Why do cellular carriers lock their phones? It’s simple. They want you to use their service, not someone else’s. Smart travelers know that you can get better service and cheaper rates putting in a different SIM card into your device. The problem is – so do the carriers. This blog explains what the major carriers policies are and how to get around them in order to unlock your device.
Most of Verizon’s new phones are unlocked and can be used with other carriers SIM cars internationally. According to Verizon’s website, all 4G LTE phones are unlocked and most other phones are also unlocked. In other words, if you have an iPhone 4G or above with Verizon, it comes unlocked. Almost all Samsung Galaxies are also unlocked. If you have an older phone or if you are not sure if your Verizon phone has LTE, you can always check the specs at GSM Arena, which is the website Cellular Abroad uses to check the phone’s specs. If your phone is locked and your want to unlock it, there are several websites that specialize in unlocking phones…for a fee. One we recommend is DoctorSIM
AT&T locks all of their phones.They will provide you with an unlock code but only if you have paid off your phone. Most customers have a payment plan on their phone that lasts 2 years. If your payment plan is paid off because the 2 years have transpired or if you paid your phone in full up front or paid off the 2 year commitment early, they will unlock your phone for free. Alternatively, you can legally use DoctorSIM or a similar company in order to unlock your phone – for a small fee. In addition, here are 3 other solutions.
1. Use Your Old Phone
If you had a previous phone with AT&T, have them unlock that one. For example, if you currently have an iPhone7 and before had an iPhone4, 5 or 6 – or any other phone, you can have AT&T unlock it for you. Hint: Even if your current phone is unlocked, it is not a bad idea to travel with an unlocked secondary phone. You never know when and if your phone gets damaged or stolen.
2. Buy a Phone from Cellular Abroad
Cellular Abroad has some phones available. If you are looking for affordable and reliable phones that work internationally, Cellular Abroad is a good place to start. We have packaged phone/SIM card deals starting at $79.95. We have a limited selection of phones but we do have several entry level phones, Android phones and iPhones with the international voice and data bands. Many entry level phones do not have the correct overseas bands for voice and/or data so, you need to be careful what you purchase.
3. Buy a Phone from Amazon or Overseas Electronics
Let’s face it, Amazon is taking over the world. However, in terms of customer service, there IS no customer service. Unless you really know what you are buying, Amazon may not be your best choice. You will need a phone with the 900 and 1800 GSM bands to make calls while overseas and a phone with the 2100 band to have data. Many phones, particularly ones that are not very expensive, do not have these bands. As the name implies, Overseas Electronics specializes in overseas electronics and they have a large selection of cell phones that work abroad.
Sprint phones all come carrier locked. However, Sprint is also the only carrier that recommends and is willing to to unlock their phones for international travelers. This is directly from their website, albeit not easy to find:
Current Sprint customers remaining abroad for an extended period of time may want to try to use their Sprint device with a foreign carrier. As a courtesy for our customers, for certain devices, Sprint may be able to unlock the device SIM slot for a foreign carrier’s SIM card to be inserted. Customers must meet the following conditions to be eligible:
The device is capable of international SIM unlock
The person requesting the international SIM unlock is a current Sprint customer on an active account that can authenticate as the Account Holder or an Authorized Contact
The applicable device is currently active on a Sprint account and the applicable account has been active for at least 90 days.
The account is in good standing
Each phone number on the account is allowed up to two unlocked devices within a 12 month period.
The device has not been reported as lost or stolen, associated with fraudulent activity, or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked
If your device is not locked, Cellular Abroad, Amazon and Overseas Electronics have cell phones for sale. Please read the information above for AT&T on advice for buying a phone.
T-Mobile also locks all of their cell phones. While T-Mobile’s unlock policy is pretty complex, here is the skinny:
Your phone must not be reported stolen, you must pay all of your bills and your phone must be paid off. In addition, you cannot unlock more than two phones per each 12 month period. Cellular Abroad recommends that you either have them unlock one your older phones that you have for them or you use a phone unlocking service (they will charge you a small fee) or you purchase a phone from Cellular Abroad, Amazon or Overseas Electronics. All of Cellular Abroad’s phones work internationally for voice and all of our phones that have 3G or 4G work on the international band for data. Most of Amazon’s phones do not have the international bands for data so you need to know what to look for (which is the 900/2100 band) and Overseas Electronics will be able to point you in the right direction as well.