How Do I Get My Carrier to Unlock My Phone?

Certain things in life seem like they should be hassle-free —  like having your wireless carrier unlock that smartphone you've fully paid off. But arulanandh98 ran into a potential roadblock after upgrading from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone X at AT&T and took to the Tom's Guide forums to seek help.

"The iPhone 6 is fully paid for, but it still has a SIM card in it. The iPhone X also has a SIM card in it which i use for calling. But both sim cards are of the same number. I wish to submit an unlock request on the AT&T website to unlock the iPhone 6, but i am worried it would unlock my iPhone X as well. I only wish to unlock my iPhone 6. Could you please help me on how to do it? AT&T Customer Care wasn't very helpful regarding this issue, and I'd be grateful if i find a solution here."

I think it's that SIM card that may be causing the confusion in this case, as it's not really relevant to the unlocking process. It's also no longer tied to that iPhone 6; when you upgraded to the iPhone X, you took your phone number with you to the new device. So don't fret about any SIM card in the iPhone 6 monkeying things up.

MORE: Cellphone Carriers: Best and Worst Customer Service

The more relevant number for unlocking your device is the IMEI number, a set of digits that's unique to each phone. You can find your device's IMEI number in the Settings app. (On the iPhone, it's tucked away under General > About, and on AT&T devices, you should be able to dial *#06# to have the IMEI digits appear on the screen.) You'll need to supply the number to your carrier for them to unlock your phone.

For arulanandh98's situation, I confirmed with AT&T that a paid-off phone can be unlocked. You can make that request through AT&T's website. Here's how the process works and what you need to know about unlocking your phone with every major carrier.

AT&T

Eligibility: You can unlock your phone at AT&T once you've paid off the device. The phone can't be reported stolen or be active on another account. If you upgraded to a new phone early, you have to wait two weeks to unlock your old handset. And you have to have been an AT&T customer for at least 60 days. (If you're a prepaid customer, you'll need to have an active account for six months before you can unlock your phone.)

How to unlock your phone: If you meet the above requirements, go to AT&T's device unlock page, and select Unlock Your Device. From there, it's a matter of completing the form. AT&T will send you a confirmation email with an unlock request number, and you'll have 24 hours to confirm your request by clicking on the link in that email.

Sprint

Eligibility: The phone in question needs to have been active on Sprint's network for at least 50 days. The phone needs to be fully paid off, and if you've leased it from Sprint, you need to have exercised your option to buy it by paying off the balance. As with AT&T, your account needs to be in good standing, and the phone can't be reported as stolen. Prepaid customers need to have kept the phone active for at least 12 months to unlock their device.

How to unlock your phone: You can request that the phone be unlocked by contacting Sprint's Customer Care line at 888-211-4727. Prepaid customers should call 855-639-4644.

T-Mobile

Eligibility: Apart from the requirements standard to every carrier — the device can't be reported stolen, your account must be in good standing and you must have paid off your phone — T-Mobile requires the phone in question to have been active on its network for at least 40 days. You can't have requested more than two device-unlock codes per line of service in the past 12 months. For prepaid accounts, your account needs to have been active for more than a year, or you need to have spent more than $100 in account refills.

How to unlock your phone: Unlock requests go through T-Mobile customer service. In addition to online support, the carrier offers a mobile app (Android, iOS) for customer service requests.

Verizon

Eligibility: Verizon used to be the only company among the Big Four carriers to not lock its phones, though that policy is changing. We've asked Verizon how its plans to start selling locked phones impacts its unlocking policy, and we'll update this story if we hear back. According to the phone unlocking policy currently posted on Verizon's website, locked phones include 3G and 4G prepaid phone-in-the-box devices; both of those phones can be unlocked 12 months after activation.

How to unlock your phone: If you happen to have an unlocked phone from Verizon, you can dial *611 from the device or call 888-294-6804 to request an unlock.

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Credit: Tom's Guide