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How To Switch Phone Carriers: A Quick and Easy Guide

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

While T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T are the big three cell phone carriers out there right now, there are plenty 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.

Prefer watching a quick video? You can learn how to switch phone carriers in less than sixty seconds right here:

How To Switch Phone Carriers

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

  1. First, check if your phone is unlocked. This will allow you to use your phone with other carriers. Check in your settings to see if your phone can use multiple networks. If not, contact your existing carrier to have them perform the unlocking process. Note that some carriers may do this automatically, while others require that you follow a specific process. In most cases, you won't be able to do this until you've been with the carrier for at least sixty days. Plus, your phone will need to be paid off and your account in good standing.
  2. Next, you can choose to either get a new phone or have your old phone connected to the new plan. Most carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer cell phone deals for switching carriers.

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.

There are a few other steps involved which we talk about in our video above (including porting your number over and what to look for in a new carrier), but those are the critical two steps.

Why Should You Switch Carriers?

There are many 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. The best deals typically target 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 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.

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

In short, a locked phone is a device that is specifically tied to a particular carrier. If you buy an iPhone from Verizon, for example, you won’t be able to use your phone with any other networks other than Verizon’s. 

How do carriers stop you from using other networks? A locked phone has a software code integrated into it that prevents use with any carrier other than the carrier that you bought the phone from. If you reach a point where 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 can feel more restrictive. Why pick one that limits you like this? Most folks do because locked phones tend to be sold at a lower price than your average unlocked phone. Carriers can offer locked phones with great deals, while unlocked phones bought directly from manufacturers tend to remain at 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.

Interesting in checking out cell phone deals for switching carriers? Check out our lists below:

AT&T Phone Deals | T-Mobile Phone Deals | Verizon Phone Deals | UScellular Phone Deals | Spectrum Mobile Phone Deals | Xfinity Mobile Phone Deals | Cox Mobile Phone Deals | Optimum Mobile Phone Deals

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 example, with an unlocked phone, you can easily swap SIM cards when you travel and use your phone with overseas networks. Plus, unlocked phones make switching providers much simpler. 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.

How to Switch Phone Carriers and Keep Your 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 on 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 get 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.

How to Switch Phone Carriers and Keep Your Phone

Not interested in new phone deals? If you want to save money, or you love your existing cell phone, keeping your existing phone while switching carriers is appealing. Here’s how:

  1. Check Compatibility: Not all phones work with all carriers due to differing network technologies and frequency bands. We walk through a few specific carriers, like what phones are compatible with Spectrum Mobile. In general, most carriers offer a simple online tool where you can input your phone’s IMEI number (a unique identifier) to check compatibility. 
  2. Unlock Your Phone: We covered this section above. Basically, if your phone is paid off and your account is in good standing, carriers are legally required to unlock your phone upon request, if they haven’t already done so.
  3. Get a New SIM Card: Once your phone is unlocked and compatible with the new carrier's network, you'll need a new SIM card. Make sure to ask about transferring your current phone number as well; most people want to keep their number, and carriers can transfer it over, known as "porting."
  4. Choose the Right Plan: This step is where you need to be a bit of a strategist. Evaluate your data, call, and text needs versus what different carriers are offering. Look beyond just the monthly fee; consider network coverage, data speeds, and any additional perks. Some carriers offer enticing incentives to switch, such as covering early termination fees from your old carrier or offering special deals on plans.
  5. Backup and Transfer: Whether it's to the cloud or your computer, ensure your data is safe. Once you have your new SIM and are ready to activate your service, follow the new carrier's instructions for setting up your phone. This might involve network settings updates or installing a new carrier profile.
  6. Test Everything: Make calls, send texts, use data, and ensure everything works as expected. If there are issues, don't hesitate to contact your new carrier's customer service.

The Bottom Line

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 has a big impact on 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.

If you're interested in switching carriers but keeping your existing phone, our free, unbiased Plan Finder below can help you compare phone plans you qualify for from top carriers in seconds. Want to find a great phone deal with your plan? That's what our Phone Deal Finder is for.

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