How to Unlock Your US Cellular Phone in 2024

In 2024, unlocking your cell phone in the United States has become easier and more accessible than ever before. With major legislative changes in recent years that made phone unlocking legal regardless of contract status, you now have several options to unlock your device from the carrier it is currently locked to.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about unlocking a US cellular device in 2024—from understanding the benefits and legality to step-by-step instructions for different phone models and carriers.

Benefits of Unlocking Your Phone

There are several major advantages to having an unlocked phone in the US:

Use Any Carrier You Want

The biggest benefit is that unlocking a phone allows you to use it on any GSM or CDMA carrier worldwide. That means you can switch freely between major US carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and international carriers without the hassle of activation issues. This gives you more flexibility if you travel frequently or move locations.

No Carrier Bloatware or Restrictions

Unlocked phones do not contain any carrier bloatware or apps that take up space and cannot be removed. You also won’t have to deal with any carrier-imposed restrictions on features like tethering or visual voicemail.

Higher Resale Value

An unlocked device will command a higher resale value down the road versus its locked counterpart. There is always a market for unlocked phones that can work on multiple networks.

Better Selection of Phone Models

By purchasing an unlocked device, you open yourself up to a better variety of smartphone models that may be restricted to certain carriers in the US. This includes niche and international models you won’t find elsewhere.

Is It Legal to Unlock a Phone in 2024?

Yes, unlocking cell phones became legal in the United States for good in 2014 thanks to the passage of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. Signed into law by President Obama, this legislation made it legal to unlock any phone under contract or out of contract without facing criminal penalties.

This law overturned a previous 2012 ruling by the Library of Congress that made unlocking phones illegal due to copyright infringement claims from cellular carriers. However, massive public pressure changed this decision and led to the 2024 status quo of unlocking legality no matter your specific carrier contract status.

The only time unlocking would be illegal again would require another Act of Congress signed into law. As of 2024, there is no foreseeable change to the legal status of cell phone unlocking in the US market.

Unlocking Eligibility Timelines for Top US Carriers

While unlocking phones is legal regardless of contract status, individual cellular carriers still have their own eligibility timelines before they will unlock devices:

AT&T Unlock Policy

  • Postpaid Devices Under Contract – After 60 days of active service
  • Postpaid Devices Out of Contract – Automatically unlocked immediately
  • Prepaid Devices – Automatically unlocked immediately
  • Business Devices – After 6 months of service

Check AT&T’s full unlocking policy here.

Verizon Unlock Policy

  • Postpaid Devices Under Contract – After 60 days of service
  • Postpaid Devices Out of Contract – Automatically unlocked immediately
  • Prepaid Devices – Automatically unlocked immediately

Check Verizon’s full unlocking policy here.

T-Mobile Unlock Policy

  • Postpaid Devices – After 40 days of active service
  • Prepaid Devices – Automatically unlocked immediately

Check T-Mobile’s full unlocking policy here.

Sprint Unlock Policy

  • Postpaid Devices Under Contract – After 50 days of active service
  • Postpaid Devices Out of Contract – Automatically unlocked immediately
  • Prepaid Devices – Automatically unlocked immediately

Check Sprint’s full unlocking policy here.

U.S. Cellular Unlock Policy

  • Postpaid Devices Under Contract – After 12 months of continuous service
  • Postpaid Devices Out of Contract – Automatically unlocked immediately
  • Prepaid Devices – Automatically unlocked immediately

Check U.S. Cellular’s full unlocking policy here.

So while carriers must legally unlock devices, actual eligibility timelines vary. Make sure to check your carrier’s specific policy first before expecting an unlock.

How Unlocking an Older CDMA Device Differs from GSM

Historically, the technology behind CDMA networks made unlocking and switching carriers complex for devices that supported only this older 3G network standard. Unlike GSM devices that use swappable SIM cards tied to your phone number and account, CDMA devices have network tech embedded into the device itself.

However, major US carriers have shut down CDMA networks permanently after transitioning solely to 4G LTE in recent years. For Verizon, this occurred in December 2022 and for AT&T in February 2022.

As a result, any modern phone from the last 5+ years now supports LTE and uses SIM cards universally across all major US carriers. The legacy issues around trying to unlock CDMA-only devices no longer applies given the natural network progression to newer standards.

The only exception would be attempting to unlock an older flip phone or basic device from 2010-era tech or earlier. For the vast majority of average consumers with LTE smartphones, you can essentially follow the same unlocking process in 2024 no matter your carrier.

How to Check If Your Phone is Already Unlocked

Before going through the unlock request process with your carrier, it helps to double check if your device is already unlocked:

  • Restart your device – In some cases, a phone will actually be unlocked but needs a restart before recognizing a non-native SIM card. Try inserting another carrier’s SIM, restart, and check if it works.
  • Check for carrier branding – If your phone boots up with your carrier’s logo or branding, it is most likely still locked. Unlocked phones won’t display carrier-specific logos.
  • Try another SIM card – The most foolproof way is to simply try inserting a friend’s or relative’s SIM card that is tied to a different carrier’s service Plan. If the phone recognizes it and connects to a cellular signal or network, your device must be unlocked. This bypasses any software-based reporting and checks the hardware directly.
  • Contact your carrier – You can always call or chat with your phone carrier’s customer service department. Give them your IMEI or device ID and ask directly if that phone is unlocked or eligible for an unlock.

Following these steps will tell you if your device is locked or unlocked before taking further action.

How to Request An Unlock from Major US Carriers

If you determine your phone is still locked to a particular carrier, the next step is to directly request an official unlock through that provider:

Request Unlock from AT&T

To request an unlock from AT&T’s network:

  1. Meet AT&T’s 60-day active service requirement if still under contract or immediately if out of contract
  2. Visit ATT’s Unlock Portal and enter your phone number, account number, and billing zip code
  3. Check your account status to determine if you meet the 60-day requirement depending on your contract status
  4. Submit an unlock request and wait approximately 2 business days for AT&T to process
  5. You will receive a confirmation the unlock request was processed successfully
  6. Restart device and insert new carrier SIM to confirm unlock completion

Full instructions available here.

Request Unlock from Verizon Wireless

To request an unlock from Verizon:

  1. Meet Verizon’s 60-day active service requirement if still under contract or immediately if out of contract
  2. Contact Verizon Wireless support by chat, phone, or visit an authorized store
  3. Provide details on your device and request it be unlocked from Verizon’s network
  4. Wait 1-2 days while the unlock order is processed
  5. Receive confirmation from Verizon that the device unlock was successful
  6. Power off and restart device then insert new carrier SIM to confirm working unlock

Full instructions available here.

Request Unlock from T-Mobile

To have T-Mobile unlock your phone:

  1. Meet T-Mobile’s 40-day active service requirement for postpaid devices or immediately for prepaid phones
  2. Submit the T-Mobile unlock app with your details and unlock request
  3. Check order status and wait up to 2 business days for processing to complete
  4. Receive confirmation from T-Mobile that the device unlock order finished
  5. Turn phone off and back on then insert new carrier SIM to verify unlock

Full instructions available here.

Requesting Unlock from Sprint

To unlock a Sprint phone:

  1. Meet 50-day active service requirement for postpaid devices under contract or immediately for prepaid/out of contract
  2. Call Sprint customer support or visit a Sprint store and ask for phone to be unlocked
  3. Provide account details like phone number and device ID
  4. Confirm eligibility based on contract status
  5. Wait 1-2 days for Sprint to process network unlock request
  6. Receive notification that unlock successful
  7. Turn device off and on then insert new SIM to test unlock completion

Full instructions available here.

Requesting Unlock from U.S. Cellular

To request unlock from U.S. Cellular:

  1. Meet 12-month continuous service requirement for postpaid devices under contract or immediately for prepaid/out of contract
  2. Contact U.S. Cellular Customer Support by phone, online chat or visit a retail store
  3. Provide details on your account and device to confirm unlock eligibility
  4. Wait up to 5 business days for unlock request processing
  5. Receive confirmation from U.S. Cellular that device unlock successful
  6. Restart device and insert new carrier SIM to test unlock completion

Full instructions available here.

The process requires patience but as long as you meet the basic tenure and contract requirements, all major US carriers in 2024 must unlock devices upon request legally. Expect 1-5 business days wait time depending on carrier volume.

Unlock Your Phone Independently Using Third-Party Unlock Services

While the official carrier route is recommended first, there are many reliable third-party phone unlocking services you can use independently in 2024 as well. These services are legal and offer unlocks for both in and out of contract devices if you were denied by your carrier originally.

Some top rated third-party unlock providers this year include:

  • – Unlocks for iPhone, Samsung, LG, Motorola and other popular models with guaranteed network perm unlocks for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. $49.99+ pricing.
  • DC Unlocker – Specializes in unlocking HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony based phones. 24 hour processing. $19.99+ pricing.
  • UnlockOracle – Offers iPhone unlocks specifically including latest models along with older devices. Good option for Apple users. $39.99+ pricing.
  • UnlockBase – Extensive list of over 10,000 unlocked devices across brands. Money back guarantee and 24/7 support. $29.99+ pricing.

When using third-party unlock services, you will typically provide details like your IMEI/ESN number and current carrier. Payment is required before processing can begin. Make sure to use well reviewed providers for best reliability.

The advantage of third-party unlocks is speed (often less than 24 hour turnaround) and ability to service denied carrier requests. However warranties may be voided going outside official carrier channels. Weigh the pros and cons before utilizing third-parties.

What to Do If You Run Into Problems Unlocking

Despite the relative ease of unlocking in 2024, you may occasionally still run into issues getting a carrier or third-party service to successfully process your unlock request. Some troubleshooting tips:

  • Double check eligibility – Make sure you meet all requirements based on the contract status of your device and how long it has been active on the network. Different tenure lengths apply.
  • Confirm unlock compatibility – Your phone must have a baseband chipset that physically supports unlocking from its network. Older models may lack this.
  • Retry request – Sometimes backlogs can cause a valid unlock request to get stuck or fail. Try submitting the request again if it errors out.
  • Switch services – If you run into repeated failed unlocks with your carrier, switch to using a reliable third party unlock service instead for fresher results.
  • Request remote unlock – Some providers offer remote unlocks where they send specialized software to devices to reset network restrictions without physical access. This may work if other options fail.

Still unable to unlock? As a last resort, you can contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and file a complaint regarding failed unlock attempts that violate federal cellphone unlocking laws. Provide complete details on the device, carrier, and multiple failed unlock attempts over 90 days. The FCC may be able to take actionable steps against non-compliant cellular providers.

Key Takeaways on Unlocking US Cell Phones in 2024

The days of unlocking cellphones being questionable legally or requiring complicated tech workarounds are long gone. With the passage of milestone legislation over the last decade, consumers now have clearly defined legal rights to unlock devices from any carrier or third party services for use across all networks.

As long as you fully understand the eligibility timelines set by providers based on contract status, meet basic tenure requirements, and submit the proper unlock requests, your carrier is mandated to unlock your device in 1-5 business days. Utilizing alternative third-party phone unlock services also remains a reliable option.

Overall the unlocking environment continues to become more transparent and hassle free over time thanks to landmark unlocking laws. Take advantage of this hard earned consumer freedom and the flexibility it brings to your wireless plans.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is it legal to unlock my phone in the US?

Yes, it has been legal since 2014 thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

Can I unlock my phone while still under contract?

Yes, but you typically have to meet a minimum time of active service before your carrier will unlock it, usually 40-60 days.

Do all US carriers now use SIM cards?

Yes, with the shutdown of 3G/CDMA networks, all major carriers now use SIM cards for LTE service.

What are the benefits of unlocking my phone?

Main benefits are ability to switch carriers freely, no bloatware or restrictions, higher resale value, and access to more phone selection.

How long does it take to get my phone unlocked?

Approximately 1-5 business days depending on your carrier and request volume.

Will unlocking my phone void the warranty?

Unlocking through official carrier channels will not void your warranty. Using third-party services potentially could.

Can I unlock my phone independently?

Yes, you can use third-party unlock services instead of your carrier if you meet eligibility requirements.

How can I tell if my phone is already unlocked?

Ways to check are trying a new SIM card, looking for carrier branding, checking with your carrier directly or restarting phone.

What if my carrier refuses to unlock my eligible phone?

You can file an FCC complaint regarding failed unlock attempts violating federal cellphone unlocking laws.

Does unlocking work for both Android and iPhone devices?

Yes, the unlocking process works independently of device operating system or model.