Purchasing a used phone is a great way to save money and reduce your environmental impact, however it’s not without its risks. Canadian cell phones produced before 2018 can be “locked” to particular service providers. This is to say, if the phone you purchased was originally a Rogers device, it’s not going to work with a Bell or Telus SIM card. While the phone itself will be fully functional, as soon as it recognizes a foreign SIM card it will lock you out of your main menu with a screen like this:
Reputable sellers should tell you when selling a phone whether or not it’s unlocked, and if not, which company it’s locked to. If you’ve bought a locked phone and you know its original service provider, the easiest way to get it unlocked is to contact them.
i.e. If you’ve bought a phone locked to Telus, you should contact Telus regardless of who your current service provider is.
You can request for your phone to be unlocked by calling the customer service hotline of the original provider, though most will also have online chat agents ready to assist you. Customer support for Bell, Rogers and Telus can be found by clicking the links below:
When requesting an unlock from the device’s original carrier, they may ask you for an account number or phone number. Don’t worry if you don’t have these, they should help you with the unlock either way (legally, they have to unlock devices from their network free of charge to anyone asking, barring a few special circumstances). On your end, all you need to provide is the phone’s IMEI number, which is a unique ID number individual to your device. This can be found by pressing *#06# from the dial pad or by searching the phone’s settings in a sub-folder titled something like “Hardware” or “About Device”.
For Android devices, once the agent has the IMEI number, they should be able to provide you with an unlock code. Once you’ve written this code down, put in a SIM card from a different service provider. When the lock screen comes up, enter the unlock code. If this works, your phone should now be unlocked.
If you have an iPhone there is no unlock code. The agent will instead send the request to Apple to unlock it for you. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The process is even simpler than for Android; after Apple unlocks the device, put in a SIM card from a different provider and the phone should start working right away - no codes required!
“The original provider can’t unlock it/can’t find it in their database? What do I do?”
In some exceptional circumstances, the original provider will not be able to unlock the device for you. If there is an outstanding balance tied to the account of the previous owner or if the phone was reported as stolen, the agents may have grounds to reject the unlock request. In some cases, they might be willing to help but unable to find the phone in their database, or perhaps the unlock code they provided you doesn’t work. If this happens, try again with another representative, you might get someone more knowledgeable. If after a few tries, you’re still unable to unlock it, it might be that it simply can’t be unlocked. If the original provider has service in your area, you might want to consider switching to them.
In the event that you don’t know the original carrier, things are a bit more difficult. You can try contacting all of the local service providers. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark, but it costs you nothing. Give each of them your IMEI number and see if any of them have it in their database. Another option is to contact your current service provider (assuming it’s different from the one the phone is locked to). It’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to help, though as a current customer, they should be more than willing to do what they can.