Should I Unlock My Phone Before Selling It

When you search for prices for your phone on, you'll be asked whether it is locked to a specific mobile carrier or unlocked, meaning it can access any mobile network. Unlocked phones are more versatile and will fetch you more money from recyclers. Quotes for unlocked iPhone 7s in used by working condition, for instance, can be more than £100 more than those for the same model phone locked to EE, O2, or Vodafone's mobile networks.

When faced with such a large difference in value, you may be wondering if it's worth unlocking your phone before you sell it to a recycler.

In some cases, particularly for newer models phones which can fetch hundreds of pounds from recyclers, it very much is. In other cases, particularly for older models of phones and those that are broken or faulty, the cost and hassle of unlocking your phone won't be worth the extra money you can earn from it, particularly if you're eager to get cash for your device as quickly as possible. You'll have to do the maths before deciding whether to unlock a device.

Read on for more information about unlocking phones, including how you go about it and the policies of the main mobile providers in the UK, to help you decide whether you should unlock your phone before recycling it.

How Do I Tell If My Phone is Network Locked?

If your phone was purchased through a British mobile provider, it will generally be locked to that carrier's network, whether you're paying for service on a monthly contract or on a pay as you go basis. Additionally, when your contract expires, your phone won't be unlocked automatically; you'll have to request the carrier unlock the phone or do it yourself.

The exception is Three: all phones bought through the carrier after December 2013, even those purchased through a contract, are automatically network unlocked.

Additionally, if you purchased your phone outright from another vendor, such as directly from Apple, and were simply using SIMs from a mobile provider, the device will not be locked to a specific network.

Your phone may also already been network unlocked if it was purchased secondhand or passed down to you from a friend or relative or if you've changed provider while using the same handset.

How do you tell for certain if your phone is network locked or unlocked? You can test it by putting a SIM card from a network other than the one you're currently using into the phone and seeing if it works. If you don't have access to SIM from a different network, EE sells one-time, data-only SIMs with 250 MB of data for £1 a piece.

If you put in that new SIM and your phone is network locked you'll get an error message, often saying something like “Network Locked,” “Invalid SIM,” “SIM Card Not Accepted,” “PAYT Lock,” “Enter SP Code,” or “Insert Correct SIM Card.” You'll be unable to make calls or use mobile data using this SIM.

You can also contact your provider and simply ask if your device is network locked or not.

What If My Mobile Phone is From Another Provider?

There are only four mobile networks in the UK: EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone. Other mobile providers piggyback off these networks, buying and reselling space on them to you. These are called Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNOs.

So you might be paying a bill to Tesco Mobile, but your phone will be using-and possibly locked to-O2's network. But if you want to unlock the phone, you'll have to contact, and will be subject to the unlocking policies and fees, of your provider (for example, Tesco Mobile), and not those of the mobile network it piggybacks (for example, O2).

How do you tell which network your phone is using? Your phone should tell you which network it's connected to, generally in one of the top corners, next to the bars showing the amount of service you currently have.

You can also consult the following list of mobile networks and their larger piggybacking MVNOs

Mobile Network MVNOs (Not a comprehensive list)
EE ASDA Mobile, BT Mobile, The Phone Co-op, Virgin Mobile
O2 Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, TalkTalk Mobile, Tesco Mobile
Three iD Mobile, The People's Operator
Vodafone Talk Mobile

Unlocking Phones

Network unlocking phones is perfectly legal. Mobile providers will even do it for you, sometimes after a certain point in your contract and potentially for a fee and with a waiting period. The mobile provider should be your first port of call when seeking to unlock a device, but you can also have your phone unlocked at a phone repair shop or do it yourself.

Note: unlocking your phone by yourself or at a high street phone shop may invalidate the warranty on the device. This shouldn't be a concern if you're selling the phone but you should be aware if you intend to unlock other devices in the future.

1. Through the mobile network

Many phones purchased through the UK's mobile providers are network locked. The providers will unlock them for you, if you request it, but you may be subject to fees and time restrictions if you're still in contract. Additionally, you'll often have to wait, sometimes up to 10 days for the carrier to perform the unlocking.

To unlock your phone, you'll have to supply your provider with the IMEI of your phone. This is the unique 15-digit identification code for you device. The easiest way to find out your phone's IMEI number is to type *#06# into its keypad. You can also find it in the settings page of your phone. On iOS phones, go to Settings > General > About and scroll down to find the IMEI. On Android devices, go to Settings > About Device > Status and your IMEI number will be listed there.

After you supply your mobile provider with your IMEI, either on a phone call to customer support, or via their website or app, they will check your phone is eligible to unlocked and then provide you with instructions for unlocking it, which generally involve a code. To unlock your phone you'll have to be in good standing with your mobile provider, with all your bills paid, and you phone cannot have been reported lost or stolen.

Below, we'll examine the unlocking policies, fees, and waiting periods of the UK's mobile networks and the largest MVNOs.


All pay monthly and pay as you go phones bought through EE are locked to its network. EE will unlock pay monthly phones after the sixth month of your contract, for a fee of £8.99 if you're in contract or for free if you're out of contract. You can unlock PAYG phones at any time, for a fee of £8.99, or for free if you purchased the phone directly from EE.

Additionally, any iPhone or iPad bought directly from EE after 1 September 2015 will automatically unlock after 18 months.

You can also unlock secondhand devices locked to the EE network for a fee of £8.99, provided they have not been reported lost or stolen.

EE aims to unlock all devices within 72 hours but you may be waiting up to 10 days.

To request your device be unlocked, contact EE customer support by dialling 150 on an EE handset or 0800 956 6000 from a landline or any other mobile phone.


Since June 2018 pay monthly phones from O2 are sold unlocked. If your phone was purchased on a contract before this date, it will be locked. Additionally, all pay as you go phones purchased through O2 at any time will be locked.

Fortunately, all O2 customers, whether pay monthly or PAYG, can unlock their devices at any time for no chage.

It may take 72 hours for the unlocking process to be complete.

To request your your phone be unlocked, call O2 by dialling 202 from an O2 phone or 0344 8090202 from a landline or any other mobile phone. You can also use the MyO2 app or O2 website to file the request.


Since December 2013, all phones purchased through Three are automatically network unlocked. If you purchased your phone through Three before this date and are looking to sell it, Three will unlock it free of charge, although you may need to wait seven days for the unlocking to take effect.


All pay monthly and pay as you go phones purchased through Vodafone after June 2013 will be locked to the network.

Pay monthly customers can request to have their device unlocked after they've paid three monthly bills. PAYG customers can request their device be unlocked after they've owned it for 30 days.

Vodafone will unlock your device for free if you meet these requirements but the process may take up to 10 days.

To request your phone be unlocked, dial 191 from a Vodafone phone or 03333 040 191 from any other mobile device or a landline.


Phones bought through Giffgaff are all unlocked.

TalkTalk Mobile

Phones bought through Giffgaff are all unlocked.

Tesco Mobile

Both pay monthly and pay as you go phones from Tesco Mobile are locked to the O2 network.

Pay monthly phones are free to unlock, but you may not be able to unlock them right away, particularly if they're newer models. PAYG customers can unlock their phones for free if the device has been activated for more than 12 months. If it hasn't been 12 months since you activated the device, you'll face a fee of £10.

Tesco Mobile aims to unlock phones within seven working days but cautions that the process can take up to 20 days, depending on the device.

To begin the process of unlocking your Tesco Mobile phone, contact customer support by dialling 4422 from a Tesco Mobile phone or 0345 301 4455 from any other mobile phone or landline.

Virgin Mobile

The phones of pay monthly customers with Virgin Mobile are unlocked. PAYG customers will generally have phones locked to EE, but it depends on the model.

To unlock a Virgin Mobile phone, you'll face a charge of £15.32 if you haven't owned the phone for at least 12 months. After 12 months, unlocking the phone is free.

It can take up to 30 days for a Virgin Mobile handset to be unlocked.

To unlock your Virgin Mobile phone, contact Virgin customer service by dialling 789 from a Virgin phone or 0345 6000 789 from a landline or any other mobile phone.

Network Pay Monthly Phones Locked? Pay & Go Phones Locked? Cost To Unlock Time Requirements Waiting Period
£8.99 for pay monthly customers in contract; free for pay monthly customers out of contract. £8.99 for PAYG customers; free if the phone was purchased directly through EE. £8.99 for secondhand phones Pay monthly customers can unlock after 6 months; no time requirements for PAYG customers Ideally 72 hours but up to 10 days
O2 If ourchased after June 2018.
If purchased before.
Free None 72 hours
All phones bought after December 2013 are unlocked
All phones bought after December 2013 are unlocked
Free None 7 days
Free Pay monthly customers: after 3 months of bills; PAYG customers: after 30 days Up to 10 days
n/a n/a n/a
TalkTalk Mobile
n/a n/a n/a
Tesco Mobile
to 02
to 02
Free for pay monthly customers; free for PAYG customers 12 months or more after the device has been activated, otherwise £10 Pay monthly customers with newer models may have to wait 7 working days to 20 days
Virgin Mobile
but some models may not be.
£15.32 if you haven't owned the phone forat least 12 months; free after 12 months None, but you will be charged if you haven't owned the phone for 12 months Up to 30 days

2. At a high street phone shop

You know, the ones that sell hundreds of phone cases, where you can get your screen replaced within the hour while you wait across the street in a cafe or pub. They can also unlock phones, generally for a fee of around £15. This might be an option if your network will not unlock the phone because you haven't owned it long enough. But it's safer and typically cheaper to have the provider unlock eligible devices.

3. By yourself

If you have some technological know-how you can also DIY a network unlock. There are a number of tutorials online for doing so. Search out one specific to your make and model of your phone.

But be wary of embarking on this route if you're not confident in your technologies abilities. It's easy to accidentally mess up the software of your device, meaning you'll then have to classify your formerly working phone as broken or faulty, reducing its value.

Is It Worth Unlocking My Phone Before Selling It?

To determine if it's worth network unlocking your phone before you sell it, you should compare the cost of unlocking it to the difference in quotes offered for unlocked and locked versions of your device.

You should also take into account waiting periods. You may have to wait up to 10 days, or with Tesco or Virgin Mobile nearly a month, to have your phone unlocked. If you're looking to turn your unused device into cash fast, you may simply want to accept an offer for a locked phone rather than wait.

Additionally, for older models of phones and broken phones-devices that aren't fetching high prices anyway-the value uplift for unlocking the phone may not be significant enough for you to bother.

But in most cases if your phone is in good condition and is eligible to be unlocked by your mobile provider, especially for free and within 72 hours, you should do so before recycling it. It's a simple switch that can earn you up to £100 more for your unused phone.