Blog home


How to unlock your smartphone



6 minute read

Going back a few years and switching to another network wasn’t easy. You’d hit an obstacle as your phone wasn’t unlocked so not only did you have to wait for the transfer process but you also had to wait for the phone to be unlocked. In some cases, you’d be required to pay for the unlocking service too but unlocking fees are no more and we can thank Which? for that.

Which? ran a campaign to put a stop to unlocking fees and in 2016 the Government fell in favour of it. The catch? Well, it’s not really a catch as such but you will have to wait until your contract ends before your phone is unlocked for you. So, after your initial contract period is up, you’re free to insert any SIM for any mobile network provider you want. Happy days.

The benefits of an unlocked phone

Having an unlocked phone is beneficial in more ways than you think. Not only will it save you the hassle of requesting your phone to be unlocked but you will save money year-on-year (uSwitch predict a saving of £48m per year for mobile users) and, as a result, the resale value of your phone will increase because people prefer the freedom of using whatever SIM they wish to. It’s quite an important factor and definitely one I look out for when buying a second-hand smartphone.

With giffgaff, you don’t have to worry about getting your phone unlocked because all smartphones at giffgaff are already unlocked. On top of that, all SIM-only deals are contract-free, so not only will you have a phone that’s ready for any SIM from any network provider but you’ll be able to leave whenever you want #freedom.

Unlocking smartphones
image source: UnlockPlus

Need help finding the right phone?

Help me choose

How to check if your phone is unlocked

If your phone is not from giffgaff and you’re not sure whether your phone came unlocked or is locked to the network, you can easily check by inserting a SIM card from another network. You can get SIMs free from a phone shop or by ordering one online. If the name of the network shows up on your handset then the phone is unlocked. You can confirm this by calling the number or sending a text from it if you’ve got an allowance.

If you don’t see the network name and see ‘no service’ instead then the phone is locked.

How to unlock your smartphone

You can request your phone to be unlocked from your current network provider. How long it takes will vary from one provider to the next and the same goes for the cost too.

So, want your smartphone unlocked? Look for the name of your current network provider below for information on how to request it, how long it will take and the cost, depending on if you’re a pay monthly or pay as you go customer.

Note: if your smartphone is barred, it cannot be unlocked.


Whether you’re a pay monthly or pay as you go customer, O2 will unlock your smartphone for free and will grant your request within 72 hours / three days.

To submit your request, you have the following options:

  1. Fill out the form on O2’s website here
  2. Open the My O2 app and select unlock your device from the main menu


If you’re a pay monthly customer, you can get your smartphone unlocked for free by simply filling out and submitting this form.

You’ll receive a text from Tesco with a code and a link where you’ll need to click the link and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the unlocking process.

Pay as you go customers can submit the same form as mentioned above but whether you have to pay or not depends on the “age” of your phone. If your pay as you go phone is over 12 months old then they’ll unlock it for free, but if it’s less than 12 months old then you’ll be charged £10. This payment will be charged via your credit, so you’ll need to ensure you have at least £10 topped up.


Since September 2015, any iPhone sold directly by EE is unlocked automatically once it reaches 18 months old. All Google Pixel models automatically unlock after two years and all other phones require an unlock code.

To request an unlock, simply fill out and submit this form. You’ll need to have had your phone for at least six months before your request is granted and it’ll cost you £8.99 if you’re still in your contract. Otherwise, it’ll be free. As for the length of time, it could take up to 10 days.

For pay as you go customers, it will be free if the device was bought direct with EE. If the device was bought elsewhere, such as from eBay or Gumtree, then it’ll cost £8.99.


All phones purchased from Three come unlocked, including pay as you go phones but if yours isn’t and you’d like it to be then you can submit this form or call them on 333 and expect it to be done within 7 days.


Vodafone unlocks phones for their customers for free but if you’re a pay as you go customer then you will need to have had your SIM active for at least 30 days.

Either way, you’ll need to fill out this form to request the unlock. This process can take up to 48 hours but sometimes could take up to 10 days.


Pay monthly phones from Virgin come unlocked but if you’re a pay as you go customer then unfortunately you’ll need to pay £15.32 to get your phone unlocked. On the upside, if you’ve owned the phone for 12 months or longer then it’ll be free.

You can request the unlock by calling Virgin Mobile’s customer support team (dial 789 from your Virgin phone or 03456000789 from any other phone) and expect to wait up to 30 days for it to be processed, although it can sometimes be done quicker.


It’s good to know that smartphones can be unlocked very easily, by simply filling out a form or calling up your network provider. The former is definitely quicker. It’s also nice that a lot of providers offer this for free, which is how it should be. Those that charge tend to do it for pay as you go customers but I personally think unlocking should be free, regardless of what type of customer you are. This may eventually happen in the near future but at least we have the freedom of getting our phones unlocked and switching providers if we wanted to.

I hope this blog has been useful, happy unlocking :)

Written by shadylady

Sadia produces tech reviews, tech tips & tutorial videos at XALIRATE.