How much does it cost to unlock a phone in 2020?
Posted on 5th Oct 2020 16:38:56 in General

So you bought a phone and you're not sure if you're able to activate it or use it on a particular carrier?

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to what carrier a device can be used on.

Certain carriers require devices that work on their network and only their network. They do this so that this particular change would keep your device from function on a competitor’s network.

Years back, the only option you would have is to go to the actual carrier, and fork over a bunch of cash to get a device unlocked from their network. Now you can simply log onto a website or give them a quick call with no extra fees to get your phone connected and unlocked to function on any other carrier.

If you bought a device that's currently locked to another carrier, there is a chance that you can unlock it, but you will have to check off a few tasks to make that happen. Do some studying and make sure that you choose you're unlocking partner selectively and make sure you're not succumbing to fraud or a scam.

What exactly are phone locks?

Locks exist so that carriers can keep their clients for as long as they possibly can. They'll do just about anything to keep that contract in place and so that the customer doesn't choose to go to one of their competitors. For many years they effectively enforced that. Many devices were difficult or expensive to bypass.

The lock is simply a line of code written into the back and operating system of your phone that tells the software what carrier to activate and which one to deny. To run an unlock on that device, that line of code must be replaced in the software. If you take out that line of unlock code your device will only work on the carrier that it is assigned to. There's no way to bypass that software without getting a new line of code.

How can a company tell if your device is locked or unlocked?

There is an identifier that is called the international mobile equipment identity number which is a unique identifier to that particular device and it indicates what carrier it is also locked to or unlocked.  

Your identity number can be found by:

  • Going into your general settings. There is typically an about menu that contains this info
  • Typing #06# into your phone. This will popup a menu that shows your number.
  • Check the back housing, or where the battery is stored. There's usually a sticker or an engraving that indicates the international mobile equipment identity number.
  • Check the devices that you got it in. They're usually is a sticker printed on the back or inside of the box that provides the original international equipment identity number.

This number is not unique to you your account. It stays with the life of the phone. Before it can be unlocked, you'll need to locate your IMEI number. This identifier contains any information regarding:

  • The phone's original carrier
  • Whether it's owned or on a payment plan
  • If it has ever been reported lost or stolen

If a company pinpoints an issue with your identifier number, then your device may never be eligible to be unlocked.

How much does it cost to unlock a phone?

Luckily, nowadays, if you're on a locked phone, and you purchased it months ago and have been making payments with your carrier and have had no issues, you should be able to simply pick up the phone, or visit their website process. It hasn't been this easy until recently to unlock your device.

In 2013, carriers came together and agreed that eligible phones should be unlocked at no cost. This is according to the FCC documents.

The take away here is that it is still up to the carrier whether or not your phone is eligible to be unlocked, and their rules change and are very different from company to company.

With AT&T, you have to prove that your device has been fully paid off and that all bills and obligations have been met. Even then, it is still up to the company to approve or deny any request.

With Sprint, you have to show that the phone was on the network successfully for at least 50 days and that your phone is paid in full, and all bills and obligations with the carrier have been met.

Verizon makes it pretty simple. Just make sure you pay it off, and it’s unlocked. Simple as that. The majority of their devices are like this from the factory once they are paid off. All the phones are 4G LTE.

T-Mobile you must provide proof that you use the phone on the network for at least 40 days, and that you purchased your device, and all the bills are satisfied and paid. You also need to offer proof of purchase. They don't make it very easy, and even using unlock services can yield failure on unlocking if any or all these checkboxes are not completely met.

These breakdowns may change from time to time and for one company to another. Cell phone companies have agreed to show their requirements, and make them easily accessible to customers. It might even be part of the initial onboarding paperwork they provide you that came with the device, or you can find the details on their website.

What if you bought a locked phone?

Buying a phone online can save you quite a bit of cash, but some forms that are being sold online come with their locks being permanent. If you try to use them another carrier, may be met with things like outstanding balances owed on the devices, or permanently locked to a carrier.

We know it's annoying, but with a little bit of due diligence and time, you'll find the right solution for what you're trying to find. This may either be a locked device that you intend to use on a specific carrier, which can save you a lot of money.

We recommend that you check in with your carrier first and bring any paperwork from your device purchase. This could be enough to help convince the company to unlock your device.

For example, Sprint will unlock phones that are eligible if you can prove the name and the full account number of the previous device on. Also, you may have to provide proof of purchase of the device that you are looking to unlock.

These pieces of information are carried through the appropriate paths, and if the phone is on hold, will help result in you receiving unlock for a little to no cost.

Not all carriers will be willing to help, unfortunately.

A lot of companies are concerned about folks being scam or fraud, and they don’t want any kind of association or liability from unlocking a device to the wrong party.

How do 3rd party companies unlock devices then?

Third-party may have access to software and unlock codes from some carriers it will still verify the status of your device to protect against any kind of fraud or theft, but they are compensated when they can unlock a phone. You might have some obstacles in your way either way though.

Most companies can process and unlock electronically or their website. Some even provide instructions on how to do it yourself. No matter what route you choose you'll need that unique identifier number, the IMEI, that we discussed earlier in this post.

Whatever path you take, you will need the IMEI, as that is the unique identifier for the device.

They will check this IMEI against various databases to check for things like theft or fraud.

Pricing varies, depending on the type of device you have, as well as the carrier. All these factors play into complexity potentials when it comes to unlocking that particular device. The more complex it is, the more expensive it will be.

You can typically expect to pay anywhere from $0 up to $50 to process the unlock.

While not overly expensive, it is nice knowing that it is overall affordable to process an unlock.

Be sure that the company you select the process unlock if it's not the main carrier that the device was on, is a reputable and trustworthy company. There are underground organizations that look for IMEI numbers that can utilize those numbers in unjust ways. There are tricky and scammy ways that this number can be used, so make sure it isn’t out in public. Before handing over this number, just make sure that the company handles it carefully.