Passing your old phone to friends/family; Getting Started with a preowned phone

December 14th, 2010

If you’ve just upgraded your phone, you might be looking at passing your old phone onto a friend or family member. Ken’s Tech Tips investigates the cost-effectiveness of doing so and the potential problems you might experience.

In the UK, it is fairly common for people to pass their old mobile phone handset onto a friend or family member when they upgrade their own phone. At Ken’s Tech Tips, we’re a big fan of recycling your phone this way. Not only does it reduce the amount of harmful electronic waste we dispose as a country, it means that one person’s “free upgrade” can multiply up to be a “free upgrade” for two people at no extra cost. Furthermore, passing your phone onto a friend or family member is almost always more cost-effective than selling your old phone or recycling it through a mobile recycling company. In this guide, we outline the process of passing a phone onto somebody else and potential problems you can experience. For anyone who has received a new pre-owned phone, we outline the steps behind getting it running.

Am I allowed to pass my old phone onto someone else? Do I own it or simply rent it from the mobile network?

Yes. When you get a new mobile contract with an inclusive phone, the phone belongs to you (it is not rented to you). The phone belongs to you as soon as you receive it and you settle the upfront cost of the phone (if there is one). This means you do not need to wait until your contract finishes before passing it on to somebody else or selling it.

How does it work? An example…

Your existing mobile phone contract has just come up for renewal. You take advantage of a “free upgrade” offer from your mobile network and you upgrade from an iPhone 3G S to an iPhone 4. Once you’ve upgraded, you’ve now got a spare iPhone 3G S lying around. You now have several options:

  • Keep your old phone (e.g. iPhone 3G S) as a backup device. It’s always handy to have a spare mobile phone in case you have problems with your new mobile phone. Also there are occasions where you’d rather not carry an flashy new mobile phone (e.g. at music festivals, clubs). We recommend keeping your old phone for at least 2 weeks before passing it on or recycling it. This is in case you have problems with your new phone and so you’ll have plenty of time to transfer all of your personal information to your new phone.
  • Recycle or sell your old phone (e.g. iPhone 3G S). If your phone is in good condition, you’ll usually get more money selling your phone on eBay rather than recycling it. See our detailed guide on mobile phone recycling. However, the amount of money you’ll get from selling/recycling your phone will still be far less than the value of the phone – in other words it would cost more to buy that phone than you’d get from selling it.
  • Pass it on to a friend or family member (perhaps for free or with a small charge). This is our preferred method.

According to, you’d currently get a maximum of £177 by recycling your 8GB iPhone 3G S. Meanwhile, buying a new iPhone 3G S would cost £419. Put it this way, it makes a lot of sense to pass your old iPhone 3G S onto a friend or family member: they would benefit from a phone which would normally cost them £419 whereas you might only be foregoing a cheque for £177. Do a deal at £200 if you want and it’s a win-win situation.

What should I do before passing my phone onto someone else?

There are several important things you need to do before passing your phone on:

  • Check whether your phone is locked. Is your phone locked to a certain network? We’ve got a guide which will help you find out whether your phone is locked. If your phone is unlocked, everything’s fine and it’ll work on any network. If it’s locked, there might potentially be a problem if the person you pass it on to wants to use it on a different network. If they would like to use it on a different network, you should unlock it before passing it onto them as they may not be able to do it themselves. This is because your phone may be linked to your account. There may be a small charge to unlock a phone (around £20).
  • Copy across all of your personal information to your new phone. This includes phone numbers, contacts, text messages and any other relevant settings. We’ve got a detailed guide on how to achieve this.
  • Delete all of your personal information. Before passing your phone onto somebody else, you should delete all of your personal information. If you have an older phone, this might simply involve clearing the phone call history, address book and text message folders. Modern smartphones, however, will store all kinds of personal information (potentially each app will store different information in different places). The easiest way to delete all of your personal information is to perform a factory reset. You’ll find this in the Settings menu of your phone.
  • Delete any files on the memory card. If your phone has an SD card inside, there is a good chance that a factory reset will not delete any content on the SD card (e.g. photos, music, videos). The best thing to do is to remove the SD card and perhaps use it in your new phone. If you’d prefer not to do this, go through your memory card and delete any personal data from it first.

I’ve just been given a pre-owned phone from a friend or family member. What should I do to set it up?

Hopefully providing the person you got the phone from has followed the instructions above, you should be able to simply stick your existing SIM card inside the phone and it should work straight away. A word of warning however… if you’ve just been given a smartphone, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a tariff with an inclusive internet/data allowance. Using a smartphone on a non-smartphone tariff can lead to huge charges. The cheapest way to get an inclusive internet/data allowance is to sign up for a “SIM Only” smartphone tariff. See our guide to the UK’s best value SIM-only smartphone tariffs and our SIM Only deal finder for more information.

As with any other new phone, you’ll need to spend some time transferring your personal information onto it and customising it for your preferences. We’ve got a guide on how to transfer your contacts, phone numbers and text messages.

Like this tip? Get the most from your mobile phone...

  • Discover brand new ways to use your mobile phone
  • Techniques to get more out of your mobile phone for less
  • Be the first to learn about new mobile technology

Enter your email to receive free regular Ken's Tech Tips:

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 8 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Paul said:

    Hi slightly different if i upgraded and gave the new phone to my son would there be any issues with that? Thanks paul

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Paul,
      It should be absolutely fine to give your new phone to your son: I can’t envision any specific problems doing this!

  2. Steve C said:

    I have got a sim only contract with Vodafone to use on my daughter’s old I phone 5 and keep getting asked to sign in my (her) password to the I cloud.
    I don’t want this. How can I get rid of the ms gs and just use my phone?

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comment. I’d probably recommend doing a factory reset of the iPhone – this will remove all of your daughter’s information including the settings like her iCloud account. This will essentially restore the iPhone back to the “as-new” configuration. As an alternative, you could simply sign out of iCloud.
      Hope this helps,

      1. Steve C replied:

        Many thanks. I cancelled her I cloud account.

  3. FB said:

    Many thanks for the tips and info. I’m about to ‘upgrade’ from a very ancient Nokia to an iphone4. This involves a sim change and a leap of faith. The article explaining the ‘things to do’ was really helpful.

Load more comments (2)

Leave a Reply

E-Mail Notifications: By default, I'll drop you an e-mail when there's a reply to your comment. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above.