How Do I Know If My Phone Is Unlocked?

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on July 12, 2019, How To Guides

Getting a brand new mobile is pretty awesome. But if you’ve bought your new toy from a mobile operator, then there’s a chance that it could be locked. What does that mean? How can you fix it? We’re taking a look at mobile unlocking, so keep reading to find out everything you need to know about getting unrestricted access to your phone and mobile providers.

What is Phone Locking?


There are tons of places where you can get a new mobile. But if you opt to get a phone through a mobile operator like EE, O2, or Three, then there’s a chance that the phone you buy will be locked. When a phone is locked it simply means that it will only work on the network that you bought it from. So if you get a locked phone from EE then it’ll work just fine with an EE SIM card. Put an O2 SIM card in, however, and the phone won’t work at all.

In some cases, having a locked phone is no big deal. However, there are a few reasons that you might want to get your phone unlocked, and we’ll get to those in a minute.

Why Do Companies Lock Phones?

The primary reason that operators lock phones is financial. Many operators offer phones at a cost lower than it would be if you brought a phone off the shelf. The idea is that the operator lures you into signing a contract with a cheaper than normal phone, but then makes up the money because you’re paying your monthly phone bill. By locking the phone the company ensures that you’re not going to be switching to another network, or using another operator’s SIM card to get cheap rates whilst not running up your phone bill with the company you got your phone from…

Is There Something I Can Do About This?

Absolutely. You can unlock your phone. It’s a simple enough process, though it might cost you a few pounds, and we’ll get to some specific instructions below. But for now, you should know that you’re well within your rights to request that your phone is unlocked and that phone unlocking is perfectly legal!

Why Would I Want to Unlock My Phone?

why unlock

Unlocking is easy, but it’s still somewhat of an inconvenience. It’ll take a little time and may cost you a few pounds. So is it really worth it? Well, there are three main reasons why unlocking your phone could be beneficial to you:

Cheaper Rates

If your phone is unlocked you’ll be able to change operators whenever you feel like it, potentially getting cheaper rates. Even if you’re not in a position to switch networks (perhaps because you’re on a contract and it hasn’t finished yet), you could still save money with an unlocked phone. Perhaps you have a contract with O2, for example, that gives you unlimited calling and texting but only 1 GB of data per month. Yes, you could upgrade that contract to a more expensive one to get more data. Or you could grab yourself a cheap data-only SIM from another operator to give you more data at a cheaper price.

Basically, having an unlocked phone gives you more opportunities to save money and more flexibility…

Better Resale Value

Most of us change our phones every couple of years, meaning that there’s a good chance that you’ll want to get rid of your current phone at some point. An unlocked phone has greater resale value (or is easier to pass along to a friend or relative). This is common sense since if your phone is locked you’ll only be able to sell/give it to someone who also uses your network…

Cheaper Travelling

Finally, if you travel then an unlocked phone gives you potentially cheaper prices for mobile use abroad. Whilst mobile roaming is (for the time being) free of charge inside the EU, it’s not in other places. And even if you’re within the EU you might want to think about, say, larger data limits when you’re away from home, or extra calling-from-abroad minutes. Many operators offer special roaming deals and packages. If your phone is unlocked then you can take advantage of a roaming deal from any operator that you choose, rather than being stuck with your current network.

You may also want to think about investing in a cheap PAYG SIM from an operator in the country that you’re visiting. This is a great way to save money, especially if you’re going to be away for more than a week or so. Again, an unlocked phone just gives you more flexibility.

Is My Phone Locked?

is my phone locked

Knowing whether your phone is locked or not is actually pretty easy, and there are several ways that you can find out:

  • Borrow a SIM card from a friend that uses a different operator and slide it into your phone. If your phone works (and displays the name of your friend’s operator in the top corner) then you’re unlocked!
  • Call your operator’s customer service number and ask them!
  • Stop by any mobile operator store for a network other than your own. As long as they’re not too busy the staff are generally happy to slide a SIM card into your phone to check it for you.

Which Operators Lock Phones?

Not all operators lock their phones and even the ones that do don’t lock every model. So there’s really no knowing whether you’re locked or not without checking or asking before you buy. As a general rule, here’s how the biggest UK operators stand on phone locking:

  • EE: Usually sells phones locked
  • O2: Usually sells phones locked
  • Three: Phones are unlocked
  • Vodafone: Usually sells phones locked
  • Virgin Mobile: PAYG phones are usually locked, contract phones usually unlocked
  • BT Mobile: Phones are unlocked
  • Sky Mobile: Phones are unlocked
  • Giffgaff: Phones are unlocked
  • iD Mobile: Phones are unlocked
  • Tesco Mobile: Usually sells phones locked

Phone Unlocking: A Warning

Unlocking your phone is perfectly legal, as we’ve already mentioned. However, if you want to unlock your phone the only way to do it is through your operator. There are plenty of unlocking scams around (particularly for iPhones). You do NOT need a company or service to do this for you, you can NOT unlock your phone online (except through your operator), and you should NOT pay anyone other than your mobile operator to unlock your phone!

Unlocking Your Phone: A Guide for Each Network

Before you get to contacting your operator, first you’ll need a little information. Your initial step is to make sure that your phone actually is locked. If it is, then you’re going to need to find your mobile’s IMEI number before you can start the unlocking process. This is easy. Dial *#06# into your phone’s dialer and a 15 digit number should appear on the screen. This is your IMEI number, so note it down somewhere safe, you’re going to need it! Now you’re going to need to contact your network…

Phone Unlocking with EE

With EE you can’t unlock any contract phone for the first six months of ownership. After six months you’ll be charged £8.99 on your next bill to unlock. If your contract has ended or you’ve had your phone for more than 18 months, then unlocking is free. If you’re a PAYG customer and you got your handset from EE then unlocking is also free (if you got the handset from elsewhere or it was bought in someone else’s name through EE then you’ll pay £8.99).

You can request unlocking through EE’s website by filling out a simple form. Any charges will be added to your next monthly bill. Unlocking can take anywhere from about 72 hours to around ten days. You’ll receive an unlocking code (NUC) from EE along with further instructions when your application has been processed.

Phone Unlocking with Vodafone

If you’re with Vodafone then you can unlock any phone with no charge as long as you meet certain time requirements. For contract phones you need to have paid three monthly bills on time, and for PAYG phones you need to have been using your SIM card for 30 days.

Again, you can request unlocking through Vodafone’s website by filling out this form. Unlocking can take up to ten days, and you’ll receive an unlocking code (NUC) from Vodafone when your application has been processed.

Phone Unlocking with O2

O2 have pretty strict rules about unlocking. If you’ve got a contract phone then for most models O2 will allow you to unlock for free at any time. However, for the occasional model (usually expensive iPhone models) you may need to wait until you’ve finished making payments on the phone. You’ll need to contact O2 to find out if your phone is able to be unlocked or not. If you’re on PAYG then you’ll need to use your SIM card for 12 months before you can request unlocking and then it’s going to cost you £15.

You can request unlocking using this form on the O2 website. Do be aware that for PAYG customers that £15 charge will be deducted from your credit so make sure you’ve got enough credit on your phone. Unlocking should take no more than 7 days, and you’ll receive your NUC (unlocking code) and further instructions when your application has been processed.

Phone Unlocking with Tesco Mobile

Tesco Mobile contract customers can unlock their phones for free at any time. If you’re on PAYG then you can unlock your phone for free after 12 months (before that you can still unlock your phone but it’ll cost you £10).

You’ll need to call Tesco Mobile on 0345 301 4455 (or just 4455 if you’re calling from a Tesco Mobile SIM card) to request unlocking. You’ll receive further instruction from the customer service operator you speak to. Generally unlocking takes about 7 days with Tesco Mobile, but it can take up to 20 days.

Phone Unlocking with Virgin Mobile

Contract phones are generally unlocked with Virgin Mobile and only PAYG phones are locked. However, in some cases (especially with older phones) you may find a locked contract phone. The charge for unlocking a phone through Virgin Mobile usually depends on what kind of mobile you have (it hovers at around £15 or so though). You’ll need to get this information from customer service themselves.

To arrange for unlocking and to get more information about possible charges you’ll need to call Virgin Mobile at 789 from your Virgin handset. You’ll receive all the instructions you need from the representative you speak to, though Virgin doesn’t guarantee how long unlocking will take…

What’s With the NUC?

With most operators when you’re unlocking your phone you’ll receive a special code. This is usually called a NUC (network unlock code), although sometimes it’s referred to as a NUP (network unlock PIN) or NCK (network control key). Basically, this is the code that you’ll need to unlock your phone.

We can’t give you specific instructions for how to use the NUC once you receive it, since how you use the code will depend on what kind of phone you have. However, your operator should provide you with instructions (or a link that will allow you to input your phone model and receive instructions).

Phone Unlocking: Easy If Not Always Free

Unlocking your phone is usually a pretty good idea, for convenience sake if for no other reason. Unlocking could help you save money, or even make money if you’re selling your phone. And you never know when you might need to put another SIM into your mobile, perhaps because a friend needs help, or maybe because you’ve lost your original SIM. Having an unlocked phone give you more flexibility, so this is definitely a chore worth taking care of!