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How to Unlock Your Smartphone
Many smartphones are locked, that is, they can be used only with one specific network provider. Unlocking your smartphone is legal and allows you to use SIM cards from other networks. This means you can switch for better prices at home or to use a local network while travelling abroad.
Is my Smartphone locked?
One easy way to tell whether a smartphone is locked or unlocked is to try it with a SIM card from a different network. If a handset is locked to Vodafone, for example, then it will not work with an O2 SIM. This is the surest method for checking unlock status on Android handsets, like the Samsung S9 or OnePlus 6. If the smartphone asks for a Network Unlock Code (NUC), then it is network locked and you will need the code to unlock it.
With an Apple iPhone, you can also look in Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Options to see if you have an option for Mobile Data Network. If you do, the handset is probably not locked
Your network provider will also be able to tell you whether your smartphone is locked or not.
Finding Your IMEI
Before contacting your network provider, make sure you have the handset’s IMEI number, a 15-digit identifier specific to your phone. The easiest way to find this is by dialling *#06#.
On an iPhone, the IMEI is also shown under Settings > General > About. Samsung’s S9 shows the IMEI under Settings > About Phone. With a Google account and Android device, your IMEI is found on Google Dashboard under Android Devices.
Contact Your Network Provider
Given the IMEI, your provider will be able to tell you whether the smartphone is locked or not and, if it is, what you need to do to unlock it. This can depend upon how long you have had the phone and whether you have a contract or not. Sometimes there is a fee to unlock. EE, for example, may charge £8.99 for an NUC. Vodafone will provide an NUC free, subject to some conditions.
If your smartphone is second-hand, network providers may ask for the details of the previous owner. If you don’t have those, you will probably need to use a third-party unlocking service to get an NUC. GiffGaff provides information on various unlocking services for a variety of handsets and networks.
The procedure to unlock your iPhone does not use the NUC. Instead, the iPhone is unlocked by the network provider, as Apple explain here. With that done, you can insert the new SIM and set up the phone again.
Unlocking Android handsets involves putting the new SIM card into the phone, switching it on and entering the NUC when prompted. You may need to enter a code to access the unlock menu, but your network provider should supply that with the NUC if it’s needed.
With the smartphone unlocked, you can use the SIM and network of your choice.