Once you step foot outside your home country, you know what happens: your phone will adjust itself to its new surroundings by connecting to the foreign country’s cell network, and rack up those roaming charges.
But there’s a way to get around this: by unlocking your phone and buying a temporary, foreign SIM card. Sound complicated? Don’t sweat it.
Here’s our guide on how to unlock your phone, so you can use your phone in France or wherever else you may be travelling.
What does it mean to “unlock” my phone?
Unlocking your phone allows you to connect to cell networks within different countries while you’re abroad (or even when you want the flexibility of changing cell carriers at home). You can do this by swapping your SIM card with a foreign one, which will connect you to the foreign country’s network.
What’s a SIM card?
A SIM card is essentially your phone number, and what connects your phone to its network. Switching SIM cards allows you to take on a new number in a foreign country and be a part of their network.
When swapping a SIM, you’ll buy a prepaid plan with a set amount of minutes, texts and data to use while you’re away. Prepaid plans are typically much cheaper than whatever roaming charges your home network would charge you abroad.
Once you get home, you can put your old SIM back into your phone and continue using it as normal.
Can’t find the SIM card slot in your phone? Scroll down to “What’s the difference between GSM and CDMA?” to find out why that is.
Is my phone unlocked?
Did you buy your phone with a one or two-year French mobile plan? Then it’s probably locked. That’s because you’re on contract with your cell phone carrier and won’t be able to swap out your SIM until the contract is up and you’ve requested the phone to be unlocked.
But if you bought your phone brand-new from an electronics store like Apple or Samsung, there’s a good chance it’s already unlocked.
Check your phone’s settings
If you have an iPhone, go to your Settings, and then Cellular Data. If you see "Cellular Data Options" on that screen, your phone is unlocked.
If you have an Android, go to Settings, then Connections, then Mobile Networks, and then Network Operators. If you see other carriers, then your phone is likely to be unlocked.
Staying in France for over 3 months?If so, it's worth signing up for a postpaid mobile phone plan. In the long run, these are cheaper than pay-as-you-go and offer better allowances. Call our English-speaking advisors at 09 77 55 72 27 (Monday - Friday, 9:30 am-7:30 pm), or ask for a free callback to get help finding a plan that meets your needs
Check with another SIM card
Put another SIM card in your phone and make a phone call. If the call goes through, it’s unlocked and should work with other SIMs.
It should also be unlocked if you see that SIM’s carrier name on your screen instead of your own.
The best way to check if your phone is unlocked The only way to know for sure is to call your carrier. Once you know, they’ll also be able to unlock it.
Contacting your carrier to unlock your phone
Here are the phone numbers of common U.S., UK and Canadian cell carriers. Contact yours to check if your phone is locked, and then unlock it for good.
- AT&T: +1 (800) 331-0500
- Sprint: +1 (888) 211-4727
- Verizon: +1 (800) 922-0204
- T-Mobile: +1 (877) 453-1304
- Vodafone: +44 7836 191 191
- EE: 011 44 7953 966250
- O2: 0800 0901808 (if you pay monthly) or 0800 3134302 (Pay As You Go)
- Rogers: +1 (888) 764-3771
- Telus: +1 (888) 811-2323
- Bell: +1 (800) 667-0123
Unlocking a phone is completely legal. You can bring your phone to an independent phone shop to unlock, but they’ll charge you a fee. Depending on your carrier, you may also have to pay to unlock it, but you will typically be able to unlock your phone for free.
Unlocking the phone
In order to unlock your phone, you’ll need your IMEI number, which is an identification number attached to your phone.
For iPhones, you can find the code by going to Settings, then General, then About. For Androids, go to Settings, then About Device, and then Status.
You can also call it up on your screen by typing *#06# into your keypad.
The length of the unlocking process depends on your carrier. It can be immediate, take a few hours or a few days.
Travelling to Other Parts of Europe?Your French prepaid mobile phone will still work in most European countries, and you should be able to purchase credit with a partner provider to use on your French phone. Alternatively, if you are planning to travel for long periods of time across other countries, you may be better off investing in an international SIM card, as offered by companiies such as Flexiroam.
Getting a new SIM card
Once you have it, take your old SIM card out of your phone and insert the new one. Your phone should work without any trouble. Notice the new carrier name in the top left corner of your screen.
Need help finding the best plan for you?Our English-speaking advisors are here to assist you and get you signed up with the right plan, for free. Simply call 09 77 55 72 27 (Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 7:30 pm), or ask for a free callback.
What’s the difference between GSM and CDMA?
You may have seen or heard these terms floating around when looking into SIM cards and unlocking your phone.
GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communication. It is used in the majority of countries around the world and links your SIM card to a phone number. The worldwide GSM coverage is helpful for travellers who are using their new SIMs to roam, and are not chained to specific devices.
CDMA stands for code division multiple access. It links their phone numbers to their physical devices. So if you wanted a new foreign number, you’d have to get a whole new device, or deactivate your first phone to switch to a new number.
And while it sounds like GSM is the winner in this fight because of its worldwide coverage, two U.S. heavyweight carriers, Verizon and Sprint, are on CDMA networks. CDMA is also found in South Korea and Russia.
But in the long-run, GSM vs CDMA doesn’t matter much. Most CDMA phones now allow users to convert to a GSM network and insert different SIMs into the phone to make it easier when travelling. And regardless of which you end up on, both have solid network coverage, wherever you are in the world.