Tuesday Travel Tips: Unlocking Your Phone

International roaming charges are evil. Worse than evil, they can gouge a serious chunk out of your travel budget. That’s money you could be using for amazing eats and adventures or quirky souvenirs used to pay a phone bill.

If you plan on being in a country for any length of time (a month or longer) or foresee repeat visits on a regular basis, it’s in your best interest to unlock your phone, and switch out your sim card with a local pre-pay sim. Depending on where you are, the sim and corresponding local phone number may cost anywhere from $5-$20.

If you’ve been with the same phone company for a long time, they may provide the unlock code to you at no charge, but if they won’t, you’ll have to get your phone unlocked some other way.

In Barcelona, where I live a good part of the year, dirty little tech shops and Internet cafes that offer this service abound, but they’re not always reputable, and most often they’re more expensive than having a phone unlocked online.

For example at a local shop, technicians wanted 120 euros to unlock my iPhone 5 and told me it would take a week. With the service I ended up using online, iPhoneOSUnlock.com, it cost me $19.99 for a permanent factory unlock for my iPhone 5, and they sent me the very simple unlock instructions in less than 24 hours. I’ve also had a Samsung phone successfully and inexpensively unlocked by unlockthatmobile.com, although it wasn’t as quickly or cheaply ($29 code sent within the week).

I couldn’t be happier with my results. Now I can switch out my Spanish sim card with my American sim card, and any others I acquire as I go along.

Even if you don’t travel, you may eventually want to unlock your phone in order to use it with another service provider after your contract is up. 

A Few Extra Tips:

  • Phones that use a regular sim are an easy switch, but as of January 2013, in Spain, prepaid nano sims for iPhones are not available for purchase. Prepaid micro sims for iPhone 4S are for sale in some places, but if you want a prepaid nano to used in your unlocked iPhone 5, you’re going to have to buy a regular sim and cut it down to size yourself, or pay a local service to do it for you.
  • Check out a YouTube video explaining how to cut your own nano or micro sim, here.
  • Be sure to ask about opt-in deals on international calls, or data plans, because a lot of companies offer them for a small fee for prepay customers, and more often than not, they’re worth the initial investment.
  • Note that to do this, you’ll need the name of your  original network, your phone model and your phone’s IMEI number, which you can find on the original packaging it came with, or by dialing *#06# on your phone.
  • Keep spare sim cards in a labeled envelope with your travel stuff when not in use (I keep mine with my passport in a safe place)



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