Don't know where to start when it comes to unlocking your mobile?

It's actually not too hard to do. 

So before you had a few quid to some stranger on Gumtree and hope for the best,  let us help explain how the process works so you can do it yourself!

Many UK networks sell their phones unlocked, but if you use EE, O2, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, or Vodafone (or any of the smaller networks that lease access to the networks of these bigger companies) you might have issues if you try to use your phone with a different network.

Fortunately, unlocking your phone is legal in the UK as long as you meet a few requirements. This makes the options for unlocking your mobile or tablet quite straightforward.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know -- including third-party websites and the steps required by major networks in the UK -- so you can use your mobile where and how you wish.

Let’s get started!

Jump to...

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2022.

What is an Unlocked Phone Anyway?

Unlocking your mobile might refer to a number of things.

Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing...

This guide will walk you through the steps of SIM unlocking your mobile. Bootloader unlocking or bypassing the lock screen/security PIN on a mobile are different topics and will not be covered in this guide.

SIM unlocking allows you to remove the network restrictions placed on your mobile.

This is often performed by networks when you purchase your mobile to help ensure that they will recover any device discounts or subsidies that they offer you at the time of purchase.

With a SIM-unlocked mobile, you can place a SIM from any network that uses the network bands that your mobile’s hardware supports and easily switch between service providers.

5 Reasons Why You Might Unlock Your Phone

You bought your mobile used and it is locked.

If you want to save money compared to buying a mobile at retail, buying mobiles second-hand is a great option. The used market is pftem filled with gently used devices at a great price. This is because people who must have the newest models when they release often trade their phones in to help offset the cost. But unless you use the same network as the previous owner, you might find you can't activate the phone on your account or use it on your network. Unlocking the mobile will fix this (assuming the mobile supports your network's frequencies.)

You want to switch networks.

Whether you’re looking for better service, you've relocated to an area with different network options, or you'd like to take advantage of cheaper plans elsewhere, switching networks can help. But if the mobile you’re using came with a contract,  you might be locked to your original network until you meet the terms of your contract. Once you have, you'll still need to unlock your mobile before switching service providers.

You want to save money when travelling internationally.

Roaming in the UK and EU is much cheaper these days. However, the international calling plans and roaming packages offered by networks probably still don't compete with rates of pre-paid SIMs at your travel destination. Unlocking your mobile will allow you to enjoy calling and checking email without worrying about fees upon your return home.

You want full access to the device now that your subsidy is paid.

You've met your obligations and filled the terms of your contract agreement. Now you'd like to use your phone as you wish. Unlocking it will provide you with additional options.

You want to improve resale value.

Unlocking your phone before selling it is a simple way to increase the asking price of your mobile. Whether you're selling it on Gumtree or trading it in, the few minutes it takes to unlock your phone will save the buyer the hassle of doing it themselves and expand the pool of potential buyers to any network your mobile supports. On top of it all, you’ll get a bit more money when the device sells. It's a win-win!

What You'll Need Before Getting Started

Regardless of the method you choose to unlock your mobile, there’s a good chance that you’ll need one particular piece of information.

For GSM mobiles, the IMEI is the unique identification number tied to your device you will need for unlocking.

Here are a few ways to find this identifier:

Dial the IMEI display code: On most mobile devices, launching the dialer and entering “*#06#” will display the IMEI/MEID.

Check the device settings: On Apple devices, tapping Settings -> General -> About -> IMEI/MEIDwill display the information.

On Android devices, tapping Settings -> About Phone -> Status will do the same. You might need to scroll to find the information.

Check the back of the mobile: One many iPhone models, the IMEI/MEID is listed in small print on the back.
Check the SIM tray: Some manufacturers print the IMEI/MEID on the tray that you insert into the mobile’s SIM slot.
Check under the battery: If your mobile features a removeable battery, you might find the IMEI/MEID listed on a sticker beneath it.
Check the original packaging: If you held on to the original box to your device, there’s likely a label on the outside that includes your IMEI/MEID.

We’ll list any other needs for specific unlocking methods in their sections below.

How to Unlock a Mobile Phone in the UK

Unlocking your mobile isn’t as complicated as it might sound.

In this section, we’ll go through the three most popular options for how to unlock your mobile.

We’ll start with the easiest option - network unlocking - and work our way through more advanced options if the previous ones don’t work for you.

The 3 Approaches: Network Unlock, Paid Unlock, Software Unlock

Method #1: Network Unlock

It is completely legal for UK mobile owners to unlock their devices.

Terms vary greatly between networks.

However, in most cases, your network will do this for you for a small fee with a quick call.

Just make sure you meet the following conditions:

  1. Your account be in good standing at the time of the unlock request.
  2. The mobile is from the network who you contact for the unlock.

One exception to this is military deployment. Many networks will unlock a phone with proof of deployment.

Some might also allow you to temporarily unlock the phone for the duration of your trip if you plan to travel abroad.

However, most will recommend an international roaming plan instead.

If you bought your mobile used, this can pose problems when it comes to unlocking.

Some networks won't unlock a phone unless you've had an account with them in the past.

But not to worry, you can still use third-party unlocking services. We'll get to that later...

Most prepaid providers and MNVOs (Virgin, Tesco, giffgaff, etc) adhere to the unlocking policy of the company providing network service.

Once activated, many prepaids will require a specified term of service between 90 days and 12 months before they will unlock the device.

Before we get started, there’s a few things you’ll want to find. Most networks will want some or all of this information to start the unlocking process.

  • The name of the account holder your mobile is on
  • The account holder’s security password
  • The account number your mobile is on
  • The IMEI of your device

Have your information gathered? Let’s get started!

NetworkDo They Lock Phones?Unlock PriceUnlock TermsMore Info




Contact 1p Mobile




Contact ASDA Mobile




Contact BT Mobile




Contact EE




Contact giffgaff




Contact iD Mobile




Contact Lebara Mobile




Contact Lycamobile

No, as of July 2018


Must complete unlock through the MyO2 app

Contact O2




Contact Plusnet




Contact POP Telecom




Contact Sky Mobile


£9.99 within first 12 mohths of service

Free after 12 months of service

Account must be in good standing at the time of request

Contact Talk Mobile




Contact Tello




Contact Tesco Mobile

All phones sold after 1 January 2014 are unlocked

Free unlocking for phones sold before 1 January 2014


Contact Three

PAYG mobiles are locked

Pay Monthly mobiles are unlocked at time of purchase

£15.32 for PAYG mobiles activated less than 12 months ago

Free for PAYG phones activated more than 12 months ago


Contact Virgin Mobile



Can only unlock if purchased directly through Vodafone

Contact Vodafone

Method #2: Paid Unlocking Service

If you don’t qualify for a network unlock, don’t give up hope! There’s still the paid option.

While you need to be careful to find a reputable unlocking service, once you do, you’re only a few steps from unlocking your mobile - regardless of what your network has to say about it.

While you will have to pay to unlock your mobile, the costs are reasonable.

In most cases, you can pay to unlock your mobile for much lower than the cost of even a few days of international calling at network rates.

If you’re looking to sell your mobile, you’ll likely recoup the unlock charge and pocket a bit in the increased selling price.

Before contacting a mobile unlocking service, you’ll want to check three things:

Is your mobile hard locked? For most mobiles, you can do this by placing a SIM from a different network from your current provider into the mobile. If the only option presented when the “Network Locked” screen is displayed is to dismiss, you may not be able to unlock your mobile through a third-party. Calling your network may present limited options if you can verify ownership of the mobile and that the last account it was attached to is in good standing.
Is your IMEI/MEID blacklisted? In most cases, this will only be an issue if you purchased the mobile from a third-party or have account issues with your network. You can check up to 10 IMEI/ESNs a day at Swappa for no charge. If you need to check more, typing “free blacklist checker” into your favorite search engine will offer more options.
Make sure you have all Apple credentials before unlocking an iPhone. If you unlock an iPhone without knowing the iCloud account password for the device, you might find yourself permanently locked out of the device.

Regardless of the unlocking service you choose, most good options work in a similar fashion:

  1. Enter your mobile’s IMEI at the website
  2. Choose from a list of unlocking options
  3. Submit payment information
  4. Receive unlock instructions via email within a few hours or days

While you might feel like a bit of an outlaw, poking around on questionable sites, many of the major mobile unlocking sites have been around for many years.

These same sites often obtain their unlock codes from phone manufacturers and mobile networks for resale.

But before you go off sending any personal information, consider these safety tips:

  • Avoid services requiring you to install software on your mobile OR computer. Most unlock codes are resold from networks or other sources through databases. Software shouldn’t be required and may lead to malware or information theft.
  • Check the service’s refund policy. Most reputable providers have no problem offering a full refund if you cannot unlock your mobile or they cannot find an unlock code for your mobile.
  • Look at the about section of the site. If anything seems off or they’re hiding behind a bunch of generic statements, consider another service.
  • Check for a mobile support option. If they cannot offer mobile support, you might be dealing with an amateur service provider or worse still a scam.
  • Ensure checkout pages are secure. Before transmitting any payment credentials or personal information, always ensure that the checkouts are processed through a secure site with an SSL certificate.
  • Beware sites with fake reviews. Many major service providers now feature reviews through trusted third-party services including TrustPilot, Verified Review and Reseller Rating. If reviews seem fishy, go with another provider.

With these criteria in mind, we’ve scoured a number of the most popular mobile unlocking sites and forums.

Sites we viewed all agreed that DoctorSIM, UnlockRadar, CellUnlocker and UnlockBase are dependable options for unlocking your mobile.

One site stood out for its focus on UK networks: MobileUnlocked.

Method #3: Software Unlock (ADVANCED USERS ONLY)

Flashing custom ROMS or installing specialised apps might help you to unlock your mobile. However, in most cases, this is an advanced procedure.

If you’re not comfortable flashing a custom ROM or risking the functionality of your handset, avoid this method if at all possible.

Steps will differ between devices and not all devices offer software unlocks.

Due to the complexity of this method, we cannot list instructions here.

However, by searching SIM unlock and your mobile’s model on the XDA forums, you should find any options that might exist for your mobile.

Be sure to read through the forum post for your device thoroughly.

While the forum is typically well moderated, no one can ensure that the process will work for your device.

You might also find that a method listed at the start of the thread is no longer relevant, yet a working method exists a few pages in.

Frequently Asked Questions

What about free third-party mobile unlocking services? What’s with that?
Unfortunately, from our research at least, most of free mobile unlocking sites appear to be scams. Typically, the site will ask you to fill out a survey or view ads - tasks they earn a small commission on when you complete them. Once you’ve finished, they’ll promise an unlock code via email that never arrives. They pocket a few cents and your personal information. The network unlock or paid unlocking service might cost a bit more, but the results are dependable and, most importantly, you can trust the sites with your personal information.

How do I unlock my iPhone?
Unlocking iPhones involves a few different steps from most other mobiles. Instead of inserting a code or new SIM, the unlocking is completed on Apple’s end. This also means that sometimes you’ll experience a delay before unlocking is completed. Once you receive confirmation from your network or unlocking service, you’ll need to connect your mobile to iTunes and perform a restore. Be sure to backup any important data on your mobile before restoring.

How do I know if I’m buying an unlocked mobile?
If you’re buying an iPhone, you can ask to see the iTunes device information page. This will list that the mobile is unlocked as well as the IMEI number that is on the back of the mobile. Also, if you check the mobile’s settings in the Cellular section, you should find an entry for Cellular Data Network. If the mobile is still locked, this option will not appear.

For other mobiles, power off the device and insert a SIM from a different network into the slot. Power on the device and wait two minutes. Attempt to place a call. If the call goes through, the mobile is unlocked. If the mobile requests you to enter a code upon boot, there’s a good chance that it is still locked to a network.

What’s a jailbroken or rooted mobile and how is different from an unlocked mobile?
Jailbroken mobiles are iPhones that have modified software. This allows the installation of apps not available in the App Store and other advanced features. It might also mean that there is malware on the device. Jailbreaking a mobile does not network unlock a mobile.

Rooted mobiles are just the Android equivalent with the same features and concerns. While rooting a mobile may mean it is unlocked, there is no guarantee. It is best to use the SIM test listed in the previous question to ensure that unlocking is active. However, rooted mobiles may not receive updates, leaving you open to security vulnerabilities or unable to access the features of new Android OS releases.

What is a factory unlock?
If you buy your device direct from the manufacturer or at full price from your network, there’s a good chance that it is unlocked. Popular examples of this include the international variants of the Samsung Galaxy Series, iPhones purchased in the Apple Store and Google’s Nexus series of mobiles. While they cost more upfront, you can enjoy the benefits of an unlocked mobile out of the box.

Can I buy unlocking software and do it myself?
In most cases, the answer to this is no. Some older devices, such as the iPhone 3G, included exploits that people found and used to network unlock the mobiles. However, this is rare. Beware of any site offering to sell you software for unlocking mobiles.

Your Turn

With these three methods, you should be able to unlock your device and enjoy a little more freedom in how you use your mobile.

If you have any questions, we’d love to help! Just drop us a line in the Q & A Forums or leave a comment.

Did our guide help or do you have a friend who might want to unlock their mobile? Share this guide on social media so more people can benefit!

If you’ve unlocked your mobile because you’re hunting for a new network, our plan comparison tool will help you find the best plan to suit your needs or budget! Looking to resell your newly unlocked device for the best possible price? We have a guide for that too!

Disclosure: You should know that in some cases, we may receive a referral fee (at no additional cost to you) for products purchased through the links on our site. These links help support our work but they do not influence our content. Our editorial recommendations are always genuine and we try to feature only the best products and services. Why trust us?