locked. If it displays a message similar to 'incompatible SIM', 'enter subsidy PIN' or 'enter network unlock code', then it is locked.

Then you'll need to find your IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) number. The IMEI number of your handset is unique and will be required by unlocking services. To find it, type *#06# into your phone. This will display the 15-digit number. It's a good idea to keep a note of this number to speed the process along.

There are four ways to unlock your phone

  • Purchase an unlock code
  • Ask your mobile provider to unlock it
  • Visit a phone repair shop
  • Use Giffgaff's unlockapedia

Purchase an unlock code

The easiest option is simply to buy an unlock code online. You can find these codes on places like eBay – though be sure to check the seller's ratings beforehand. This method can often be the cheapest way to unlock your handset beyond finding the code for free, though it isn't without its risks.

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Ask your mobile provider to unlock it

You can contact your mobile provider's customer services for an unlock code. Mobile providers often charge for this service, though Ofcom regulations state that they cannot charge you more than £30 (plus VAT). This can be the quickest way to unlock your phone. We've included a list of customer service numbers for you to call below.

Mobile provider Customer Services Number
EE 0795 396 6250
O2 0344 809 0202
vodafone 0333 304 0191
Talkmobile 0333 304 8064
Three Mobile 0333 300 3333
Virgin Media 0843 515 8680
PG Mobile 0333 005 8093
TalkTalk Mobile 0870 087 8751
The People's Operator 0845 225 2505
Tesco mobile 0345 301 4455

Visit a phone repair shop

Another option is to take your handset to a phone repair shop offering mobile unlocking services. One drawback of this method is the variability in time and price. You may have to hand over your phone and wait up to a week for it to be unlocked, and you could be charged anything from £5 to £100.

Use Giffgaff's unlockapedia

Depending on your handset's make and model, you may be able to find an unlock code online for free. The mobile provider Giffgaff's 'unlockapedia' is a searchable database of handsets and places where you can get unlock codes, some of which are provided free.

As a general rule of thumb, the older your mobile is, the more likely you'll be able to find the unlock code online for free. Newer models cannot usually be unlocked this way.

Once you have your code, it's easy to unlock your phone. Simply turn your handset on and type the code in using the device's number pad. This should unlock your phone immediately. Just don't expect much fanfare from your phone for its newfound freedom.

You may have heard that unlocking your handset is illegal. Well, it isn't. Unlocking your mobile is completely legal and above board, so you won't be hearing the policeman's knock anytime soon.

is mobile phone unlocking legal?

However, while you won't be breaking any laws, you will be voiding your handset's warranty. This is an unavoidable consequence of unlocking your mobile. If you're worried about invalidating your warranty, it may be better to keep your phone locked to your current provider.

An unlocked phone can operate on any mobile network of your choosing. This means you can switch and change providers whenever you wish, just by putting a new SIM into your handset. Bear in mind that if you are still mid-contract, you will have to pay the monthly fee until the contract expires.

Why unlock your phone?

When you buy a handset from a mobile provider or through a third party, you'll often find that your mobile is locked, which means you can't change network providers, and you may have trouble selling your handset further down the line. Unlocking your phone removes those restrictions.

Once unlocked, you can replace the phone's SIM card with a SIM from a different mobile provider. This allows you to take advantage of cheap SIM only deals and SIMs that offer a greater allowance of minutes, texts and mobile data. You can also sell your phone for more money than a locked model would fetch once it's time to upgrade.

In summary

If you've been struggling with a bad signal and restrictive allowances from your current provider, unlocking means you'll be free to switch. You can visit our SIM only comparison page to see what deals mobile providers are offering.

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