How To Switch Cell Phone Carriers: A Quick and Easy Guide

Choosing a cell phone carrier is a big deal. Every carrier has a different network map, different consumer perks, and different plans to choose from. Sometimes the service provider or cell phone plan that fits our needs one year is outdone by the competition a year later. Sometimes you just want to scale back your current phone bill.

While T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T are the big three cell phone carriers out there right now, there are dozens of smaller options to choose from, depending on what you are looking for. Switching from your current carrier can feel daunting, but it is actually a relatively simple process.

Why Should You Switch Carriers?

There are a number of reasons why someone may want to switch their carrier, whether they want to capitalize on a trade-in deal for a new Apple iPhone or take advantage of an attractive family plan not offered by their current provider. Some major carriers provide excellent service in some regions of the country while faring poorer in others, incentivizing customers to look elsewhere if they go through a big move.

Sometimes the competition makes you an offer you just can’t refuse — after all, if your phone service won’t change much when you switch cell phone providers but your final bill will, switching wireless carriers is a no brainer.

Many wireless providers offer deals on mobile phones, hotspot coverage, or unlimited data plans that only go through if you sign up for their service. Verizon even offers a $200 rebate for those who switch to their service from another carrier, directly targeting customers who are not currently utilizing their network.

Every carrier has different perks to go along with its plans. Every major unlimited plan from one of the big three carriers offers membership to some form of streaming service, along with a variety of other additional services that go beyond mobile connectivity. If you’ve gotten tired of your T-Mobile Netflix deal, you may want to check out Verizon’s deal on Disney Plus.

At the end of the day, some carriers simply offer more competitive pricing than the others. One of the reasons that smaller carriers, such as Mint Mobile, have become so popular is that while they lack the resources and bundles of the big three, they can provide reliable unlimited service without hefty fees to new customers. If you are not looking for all the bells and whistles, there is no need to sign up for one of the most expensive plans.

How To Switch Carriers

When you decide you are ready to switch carriers, you need to go through the following stops:

  1. First, you need to unlock your phone. This will allow you to use your phone with other carriers, since it will not be able to do that automatically. You do this by contacting your existing carrier to have them perform the unlocking process.
  2. Next, you can choose to either get a new phone or have your old phone connected to the new plan. Many phone plans have incentives for purchasing a new phone when switching to a different carrier. For example, many carriers offer a majority off the price of a brand new phone when you join their network.

Alternatively, if you want to keep your old phone, the new carrier will have a process in place for getting it set up. This may include backups to ensure your data makes it through the switch. Of course, many of the best cell phone plans will allow you to keep your old number even as you switch to the new network.

At this point you will set up your new service. Your new carrier and your old carrier are the ones doing the work now, so you just provide your old account number and details and wait for them to complete the transfer process. You’ll want to watch out for any early termination fees (ETFs), which many carriers offer to pay off on your behalf in addition to your outstanding balance on your old plan.

While every provider works slightly differently, all of them follow pretty much the same protocol. You decide what you want your phone to be (or if you want to keep your current cell phone and current phone number) and you get the process started. Still, once you get the ball running it is the new providers that do most of the work.

What Are Locked Versus Unlocked Phones?

When you get a phone from a carrier versus a retailer directly, you might be getting a slightly different type of product. Carriers will usually sell you a locked phone, while manufacturers will usually sell an unlocked phone.

Locked Phones

A locked phone is a device that is specifically tied to a particular carrier. These are the most common types of phones, from Samsung and other Androids to iPhones, that you can find today because carriers themselves tend to have the best deals on new phones.

A locked phone has a software code integrated into it that prevents use from any carrier other than the carrier that you bought the phone from. If you reach a point that you would like to unlock your phone or switch providers in general, then you need to coordinate this with your carrier before that can happen.

Locked phones are more restrictive, but they do tend to be sold at a lower price than your average unlocked phone. Manufacturers will rarely come out with special deals for their mobile devices, so unlocked phones tend to remain full price for a long time.

They may not be as exciting as unlocked phones, but locked phones remain important to the industry. As a result, it is necessary to understand how they work and how to navigate unlocking them if you decide to switch carriers.

Unlocked Phones

An unlocked phone is a phone that has no ties to any carrier, and can be used with any network without having to make any software changes. Unlocked phones have become popular around the world for a variety of reasons, not least being phone compatibility.

For starters, an unlocked phone gives you a lot more general flexibility. They make switching providers much simpler and they allow for more flexible travel options. With an unlocked phone you can easily access foreign carriers to pay local rates instead of roaming ones.

Unlocked phones are also worth more on the resale market, as there are fewer hoops that a buyer has to go through to get it working with their carrier. Overall, unlocked phones give the consumer more options and less hassle. However, that does not mean that someone with a locked phone is stuck with their provider indefinitely.

If you are someone who thinks they will either be rapidly switching between plans or traveling a lot, there are a lot of benefits to picking up an unlocked phone.

What Does It Mean To Port Your Phone Number?

A concept that is connected to locked and unlocked phones is porting your phone number. Porting your number is when you transfer your existing phone number information to the new carrier.

In the old days, your personal phone information would be stored on a SIM card, which you could find in your own device. All you would need to do to switch your phone number and contacts to a new phone would be to physically take that SIM card and put it in a new device.

These days, SIM cards are not big, physical pieces of technology. Instead, eSIM is the most common form of SIM card in smartphones. This means that you need to be more careful when switching to a new carrier if you want to make sure your phone number and info gets transferred.

In order to do this, you need to put in a porting request with your new carrier. Many carriers will offer the porting process as a part of their unlocking and switching process, but check in with them first to be sure.

If you do not do this, it would be possible to have the same phone but with a new phone number and completely different SIM information.


Switching carriers is an easy process, but you need to make sure you do it right. Check in to see if you have a locked phone or an unlocked phone, as this could radically change how the transfer works.

When making the switch, following proper procedure is important to ensure your phone and all its data are able to make it over. However, if you want to get a new phone, then switching to a new carrier and plan often does come with a lot of interesting perks to reduce the cost of your new phone.

Each of the big three carriers has great plan options for anyone looking for something new, and if your priority is lowering your cost, then the smaller carriers out there have something for you as well.

Use Navi to figure out which plan would best fit your needs. Navi can help you find the best deals for switching carriers and phone plans. Navi uses the latest industry insights to keep you updated on the best options for you.

Use Navi today to prepare yourself for your next big carrier switch.


Switch To Verizon Discounts | Victra

Benefits and Questions Before Getting an Unlocked Phone | Verizon

SIM and eSIM FAQs | Verizon

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