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Looking at your bills and seeing where you could cut back is a good idea when you’re trying to save money. You can switch your energy provider, pledge to spend less at the supermarket or stop spending on something entirely – like a gym membership or a TV subscription.

But can you switch your mobile to a different network if you want a cheaper deal? You might need to unlock your phone and there could be a charge for this. Don’t worry that it’s illegal – it’s completely above board. Let’s find out how you can unlock your mobile and switch to a cheaper deal.

What is unlocking?

When you buy a phone from a mobile network – whether you buy it upfront or spread the cost with a contract – you can’t just use it with another provider. This is because it’s ‘locked’ to that specific network so if you want the freedom to use any provider when your contract’s up, you’ll need to unlock it.

First off, don’t worry that unlocking your phone is against the law or dodgy in some way. Unlocking is completely legal – it’s only unblocking your phone that’s against the law. Unblocking is when the networks block a phone and you pay to make it work again. The two words might sound similar but they’re completely different.

However, unlocking your phone to move it to a different network will probably void its warranty. That means you can’t claim from the manufacturer if anything goes wrong with your mobile. If you’ve got an expensive phone and you’re still in the warranty period, it might be worth waiting to unlock your phone.

How to unlock your phone

If you’ve got a smartphone, your network can probably unlock it. There might be a fee for this, depending on your provider. For example, Virgin Mobile charges £15.32 to unlock a phone but O2 and Three will do it for free. Get in touch with your network and see what their rules are and how long unlocking will take.

For older phones, you could get it unlocked by a third party. Don’t go online for this – you don’t know who can be trusted. Instead, find a reputable high-street retailer to unlock it for you and ask around your friends or family members to see if they recommend a particular store.

Searching for deals

When you’ve unlocked your phone, you’re free to use your handset with any mobile network you choose. Have a look on a price comparison website like MoneySuperMarket or uSwitch to find the right deal for you – whether you want to use lots of texts and mobile internet or you don’t use your phone very much at all.

You’ll need a Porting Authorising Code (PAC) from your current provider if you want to keep your mobile number – find out how to do this with our blog on switching your mobile phone network.

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