If a cell phone is locked to a carrier, it means you can only use a SIM card from that one carrier in the phone. SIMs from other carriers will not connect to the mobile network and will not function for any services. On the flip side, an unlocked phone guarantees that you will be able to use it freely with any compatible carrier. If that is important to you, you definitely want to be able to tell if a phone is locked to a carrier or not.
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Ask At The Store
The easiest thing to do to make sure you know whether a phone you want to buy is locked to a carrier or not is to ask at the point of purchase. I recommend that you buy from a reputable store – Amazon, Best Buy, or even your carrier’s store. Usually, a locked phone will carry a label that says so on the box or on the sales webpage. Still, ask. Don’t assume. Specify what you want – in this case an unlocked phone.
The SIM Card Test
If the smartphone in question is not in a sealed box, the easiest and most effective way to quickly check if it is locked or not is to remove any SIM card on it, and insert one from another carrier. If the phone does not connect to the network and you are unable to make calls, send SMS, and connect to the mobile Internet, that phone is locked to a carrier. If it is a locked iPhone, it will display a message saying the SIM card is not supported and that you need to replace it with a supported SIM card.
Check The Carrier Lock Status on iPhone
Again, this requires that the phone is not in a sealed box. On an Apple iPhone, you can tell if your iPhone is locked to a carrier by checking the Carrier Lock menu.
- On iOS 14 and above, go to Settings,
- Scroll down and tap on General, then select About.
- Scroll down to the section that says Carrier Lock or Network Provider Lock (in some other countries). If you see the No SIM Restrictions message next to it, your iPhone is unlocked and can be used freely with any compatible carrier or network.
How to check if an Android phone is locked to a carrier
Brands like Samsung, OnePlus, Nokia, Google, BLU, and others, use Android OS which does not have a similar menu to the Carrier Lock menu in iPhones. That does not mean there is no way to check if a phone is unlocked or not.
- On your Android smartphone, open Settings
- Tap ‘Connections’, ‘Network and internet’, or other similar label
- Tap ‘Mobile network’, or similar
- Tap ‘Choose network’ or ‘Automatically select network’. If your phone goes on to list out available networks, it is unlocked. If, however, you can only select one carrier, then that phone is locked to that specified one.
What To Do If Your Cell Phone Is Locked To A Carrier
Whether it is an iPhone or a Samsung phone, Nokia phone, Motorola phone or some.other, if your phone is locked to a carrier, you have two options:
- Unlock it so you can freely use a SIM card from any compatible carrier in it. Notice that I keep repeating the phrase “compatible carrier”. This is because every phone, even when unlocked, has a range of frequencies that determine which networks it can work on. For example, some phones work on T-Mobile but not on Verizon. For more details, read up, Your Unlocked Phone Will Not Work All Over The World Or On Every Carrier.
- Stick with the network carrier that it is locked to.
There are multiple ways to unlock an iPhone, for example. We also have an article about unlocking Walmart Family Mobile phones. Of you choose to unlock a phone, make sure you stay on the right side of the law.