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How To Unlock Your Cell Phone For Free (Canadian Guide)

How to unlock your cell phone for free

Unlocking your cell phone just got a whole lot easier and cheaper!

With the new CRTC Wireless Code coming into effect on December 1st, 2017, Canadian cell phone carriers are now banned from charging a fee for unlocking any phone and all new phones must be sold unlocked.

Previously the unlocking fees charged directly by your service provider typically rang in at $50, but there was some variance among providers. In 2016 alone, those fees added up to $37.7M in revenue for the cell phone companies which came from 943,000 phone unlock requests - an average of $40 per device.

Today, all you have to is contact them and they will either unlock your device for you or instruct you how to do so yourself completely free of charge.

If you’re still confused about what unlocking even means, check out our guide that answers the question what is cell phone unlocking?

Also don’t miss our phone unlocking frequently asked questions below.

What You Need To Unlock Your Phone

  • Your phone IMEI - this stands for “International Mobile Equipment Identity” and it is a unique number specific to your mobile device. You can get your IMEI by dialling *#06# on most phone’s native dialer. The IMEI is is made up of 15 digits with no spaces.
  • Foreign SIM card - some phones require a SIM card from a different carrier’s network than the one your phone is currently locked to for the unlocking process to work. You can borrow a friend’s SIM card if you don’t have one handy or just pick one up cheaply from another provider for a few dollars.
  • Account information - many providers are asking you to either be an existing or former customer to unlock a phone locked to their network. Have your account number and other ID handy just in case.
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How To Contact Your Carrier For Free Unlocking

7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless

Most phones sold by SpeakOut Wireless are already unlocked, but if you happen to have a locked device you can email customer service to get an unlock code.

Bell

BellMTS

Chatr

Eastlink

Fido

Freedom Mobile

Koodo

Petro Canada

Most Petro Canada phones are sold unlocked already.

PC Mobile

Public Mobile

Rogers

SaskTel

Tbaytel

TELUS

Videotron

Virgin Mobile

Cell Phone Unlocking FAQ

Will I be charged any fees to have my device unlocked?

The December 1, 2017 updates to the CRTC Wireless Code guarantee that no cell phone service provider can charge a fee to unlock a device that is locked to their network. In rare cases they can refuse to unlock your phone, but they can’t charge you for it. It’s completely free.

What are the benefits of unlocking my phone?

There are many benefits of having an unlocked phone, including the freedom to:

  • travel and use a SIM card from a cheap roaming provider or carrier in another country,
  • switch to a lower cost plan from a different carrier,
  • enjoy a higher resale value on the secondhand market, and
  • avoid inflexible contracts by bringing your existing phone to a new provider so you don’t have to sign a contract to subsidize the cost of a new phone.

Related: Best Travel Credit Cards in Canada 2018

How do I find my phone’s IMEI number?

On most phones, you can simply go to to the original dialing app that came installed with your smartphone and dial *#06#. After doing that, your IMEI should pop up on the screen.

If that doesn’t work, the IMEI is almost always on a sticker on the back of the device somewhere. It’s often inside the phone often located underneath the battery. Look for a small 15 digit number that is typically labelled as “IMEI”.

Can I still unlock a phone if I don’t have an account with the cell phone provider whose network it is locked to?

This depends on the individual carrier as they all have their own rules. Most will gladly unlock phones for current and former customers. Many will also unlock the phone if it is currently locked to their network and it isn’t blacklisted in any way.

Can I unlock my phone if I’m behind on my bill payments?

This varies by carrier, but they may try to prevent you from unlocking your phone if you are behind on your bill payments so they have more leverage to get you to pay them. The wireless code doesn’t say anything about this, so if you complain loudly enough you should be able to convince them to do it for you.

Can I still unlock a phone if I’m not the original owner?

Most cell phone providers will allow you to unlock any device that is locked to their network even if you aren’t the original owner. The wireless code does mention the word “customer” though. If you aren’t currently a customer of the company the phone is locked to, they may use that as grounds not to unlock your device. Bell has been particularly difficult when it comes to unlocking phones for people who aren’t their customers.

What is the CRTC Wireless Code?

The CRTC Wireless Code is a set of government regulations issued by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The code must be adhered to by any company this wishes to offer cell phone service in Canada.

Ultimately, the code is meant to protect consumers so they are treated fairly and not gouged by the small number of players in the Canadian wireless market.

What can I do if a carrier refuses to unlock my phone?

If you aren’t successful on your first attempt, there are many actions you can take to potentially resolve the issue:

  • Try calling back to speak to a different customer service agent. Some agents are more willing to help customers and bend rules than others.
  • You can file a complaint with the CCTS (Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services) if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly.
  • Try reaching out to the media for help as they have a lot of clout.
  • If you want a quicker solution, check on Ebay for an unlock code/service for your specific model and network of phone. Sometimes codes can be had for as little as $1.
  • If all else fails, try activating the phone with the network you want to unlock from on their cheapest possible prepaid plan so you are now technically a “customer”.

Will the new phone I just purchased come unlocked?

The wireless code states that all new phones must come unlocked to the customer. In practice this usually means the phone will be unlocked as soon as you receive it. In some cases, older inventory will still be locked and you may receive an unlock code and instructions with the device. That way you can easily unlock it yourself free of charge.

Will my unlocked device now work on any carrier’s network?

Not all phones will work on every network because those networks are built to operate with different wireless technologies and frequencies.

Fortunately, technology has mostly converged these days and each phone has a multitude of wireless radios it can use to operate on different frequencies. That means your phone will likely work, at least partially, on practically any network.

In some cases, you may receive more limited coverage or reception because your phone won’t be compatible with certain towers or frequencies but will work on others. It’s still best to call the carrier you are looking to move to and ask them directly about compatibility with your specific model of unlocked phone.

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

Comments

Daniel
Daniel's picture

In the past I used various internet resources ($) to unlock, but I was quite surprized last month when I bought a new cellphone from Koodo and they sold it to me unlocked. I guess they don't care about having to expend the resources to unlock it later for free. In haven't actually checked it - I am using it on the Koodo (Telus) network, but this is what the sales lady told me. BTW, I did but it using Tab, so I still owe them some money for the phone.

January 23, 2018 @ 1:33 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

It's actually part of the Wireless Code that all new phones must now be sold unlocked as well Daniel, which is why it came to you that way.

January 23, 2018 @ 1:56 pm
Keith Richmond
Keith Richmond's picture

One wrinkle - Bell (I am not sure about other carriers) has said they will only unlock phone for current or former cellular customers. Since I have never used Bell as a carrier, I cannot buy a used phone that was lock to Bell, and then have Bell unlock it for free.

Source: https://mobilesyrup.com/2017/12/18/bell-says-wont-unlock-devices-free/

Tech guy in BC

January 23, 2018 @ 2:19 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Ya, that's an issue. I suggested a few workarounds in the FAQ above. Worst case scenario is you activate it on a Bell prepaid plan so you are technically a "customer". Probably more hassle than it's worth though.

Or just find somebody who IS a Bell customer and get them to do it for you :)

January 23, 2018 @ 3:55 pm
John
John's picture

Hi, when you unlock your phone, what are the best plans in Ontario for no data, texting and calls. Are all plans monthly or can you go on a minutes plan?

January 23, 2018 @ 6:14 pm
Anne
Anne's picture

Public mobile

January 23, 2018 @ 8:48 pm
Marpy
Marpy's picture

Check out 7 - Eleven and Petro Canada plans - pay as you go by the minute.

January 26, 2018 @ 7:59 pm
Helen
Helen 's picture

I used Zoomer Wireless when I bought my grandson a talk and text phone..no internet and it was a $16 a month plan. If you know of anyone who would like to buy this phone I have it for sale for $50 because my grandson is old enough to have internet now so I bought him a new one. The one I have for sale is an LG flip phone and it's a great little gadget....Helen

January 31, 2018 @ 6:09 am
Big Cajun Man (AW)'s picture

Your link to the Bell unlock tool directly didn't work for me, however the More Information link led me to where I needed to end up, and I believe my phone will soon be unlocked!

Thank you!

January 23, 2018 @ 6:31 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Glad to know you go it done Alan, thanks for stopping by!

January 27, 2018 @ 12:39 pm
Chad
Chad's picture

My mom bought me a used iPhone for 400 she did a imei check for 20 all came up clean. We went to activate and found out it’s locked to bell and has a outstanding bill so the say they will blacklist it in a months time. We explained to them what steps she took to avoid being duped and they were uncooperative now she is stuck with a 400 paperweight. Is there a way to use bell unlock tool hen not a customer?

August 04, 2018 @ 10:55 pm
James Smith
James Smith's picture

Stephen, I have a BlackBerry Classic (ya, ya I know!) on Freedom Mobile (formerly WIND Mobile). I followed your link and the instructions provided and it worked like a charm. Whoo hoo! Somehow I totally missed reading about this CRTC announcement, so I really appreciate you putting this article together and making me and my family aware of it. Thanks Stephen.

January 24, 2018 @ 11:49 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Nothing wrong with a great Canadian classic :)

January 27, 2018 @ 12:39 pm
Alice Abbott
Alice Abbott's picture

Hey, no dissing the BB Classic! I love mine...

January 28, 2018 @ 7:25 am
Marpy
Marpy's picture

This was a timely article as I just upgraded my phone from an old Nokia to a Samsung J3. I am one of those people who do not spend a lot of time on their cell phone and as such I have always had a pay as you go plan. The 2 cheapest plans that I could find were the Petro Canada plan and the 7- Eleven plan. If you are just using your phone for making the odd call and text, then the 7 - Eleven plan would be better as you can buy $25 in time and it can last up to a year (based on usage). If you use a little data now and again, then the Petro Canada Plan may be better. $25 dollars at Petro Canada only lasts 3 months (again dependent on usage) but that includes data as well so you do not have to buy a separate data plan like you do with 7 - Eleven.
My old phone was not very good for data and based on my usages, at $25 for 3 months i would always have time left over that got rolled forward. My new phone is much better suited for data and apps and so I may use it for that purpose occasionally. As such I stuck with my Petro Canada Plan.
My phone came with the unlock key written on the box but when I put the sim chip in I discovered that it was already unlocked.

January 26, 2018 @ 7:52 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Those plans are definitely the best if you're a light user or can do most of your usage of wi-fi and use VoIP calling.

It's great that people won't have to working about this whole locking fiasco now when buying and selling phones and when they want to switch plans.

January 27, 2018 @ 12:41 pm
Alice Abbott
Alice Abbott's picture

Thank you for this article. Does this new rule make stolen and lost mobiles more attractive to the thieves and finders? Previously if a mobile was lost or stolen, the owner at least had the comfort that it was basically useless to the thief (if a Blackberry) or would cost a thief money to unlock (if any other brand),

January 28, 2018 @ 7:29 am
Jeffery Simpson
Jeffery Simpson's picture

Hi, I just got back from trying to unlock this Samsung S3 and I was told by virgin that there is an outstanding bill for this phone so they're REFUSING to unlock it unless the balance is payed. Are they allowed to do this, as I thought it was illegal for them to refuse to unlock a phone. Thank you for your help, and the guy at Fido said he has never heard of a request denial to unlock a phone. They were extremely rude NOT FIDO HE WAS GREAT) but virgin was awfully rude.

April 03, 2018 @ 8:09 pm
Richard Sides
Richard Sides's picture

Virgin is being very rude to me as well!

September 11, 2018 @ 12:04 am
Martin Lai
Martin Lai's picture

I am new to the cell phone usage & locking/unlocking, I was told that I only need to unlock my used cell once when switching carrier. I.e. if my phone was originally locked to carrier 1, then I need the unlocking code from carrier 1 to switching to carrier 2. But if switch from carrier 2 to carrier 3 later, then the phone is already unlocked and I don't need to unlock again. is this correct?

August 08, 2018 @ 3:45 pm
Louis Carter
Louis Carter's picture

I got an unlock code still unable to use another SIM card, as phone is not asking any codes. What can I do now?

August 09, 2018 @ 6:05 am
Ken Uck
Ken Uck's picture

I bought a phone from Freedom Mobile and another from Bell Mobility in March of this year. Both phones were locked because when I switched the sims, neither would work. I don't recall a message for an unlock code but all they would do was turn on and no cell signal from the carriers.

I went to each carrier's web site and registered my self. Then I used their tools to get an unlock code and unlocked both phones.

All this to say that even with the new wireless code from the CRTC, you may still get a locked phone from a carrier. The difference is that you can now go to the carrier's web site and use the tool they have to get the unlock code for your phone, whereas before you would have to jump through hoops and pay for this service.

Martin Lai, once the phone is unlocked then you never need to unlock it again no matter how many carriers you connect to in the future.

Louis Carter, you can google cell phone dealers/retailers in your city and call them to help you unlock your phone. In Toronto, there are many small retailers that will do it for less than $10 I think (no personal experience but I have asked these stores, and I also have friends who have had it done).

September 06, 2018 @ 10:26 am

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