When you buy a phone from a service provider, you're locked into using a certain carrier to get your cell phone plan. Switching carriers requires getting a new phone or paying to unlock your current phone. Buying an unlocked phone is different. You get the freedom to choose any carrier you like and to switch carriers whenever you want, if your needs change or you find a better deal. You can also choose from a wide range of phone models, and unlocked phones tend to have higher resale value compared to locked phones. This is especially true for “universal unlocked” phones, which work with almost any carrier.
Unlocking a Phone You Already Have
If you have a carrier-specific phone and you’d like to unlock it, check your contract. If you have met the terms of the contract and the phone is paid off, you may ask the carrier to unlock the phone for you. Your customer account must also be in good standing.
If travel frequently, you’re going to love having an unlocked phone. Keep in touch with your friends and family back home without running up expensive international roaming charges. You can use a local SIM card in your unlocked phone instead. It's by far the most cost-effective and flexible option for overseas travel.
Universally Unlocked vs. GSM-only?
Unlocked phones are either universal unlocked or GSM-only. If your phone is described as universal unlocked or fully unlocked, then it’s compatible on both GSM and CDMA networks (as listed below). Because these models have more network compatibilities, they hold more value. GSM-only devices are compatible only on GSM networks, typically hold less value.
All unlocked phones are compatible with GSM networks, which includes AT&T and many overseas carriers. This makes them a cost-effective solution for international travel. You can simply purchase a local SIM card when you arrive at your destination, rather than paying expensive roaming charges.
Some (but not all) unlocked phones are compatible with CDMA networks, which include Verizon and Sprint and their subsidiaries. Although widely used in the United States, CDMA networks are only available in a few other countries, so they aren’t ideal for international travel.
Data on Unlocked Cell Phones
Even if you don't connect your phone to a carrier, you can use Wi-Fi networks and connect to the internet. With a local SIM card, you can use data plans wherever you are. Whether you want to check email or look up maps and directions, having a local data plan can be useful, and an unlocked phone gives you that option.
Using Unlocked Cell Phones
You can use an unlocked cell phone from Sam's Club anywhere in the world. All you need is a SIM card from a mobile carrier and you're ready to go. If you're moving or if you want to switch plans, just change the SIM card and start using a new carrier. Just remove the SIM card from your old phone and insert it into your unlocked phone. Then, follow the activation instructions.