Unlocked Smartphones: Policies By Network, How To Unlock & Where To Buy

March 11th, 2016

Everything you need to know about mobile unlocking. Find out which networks lock, how to unlock your handset and where to buy a new unlocked smartphone.

LockedIn the UK, many mobile networks will lock your smartphone to their network so you won’t be able to use the handset on another network. The process of removing these restrictions is known as ‘mobile unlocking’.

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of unlocking of your smartphone: how it will allow you to access cheaper tariffs both in the UK and abroad and how it allows you to make better second-hand usage of the smartphone. We’ll also look at the handset locking policies of different UK networks, how to unlock an existing smartphone and where to buy a new unlocked handset.

Benefits of Unlocking

There are three key benefits of having an unlocked smartphone:

  1. You can access cheaper deals when at home in the UK. Many people save about £20/month (£240 per year) by switching over to a SIM-only deal.
  2. You can change to a different SIM card when travelling abroad – this could save you substantial amounts of money compared to roaming on your normal UK tariff.
  3. An unlocked smartphone will retain its value much better. Whether you’re giving your old handset to friends & family or whether you’re selling the phone on eBay, it will be a much more attractive second-hand device.

It’s perfectly legal to unlock your smartphone and almost all UK networks provide a way for you to do it. Unlocking will not affect the warranty of your device (assuming that the unlock is done officially through your mobile phone network).

Access Cheaper Tariffs In The UK

For many people, the primary reason for unlocking their smartphone is having the ability to be able to use it with a cheap SIM-only deal.

A SIM-only deal is an airtime-only contract where you’ll get a generous allowance of minutes, texts and internet for a low monthly price (they’re often about £20/month cheaper compared to normal traditional contracts). You can keep your current phone number when changing to these deals but you might need to unlock your smartphone before you’re able to change over.

SIM card

With an unlocked smartphone, you can switch to a SIM only deal where you’re able to benefit from much cheaper rates.

Our recommended SIM only deals currently include:

NetworkMinutesTextsInternetMonthly
Cost
BT Mobile500Unlimited4GB£10.00
inc. £5 discount
ASDA Mobile600Unlimited1.5GB£10.00
Tesco Mobile1,0005,0001GB£10.00
giffgaff500Unlimited1GB£10.00
Three200Unlimited2GB£11.00
O21,000Unlimited1GB£12.75
EE1,000Unlimited1GB£14.99
Vodafone1,000Unlimited1GB£15.00

* A £5/month discount is available on BT Mobile for customers who live in a BT Broadband household.

Typically, SIM-only contracts have a 12 month commitment. For greater flexibility, you can instead choose a one-month rolling contract. For a complete overview of all the available options, see our guide to the UK’s best value SIM-only deals.

Save Money When Travelling Abroad

Going Abroad

You can also save money when travelling abroad.

If you’re travelling abroad and using your normal UK SIM card, you can quickly run up a large bill for international roaming if you’re using your normal UK SIM card.

With a specialist SIM card or with a locally-purchased SIM card from the country you’re visiting, you can often save a huge amount of money on roaming. Before you’re able to use another network when abroad, you’ll need to first unlock your smartphone (this is the case even if you’re using another country’s branch of the same network group e.g. Vodafone Spain or Three Italy).

Travelling to Spain, France, Italy, the USA or one of 14 other countries?

If you’re travelling to one of 18 selected countries, the best way of using your smartphone abroad is by taking advantage of Three’s Feel At Home offer.

Feel at Home Flags

Feel At Home is available in 18 countries including Spain, France, Italy, the USA, Australia and Ireland.

With Feel At Home, there’s no extra charge for using your smartphone abroad. Better still, you can benefit from the offer regardless of which network you normally use in the UK. Just order one of Three’s All-in-One Pay As You Go SIM cards and you’ll be able to benefit from the offer in any unlocked smartphone. A £10 top-up will give you 1GB of data, 100 minutes and 3000 texts (all available to be used when abroad). Meanwhile, a £20 top-up will give you 12GB of data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts (again, all available to be used when abroad).

Network Minutes Texts Internet Monthly
Cost
Three 100 3,000 1GB £10.00
Three 300 3,000 12GB £20.00

Three’s All in One Pay As You Go bundles can be used in conjunction with their Feel At Home offer. The inclusive minutes, texts and internet can be used abroad in any Feel At Home country. The £20 bundle has a fair usage policy of 12GB/month when in a Feel At Home country.

Countries included in Feel At Home: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Macau, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America.

Order Three Pay As You Go SIM Card (with £10 bundle) »

Second-Hand Usage & Resale Value

An unlocked smartphone will give you additional benefits in terms of easier second-hand usage and a higher handset resale value.

If you’re passing your old smartphone on to friends or family members, they’ll be able to use an unlocked smartphone on their network of choice (this includes on any of the best value SIM-only deals).

For second-hand sales (e.g. on eBay and Gumtree), an unlocked smartphone will often sell for a higher price. The potential audience of buyers will also be much higher (as customers of any mobile network can buy your old handset).

Which Mobile Networks Lock Their Smartphones?

  • EE
  • giffgaff
  • O2
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Three
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Vodafone

In the UK, most mobile networks lock their handsets before they provide them to you so you can only use it on their network. The main exceptions are giffgaff and Three who provide fully unlocked smartphones to all customers on their network. Virgin Mobile also normally provides an unlocked smartphone to customers on Pay Monthly.

The following table gives a quick summary of which mobile networks currently lock their smartphones:

Mobile Network Pay Monthly Handsets Pay As You Go Handsets
EE Will typically be locked Will typically be locked
giffgaff Will be provided unlocked Will be provided unlocked
O2 Will typically be locked Will typically be locked
Tesco Mobile Will typically be locked Will typically be locked
Three Will be provided unlocked Will be provided unlocked
Virgin Mobile Will be provided unlocked Will typically be locked
Vodafone Will typically be locked Will typically be locked

Mobile networks often choose to lock their smartphones as they may subsidise the upfront cost of the handset. By offering a new phone as a loss-leader, they’re able to attract new customers to their network. The network-locking mechanism is a way to stop you from taking a subsidised device and from immediately using it on another network (this would cause a loss to the mobile network that subsidised your handset).

On request, almost all UK mobile networks will now unlock your smartphone. This will sometimes be done for free but other times, you’ll need to pay a small fee for the unlocking (up to £19.99). You may also need to have been a customer on the mobile network for a certain amount of time before you qualify for this service.

Find Out Whether Your Phone Is Locked

SmartphonesThe table above should give you a good indication about whether your smartphone is likely to be locked to a network. If you’re still not sure about whether your smartphone is unlocked, the best way to check is by ordering a free Pay As You Go SIM card. The SIM card should come from another mobile network (though there are a couple of caveats*, see below for details).

When your new SIM card arrives, insert it into your smartphone. If the SIM card is accepted and you can see the name of the network being shown on the screen, then your smartphone is unlocked and there’s nothing further you’ll need to do. If you see an error message such as “SIM Not Valid” or “Invalid SIM” then your smartphone is currently locked and you’ll need to unlock it.

* Caveats: A giffgaff SIM card may work in your iPhone even if it’s locked to O2. A SIM card from EE will also work in iPhones that are locked to T-Mobile. You should bear this in mind when testing the phone with a SIM card from another network (ideally you should test the handset on a network that uses a different coverage provider).

SIM Not Valid: The SIM card that you currently have installed in this iPhone is from a carrier that is not supported under the activation policy that is currently assigned by the activation server. This is not a hardware issue with the iPhone. Please insert another SIM card from a supported carrier or request that this iPhone be unlocked by your carrier.
If you see a message saying “SIM Not Valid” or “Invalid SIM” then your smartphone is locked to a network.

When ordering a SIM card for your handset, be sure to order a SIM card of the right size.

How To Unlock Your Smartphone

UnlockThere are four simple steps to unlocking your smartphone:

  1. Find out whether your smartphone is already unlocked. If you’re still not sure, a good way to check is to order a free Pay As You Go SIM card from another network.
  2. Obtain the IMEI number for your smartphone. If you need to unlock your smartphone, the next step is to obtain your 15-digit IMEI number. This is a unique identifier for your smartphone and you can find it by entering *#06# on your telephone keypad (star hash zero six hash).
  3. Ask your mobile network to unlock the smartphone. Depending on your network and tariff, this could either be free or it could cost you up to £19.99. For more information, see our guides on unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy.
  4. When the unlock has been processed, enjoy using your new mobile network or SIM card. It can take anything from a couple of hours to 10 working days for your unlock to be processed. Once this is done, you can enjoy cheaper rates at home and cheaper rates when abroad.

For more information, you can follow our step-by-step guides on unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. If you have a different Android smartphone, you can still follow most of the instructions in our Samsung Galaxy article (the menus will look a bit different on your phone but the instructions for unlocking will be exactly the same).

Where To Buy A New Unlocked Smartphone

Apple iPhone

iPhone

You can buy an unlocked iPhone from Apple, giffgaff or Three.

If you’re looking to buy a new unlocked iPhone, the best place to buy it is from Apple’s online store. You’ll get a SIM-free iPhone that permanently unlocked for use on any mobile network, either in the UK or abroad.

You can also buy a new unlocked iPhone from giffgaff or Three on Pay As You Go. Both giffgaff and Three provide the iPhone permanently unlocked, so you’re able to use it on any mobile network. There’s no obligation to actually use the iPhone on giffgaff or on Three, but you’ll normally need to get a SIM card from them at the same time as when you order (this may have a £10 minimum top-up requirement).

The following table compares how much you’d pay for an unlocked iPhone at the Apple Store, giffgaff and Three:

Handset Apple Store giffgaff* Three*
iPhone 6s £539.00 £499.00 £539.99
iPhone 6s Plus £619.00 £579.00 £619.99
iPhone 6 £459.00 £439.00 £459.99
iPhone 6 Plus £539.00 £499.00 £539.99
iPhone SE £359.00 £349.00
iPhone 5s £239.00 £379.99

iPhone prices were correct as of the 19th July 2016. * On giffgaff and Three, you can get a permanently-unlocked iPhone on Pay As You Go. You’ll need to order a Pay As You Go SIM card at the same time, with a minimum top-up of £10 on the SIM card. There is no obligation to actually use the SIM card: you can easily use the handset on another mobile network.

In general, we wouldn’t recommend buying a SIM-free iPhone from any other retailer (e.g. from Currys, the Carphone Warehouse or John Lewis). Though you may be able to save a bit of money, their SIM-free iPhones will automatically lock to the first network used. You’ll then subsequently need to go through the process of unlocking the iPhone from your first mobile network (this can be greatly complicated by the fact you bought your iPhone from another retailer). SIM-free iPhones from a third-party retailer will also be restricted to working only on UK mobile networks.

All Other Smartphones

Android Smartphones

For all other smartphones, there’s a wide variety of online retailers where you’re able to buy an unlocked smartphone.

If you’d like to buy an unlocked smartphone that isn’t an iPhone, there’s a wide choice of retailers you’re able to choose from.

If you’re happy to get the phone on a Pay Monthly contract, try the Carphone Warehouse or Mobiles.co.uk. Both of them will provide you with an unlocked handset on a 24-month contract (the contract will often be the same price or slightly cheaper than getting it directly from your mobile network).

On Pay As You Go, you can get a handset from either giffgaff or Three (both giffgaff and Three provide their handsets unlocked so you’ll be able to use them on the mobile network of your choice).

Finally, for a SIM-free smartphone (without a contract or SIM card), you can go to one of the following online retailers:

Often, you’ll also be able to buy a SIM-free smartphone directly from the manufacturer (e.g. from the HTC, Microsoft, Motorola, Samsung or Sony official websites).

More Information

For more information about unlocking your smartphone, please see our step-by-step guides to unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy. Once you have an unlocked smartphone, you may find it of interest to see our guide on the best value SIM-only deals.

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About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 79 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. MG90 said:

    Hi, quick (and slightly urgent) question,

    Tomorrow I get my Samsung Galexy Note 7, it is on a contract from Three. However, before using my new contract Three sim I want to use my EE sim until the end of my current allowence period (as I get more data which I need for now and will have paid for anyway). A few days before teh end of my notice period with EE i am going to transfer my number to the Three sim card and insert my Three sim. Will inserting my EE sim card first lock my phone to EE so that when the time comes to use my Three sim card it won’t work? or will it be perminantly unlocked? Sorry if this is a silly question.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi MG90,
      You’ll be glad to know that it’s safe to use an EE SIM card in your Galaxy Note 7. Only SIM-free iPhones will lock themselves automatically – the behaviour does not extend to other brands of smartphone.
      Ken

  2. Patricia said:

    Hi Ken,
    I have just bought an iPhone SE from a well known national UK second hand retailer, who told me it had come in brand new, in original box and still cellophane sealed, probably as as unwanted upgrade. They have opened the box to run the usual tests to ensure it is not reported stolen or lost, and sold it to me as unused and unlocked.

    However, on putting my 3 mobile SIM into it, I am getting the message on screen that the SIM is not supported and I should contact my service provider. I cannot get beyond this message, even connected to wifi, so I can’t find out what network the phone is locked to. Even if I could, I don’t see why I should have the hassle of getting it unlocked, as I bought it in good faith as unlocked, but that’s by the by.

    I have searched for help, and tried a few URL links that are supposed to tell you who a phone is locked to by putting in the IMEI (which is on the box), but nothing useful has come up. Is there any way of finding out who a phone is locked to when you can’t access the settings? I will be going back to the shop tomorrow, but wanted to know what my options are if they are unhelpful. I paid over £400 for the phone, wish I’d bought one from Apple now.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Patricia,
      In this situation, I’d probably recommend returning the handset to the retailer (as you say, the goods were not sold as described). If you’d like to find out which mobile network the iPhone is locked to, you can do this by bringing the handset to your nearest Apple Store (they can check the activation policy at the Genius Bar).
      Ken

      1. Patricia replied:

        Thanks for the reply Ken. All is now well – I took the phone back to the retailer, who agreed it was sold as unlocked but was locked, and they have arranged for Apple to unlock it, without any charge to me.

        Sorry to have taken up your time, but it was very interesting reading other people’s tales!

  3. John said:

    Thanks for your very detailed web pages, I am still worried by one of your comments as I have just ordered an iphone 6 from Amazon marketplace retailer who describes it as “factory unlocked” Sim free, UK version. This would all seem fine but your comment about third party providers not selling phones that will work outside UK is causing me to panic as I definitely want to use this abroad and have checked all the usual stuff about it being quad band etc. (I have been thinking of upgrading my existing EE monthly contract to one more suitable for the iphone 6, but they are quite open about saying that once their SIM is installed, the phone will lock to their network)…..all very confusing!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment. With SIM-free iPhones, it’s sometimes really tricky knowing what you’ll get (you can however always resort to consumer protection regulations if the goods are not sold as described). Personally, I’d make a strong case for buying your iPhone at retailers like giffgaff as you’ll always know you’re getting a permanently unlocked handset.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

      1. John replied:

        Thanks Ken, basically there is a lot of conflicting information around from both service providers and retailers, but I have now had my iPhone 6 from an Amazon retailer for over a week and everything works as it said on the can!, including working abroad. I got no leeway from EE who simply said that I could pay to unlock my new phone which is ok but a hassle if you are abroad and want to do it quickly and simply. My solution was to shift to a SIM only deal with 3, who assure me that they do not lock phones to their service using a new SIM only contract with them, (the salesman said it is the card that locks the phones and the iPhone has software that responds to this). A nervous few days buying and setting up, but all working seamlessly now! I have obviously not tested the unlocked nature of the new set-up, but have taken their word for it.

  4. Gaynor Laight said:

    Hi Now I am a real Dummy and have just bought a new cheap smart phone that is unlocked. My husband is having my old phone and number. I am thinking of going with Tello – do I get a new mobile number from them or what do I do? I am sorry that I am so dense. Not too au fey with mobile technology – OK with computers. laptops and ipods! So forgive me.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Gaynor,
      Thanks for your comment. When you order a SIM card from Tello, you’ll initially be given a new phone number from them. You can either continue to use the phone number assigned to you by them or you can transfer your existing phone number over to Tello. For the latter, you can see my step-by-step guide to transferring your phone number to Tello.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

      1. Gaynor Laight replied:

        Thank you Ken I really appreciate your reply. Very helpful.

  5. Mark Harper said:

    I recently renewed my contract with Three (My wifes account) and took out a new Samsung Galaxy S5. My wife previously had an iphone 5C. She tried to use the new Galaxy and did not likeit, swapping back to her old Apple 5c.

    I thought I would have to unlock the phone, however, it takes my own EE sim and works fine. However, the startup splash screen still says THREE. Can I get rid of this or stop it from displaying THREE? do I get rid of this?

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. The good news is Three provides all of their handsets unlocked so that’s why you’re able to use it on EE without any problems. The handset, however, will have Three’s version of the Galaxy firmware (hence why it shows the Three logo when you switch on the phone). The only way you can remove this logo is to install some custom firmware (this can be highly complex and I’d probably recommend against doing this as it will invalidate your warranty, etc).
      Ken

  6. Steve said:

    Hi Ken,

    I’m currently on an Asda mobile sim only plan, which I top up and get a 30 day bundle – minutes, texts and data. I currrently use a Nokia 6500s.

    I’ve just bought an unlocked Moto G 3rd generation – can I just use my current sim in my new Moto G? The sim has cutouts to reduce it to a micro sim, so it’ll physically fit, but I’m not sure whether, having been used in a non-android phone, my Moto G will be damaged in any way by using my current sim in it.

    Thanks in advance,

    Steve.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Steve,
      Yes – you can simply pop-out the Micro SIM and insert it into your Moto G! SIM cards are actually designed to be portable between devices so there’s no problem at all doing this. For more information, see my guide to changing the size of your SIM card.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  7. Edward said:

    Hi.

    Does anyone know if a SIM provided by TalkTalk (not Talkmobile) will work in a Vodafone locked handset (i.e. Samsung S7)?

    Thanks

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Edward,
      Thanks for your comment. I do believe a TalkTalk Mobile SIM card will normally work in a Vodafone-locked handset. However, it’s obviously not guaranteed so it’s worth bearing this in mind when buying the handset. Also, TalkTalk will soon be changing their network coverage provider from Vodafone to O2 later this year. When they do so, your Vodafone-locked handset will no longer work on their service. So the answer is yes, potentially, but I would try and avoid doing this if you’re able to do so!
      Ken

  8. Nick said:

    Hi – I am moving to France temporarily and need a PAYG smartphone which will enable me to make local calls , receive texts & emails from friends and family and surf the web – is the cheapest solution to buy an unlocked phone and a local Sim for France?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Nick,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes: you’re probably best off getting an unlocked smartphone and then getting a local SIM card upon arrival in France. If you’re only going for a fairly short time, you could also consider using Feel At Home on a SIM card from Three UK (but this isn’t ideal for long-term trips and it doesn’t include calls to a French number).
      Ken

      1. Nick Lambert replied:

        Great thanks Ken

  9. robert said:

    Would a locked vodafone smart first 6 payg phone work with a talkmobile sim -or is there an unlocking code-or do I have to pay vodafone £20 to unlock it?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your comment. I believe you can normally use a Talkmobile SIM card in a Vodafone locked handset – you can get a free SIM card here (you’ll need to choose the standard-size SIM card).
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

      1. robert replied:

        Many thanks for your help.
        Robert

  10. Janison said:

    Hi Ken,

    Is it safe to buy from Very?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Janison,
      I’ve not personally tried buying from Very.co.uk but it should be fine as it’s a part of the Shop Direct Group (Very was previously known as Littlewoods Direct).
      Ken

  11. Reg Dennis said:

    Hi Ken

    I am really angry at service from ee. I have bought dual sim phone and went into ee to get a replacement duala sim for it

    The sim they give me does not say slot 1 or 2 It says ***removed*** can u tell from your end which slot this goes in

    Can I get composition from everywhere everything for giving me wrong slot number?

    Awaiting your word Mr Ken

    Thankyou

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Reg,
      Thanks for your comment. The number you’ve given is actually your SIM card serial number: if you haven’t already you can use the form here on EE’s website to activate the new SIM card. With regards to the two SIM card slots in your dual-SIM handset, you can choose either slot in which to place your new SIM card (either one should work). With the remaining slot, you can then use a SIM card from another network.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  12. TomUK said:

    I have a cheapo Nokia 1616 mobile – pay as you go with EE/Orange.
    I have just inherited a newer Nokia 301.1 from my daughter as she has bought a smart phone on an O2 monthly plan.
    The Nokia 301 she gave me is locked to O2 and I wanted to get it unlocked to use with my Orange Pay/Go sim.
    On the O2 website I saw that O2 customers on pay monthly plans can get their phones unlocked for free. So I asked her to go online and request unlocking.
    First problem was that when she went on to her account to request unlocking she could only access her current phone, not the previous one that she’d given to me. Although she was told in store that her old one would still be on the system.
    She spoke to a customer services person online about unlocking the previous phone and was told that as she had bought it from Argos in Nov. 2013 with an O2 sim with £10 credit, it was not deemed to have been on a contract and did nor qualify for free unlocking.
    This is despite the fact that she has been an O2 customer for over 10 years, and currently has a pay monthly account with the network.
    Has anyone else come across this annoying little distinction?

  13. oliver said:

    Hi Ken

    I’m planning on buying a sony phone which is locked to O2 on PAYG as its much cheaper than my network. I want to immediately unlock to use with EE, but o2 wont do this for 12 months, however i’ve found some third party SIM unlocking services with good reviews that provide a ‘factory unlock’ code for these phones – would this work on a new phone?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Oliver,
      Thanks for your comment. How much is the cost saving to buy your handset on O2 and then to unlock it via the third-party service? If it’s only a small amount, I would probably advise still buying the handset SIM-free (as you never really know how reliable these services will be, and you could end up with a handset that’s totally useless to you). With regards to the actual unlocking services, unfortunately, I’ve not tried them so can’t comment with regards to the efficacy (the only way to unlock your handset officially remains via your mobile network operator).
      Ken

  14. Anton said:

    Hi Ken,

    i have recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy edge from Hong kong. It is locked to the docomo network. Is it possible to unlock this to work in the uk?

    kind Regards
    Anton

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Anton,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, you’ll need to ask Docomo to unlock the handset. You can find out more by seeing the information on Docomo’s website.
      Ken

  15. Helen said:

    Hi, I got my iPhone 6 unlocked by Vodafone to use with another sim, if I factory reset will it be locked again? Many thanks

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Helen,
      I believe your iPhone 6 should permanently be unlocked. Upon a factory reset, your iPhone will check its status against Apple’s activation servers. Providing your iPhone is listed as unlocked on this server, it will still be unlocked after you factory reset your phone.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  16. RICHARD said:

    Hi Ken,

    I am confused lol

    I have an HTC One phone ( that I love) on Orange PAYG Dolphin plan. I am moving to Abu Dhabi soon, so have bought a dual sim adaptor for the phone. Can I keep my Orange plan, then add another local sim out there or do I have to unlock my phone ( thus losing my existing credit)?

    Thanks
    Richard

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Richard,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% sure how dual-SIM adapters actually work (though my guess is it’s essentially a switch that sits in between the two SIM cards and the handset). If my understanding of this is correct, then yes: you will need to unlock your handset before you’re able to use a SIM card from another network (even if you’re doing this via a dual-SIM adapter).
      By the way, it’s also worth making yourself aware of the Orange Pay As You Go inactivity policy (you’ll need to use the SIM card for a chargeable activity at least once every 180 days to keep the SIM card active). You’ll need to follow the policy to avoid your SIM card being cut off when you’re travelling abroad.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  17. Greg said:

    Hi Ken,
    I have a Vodafone from Australia which I would like to use in Barbados. The only problem is that my phone keeps saying their is no network available. I have spoken to Vodafone about five times in the last 3 weeks. (I had the same issue last year when I was here for 5 months sand could not use my phone.)
    When I search for mobile networks, LIME ( and another server) comes up which Vodafone is not connected with. They are all forbidden. However, Digicel and Cable and Wireless do not. The issue started last year when I arrived in Barbados after a two day trip to find I had an 800 dollar bill (given the wrong advice in the Vodafone store. The Vodafone technician did something which means I can’t use the phone in Barbados. But I did get roaming on the way in New Zealand AND THE USA. All they keep doing is apologizing and telling me they are switching Int Roaming on and off. They think if I didn’t work the first time it might work the 101st time!

    I’d appreciate any ideas. Lateral or otherwise!
    Greg

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Greg,
      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, you’ll have to direct this question at Vodafone Australia – it concerns the billing on their network. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to even make a wild guess on what is happening in this case.
      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful!
      Ken

  18. Mark said:

    Hi ken can you help me?
    I am with talk talk and I need a new handset.My have read that vodaphone supply talktalk service then somewhere else I read that the deal with vodaphone was over and talktalk are now supplied by 02, is this right?
    Cheers
    Mark

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. Indeed, the information you’ve read is correct. TalkTalk Mobile currently uses Vodafone for its coverage. They’re due to switch to O2 in the future (at which point, 4G will launch on TalkTalk Mobile) but as of yet, no fixed date has been set for the move. For more information, you can take a look at my review of TalkTalk Mobile. You might also find it interesting to read this article about coverage in the UK 🙂
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  19. Jabez said:

    Hi Ken

    I am curious as to why you do not mention that it is possible to purchase unlocking codes for many models of phones from Ebay. The prices seem fairly reasonable, the service is quick, and the vendors all have very good feedback ratings.

    I have successfully unlocked 2 Samsung phones using this method. One was locked to to Orange and the other to EE. The process is very simple.

    In each case I obtained the phone’s IMEI number by typing *#06# into the handset’s keyboard. I then purchased the code for 12.99 from ebay and added a PayPal note to the vendor, informing him what the IMEI was. Within a couple of hours the vendor sent me a message with the unlocking code.

    I then inserted a GiffGaff SIM card into my phone and started it up. Once it booted it recognised the alien SIM and immediately went to a screen asking me to input the 8 digit unlocking code I’d received from the vendor. Once I’d done this the phone was instantly unlocked.

    I believe this system only works during the working week, so if you buy a code on a Saturday, you will not receive it until the Monday. Other than that, it seems a very straightforward system.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Jabez,
      Thanks for your comment and a very good question! In my article, I only discuss the official way of unlocking your handset (only your mobile phone network is able to provide an officially sanctioned unlock). For some handsets (not the iPhone), third-parties are able to unlock this by cracking or generating a phone unlocking code. Some of these will work without a problem but it certainly isn’t an officially-sanctioned code (the third-party sellers simply reverse-engineer the unlocking algorithm to find the right code).
      Ken

  20. DEB said:

    Hi Ken – many thanks for your thread regarding unlocking a second hand iPhone 4s locked to Orange which I had bought. Getting myself set up with an EE PAYG account worked perfectly!!

  21. Bartek said:

    Hello, I’m planning to buy a sim free Samsung S5 in Germany, can I use it in UK without any problems?
    Thank you for your help

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Bartek,
      Thanks for your comment. It shouldn’t be a problem using an unlocked German Galaxy S5 on a UK mobile network. It’s worth being aware of Samsung’s region-lock but the good news is it allows you to immediately use your phone in any EU country (both the UK and Germany included).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  22. Debra Windle said:

    I have bought a galaxy s from a friend. It was originally on virgin but they had it unlocked and they used it on 3. I put in an o2 sim and it looks like there’s signal but not registering on network. Have tried a Vodafone sim too and same thing happens.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Debra,
      Thanks for your comment. I assume you aren’t seeing a message like “Invalid SIM”? If so, the SIM card has been accepted by the phone (it’s not a problem due to the handset being locked). It’s worth trying this to see whether it solves the problem: Application > Settings > Wireless and network > Mobile network > Network operators > Select network automatically. Sometimes you won’t be able to find the network if it’s specifically set to only look for one network.
      Ken

  23. Noor said:

    Hello! I have a bit of an unusual question as well..

    I have recently been given a phone (LG G3) to me by an English friend, so it’s an English phone. He works for a large phone company in England, so I don’t think he paid for it. The phone has been used in the UK for a short time.

    However, I live in The Netherlands and I want to use the phone here but my Dutch simcard won’t activate in the phone. The phone asks for my personal simcard pin (no other code..) so the phone recognises my simcard but then I have no network or internet. I can’t select any networks either.

    As the phone doesnt ask for another pincode but the personal simcard pincode I am unsure whether or not it’s a UK lock. Do you have any idea of what else it could be? Should I call the English phone company? I’m kind of afraid they won’t help me because i’m abroad. Is there another way?

    I hope you can help me! I have tried so many things and starting to get a bit desperate as my old phone is dead…

    Thank you!
    Noor.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Noor,
      Thanks for your comment. Have you tried using the LG G3 without a SIM card inside? If so, did it still ask you for a PIN unlock code? If the message shows only when a SIM card is inside your handset, it’ll be a PIN unlock code attached to the SIM card. If the message still shows without a SIM card inside the handset, it’s probably a PIN lock on the phone which you’ll need to contact the previous owner about.
      Ken

  24. Ian Besch said:

    Hi Ken,

    Here’s an unusual question from Canada. A friend has given me an Orange SIM card that was in a secondhand iPhone she had purchased (here in Canada). I am heading to Scotland in September with my unlocked Moto G and hoped the card might work for me when I arrive (having intended to purchase a U.K. PAYG card when I get there regardless). Any idea how I can find out which plan this card is on? The only info my phone tells me is its phone number and, of course, that the service is out of range. I can’t seem to dig through to the answer on the Orange/EE website.

    Cheers.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Ian,
      Thanks for your comment: I really love unusual questions! 😉 The first thing to note is that Orange Pay As You Go SIM cards expire automatically after 6 months of inactivity. For this reason, it’s possible the SIM card will no longer function when you arrive in the UK. It is still worth trying however: my guide to Orange Pay As You Go might be helpful for learning about their tariffs. TL;DR: text PLAN to 450 if you’d like to find out which tariff you’re on.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  25. Tim B said:

    Argos also sell sim free phones, which will take different sim cards. But they do describe them as ‘sim free’, not unlocked, which presumably means they were not locked in the first place. This isn’t with all the phones they sell though, only some.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Tim,
      Thanks for your comment. I believe the SIM-free smartphones sold at Argos should also be unlocked for use on any network.
      In general, it should be fairly safe to assume SIM-free smartphones are also unlocked. The key exception is for SIM-free iPhones when they’re purchased from a third-party retailer such as the Carphone Warehouse (see the article here for more information).
      Ken

  26. Shah said:

    Hi I have bought an iPhone 6 but I don’t know what network its on can you help

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Shah,
      I believe you can bring the iPhone to your local Apple Store and they can check the status on their system (i.e. whether the iPhone is locked and if so, which network it’s currently locked to).
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  27. Mark said:

    I purchased a Galaxy S5 on eBay! And it has Samsung lock asking for original email n password setup ! Seller believes he done factory reset but still I get to Samsung account and no further. How do I get the Samsung account and password to unlock the phone, I’m stressing I might have been scammed. Please help

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like your phone may have been locked remotely by the original owner of the handset. Can you clarify on the exact message shown on the phone? It’s possible the handset could either be stolen or it may have been incorrectly locked by the previous owner of the handset.
      Ken

  28. Alex said:

    Hi Ken.I leave in Cyprus and I bought an iPhone 6 from Carephone warehouse. The phone seems to be sim free and only works with Uk networks. Since I came back to Cyprus the phone hasn’t been activate it yet because it doesn’t support any local career.How can I unlock it? If I’ll send it back to them through a friend they will be able to unlocke it for me?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Alex,
      Thanks for your comment. A SIM-free iPhone from the Carphone Warehouse will indeed need to be activated on a UK mobile network. If you ask a friend to activate the iPhone for you, I recommend asking them to use a SIM card from Three. The CPW iPhone will automatically lock itself to the first network you use (choose Three as they’ll unlock all of their handsets totally free of charge with no questions asked). See this article and the comments within it for more information.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  29. BillW said:

    Hi Ken, I have a Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, on O2 PAYG. As I’m considering rooting the phone, I followed your good advice on checking whether it’s locked by trying an EE PAYG SIM in it. It works – sort of. It starts up OK, and shows EE as the phone network. I can make calls and send texts, but for some reason it won’t receive calls or texts. Obviously this wouldn’t be much use if I was actually intending to use it on EE, but I’m wondering if I’ve done enough to prove that the phone is not locked to O2. My real intention is just to ensure there are no obvious pitfalls before rooting the phone. What do you think?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your comment. If the EE SIM card is working in your Galaxy Ace 2, this means your handset is already unlocked. It’s rather strange that your Galaxy Ace 2 isn’t receiving incoming calls and text messages (have you been calling the new number assigned to the EE SIM card?). Nevertheless, if the problem persists, you should probably contact EE Customer Services or your local EE store to get the problem resolved (they’ll check the SIM card as well as the phone). With regards to rooting your phone, please be aware that this will only remove certain security limitations placed on the device (think of ‘rooting’ as the same thing as accessing the Administrator account on your PC). It won’t affect the lock status of your phone though do be aware of all the security considerations before you root the handset.
      Ken

      1. BillW replied:

        Hi Ken, thanks for your advice. I hadn’t thought of going to an EE shop, so I might do that; I certainly didn’t want to spend lots of time on an EE helpline! Yes, I have been using the phone number printed on the EE pack: that’s the number that shows up on caller id on a target phone when I call out, but no joy when trying to call in. I’ve also ordered a Vodafone free SIM to see if that works better than the EE one. Thanks also for the rooting link, which seems a lot better written than some of the stuff I’ve found. Plenty for me to think about! Bill.

  30. Eriss said:

    Hello, i bought a second hand iphone 5c but it was locked
    And after checking it said
    The carrier was Carphone warehouse
    I read that these iphones lock to the first uk sim used to activate,
    Can anyone help me find the network that was used on this iphone please?
    The carrier how can i find?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Eriss,
      The best thing to do is to ask the person you bought the iPhone from – if not then I’d probably recommend going to an Apple store and asking the guys there.
      Ken

  31. Jenson said:

    I have an unlocked Orange Motorola Razr i. Is there a chance the phone gets again locked if i upgrade the software or flash using custom firmware(unlocked)? I don’t know whether my phone is factory unlocked or software unlocked.
    Thank you.

  32. steven said:

    i bought phone and it was on contract and now cut off

  33. Kate said:

    I bought a ‘SIM free’ phone last November but hadn’t decided on which network to use. The phone is a Nokia Asha 300. I have recently found that the o2 pay as you go that I did choose isn’t right for my use now so I changed to a Vodafone monthly SIM only deal and received the PUK code and had my number moved.

    Thing is I’ve tried to put my new SIM in and although the number is now with Vodafone the SIM won’t work in the phone. Vodafone say it’s locked to O2. How can this be if it was bought independently brand new and sealed from a non network retailer?

    I’ve read about this happening on iPhones with the phone locking to the first SIM but this is a Nokia Asha 300.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Kate,

      Sorry to hear about the problems you’ve been having on your Asha 300. As far as I’m aware, only the iPhone will lock itself to the first network you use. I’ve not heard of this behaviour on Nokia phones – are you sure the device was SIM free & unlocked to start with? I wonder if the phone you were provided with was originally locked to O2.

      The good news is that you can unlock your phone from O2 for £15 (taken from your PAYG credit). To do so, grab a SIM card from O2 and then top it up by £15. You can then fill in this form on their website to request an unlock.

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

      1. ayesha replied:

        hi
        basically I have topped up £15 on O2 and then they say that I need to top up another £20 so that they can activate the sim and make a chargeable call to activate it. I have only used the sim to receive calls.

  34. CPT said:

    Fully agree with Cristyn Lieo! Best way to save your money is buying a SIM free phone. You won’t be troubling with how to avoid this locking and unlocking phones.

  35. anne said:

    Great help! I was given a mobile on the 3 network, put my orange sim and everything works except the internet – am guessing now it isn't locked but something else entirely!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Anne,

      Great work! The problem is now probably to do with your APN (Access Point Name) settings. For more information see this article on APN settings.

      Ken

  36. Cristyn Lieo said:

    To avoid this locking and unlocking phones, buy a SIM free phone. I am using Sim free phone from 6 months and getting so many benefits regarding schemes and saving money. 🙂

  37. R Carthy said:

    If you have a 2 year old purchased when new as a SIm free phone which you take to a network provider to repair, tell them it is SIM free and why and then when you get it back find they have locked it to their network, is this breaking the law?, since they have done something you have not asked for and now are making your life complicated?

  38. Chip said:

    Hi Ken

    Great article! I live in Zambia and am looking to buy the Nokia Lumia 710 from Carphone Warehouse through a friend of mine who'll be travelling to the UK soon. Would you know if it is unlocked by default (even though it's being offered by specific network operators there)? I've seen the SIM-free deal, but am hoping to score the PAYG one 'cause its far cheaper!

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Chip,

      Sometimes Carphone Warehouse provide their phones unlocked, but not always – it isn't guaranteed. Mobiles.co.uk too. If you order online, I guess you can technically return the phone within 7 days on Distance Selling Regulations, or any way you order you can pay the fee to unlock the phone in the event it doesn't come unlocked.

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

  39. wsm2 said:

    Hi
    I have an Orange France Samsung E1150. I bought it as a prepaid 9 months ago and it is not on contract. I am returning to Australia soon and have tried to get it unlocked through the Orange website but it is all in French and too complicatedf to use. Is there an easy way to get it unlocked without having to deal with Orange in French. They have an English line but not for mobiles. Why not ????????????

  40. kim said:

    Hi Ken. Have you seen giffgaff’s new unlockapedia? giffgaff.com/unlock
    Have a look and let me know what you think.

    Ta,
    Kim @ giffgaff

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hey Kim,

      Cheers for your comment – in fact I had tweeted you guys the other day trying to find a link! Though I suspect it hadn't be launched then. Unlockapedia is looking good! Great idea to provide a resource on how to unlock phones & allowing people to submit comments/thoughts on each service. Wiki-like features could be an interesting addition to the "unlockapedia" – perhaps a way for people to contribute their own guides/experiences on unlocking 🙂

      Ken

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