What makes a phone “Unlocked” and how can you check it?

How to unlock mobile phone uk 2021 network smartphone free

Anytime you’ve been in the market for a second-hand phone, you’ve probably heard the term “unlocked.”  

You might have even seen a phone advertised as “unlocked”, but what does that mean? How does an unlocked phone differ from one that isn’t? And how do I know if my phone is unlocked? 

Click the link for Unbeatable Mobile Phone Deals You Won't Want to Miss!

Furthermore, does it make sense to use an unlocked phone? Do you need one? Let’s find out!

When a phone is unlocked what does that mean

An “unlocked” phone means it can work on any carrier network. 

Explore wide range of our refurbished iPhone and refurbished iPad products. Find the best deals on iPhone 11 refurbished, refurbished iPhone 12 and other models. Plus, don't forget to check the deals on the must-have iPhone charger and iPhone charger cable.

That’s right – no matter which carrier you choose, your phone will still work with them. So it doesn’t matter whether they’re from EE, Vodafone, or O2; you’ll always be able to switch your sim cards without having to buy a whole new phone.

When you have an unlocked cell phone, you can use any SIM card you want, as long as it is compatible.

If someone says their phone is unlocked, they mean that it works with every major UK carrier with no network restrictions. 

It does not make a difference if this is with an iPhone or an Android Phone.

Unlocked phones are free from contract and don’t come with any hidden fees. They also usually cost less than locked phones, so there’s no reason not to get an unlocked phone.

Still unsure what it means? Watch the video below to give you a better idea!

How to Check Whether Your Phone is Locked Or Not?

If your mobile phone is locked, this means that you cannot use another network provider’s SIM card other than your current one.

You are restricted to using only the services provided by your chosen network. This usually happens because of contract terms, meaning your phone must remain within those guidelines.

It is always a good idea to check your second-hand phone to see if it is locked before purchasing it. Here are a few ways to do just that:

Method 1: Switch SIM Cards

Another way to tell whether a phone is unlocked is to swap the SIM card. With a locked phone, you won’t use a different SIM card unless you unlock it first.

For this, you need a sim card from a different network provider.


To do this, follow these steps:

1) Turn off the phone

2) Eject the SIM card using the SIM-card ejector tool

3) Insert the new SIM card

4) Power up the phone

Check if the network icon shows up on the screen. If it does, then try to make a phone call. If the phone call does not connect, then the phone is locked.

Method 2: IMEI Lookup

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity; it is a unique number assigned to each mobile phone. All carriers use this number to identify phones. The IMEI number is printed on the back of every phone.

To look up the IMEI number,

In Android,

  • Go to Settings
  • Then Select System > About Phone
  • Look for IMEI Number

In iPhone,

  • Go to Settings
  • Then Select General > About
  • Look for IMEI Number


You can also type *#06# in the dialer to get the IMEI number, and it works on all smartphones. Once you have the IMEI number, you can check online if your phone is locked or not.

You can use any online service to scan your IMEI number and determine whether your iPhone is unlocked.


Can Phone Shops Unlock iPhones? How are they different to Android devices?

iPhones are particularly tricky to unlock. It is possible to unlock them in the short term by using a phone shop, though when the latest software is released by Apple it is likely to restore your device back to its locked status. It is necessary in this case to purchase a device that has been unlocked from the very start, or not commit to a contract that will keep your device locked through its term.


Android devices, due to the nature of the OS, are greatly easier to unlock, and can often remain permanently unlocked after a simple process completed by a phone shop.

So, What Are The Benefits Of Buying An Unlocked Phone?

Well, there are plenty of benefits to using an unlocked phone, but here are some of our favourites:

Switch To Any Carriers

  • An unlocked phone also allows you to choose which wireless service provider you prefer without buying a new phone. 
  • Instead, you need to change your SIM card. This means you can take advantage of lower rates offered by certain carriers while still keeping your current phone.

Get More Choice

  • Some carriers limit what devices they sell. If you want to use a particular device, you may have to pay more than others. 
  • With an unlocked phone, you can get any model you like. You are not limited to one specific brand or manufacturer.

Travel Abroad At Ease

  • An unlocked phone gives you more freedom when travelling abroad. You can use any local SIM card without worrying about roaming charges. 
  • This means that you can stay connected with friends and family while away from home.

Dual-Sim Functionality

  • Dual-SIM functionality lets you use two different SIM cards on the same device. So, for example, you could use one SIM card for calls and text messages and another for data. 
  • With a locked phone with dual-SIM capability, you can only use SIM cards from the same carrier.

Frequent Software Updates

  • Software updates are faster in an unlocked phone when compared to a locked one. Updates take longer to roll out for a locked phone due to carrier optimization over its phone and network. 
  • Unlocked phones have the advantage of receiving regular software updates directly from the manufacturer. This avoids the delays caused by the carrier. 
  • If you value timely updates, you can get a Pixel phone which gets updates directly from Google.

Minimal Bloatware

  • Bloatware is a term used to describe applications pre-installed on the phone. Although these apps often come bundled with the phone, they can take up more space.
  • Unlocked phones usually have minimal bloatware. It means you won’t have to deal with unwanted apps cluttering up your phone. And you can still uninstall them if you don’t want them.

Save Money

  • The cost of buying a phone outright can be expensive, especially when you consider how long it takes to recoup the money spent. 
  • However, buying a phone plan is much cheaper. Plus, you don’t have to worry about paying extra fees for international calls.

Easily Sell Them

  • Used devices are becoming increasingly popular since new phones are expensive. In addition, it’s easier to find buyers for an unlocked phone because it doesn’t contain any carrier restrictions.
  • If you decide to sell your phone, you can easily trade it in to help make some cash. The same goes for people who want to upgrade their phones.

Do You Need To Buy One?

If you need to have the latest device right away, buying an unlocked phone might be best.

An unlocked phone can give you peace of mind if you often travel abroad and like frequent software updates.

However, if you’re looking for something more reliable, there are other options, such as refurbished models.

Refurbished phones are great for those who want to save money and avoid the hassle of unlocking. All Refurbished phones come factory unlocked and give you access to a wide range of phones.

You can buy refurbished phones at a discount price compared to new ones. They are fully functional and come with warranties.

So, whether you’re looking to save money or enjoy greater flexibility, an unlocked phone will work well for you.

Read: How To Buy An Unlocked Refurbished Phone?

Why Buy From The Big Phone Store?

Buying an unlocked phone means that you have to pay full price upfront. However, when you buy from The Big Phone Store, we offer interest-free finance options so you can spread the payments over time.

Our store comprises devices from all major brands and flagship models like iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S21.

Our prices are competitively priced. In addition, we give a Price Promise Match guarantee where we match any lower price found online. You’ll also receive a gift worth up to £50 as a bonus. Please read our terms for more information.

We offer a 14-day warranty on our products. So, if anything happens within this time frame, we’ll replace your product without charge.

In addition, all our refurbished unlocked phones come with a 1-year warranty against manufacturing defects.

There are many benefits to buying an unlocked phone. However, before making a purchase, do your research first. Make sure you know what features you want in a phone and compare different models.

This way, you can get the best value for your money. 

Upgrade today by selling your old device! Click on the links to find out value of your mobile phone and how to 'Sell My Phone,' benefit from 'Phone Trade-In' or 'iPhone Trade-In' for the best value.