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How to check if your smartphone is unlocked

man looking at phone

With an unlocked mobile phone, you can swap out the SIM card and use it with whatever network you like. But first, let’s find out whether your phone is locked or unlocked.

And if you want to unlock it, you can. Read our guide:

How to quickly check if your phone is unlocked

The best way to quickly check whether a mobile phone is locked or not is to slip the SIM card out, and put in one from another network. If it can make calls, send texts, and connect to the internet, that means your phone is unlocked.

Just make sure that the two SIMs don’t actually connect to the same network. MVNOs – mobile virtual network operators, usually smaller mobile providers – piggyback on larger mobile networks to deliver their services. Giffgaff uses the O2 network, for example.

If you haven’t got two SIMs from separate networks to hand, you can find out if your phone is unlocked by looking in the 'Settings' instead.

How to check if an Android phone is unlocked

The exact route here varies depending on the phone’s manufacturer, but the general shape of it is:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Tap ‘Connections’, ‘Network and internet’, or other similar label
  3. Tap ‘Mobile network’, or similar
  4. Tap ‘Choose network’ or ‘Automatically select network’. If your phone shows several available networks, it’s unlocked. If you can only select one, however, then it’s locked to that one.

How to check if an iPhone is unlocked

This is easy enough:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Tap ‘General’, then ‘About’
  3. Tap ‘Carrier lock’. If it says ‘No SIM restrictions’, then your phone is unlocked. If it names a network, however, then it’s locked to that one.

What if my phone is locked?

Don’t fret. If you want to unlock it, you can. A locked phone can only use SIM cards from one network, while an unlocked phone can connect to any network using any SIM card.

That’s the only difference. If you want to switch networks or use a different SIM, you’ll need it unlocked. But if you have no intention of doing that any time soon, there’s no problem – you can leave your phone locked for now.

To learn more, read our full guide: How to unlock a mobile phone

Why do networks lock handsets?

The short answer is money.

Phones sold through networks are heavily subsidised, and it just doesn’t make financial sense for them to sell you the phone cheaply then have you take it straight to another network. It’s less of a financial strain for them to keep you as a customer for longer.

Nevertheless, most networks will unlock your phone if you get in touch with them about it. If you've finished your pay-monthly contract, networks aren't allowed to charge a fee for unlocking your phone. And even if you're still within your contract's minimum terms, many networks will still unlock it for free.

What can I do once my phone is unlocked?

Once it’s unlocked, you can use whatever SIM card you want to in your phone.

That means you can:

  • Switch mobile network
  • Get a new SIM-only deal, like one of these:
  • VOXI sim only
    5G
    • 30GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • Unlimited social media
    • £10.00 per month
    1 month contract From VOXI
  • SMARTY sim only
    5G
    • 15GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • EU roaming included
    • £7.00 per month
    1 month contract From SMARTY
  • Talkmobile sim only
    5G
    • 25GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • Free EU Roaming
    • £6.95 per month
    1 month contract From Talkmobile
  • Three sim only
    5G
    • 40GB of 5G data
    • Unlimited minutes
    • Unlimited texts
    • download speed limit
    • £10.00 per month
    12 month contract From Three Mobile
  • Swap between multiple SIM cards whenever you want
  • Use a local SIM card or eSIM in your phone while you’re abroad
  • Get a little bit more money if you sell your phone

Can I use any SIM in my phone once it’s unlocked?

In the UK, yes. Phones available for sale in the UK are compatible with all UK-based networks once they’re unlocked.

If you’re going abroad, however, not all networks may work. This depends on the model of phone, and the bands used by networks in the location you’re headed to.

So if you want to use a local SIM while you’re travelling, check ahead of time that it’s compatible with your model of phone.

SIM-only deals

Want a brand new SIM-only deal for your freshly unlocked phone? Compare deals across the market with our comparison tool.

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