When a handset is locked it means it will only work with the provider from whom you bought it.
If your phone is locked it won't automatically become unlocked when your contract expires with your provider.
You'll have to specifically ask your provider to unlock it.
It's simple to find out if your phone is locked. Simply insert a SIM card from another carrier (you'll be able to get one free from a phone shop or by ordering one online) and see if the name of the network appears on your handset.
If it does and you're able to use your phone, it's unlocked.
If you want to unlock your phone, you have several options.
One way is to take it to a local, independent phone shop which will usually charge you a fee of around £15 for the service.
Another method is to do it yourself by getting hold of a code or using a special data cable and software. However, you do need a fair degree of technical know-how to do so.
It's not illegal to unlock your phone with either of these methods. However, in both cases you risk invalidating your warranty.
But the safest and smartest way of unlocking mobile phones is to call your network and ask them to unlock it.
Whether a charge will apply and how fast and readily they'll unlock it depends on your carrier's policy. We'll take a look at all the major networks' policies below.
When you contact your network to unlock your phone by phone, they'll ask you for your IMEI number. This is an identifier that's unique to your phone and enables your network to discern make and model, as well as its serial number.
You can get the number in a variety of ways. But perhaps the easiest is by opening phone app, then entering *#06# using the keyboard. The IMEI number will flash up on the screen instantly for you to take down with a piece of paper. Or with your phone's Notes app.
Alternatively, if you've got an iPhone you can find it via your Settings app. First open up settings, then press ‘General', followed by ‘About'. You'll find it towards the bottom of the screen.
Got an Android phone? You can also get your IMEI through the Settings part of your phone. Once you've opened Settings, go to ‘About Device' and thence to ‘Status'. And there you'll find it.
Once you've provided your network with your IMEI they can start the unlocking process.
How long it'll actually take and whether a charge applies depends principally on your network's policy. However, it's also affected by whether you're a pay monthly or pay as you go customer and by the make and model of your phone. We examine each of the major networks' policy on phone unlocking further down the page.
In reality, the cost and time it takes to get your phone unlocked depends on your provider. But you should be mindful that you could be waiting for anything between a few days or up to 30 days for the process to be complete.
To clarify your network's policy, check out our network-by-network guide below.
|Are phones locked?||Is there a charge? Does a time-limit apply?||How long does it take?||How do I get in touch to unlock it?|
|Three||If you bought your phone from Three after December 13th 2013, it won't be locked. That goes for pay as you go phones, as well as those bought on contract from Three.
Phones bought before this point will, however, be locked to Three.
|No charge applies. Three will unlock your phone free of charge.
Three does not enforce a time limit. You can unlock your pay monthly phone at any time during your contract.
|Expect a wait of up to seven days.||Three phones are already unlocked when you buy them. So you won't need to talk to anyone from Three.|
|Virgin Mobile||Virgin Mobile pay monthly customers phones are unlocked. Pay as you go customers aren't so lucky, though, with Virgin Mobile opting to lock certain models to its network.||To unlock a Virgin Mobile phone, pay as you go customers will be charged £15.32. However, after you've owned the phone for 12 months, it's free.||If your Virgin Mobile pay as you go handset is locked, you're looking at a wait of up to 30 days for the process to be completed.||To unlock your handset, get in touch with Virgin Mobile's customer support team by calling 789 from your Virgin Mobile handset. Alternatively, you ring 0345 6000 789 from any other mobile phone or landline.|
|EE||Pay monthly and pay as you go EE phones are locked to its network.||EE will only unlock pay monthly phones after six months. To unlock an EE pay monthly phone you need to ring 150 from your EE phone. If you're still under contract, a charge of £8.99 applies. If you're out of contract, however, it's free.
Be aware that you can only unlock a pay monthly phone if you've had your contract for 6 months or more.
EE will unlock pay as you go or SIM only devices can be straight away, with no time limit. A charge of £8.99 applies, unless you bought the phone directly from EE. In which case, there's no charge.
|The time it takes to unlock pay monthly and pay as you go phones on EE depends on which brand of handset you've got.
An iPhone or iPad has a wait of up to seven days attached.
If you've got any other brand of handset or tablet, expect a wait of up to ten days.
|Call 150 from your EE phone. Or 0800 956 6000 from any other mobile phone or landline.
Alternatively, use this online form.
|O2||All pay monthly phones bought on O2 from June 2018 are sold unlocked.
Pay as you go phones sold on O2 are still sold locked to the network. But can be easily unlocked.
|O2 pay monthly customers are not subject to a time limit and can unlock their phone free of charge at any point in their contract.
O2 pay as you go customers can also unlock their phone at at time, for no charge.
|If you bought an O2 pay monthly or pay as you go phone before June 2018, you're looking at a wait of up to 72 hours to get your handset unlocked by the network.||Call 202 from your O2 phone or ring 0344 8090202 from any other phone or a landline.
Prefer not to talk to anyone? You can also unlock via O2's site or through the MyO2 app.
|Vodafone||All Vodafone pay monthly and pay as you go handsets bought after July 2013 will be locked to the network.||Vodafone customers on pay as you go can unlock their phone for free.
To be eligible to do so, PAYG customers must have used their phone number with the handset for at least 30 days.
Pay monthly customers can also unlock their handset free of charge.
|For pay as you go and pay monthly customers, Vodafone stipulates a wait of up to ten days.||Call 191 from your Vodaphone handset, or 03333 040 191 from all other mobiles or landlines.|
|Tesco Mobile||It does. But Tesco Mobile pay monthly and pay as you go phone customers can unlock their handsets pretty easily.||Pay monthly Tesco Mobile customers can unlock their phone for free. However, depending on the handset a time limit may apply. Essentially, this means that you not be able to unlock phones that were recently released.
Pay as you go Tesco Mobile customers can unlock their phones for no charge, provided they wait 12 months after it was first activated. A charge of £10 applies if you want to unlock a pay as you go phone before 12 months is up.
|Tesco Mobile customers usually face a wait of seven working days to receive their unlocking code. However this varies according to the handset. It could take up to 20 days.||Call 4422 from your Tesco Mobile phone, or 0345 301 4455 from any other mobile phone or landline.|
|iD Mobile||With the exception of iPhones, all iD Mobile handsets sold with a pay monthly iD contract are unlocked at the point of purchase. In the case of iPhones, the handset will be unlocked six months after the contract started.||Locked iPhones on iD Mobile bought on a monthly contract can be unlocked for free, within the first six months. As indicated above, thereafter they're unlocked anyway.||Unlocking a locked iPhone on iD Mobile takes between three-five days.||Call 7777 from an iD Mobile phone, or call 0333 003 7777 from any other mobile or landline.|
|Sky Mobile||All Sky Mobile phones are supplied unlocked.||Because Sky Mobile phones are supplied unlocked, there is no charge for unlocking them. Nor does a time limit apply.||Sky Mobile phones are unlocked from day one.||If you find your Sky Mobile phone isn't unlocked, you can reach customer support on 0330 041 2639.|