Did you recently purchase a smartphone only to realize that the phone doesn’t accept certain sim cards? If you have experienced this before then you’d agree with me that it’s not a pleasant experience. That’s why today’s guide is geared towards teaching you “how to check if a phone is unlocked”.
What does it mean for a phone to be locked?
A phone can be said to be locked to a particular network carrier if it can only work with the required network. A typical example would be purchased the MTN android, on this device, the first sim port is locked and can only be open to MTN sim cards.
Locked phones aren’t as popular as they used to be and it’s become a lot easier to unlock a locked phone now than it was then. Hence, I’ll be teaching you how to check if a phone is unlocked and later on in this guide, I’ll be teaching you how to unlock a locked device.
How to Check if a Phone is Unlocked
If you purchased your device through a network carrier, with a one-year contract (the period may differ), there is every possibility that your device may be locked to the service provider until the debt has been paid or the contract has ended. In this case, you’d have to wait till the contract ends. Once the contract ends, the next thing would be to check if the device is now unlocked.
I’ll be dividing this section into two subsections, how to check if your iPhone is locked and how to check if your Android is locked. Continue reading to find out how to carry out these steps.
How to Check if a Phone is Unlocked (iPhone)
For iOS devices, knowing where the smartphone was purchased from matters a lot because it’s the determining factor that lets one know if a device to be purchased is locked or not. There are three possible routes from which you can purchase an Apple smartphone.
- You can buy the device from Apple in which you can choose to pay for the full price or upgrade your current device through the iPhone upgrade program.
- You can buy the device from a third party
- You can also purchase the device through your carrier.
Now if you bought your device straight from Apple, you will be provided with the choice of either purchasing a device that comes with or pre-selected carrier or without a SIM card. In such a case, selecting the one that comes without a SIM should be your preferred option since it’s the option that lets you use any SIM of your choosing because there is the tendency that the former may be locked to that carrier network.
If you bought your device from a third party, the device should be unlocked and you can use any SIM on it provided that the seller did not make any carrier agreement with any carrier network before purchasing otherwise the device purchased may be locked to that network.
Lastly, for the third option, if you bought your device from your carrier network then there is a high tendency that it is already locked to that network.
Alternatively, if you don’t know where the device was purchased from simply because it was gifted to you. Then you can check if the device is unlocked directly from the settings (although this feature seems to be exclusive to iOS 14 users). Follow the steps outlined below to learn how to do this.
- Unlock your device and navigate to Settings.
- Scroll down and tap on General.
- Tap on About from the list of options.
You’ll find Carrier Lock there. If you see the words “No SIM Restrictions” next to it then the device is unlocked but if you see the words “Carrier Lock“, then your device is locked.
Since the method above can only be performed by iOS users operating on the iOS 14 version if you use a lower version and you want to check if the device you got (the device that was gifted to you) is locked then the best approach would be to try another SIM card. To do this, follow the steps outlined below.
- Power off your iPhone by holding down the power button for a few seconds.
- The SIM tray is usually found at the side of your device. Use a SIM ejector tool to remove the tray.
- Place the desired SIM on the tray and slide it back into its position.
- Power on the device.
You can carry out the process twice with different SIM cards. If after doing this and you are still above receive signals, make calls, and perform other basic tasks on both SIMs, the device is unlocked otherwise, the device is locked.
How to Check if a Phone is unlocked (Android)
Unlike iOS users, Android users cannot check if the device they are using is locked directly from the settings. Don’t be discouraged, because there is a way around it and I’ll be showing you shortly, continue reading to learn how to check if a phone is unlocked (Android).
The first method you can use to check if the Android device you received is locked or not is simply by swapping SIMs. Now there are two distinct methods to go about this.
If your Android device comes with a removable back cover, you’ll have to check if you have a removable or non-removable battery. If after removing the back cover and you discover that it’s a removable battery then the SIM slot should be found directly under the battery, remove the battery to gain access to the SIM slot and swap the SIM on it. If it’s a non-removable battery then the SIM slot should be found directly above the battery, slide SIM on the slot downwards to remove it. Once the SIM has been removed, you can now swap it with another SIM.
Now, if your device doesn’t have a removable back cover then your device makes use of something known as SIM trays and these SIM trays can be found on the sides or top of your device. To remove the SIM tray, use a SIM ejector and after removing it, swap the SIM before you reinsert the SIM tray into the device.
Once the SIM has been swapped if you can still receive network signals on the device and you can also make calls then the device you received is unlocked, otherwise, it is locked.
When purchasing a new device, there are cases where the device is unlocked but it still doesn’t function properly with another SIM and the major reason why you may experience this is that the device you wanted to use has been blacklisted or the device has a CDMA vs GSM problem. I’ll be explaining both reasons below:
Certain phones are usually blacklisted by some carrier networks. When a device is blacklisted by a carrier network, it simply means that the device has been reported as stolen or lost, and such, it cannot be used by any carrier network.
CDMA vs GSM Issue:
The issue is usually experienced when you purchase a device that doesn’t support cross-network. For example, the T-mobile (GSM) iPhone X isn’t compatible with the Sprint or Verizon network. So in general know that when you purchase a device from a GSM carrier and you activate it on a CDMA carrier that some features may not work properly. The situation is still the same when you purchase from a CDMA carrier and try to activate it on a GSM carrier.
The top four carrier networks allow people to check if a chosen device is compatible with their network using their IMEI on their website. For example, as a Sprint customer that wants to migrate to Verizon, you can simply visit the Verizon website and input your IMEI, the website will then tell you whether or not the device is compatible with their network. Additionally, also note that just because the website states that it is compatible doesn’t mean that the device is unlocked. Hence, as a bonus in this tutorial, I’ll also teach you how to unlock a locked device later on. The four major carrier networks are:
Sprint (don’t get confused if you tap on Sprint and you are being redirected to the T-mobile network. This is happening because Sprint was acquired by T-mobile in 2020),
If you tap on any of them you’ll be redirected to the website where you can check if the device you are currently using is compatible.
How to Check The IMEI on Your Device
For prepaid users, you can easily check your IMEI using the preferred network of your choice. If you are not a prepaid user, do not fret, as there are still a few things you can do to fish out your IMEI.
Using a command code:
This is one of the easiest and fastest ways to fish out your IMEI on Android devices. You can easily discover your IMEI by typing and sending the code *#06# on your dialer. If this doesn’t work for you, then try the next option.
Look at your SIM tray:
The IMEI of your device can be found along the side of your SIM tray. The characters are really small so you may have to look closely or use a magnifying glass to see the numbers. If you can’t find the IMEI of your device on the SIM then it’s because the manufacturer’s SIM tray may have been changed.
From your settings:
You can also fish out your IMEI from your settings. For iPhone users, head to Settings, tap on General, and finally, tap on About. For Android users, go to Settings, then select About Phone.
At the back of the device:
For older devices where the back cover can be removed, you’ll find your IMEI on your non-removable battery, or for the removable battery, you’ll find it underneath the battery.
We are almost done with this guide since you now know how to check if a phone is unlocked and how to find your IMEI. What’s left is teaching you how to unlock your smartphone as I promised.
How to Unlock Your Smartphone
For this guide, I’ll be teaching you how to unlock any of the four major network carriers. The four major network carriers I’ll be considering in this guide is Verizon, AT&T, T-mobile, and Sprint mobile.
If you purchase a smartphone from Verizon, it comes with a 60-day locked waiting period after activation. After this period, your device will become unlocked. Surprisingly, Verizon is not strict about locking devices purchased through them, as you’ll be allowed to switch the SIM card in the device for another carrier network but you’ll still be required to pay your monthly Verizon bill.
AT&T has a general policy that lets you use a carrier network on any device purchased through AT&T as long as the device supports it. But before you can use any carrier network, the device’s IMEI should never be reported as stolen or lost, your account must have a good track record with no missed payment or outstanding balance owed and the device should be active on AT&T for 60 days. Once you have achieved all these and you have met the company’s requirements which can be found on their portal, you’ll now be able to unlock the device for any other supported carrier.
Sadly, with AT&T, you can only have five devices per year on your account. You’ll also have to wait a few days before your request will be processed.
To unlock devices purchased from T-mobile, you’ll have to meet the following requirements:
You must first own a T-mobile device.
The device must not be reported as stolen or lost.
It must be connected to an account with a good track record.
It must stay active on the T-mobile network for 40 days.
Once you have met all these requirements, you are set to unlock your T-mobile device. T-mobile is more strict when it comes to unlocking devices as it allows unlocking only two devices per year. Additionally, you’d have to ensure that your payment for the device is complete. Once all these criteria are met you can now contact T-mobile support and request the unlocking code, to unlock your device.
For Sprint devices, you’ll have to be on the Sprint network for 50 days. Ensure that your debt is fully paid or your contract has ended, the device is not reported as being stolen or missing and your account has a good track record. Once you have met all these requirements, your device will be automatically unlocked. Additionally, ensure that the device will work on the carrier network you are migrating to.
In a situation where you have met all the requirements and your device is still unlocked, you’d have to contact their customer support to help you in resolving it.