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Device Unlocking Policies by Carrier

Last updated: 7/3/2019

On this page, I summarize carriers’ unlocking policies. The linked headings direct to web pages on carriers’ websites with more extensive information. Please confirm important information by following the links. If your situation is unusual (e.g., you are in the military or have an uncommon device), I suggest going straight to your carrier’s policy page.

Note that policies around device locking usually only apply to devices purchased from carriers. I recommend buying universal unlocked phones directly from manufacturers or from non-carrier third-parties to avoid locked devices in the first place.


AT&T

A device purchased alongside AT&T service is usually eligible to be unlocked if it meets the following criteria:

  • The device must be in good standing (e.g., not flagged as lost or stolen)
  • If the device was purchased with an installment or term agreement, the device must have been fully paid off and active on AT&T’s network for at least 60 days
  • There must not be any unpaid balance associated with the device
  • If the device was replaced with an upgrade through AT&T, there’s a 14 day waiting period before the old device can be unlocked[1]
  • Devices purchased alongside prepaid service must have been active for at least 6 months

Sprint

Postpaid
A device acquired alongside postpaid service is general eligible for unlocking if the following conditions are met:

  • The device must have been active on the Sprint network for at least 50 days
  • The device must be in good standing (e.g., not flagged as lost or stolen)
  • The device must be SIM-unlock capable (generally not an issue)
  • Any service agreement or leasing plan associated with the device must be fully paid for

Sprint suggests that it will automatically unlock postpaid devices when they become eligible.[2]

Prepaid (Sprint Forward)
A Sprint Forward device is generally eligible for unlocking if it meets the following criteria:

  • The device must be in good standing (e.g., it may not be flagged as lost or stolen
  • The device must have been active for at least a year with the account it’s on

Once a device is eligible, a subscriber can call Sprint’s prepaid customer care at 855-639-4644 to unlock their device.


T-Mobile

Postpaid

  • The device must be in good standing (e.g., not flagged as lost or stolen)
  • The account the device is associated with must be in good standing
  • The device must have been active on T-Mobile’s network for at least 40 days
  • Any installment plan used to purchase the device must be fully paid off
  • If the device is on a contract with a service term, at least 18 months of payments must have been made
  • If the device is associated with a canceled account, the account cannot have any outstanding balance due

Prepaid

  • The device must be in good standing (e.g., not flagged as lost or stolen)
  • The account the device is associated with must be in good standing
  • The device must have been active on T-Mobile for at least 1 year or $100 worth of phone/tablet refills must have been added to the associated account since the device was activated

Verizon

Postpaid
At the time of writing, Verizon does not lock almost any postpaid devices.[3] However, Verizon may soon lock devices for the first 60 days after their purchase.

Prepaid

  • “We do not lock our 3G devices, other than our 3G Phone-in-the-Box Prepaid phones…Our 3G Prepaid Phone-in-the-Box phones are restricted for use with our Prepaid service for 6 months after activation and are locked to the Verizon Wireless network for 12 months after activation. After 6 months, the restriction to our Prepaid service is automatically removed.”
  • “We do not lock our 4G devices, other than our 4G Phone-in-the-Box Prepaid phones. Our 4G Phone-in-a-Box phones may only be used with Verizon Prepaid service for 1 year from original activation date or until payments in the amount specified on the back of the Phone-in-a-Box package are added to the Prepaid account.”

Footnotes

  1. The waiting period is 30 days for business customers.
  2. “For SIM unlock-capable devices (generally most devices launched after February 2015), Sprint will automatically unlock postpaid devices when they becomes eligible.”
    From Sprint’s unlocking policy page as of 7/3/2019.
  3. Verizon mentions one partial exception on the web page covering its unlocking policy: “The SIM cards used in our non-iPhone 3G World Devices are locked. We will unlock those SIM cards at your request.”