Can I Use My Existing Phone With a New Plan?

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Woman thinking about her phone or a new phone plan
Dean Drobot /

Basically all wireless carriers allow you to keep your existing smartphone when switching carriers. But before you get any ideas about bringing your phone over to a new wireless carrier, there are a few boxes you’ll need to check beforehand.

1. Pay off your phone

Before you can bring your phone to a new carrier with a new plan, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve paid off your phone completely.

Most carriers package your phone payment together with your plan costs every month, and it can be easy to forget that you still haven’t quite paid off your current phone.

Double-check your account to confirm whether you’ve actually paid off your device yet. If you have a remaining balance left on your phone, you should be able to pay it off in a lump sum without any issue.

But word to the wise, keep an eye out for any deals from other carriers that advertise paying off your phone when you switch over. In an ideal world, you can have your new carrier pay off your old phone, and you can switch over while keeping (and owning) your existing phone.

2. Make sure your phone is unlocked

You can’t use your existing phone on a different network until you’ve unlocked your device. When you buy a phone through your carrier, typically the device will be locked to that network until you meet the qualifications for unlocking your device.

For some carriers, you’ll need to have completely paid off your phone (like AT&T). For other carriers (like Verizon), you only need to wait 60 days and your phone will automatically unlock.

Here are the steps to see if your phone is unlocked on either an iOS device or an Android device.

For Android Phones

  • Go to your Android settings.
  • Select “Connections.”
  • Depending upon your phone, you’ll see a “Networks,” “Mobile Networks” or “Cellular Networks” option. Select whatever option you see on your phone.
  • Tap “Network Operators.”

If you can only see one available network after following those steps, your phone is likely locked. But if you see other network options, congratulations! Your phone is unlocked and ready to go to a new carrier.

If these steps don’t work for you, you can always ask a friend for their SIM card and manually insert it into your phone. If your friend’s SIM card immediately works on your phone, that’s also a confirmation that your phone is indeed unlocked.

For iOS Phones

  • Go to your iPhone settings.
  • Tap the “Cellular” option.
  • Select “Cellular Data Options.”

After following those steps, you should see the “Data Networks” category if your iPhone is unlocked.

Backup method

If all else fails, you can always ask a friend for their SIM card and manually insert it into your phone. If your friend’s SIM card immediately works on your phone, that’s also a confirmation that your phone is indeed unlocked.

If that doesn’t work, then you’re probably out of luck and need to take some steps to unlock your device.

3. Check your phone’s compatibility

Newer smartphones will be compatible with any carrier, but older smartphones can be a bit more finicky. Basically, if your phone came out after 2014, chances are you won’t need to worry about compatibility.

If your phone came out before then, you’ll need to check if it’s a CDMA or GSM phone. You can check this by navigating to your phone’s “About” section.

Once you figure that out, realize that you can only switch to a compatible network. Meaning, if you have a CDMA phone (like an old Verizon phone), you can only switch to a network that supports CDMA.

If you have a GSM phone (purchased from AT&T or T-Mobile), you can only switch to a GSM-compatible network.

Again, you won’t need to worry about this if you purchased your phone in the last couple of years.

4. What plan should I choose?

If you want to keep your existing phone, make sure you choose a plan that doesn’t bundle a new phone included with its plan.

Most plans have the option to bring your own phone, but you’ll just need to be careful you don’t accidentally sign up for a new phone that you don’t want.

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