Everything You Need to Know About Unlocking Your Phone

You don't need to be an expert in mobile devices to buy a used phone in Canada, but there are some things you SHOULD know if you're going to buy a used device. One element you'll need to understand is the important difference between locked and unlocked devices. Locked phones are devices that can only be used with a single carrier. Alternatively, unlocked phones are those that can be used on many carriers. Understanding how to navigate locked and unlocked devices will affect your ability to switch carriers, save money, and change networks when you go travelling with your phone.

The good news is that, it’s not very complicated to deal with unlocking your phone.

The bad news is that, it's hard to find good information about unlocked phones, especially since a lot of the existing information can be outdated or muddled by facts that apply to the US but not Canada.

 

Here are Some Quick Facts You Should Know About Unlocked Phones:

  • Unlocked phones can be used on almost any wireless carrier
  • Locked phones can only be used with one carrier
  • If you have a locked phone it can only be unlocked through the phone’s wireless carrier.
  • Most devices sold in Canada prior to 2018 are locked, this changed with new legislation introduced in December 2017, that banned carriers from selling locked devices.
  • Due to the 2017 legislation, all carriers are required to unlock devices for free upon request
  • If you’re not sure what carrier your device is locked to, you can check which carrier’s SIM was last in the phone to give you a clue as to which carrier it is likely locked to. You can identify the most recent carrier SIM of your phone in your device settings. For iPhone and Android this can be done with the following steps:

iPhone:

  1. Tap Settings > General > About and look beside Carrier

Android:

  1. Tap Settings > General > About
  2. Select Status to see your carrier under the Network listing

  • Once you have a carrier unlock a phone for you, the easiest way to test your phone’s lock status is by popping in a SIM card from another carrier. If the phone is still locked, you will get an error message.

 

Why do Carriers Lock Their Phones?

As many Canadians know, we pay significantly more for wireless services than our neighbours south of the border and in many other parts of the world. This has a lot to do with the significant market power possessed by the big 3 carriers in Canada, Bell, Telus and Rogers. As the old saying goes “With great power comes great responsibility”. However, for many large companies, “responsibility” looks more like “opportunity”. The main reason service providers have made it a point to lock the mobile phones they sell in Canada, is to keep you from switching to another carrier. For a long-time now, this has allowed carriers to hang onto your business, at least until you buy a new phone.

 

Why should I unlock my Phone?

the main reason you would want to unlock your phone is to increase the number of carrier options at your disposal. This provides 2 main benefits:

  • First, if you're shopping around for a better wireless deal, this will allow you to bring your own phone when switching to a new carrier which can have a huge cost savings. In many cases bringing your own phone can save you hundreds of dollars per year versus getting a new phone on a 2 or 3-year, carrier contract plan [1]. And it will make it easier to switch when you see a new opportunity for better rates or service.
  • Second, if you really like to travel, having an unlocked phone will make it easy to hot swap wireless services with a new SIM card when you travel abroad. This will save you heaps on roaming charges as you'll be able to pay local rates for calls and messages.

 

How Can I Tell if my Phone is Unlocked?

Most people who buy cell phones in Canada will purchase them through a carrier or carrier wireless plan. If this is true in your case and you bought your device prior to 2018, odds are your phone is still carrier locked. It’s possible to get your phone unlocked for free on request to your carrier, but it's important to know that this doesn't happen automatically at the end of your contract.

Alternatively, if you bought your phone direct from a manufacturer such as Apple, your device would come unlocked. This goes the same if you purchase a used device from a certified pre-owned reseller like eMobile.

 

How do I Get an Unlocked Phone?

You can buy an unlocked phone directly from a manufacturer such as Apple or Samsung, or you can buy a certified pre-owned device from a site like ours, eMobile. Having an unlocked phone can save you a lot of money on your carrier plan, here is a recent comparison:

 

Bell [2]

Telus [3][4]

Rogers [5][6]

Plan

Unlimited 10

Peace of Mind

Infinite +10

Subsidized Phone

$95/month

$18.96 + $75/month

$95/month

Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP)

$75/month

$75/month

$75/month

 

Should I Use an Unlocking Service to Unlock my Phone?

You might be tempted to pay a cell phone repair shop or small tech business to unlock your phone. Our suggestion? Don't bother, save your money and call your carrier instead. Since the only way to unlock your device is through your carrier, you might be paying someone $50 just to make a quick 5-minute phone call on your behalf.

What's worse is that many websites and stores will offer unlocking services for “gray market” used devices. These companies often use “suppliers” who are able-to stealthily slip your phone’s info into a carriers list of devices to unlock. For example, when a carrier contacts Apple to unlock a list of phones, they are also unwittingly unlocking your phone as well.

One issue with this kind of grey market service is that carriers don’t like this kind of shady activity. Occasionally carriers will audit their list of recently unlocked phones. If they find that your phone was unlocked illegitimately, by way of an illegitimate supplier, they will flag it with Apple and have the phone relocked. This renders these grey market unlocking services, both unreliable and a big waste of your money!

 

So How do I Unlock my Phone (Bell/Telus/Rogers)?

Here's a quick walk through for how you can unlock your device both risk free and hassle free:

  1. First, call your carrier’s customer service line.
  2. When they answer, they may ask for an account number or phone number, if you don't have it that's okay.
  3. Let them know you have the device IMEI number and give them this number. This can easily be found by pressing *#06# from the dial pad or by searching the phones settings as outlined above.

For Android:

Once the agent has the IMEI number they should provide you with an unlock code. Once you've written this down put in a SIM card from a different service provider and when the lock screen comes up enter this code.

For iPhone:

iPhone doesn't require an unlock code. Instead the agent will send a request to Apple to unlock your device for you, this may take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Once the device is unlocked Simply pop a new SIM card from a different carrier into the phone and your device should start working right away.

 

What do I do if the Carrier Can't Unlock my Phone or Can't Find it in Their Database?

In rare cases the original carrier will not be able to unlock your device. This can happen if there's an outstanding balance tied to the account, or if the phone has been reported as stolen. For the agent, this may be grounds to reject the unlock request.

Alternatively, in some other rare cases an agent may not be able to find your phone in their database, or maybe the unlock code won’t work. if this is the case try again with a new representative or asked to speak with their boss. This might result in support from someone who is more knowledgeable. If after a few tries you're still unsuccessful, it may be time escalate this problem to a local expert or consider switching to the original carrier provided they have service in your area.

If you're having a hard time identifying the original carrier this may add a few extra steps. Because there's no easy way to confirm which carrier a device is locked to, you may want to try calling each of the carriers in your local area. If you do have an existing service provider, you can also try calling them and they may be willing to lend some additional support.

If you are in the market for a new unlocked device, consider eMobile as a safe affordable alternative to buying brand new. Our devices come with a 35-point inspection and 30-day return policy!

 

[1] https://emobilehub.com/blogs/news/7-ways-to-save-money-on-your-wireless-plan

[2] https://www.bell.ca/Mobility/Cell_phone_plans/Unlimited-plans/With_a_subsidized_phone_price.tab

[3] https://www.telus.com/en/mobility/configure?product=bring-your-own-device&sessionFlow=consumer&INTCMP=tcom_plans_tb_cta_byod&linktype=plans

[4] https://www.telus.com/en/mobility/configure?product=iphone-6s&sku=NLAI6S32GBGY&INTCMP=tcom_pep_cta_config&linktype=pep

[5] https://www.rogers.com/consumer/wireless/smartphone-plans#bring-your-own-phonePlan

[6] https://www.rogers.com/consumer/wireless/smartphone-plans#edge-20TabPlan