How to Open a Locked Cell Phone

By Starratt Alexander

Updated September 28, 2017

Items you will need

  • Cell phone

  • SIM card

  • Software to generate unlocking codes (certain models only)

Every cell phone you buy from a carrier like Verizon or AT&T is locked into that service via a SIM card. But with a bit of knowledge, it is possible to unlock your phone for use with any carrier, or even overseas. Some phones are easier to unlock than others, and there are services that offer to unlock your phone for a fee. Read below for some basic tips on how to unlock different models, or find services that will do it for you.

If you have been with your service provider a long time or are at the end of your contract, call customer service and ask for the key code to unlock your phone. If they ask why, tell them you need to be able to use your phone overseas. Or say you bought a locked phone off of eBay and would like to unlock it. Speak to a manager if needed.

For older phones, especially Nokias, it is possible to search for unlocking code generator software. Some may be free; others may require a small fee. Follow the steps provided by each software provider, as they can differ. At the site GSM Unlock, you'll find software for Nokia, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony. (Follow the link in Resources.)

Newer phones usually require hardware and software to unlock the SIM card. A special cable and unlocking software, found online, will typically run you $15 to 50. Lots of help is available at a forum called Cellphone (See Resources.)

To access the unlock codes for Motorola phones, you have to disassemble the phone and drill into the main shield to access circuits and put the phone into a diagnostic mode. It would probably be wise to have this done by a professional service, such as the one provided by The Travel Insider. (See Resources.)

Samsung phones require a certain type of software, which can be pricey ($200). It's probably best to send your phone to an unlocking service like Travel Insider, which is much cheaper.

Search for companies that provide unlocking services if you feel it is necessary. Compare their prices and services. Some can do it remotely, while others require you to send in your phone. It runs anywhere from $15 to $50, depending on the complexity of the phone. PC Magazine lists Howard Forums as a good site for finding links to various unlocking services. (See Resources.)


Each phone is different. What works on one cell phone may not work on another. More modern phones (i.e., iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) are more difficult to unlock, and the work should probably only be done by a professional. Unlock codes only work on GSM phones. Non-GSM phones will require both hardware and software to unlock them.


While it is legal to unlock your cell phone, some carriers may void your warranty. Unlock at your own risk. Most phones have a limited number of unlock "tries" before they become impossible to unlock without certain equipment. When in doubt, go to a professional to prevent doing damage to your phone.