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Phone Unlocking Policies For U.S. Carriers

Phone Unlocking Policies For U.S. Carriers

by Brad MerrillFebruary 11, 2015
New unlocking policies for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon

Getting your phone unlocked to switch to a different carrier used to be a painful process, but major wireless carriers in the U.S. are now required to unlock customers’ phones once their contracts are complete.

For your convenience, here’s a rundown of the unlocking policies and requirements for the five major U.S. carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.

Note: Not all devices are compatible with all carriers due to the technology each network uses. CDMA and GSM are the two major radio systems used by mobile devices, and you can’t use a CDMA device on a GSM network or vice versa.  Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon use CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. Most non-U.S. carriers also use GSM.

AT&T

att-logo

General Requirements:

  • The device must be designed for use on, and locked to, the AT&T wireless network.
  • It must not be reported lost or stolen.
  • It’s not associated with fraudulent activity.
  • All the device’s service commitments and installment plans are completed, and all early termination fees are paid in full.
  • The device is not currently active on a different AT&T customer’s account.
  • If you performed an early upgrade, you must wait the 14-day buyer’s remorse period before you can request to unlock your previous device.

If you’re a postpaid customer, your account must be active for at least 60 days. If you’re a prepaid customer, your device must be active for at least six months of paid service.

Full Policy

Sprint

General Requirements:

Sprint will unlock a device from Sprint’s network under the following circumstances:

  • Any associated Service Agreement, Installment Billing Agreement, or Lease Agreement has been fulfilled including payment in full of any applicable early termination fees or end-of-lease purchase options
  • The associated account is in good standing
  • The device has not been reported as lost or stolen, associated with fraudulent activity, or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked

If you have a device that was launched prior to February 2015 and is capable of being unlocked, Sprint will notify you when you are eligible to have your device unlocked.

International Travel:

Sprint customers remaining abroad for an extended period of time may want to try to use their Sprint device with a foreign carrier. For certain devices which are engineered to include a SIM slot, Sprint may be able to unlock the device SIM slot for a foreign carrier’s SIM card to be inserted. Customers must contact Sprint (see below) and must meet the following conditions:

  • The device is capable of international SIM unlock
  • The person requesting the international SIM unlock is a current Sprint customer that can authenticate as the Account Holder or an Authorized Contact
  • The applicable device is currently active on a Sprint account and the applicable account has been active for at least 90 days.
  • The account is in good standing
  • The subscriber with which the device is associated has not previously unlocked another device within the past 12 months.
  • If the account is an ASL account:
    • There is no unfulfilled Service Agreement associated with the line of service.
    • There is no outstanding Installment Billing Agreement balance associated with the device.

Full Policy

T-Mobile

General Requirements:

Device eligibility is determined as follows:

  • The device must be a T-Mobile device.
  • The device must not be reported as lost, stolen or blocked to T-Mobile.
  • The account associated with the device must be in good standing.
  • You have requested no more than 2 mobile device unlock codes per line of service in the last 12 months.
  • The device must satisfy all the Postpaid or Pay in Advance (Prepaid) Unlocking terms outlined below.
  • You may need a non-T-Mobile and non-MetroPCS SIM card to insert in the phone.

If you’re a postpaid customer, your account must be active for at least 40 days. If you’re a prepaid customer, your device must be active for at least one year of paid service.

Full Policy

U.S. Cellular

General Requirements:

Postpaid customers seeking to unlock a device must satisfy all of these requirements;

  • Completed the contractual obligations for the account to which the device was assigned such as by expiration of the term of the service agreement or payment of any applicable early termination fee or payment of the device under any financing contract. Devices for which the customer paid the retail price without a contractual term commitment can be unlocked at any time.
  • Current customers must not have any past due balance and former customers must have no outstanding account balances or prior write offs.

If you’re a prepaid customer, your device must be active for at least one year of paid service.

Full Policy

Verizon

Verizon does not lock most of its devices. The exception to this is its non-iPhone Global Ready 3G phones, and the code to program these devices to work with another carrier is either “000000” or “123456.”

Full Policy

About The Author
Brad Merrill
Brad Merrill is the founder and former editor of VentureBreak.