How to Unlock Your Handset for Free

If you received your smartphone as part of a bundled contract deal, it will likely be locked to your network (Three Mobile is the exception, for phones purchased since 2014). This means you can’t use SIMs from any other network, limiting what you can do with the device.

Unlocking your phone opens up more providers, cheaper tariffs and there are other benefits too. In this guide we’ll look at how you can unlock your handset for free, and why it’s worth the effort.

What does it mean when a phone is ‘locked’?
When a phone is ‘locked’ it is essentially tied to the network you bought it from. Networks use specialist software to ensure the phone can only be used with their own SIM cards.

Locked handsets are not automatically unlocked when your contract ends. You have to request the network unlock it or take it to a specialist. Both options are explained below.

To find out if your phone is locked, simply insert a SIM card from another network. If when the phone has been restarted there is no signal and you are unable to use the phone, it is locked. If you can use it as normal, it is unlocked.

Why unlock your phone?
There are a number of reasons why people choose to unlock their phones. In many cases, it’s simply because they’re happy with the handset but want to switch to a different network. An unlocked phone really opens up your options, allowing you to choose a SIM-only deal from any provider. This is a great way to bag some serious savings on your monthly tariff.

An unlocked phone is also useful for people who travel a lot and like to use local SIM cards to save on roaming costs. Unlocking your phone is far cheaper than buying a second device for travelling and it saves you the hassle of carrying multiple handsets. 

And finally, an unlocked phone is simply more valuable than a locked phone. A recent study by the comparison site TigerMobiles.com showed that unlocked handsets generally sell for 15% more money on eBay or mobile recycling sites. Taking the iPhone 6S as a quick example, you can receive up to £9 more for an unlocked device on sellmymobile.com than for its locked counterpart. Or on Plunc.com, an unlocked 6S would fetch you an extra £15.

In short, an unlocked phone provides you with the freedom to choose your network and save (or make) more money.

How to unlock your phone
There are a couple of myths surrounding phone unlocking. Many people believe it is very expensive or even illegal, but it is perfectly legal and often free to have your phone unlocked.

The first thing you should do is check your phone isn’t already unlocked using the method explained above. If you’re certain it is locked, talking to your network is your first port of call.

If you’re a contract (pay monthly) customer and your contract has ended, networks are not allowed to charge you for unlocking your device. They can charge you if you are still within your contract, but in most cases it costs less than £10. O2, Three Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Vodafone all offer in-contract unlocking for free but there are some restrictions so make sure you check the T&C’s before proceeding.

To have your network unlock your phone, you’ll usually need to fill in an online form. Make sure you have the following information ready, as it will likely be needed to process your request:

· Your mobile phone number

· Your account number

· Phone manufacturer

· Phone model

· IMEI number (simply dial *#06# and the number will pop up on screen)

The network will then send you a code to enter into your device within about 72 hours. Don’t worry – your network will provide detailed instructions for unlocking your phone and it’s very easy. As for the time frame; unlocking takes between 5 and 10 days to complete, depending on the network.

What to do if the network won’t unlock your phone
There are times when networks don’t unlock phones; for example if the handset is very old, if you bought it second hand, or if you’re not yet far enough through your contract.

In this case it is still possible to get your phone unlocked. There are a number of dedicated unlocking services available on the high street. You can also find unlocking services online, but be wary of these as there’s no comeback if it doesn’t work. High street unlocking is generally quite cheap, but it may take a little longer for the code to arrive. Be sure to check the reviews of any website or high street service you use, as while it’s rare, there are some unscrupulous firms out there looking to make a quick buck. 

For more detailed information on how unlocking works for each of the main networks, check out this guide from Expert Reviews.


  1. Great tips. I never unlocked any of my phone but I will keep that in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great information, thank you.

  3. Great read - didn't realise half of this !

  4. A S,Edinburgh22:09

    Very handy, thank you! I have one that could do with being unlocked so I should give this a go.

  5. Very good info - I didn't realise you could do it for free!

  6. Thank you, my mum has a locked phone and didnt know you could do it for free, so appreciate this advice thank you

  7. I didn't know this, thank you

  8. Great information, thank you.