How to Unlock Phones by IMEI (4 Steps)
By Robin Noelle
When you purchase a phone from a cellular provider, it is locked into that company's service. You usually have to agree to a one- or two-year contract as well if the company provides you with a free or discounted phone. You can avoid this contract and freely switch between providers, as well as travel outside of the country on other networks, by unlocking your phone using the IMEI code.
Locate the 15-digit IMEI code. This is sometimes printed on the phone under the battery. You can also sometimes find it in your phone's setting page or by entering a special code to get your phone to display the number on your screen. In many instances, this code is *#06#
If you cannot locate the code, contact your current service provider and ask for the unlock code. Depending on the circumstances, they might just provide it for you. Often, if you are traveling outside of the U.S. or have completed your service contract, your cell phone provider will give you instructions on how to unlock your phone.
Purchase the unlock code. You can cheaply purchase an unlock code by providing the IMEI code and your cell phone make and model to one of many online providers. For between $5-15, you can receive an unlock code within an hour. Often this is the most convenient way to unlock your phone. Some retail providers may provide this service as well, but make sure that it is a company that offers plans from many cell phone providers and is not the retail location for a single provider, such as AT&T or T-Mobile, that will then want to sign you up to their plan.
Download the software and unlock your phone yourself. You can find and download software to unlock a number of different phones online. See the resources section of this article for unlocking software and free unlock codes.
- Most cell phones have a limit on the number of times they can be unlocked. If you fail entering the codes more than 3-5 times (depending on the make and model), the phone will hard-lock, meaning that you will need special software to unlock it.
Robin Noelle is a professional writer living and working in Northern California. She has a degree in Journalism and a background in high tech public relations. She is the author of travel guides and end-user computer books.