A guide to getting a phone unlocked
The most important thing about using a local SIM overseas in your current phone, is to make sure it is an “unlocked” phone.
It does not matter if your phone is out of contract, if it was originally locked it is almost certainly still locked unless you requested otherwise at some point (and for iPhones then requires a full reboot from iTunes).
Although there are many types of "locks" a phone can have, the most common type is a carrier lock, also known as a SIM lock or subsidy lock.
A lot of phones sold by carriers come "locked" to that carrier. This means a "locked" phone can only be used with that carrier; it cannot be used with another carrier's service/SIM card.
This type of lock can be removed in a number of ways
1. Contacting and asking your carrier
2. Using an unlock code from a service like FreeUnlocks
It is a very good idea to call your carrier/network to ask them;
a) If your phone is locked
b) If they could unlock it because you are going overseas and need to use a local SIM
You will need your phones IMEI number.
You can get this by typing in *#06# into you keypad/phone
For Australia - the following carrier links may be useful:
Please always check direct with your carrier.
- Telstra; Online unlocking service for iPhones/iPads
- Vodafone; Self service unlocking
- Optus; online unlocking
> Optus also have a guide on whether your device needs unlocking here
Often this will work, but it can depend on how strict the carrier is, and there might be fees that apply (particularly if you are only a few months into your contract).
The main way to test if your phone is unlocked is to put a SIM in from another carrier and see if it will connect to the network. You can often buy these from places like 7-Eleven for $2. Make sure the other carrier does not just buy airtime from you current carrier, as it will be using the same network. If you are able to use the phone, you can be 99% sure that your phone is not locked. If your phone displays an error message saying "Wrong SIM" or "Incorrect SIM", "No connection" or "Emergency calls only", etc., then your phone is probably locked.
Important for Apple users
Apple iPhone users note; If the network unlocks your iPhone, it is a good idea to sync with iTunes (version 7.7 or greater) after unlocking. Note that devices running iOS 6 can be unlocked without using iTunes, and it is always a very good idea to ‘backup’ your phone before syncing- right-click your phone in iTunes and select ‘back-up’.
For Apple users with iOS6 and above, you should be able to "Sign In" to your Apple account in the iTunes app (pre installed on all iPhones..purple in colour), by opening the app and scrolling to the bottom and signing in with your Apple ID.
Unlock code from a service like FreeUnlocks
There are also companies that unlock phones by entering a special code or numeric password. In some situations, some carriers will supply this code upon request by the customer; not all carriers will do this. There are also third-party companies that sell such codes, or other types of unlocking services at a fee.
FreeUnlocks is a service where you can either pay a small fee to supply the unlock code, or get the code free in exchange for participating in their TrialPay program (basically in exchange for downloading or trialling a game/product they will supply the unlock code).
See my full blog post with more detail on unlocking your phone here.