What does an unlocked phone mean?

What does an unlocked phone mean?

Since you’ve found your way to Swappa, you already know that buying gently used is the best way to get a killer deal on your next smartphone or tablet. But did you know that your savings don’t have to end there?

When shopping around for your next iPhone or Android phone, you may have noticed the term “unlocked.” This article will explain what buying an unlocked phone means, how you can unlock your existing phone, and most importantly, how it can save you a ton of money.


Table of Contents:

What is an unlocked phone?

An unlocked cell phone is an Android or iPhone that is not tied to a specific carrier. In other words, you can use an unlocked phone on any carrier that supports your specific device. And on most devices, this is as simple as popping in a new SIM card. In contrast, a locked cell phone can only be used with the specific carrier it was purchased from — typically AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint.

But even unlocked phones aren’t always compatible with every major US carrier, so make sure to check that the phone you’re looking to buy supports your carrier’s network technology and specific bands and frequencies.

Don’t let network compatibility scare you. Following the rise of 4G LTE, the vast majority of currently available unlocked devices come equipped with the necessary network hardware to work on all major US networks in some capacity. Click the button below to check out our Unlocked iPhone Buyer’s Guide, where you’ll find all the relevant details on which iPhone is best for you.




Why should I buy an unlocked phone?

Freedom from carriers and contracts

There many benefits to buying an unlocked phone, ranging from cost to device choice, and everything in between. However, the most common reason people go with unlocked phones is freedom. With an unlocked phone, you aren’t tied to a specific carrier. As a result, you are able to shop around for the best plans, phones, and deals available without being limited to a small subset to choose from. This means that if you ever find yourself unhappy with your current service for whatever reason, you’re free to take your unlocked phone to another carrier.

In addition, unlocked phones make it easier for those who frequently travel internationally. If you take your device overseas, simply pop in a new SIM card and your phone will just work, provided that it’s compatible with the appropriate network bands and frequencies.





An unlocked phone gives you the freedom to choose whichever network and plan you’d like. Naturally, this allows you to shop around for the best deals on cheap cell phone plans and find the one that not only suits your needs but also saves you some green. And as we’ve pointed out in the past, you can often get the same wireless service for less by switching to a no-contract carrier.

But the savings don’t end with plan prices! Unlocked phones can also save you money on the phone itself. When you purchase a phone from a carrier, you typically finance it and slowly pay it off over the course of your two-year contract. Although financing a phone means that you don’t have to pay as much initially, buying a phone outright from a third-party retailer often lets you get the same phone for hundreds less. And if you want to truly maximize your savings, you’ll save even more by buying gently used on Swappa!

Better selection of phones and plans

Finally, buying unlocked lets you choose from a better selection of phones and plans. When you walk into a carrier’s retail location or visit their online shop, you’re presented with only a certain subset of phones that they’ve preselected. These are generally the phones that will make them the most profit, rather than the device that’s right for you.

The story is pretty much the same when talking about wireless plans. Since wireless carriers make money off your monthly fees, it is in their best interest to squeeze as much money out of you as they can every billing cycle.

Be it expensive plans, overage fees, and everything in between; wireless service is a costly recurring expense. However, you can access the same major wireless networks and save money by bringing your own device (BYOD) to a smaller prepaid wireless carrier (MVNO). And in order to save money with these alternative carriers, you will generally need an unlocked phone.

Is there a downside to buying an unlocked phone?

With all the benefits to buying unlocked, you may be wondering if there are any drawbacks. Luckily, with unlocked phones, you can have your cake and eat it too. Aside from the initially higher purchase price, there are absolutely no downsides to buying an unlocked phone. They’re cheaper in the long run, they let you choose the right phone and plan for your specific needs, and they give you the flexibility and freedom you deserve.

How do I get an unlocked phone?

The easiest way to get an unlocked phone is to purchase one that comes unlocked from the factory. Although you won’t typically be able to purchase an unlocked phone directly from your wireless carrier, device manufacturers and many third-party retailers offer unlocked devices that can be taken to any carrier of your choosing. While this saves you money in the long run, this also means that you have to pay a large initial sum for the phone itself.

Luckily, there’s a better way. Buying a gently used unlocked phone on Swappa can save you hundreds on all the latest flagship phone from Apple, Samsung, Google, OnePlus, and more. So let someone else take the depreciation hit and get the best deals on a newish phone today!




How do I unlock my existing phone?

Buying unlocked from the factory is best, but what if you already own a SIM locked phone that you’re otherwise happy with? Thankfully, all carriers are now required to unlock your phone for free as long as certain criteria are met:

  1. You have completed your wireless service contract or paid an early termination fee
  2. You have finished paying for your phone

In order to take advantage of this, simply visit your carrier’s unlocking website (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) or call your wireless carrier and ask if you are eligible to have your device unlocked.

If you are eligible, your carrier will either give you a SIM unlock code that you can type into your phone yourself or instruct you to go to your local retail store to have it unlocked there for free. After unlocking your phone, don’t forget to compare all the best cheap cell phone plans to find out how you can save money for the same wireless service!


Here at Swappa, it’s our mission to save you money. From getting you the best deals on gently used tech and helping you sell your old phone for the most money to finding you the best wireless plans for your needs; Swappa is where you go when you want to save your hard-earned cash.

So what are you waiting for? Check out our Unlocked iPhone Buyer’s Guide and Unlocked Device FAQ, and then click the button below to get the best deal on an unlocked phone. Then once you’ve got your unlocked device in hand, check out our roundup of the best prepaid wireless plans to save even more!