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How to unlock your phone on Vodafone, EE, Three, O2 and more

Nathan Spendelow Michael Passingham
5 May 2021
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We show you the way to unlock your phone for free, and reveal which networks let you buy an unlocked phone from the get-go

Having a locked phone stops you from using other networks and, as a result, prevents you from reaping the benefits of the market's best deals. In this article, we show you how to unlock your mobile phone (in most cases for free), preventing you from being bogged down in a long and expensive contract.

While this doesn't work in mobile phone companies' favour, all of the UK's major networks – including Vodafone, Three, EE and O2 – do let you unlock and some don't even charge.

READ NEXT: This month's best SIM-only mobile phone deals

Naturally, there are caveats; typically all networks impose limitations on the unlocking process – time after activation to unlock, cost of unlocking and how long it will take to carry out. We'll explain how to do it on all the UK's major networks, so that you can finally do away with dubious-looking high street unlocking services – anything they'll do you can do yourself for a fraction of the cost, if not for free.

Stuff you need to know before unlocking your phone:

- Your mobile phone number
- Your account number (if known/applicable)
- Phone manufacturer
- Phone model
- IMEI number (dial *#06# or look on back of battery or the phone's retail box)

Buying an unlocked phone from a mobile network

Some mobile networks permit their customers to buy unlocked phones from the get-go. GiffGaff is one such example, and has become a household name accordingly; they let you buy a phone outright and then pay monthly for data, texts and minutes – or you can pay monthly for the phone in the form of a loan. Either way, you get your phone unlocked and you're not trapped in any form of contract (aside from with a loan, which you must repay) and can switch provider at any time.

Three also sells all of its phones unlocked, although if you get a phone on contract you're unlikely to want to swap your SIM out. Unless, of course, you have major problems with its service, want to sell your phone or give it to a family member on a different network. Virgin Mobile sells its contract phones unlocked, too, as well as most of its pay-as-you-go handsets.

How to unlock a phone on EE

EE has finally removed the cost of unlocking a phone on its network. Pay-as-you-go, SIM-only and contract customers used to have to pay £8.99, but thankfully, it's now free of charge. EE was one of the few remaining hold-outs for networks charging for this service, but it's now a truly uncommon thing to be charged for. Unlocking is done via an online form available here. Your bill must be paid up to date, and you must have owned your contract phone for six months. For pay-as-you-go customers, you must register first, by calling 150. The same method also applies to Plusnet and BT Mobile phones (although newer handsets are sold unlocked with BT), as they fall under the EE banner.

It's worth mentioning that EE stipulates that you must be at least six months into your contract before you can unlock it. If you own an iPad or iPhone, your device automatically unlocks after 18 months, and a Pixel phone unlocks 721 days after it was activated.

Unlock now with EE


How to unlock a phone on O2

O2 pay monthly customers can unlock their phone at any time during their contract for no charge. The only way to do this is via My O2 Online or via the main menu of the My O2 app.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you'll need to connect it to iTunes once you’ve inserted a non-O2 sim. iTunes will then tell you when the phone or tablet is unlocked. For other phones and tablets, O2 send a text featuring an unlocking code for you to use.

As for O2 pay-as-you-go customers, just follow the same steps as above. The methods are exactly the same.

Unlock now with O2


How to unlock a phone on Vodafone

Unlocking a Vodafone device is free of charge and done via an online form. You'll hear back from them within 48 hours, with the unlocking process taking up to ten working days.

For pay-as-you-go customers, you need to have used your device within the past 30 days. For pay monthly customers, it's required that you have paid at least three bills since you received the device, and the same goes for small business customers.

Unlock now with Vodaphone


How to unlock a phone on Tesco Mobile

Both pay monthly and pay-as-you-go Tesco Mobile devices are available to unlock at any time. Pay monthly devices can be unlocked for free, while pay-as-you-go devices will incur a £10 unlocking charge if the phone was activated within the last 12 months. You'll have to make note of your IMEI number and then use the online form to unlock your phone. Tesco Mobile also says they may not be able to unlock recently-launched handsets, so whether or not you can unlock your phone may vary. You should receive your unlock code and instructions within seven days of submitting the online form.

Unlock now with Tesco Mobile


How to unlock a phone on Three

If you purchased a handset from Three since January 2014 then it will already be unlocked. If (for some reason) you still own an older handset then you simply have to fill in their online form. An unlock code will arrive within 72 hours, and it will take 5-7 days for the unlocking to be complete on non-Apple devices (but 72 hours for Apple devices).

Unlock now with Three


How to unlock a phone on Virgin

Generally, Virgin Mobile devices are sold unlocked but some sold before July 2012 may require unlocking. To request an unlock code simply contact Virgin Mobile with your phone manufacturer/model name and IMEI number. Once you enter the code into your device, it can take between 15 minutes and 48 hours for your device to completely unlock.

Unlock now with Virgin Mobile


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