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Can my carrier refuse to unlock my phone?

On February 11, 2015, the FCC restructured cell phone laws to provide consumers with the option to unlock their mobile devices without service providers being able to refuse this request. In the revision, the FCC adopted six standards set on limiting ways service providers can lock your phone. These new regulations have given users the chance to unlock their phone so the device can used with another carrier. 

If you purchased your phone directly from the manufacturer like Apple or Samsung, the phones typically will be sold unlocked. However, the majority of service providers will sell the device locked to the carrier so the user cannot take the phone elsewhere.

There are a few different ways your service provider can lock your phone. They can lock the phones SIM slot to only allow their SIM cards or in some cases, the carrier will use specific software to lock the phone. In either case, the phone cannot be used with another carrier until the device has been unlocked.

Below are some reasons the carrier may refuse your unlock request:

  • If you are in contract with your carrier, they will not unlock your device until the contract has been finished.
  • If you have gotten a phone on an installment plan your carrier will not unlock your phone until the device is paid off and you officially own the device.
  • If you have leased a device through your provider, they will not unlock the device as you do not own the device. 
  • The most common way to have your device unlocked is to pay for the device once your lease is up or buy out your lease and the phone.
  • If you have bought a prepaid phone outright, they will not give you the unlock code. The carrier will not unlock the phone for one year after the purchase and activation of the prepaid phone. 
  • If you have a prepaid phone from Boost or Virgin Mobile, the carrier may require the phone to be active with their service at least 6 months before they will agree to unlock the phone. This is generally due to the phone being sold well below retail value.

In other words, you must own your phone by purchasing it outright or by paying the device off through monthly installments before requesting an unlock code. 

Requesting an unlock code from your carrier is as simple as requesting it. Once you know you're in good standing with your carrier and your phone is paid off, then you have every right to ask for an unlock code. 

There are other ways to unlock your phone rather than using your service provider. 3rd party unlocking services are a popular way to get your phone unlocked. Services that specialize in unlocking phones will charge a fixed rate to unlock your phone, sometimes requiring you to send the phone to them. We suggest using caution if you decide to take this approach.  

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