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How to Unlock a Network Locked Phone for Free in 2021

Do you have a carrier-locked phone with you? And would you like to use another service with your current device?  Yes? Well then, this post will be covering everything you need to know on how to unlock a network-locked phone for free. We’ve brought together a guide on the six most-common carriers here in the U.S.  Continue reading to know how to go about your provider’s unique lock.

Do I Really Need to Unlock My Network Locked Phone?

First of all, providers usually lock phones to their network to make sure you can’t use them with any other services but their own. So, the first positive of unlocking your device is that you can easily switch phone carriers and keep your phone. It also becomes easier to remain connected with loved ones when you’re traveling as you can now use the service in your new location on your regular phone.

Secondly, providers tend to sell their locked devices at discounted prices in exchange for a commitment to the agreed financing plan. Of course, some like Pure Talk do offer fully unlocked cell phones, but many will lock them, perhaps to compensate for the subsidies.

For instance, a brand-new Straight Talk iPhone SE (2020) sells at $199.00 instead of the $399.00 on a fully unlocked model. In fact, the $199 is the same cost as a refurbished unlocked iPhone SE (2020). So, it will make more sense to purchase the new Straight Talk branded phone (at discount), then unlock it for your preferred network. Thus, saving up to 50% or more on your dream smartphone.

Last but not least, many users prefer to have unlocked phones compared to locked ones. So, unlocking your network-locked phone can also come in handy if you’re hoping to add some value when selling it on platforms like eBay.

Will I Pay Any Fees to Unlock My Device

Well, the answer here is a YES and NO. According to the Federal Communications Commission, carriers that lock their phones will need to automatically unlock or tell their owners how to unlock without an additional fee. However, the rule only applies to the existing or former customers of the carrier in question.

If the customer with the network-locked phone is neither a current nor former customer, the carrier has the right to charge a reasonable fee to honor the unlock request. So, take note of that if the idea was to take advantage of the subsidized pricing.

How Long Does It Take For My Device To Be Eligible For Unlocking?

Technically, there’s no definite answer of how long your phone will be eligible for unlocking. Each carrier tends to perform the process differently from the other. In some cases, a carrier can automatically unlock your device remotely and other times send you the instructions on how to do it.

Even so, your phone will need to meet the necessary conditions to be eligible for unlocking. But again, the conditions will vary with the carrier who has locked your device.

Regardless, the FCC provides that the carrier should unlock the locked phones no later than one year since the initial activation. If the device is eligible for unlocking, the provider will also have two business days, after receiving a request, to give a response. The response can either be to remotely unlock the phone or give you or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) the instructions to unlock.

How to Unlock a Network Locked Phone for Free
How to Unlock a Network Locked Phone for Free

If your phone isn’t eligible for unlocking, the carrier will still have two business days to explain why they’ve declined your request. The same applies if they’re unable to process your request at the time and, perhaps, need additional time for it.

Note, the carrier can fulfill your unlocking request immediately if you’re a deployed military personnel. You just have to be in good standing and send them your deployment papers.

How To Unlock A Network Locked Phone For Free

Usually, a lot of people assume that carriers will only lock the mobile phones purchased on the payment agreement. However, this is never the case as even those you purchase at a full retail price will still be locked. Besides, the discounted pricing goes for all the carrier-locked devices, whether you buy outright or through the special financing program.

In any case, here’s a summary of how to unlock phones locked to some of the most common networks here in the U.S.

Carrier NetworkNetwork TechnologyType of DevicesLock Period
Verizon WirelessCDMAPrepaid & Post Paid60 Days
T-MobileGSMPrepaid & Post Paid40 or 365 Days
AT&TGSMPrepaid60 Days
Metro by T-MobileGSMPrepaid180 Days
SprintGSM (previously CDMA)Prepaid40 days
TracFone Wireless and its BrandsGSM & CDMAPrepaid & Lifeline365 Days
US CellularCDMAPrepaid & Postpaid120 Days
Boost MobileGSMPrepaid365 Days
Cricket WirelessGSMPrepaid180 Days
Spectrum MobileCDMAPrepaid60 Days

Unlock a Verizon Locked Phone

Although a bit expensive, Verizon is literally the best phone service in terms of plan features and extra perks. Based on our topic, you can also unlock your Verizon phone to use on other networks after only sixty days.

The 60-day requirement can be either after purchase (bought directly from Verizon dealer) or activation (purchased from authorized partners). Then, it applies to all customers, including the new, existing, or those seeking to port their service to a different provider.

After the sixty days, Verizon will automatically unlock your respective phone remotely for free. If that doesn’t’ work, you can unlock your Verizon locked phone using a special unlock code- 123456 or 000000. But for you to get the prompt to enter the special unlock code, you must power on your device with a SIM card from a different carrier.

If either of the two methods fails (automatic unlocking or using code), you can contact Verizon customer service on 888-294-6804 or any other number displayed on the unlock code prompt text. You can also visit the nearest Verizon dealer and they will help unlock your device.

Unlock a T-Mobile Locked Phone

T-Mobile is also a great service e if you’re within the coverage map. You can even take advantage of its absolutely free phone deal, whereby you can save up to $1000 on the latest iPhone 12.

Once you get the T-Mobile branded phone, you can wait for the carrier to automatically and remotely unlock it. But according to the T-Mobile unlock policy, your network-locked phone will need to satisfy all the prepaid or postpaid unlocking requirements to qualify.

If it’s a postpaid device, it must have been active for at least 40 days, paid in full, and sold by T-Mobile. Then, the prepaid customers must have had their device for at least 365 days or used more than $100 in refills during that period.

If T-Mobile doesn’t unlock your phone automatically within the suggested period, you can do it manually. However, the steps for the process vary with the device you’re using. If it’s an Android device, you’ll first need to connect to the T-Mobile network or WiFi, then:

  • Samsung: go to Settings>> Connections>> More Connection Settings>> Network Unlock
  • LG: go to Settings>> Network & internet>> Mobile Networks>> Network Unlock>> Continue
  • OnePlus: go to Settings>> WiFi & Internet>> SIM & Network, then select Advanced or network Unlock

 If you have an Apple iPhone device locked to the T-Mobile network, you can remove the restrictions in two easy ways. In the first method, you just need to power on your device with a non-T-Mobile SIM card. Then, follow the onscreen instructions that appear with the setup prompt.

In the second method, you just need to factory reset your iPhone, then restore it from the available backup (should be made before erasing all content).

If either of the methods doesn’t work out, you can also contact T-Mobile on 1-800-937-8997 to request the unlock.

Unlock an AT&T Locked Phone

AT&T is also a good service if you’re within the coverage map. It also does offer a free cell phone when you switch, including the latest brands like Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 and iPhone 13 Mini. So, you can take advantage of the limited-time deal to upgrade to your desired device, then unlock it for other networks.

Nonetheless, the AT&T unlock policy requires that the installment plan of your phone must be paid off before submitting the unlock request.  Your locked phone also should have no links to fraud activities or flagged as lost or stolen. Then, your line account should be in good standing.

On top of that, you’ll still have to wait a minimum of 60 days with an active (AT&T) service if you paid your device installments early. However, this doesn’t apply if you paid the full retail price when purchasing it. You’ll just need to fill the online unlock request form and submit it to the carrier.

Once they receive your unlock request, AT&T will take a few minutes to 48 hours to approve it. After they approve, you’ll receive a text message or email with the directions and or code to unlock. However, the instructions you get vary from one phone brand to another.

For instance, a locked Samsung phone will ask you to power on with a non-AT&T SIM card. Once it powers on, you’ll get a prompt message asking you to “enter the device unlock code” that you received from the carrier earlier.

As for the iPhones, the unlocking process is pretty similar to that of T-Mobile. That’s you insert a Non-AT&T SIM card and follow onscreen instructions to complete the setup process. Or else, erase all the content and settings of your iPhone, then restore from the previous backup (should be prepaid before erasing).

Note, you must follow the instructions to unlock your phone with great care. Otherwise, you risk locking your device permanently if you enter the unlock incorrectly too many times.

Unlock a Metro by T-Mobile locked Phone

Similarly, you can get a free phone when you switch to Metro by T-Mobile. So, you can also take advantage of the program to upgrade to a decent iPhone or Android device, then unlock it for the other networks.

Well, actually, you might not have to do anything about that as Metro by T-Mobile usually unlock most of its products automatically and remotely. But first, the locked device must satisfy all the eligibility requirements, including 180 days since the initial activation.

If the carrier is unable to remotely unlock your device, even after becoming eligible, you’ll have to do it manually. But the process is the same as the one to unlock a T-Mobile locked phone, as shown in step (2) above.

If these methods don’t work out or get an unlock code prompt, you can contact the metro’s care team on 888-863-8768. You can also check out the Metro by T-Mobile unlock policy for more details or troubleshoot the error you’re getting.

Unlock a Sprint Locked Phone

Despite the end of the Sprint brand, you can still find phones locked to its network and at a great deal. If the phone hasn’t been flagged as lost, stolen, or associated with fraud, you can request the carrier to unlock, which they’ll do for free. However, the Sprint unlock eligibility requirements list that your device must have been on the Sprint network for at least 40 days.

If you’re a non-Sprint customer, you can contact customer Sprint customer rep on 888-211-4727 to request unlocking. the company will either unlock your device remotely or give you a special code to do the unlocking.

Alternatively, you can use the approaches that we mentioned for unlocking a T-Mobile-locked phone above.

Unlock a TracFone Brand Locked Phone

If you have a phone locked to TracFone Wireless (TFW) or any of its subsidiaries, you can now unlock it to use on other networks. That includes not only the prepaid devices but also the free touch screen government phones from the Safelink lifeline program.

Regardless, your locked phone will still need to meet the eligibility requirements for unlocking. These requirements include having your device on active service for no less than 12 months, and airtime refills of the same period.

In addition to that, you must submit the unlock request while your TFW service is still active or 60 days since your last active service. Then, the locked device must still be in good working condition and you (as the owner) must not have requested another unlocking in less than twelve months. The TracFone Wireless unlock policy provides that its customers are eligible for unlocking only once per twelve months.

Regardless, your phone locked to TracFone Wireless or any of its brands will unlock automatically after becoming eligible. But you’ll need to submit the handset unlocking request through the online portal or by calling 1-888-442-5102.

Final Thoughts:

As was mentioned earlier, every carrier handles its phone unlocking policy differently. Yes, the process might be similar in some cases, but the eligibility requirements, including the minimum lock days, vary.

Remember, unlocking a network-locked phone doesn’t necessarily mean it will work with other networks. You still have to count the network technology (CDMA or GSM) at the core, as well as the frequency bands.

Furthermore, the carrier might fail to unlock all the settings as you had hoped, in which case you might find some features aren’t working. So, you might want to purchase a factory unlocked phone from the start if you’re hoping to be swapping SIM cards between different carriers.

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