Nowadays, there are loads of cell phone carriers, and each carrier has a whole handful of plans with different specifics and different costs. It’s no wonder you’re looking to change carriers! Keeping your phone number when you switch plans makes it so much easier to settle into your new plan. You can keep all your contacts, all your settings, and get up and running on that new plan and new carrier.
There’s a process called “porting” that, put simply, lets you keep your phone number when switching to a new provider. This article will talk about the process of porting your cell phone number when you switch to a new provider, a brief description of major providers, and what to keep track of before you switch.
Before You Switch
Before you switch providers you want to make sure that you have all of your account information close at hand and make sure that you are up-to-date with your bills at your current provider. That being said, you can still switch providers even if you owe your old provider. It can be a good choice if your current plan is too expensive, and you need to switch to a cheaper one as soon as possible.
The most important part of porting your phone number is that you have to “unlock” your phone. More on that later.
Before you switch, you want to make sure you know what provider works best for you. Different providers have different coverage across the United States, so double-check that you’ll have strong service in the areas in which you spend most of your time. As towers grow more prevalent and MNVOs gain popularity, almost every provider has near-nationwide coverage, but it pays to check!
This is also a great time to look at the deals for new customers at each provider. These deals, when you know your switching plans, are a great way to get a little extra value from your new provider, be it an electronic gift card, streaming services, or something else. Just be sure to watch out for “promotions” that force you to pay more than you want, get things you don’t need, or any contract that locks you into paying more money than you want. Once you’ve settled on the new carrier and the plan that best suits you, on to the next question: do you want a new phone?
Do You Want to Keep Your Old Phone?
There are so many phones. Are you satisfied with the phone you have? If so, then you’re good to move on to the next section! If not, then there might be some benefits of switching phones at the same time as you switch carriers. As before, there might be a promotion available for new customers that lets you get a phone cheap, just make sure to read the fine print.
If you want a new phone, make sure to communicate that to your new provider. Let them know that you want to keep your number and want to activate a new phone when you switch. It is good practice to keep your new providers up to date with your plans to ensure that they don’t accidentally back you into a corner where you have to make compromises. Fortunately, switching carriers, keeping numbers, and activating new phones is a common occurrence in the world of all the networks, so they can walk you through their specific process when you get there. But it’s not bad to learn about changing your phone plan and keeping your number before you get there, right?
Note: Do Not Cancel Your Old Plan Before Starting Your New Plan
In just a moment, we will cover the main question of how to change your carrier and keep your number. Before we get there, it is important to note that you should not cancel your old plan before starting your new plan. If you cancel, the company can deactivate your phone number, and if that happens — you’re sunk. Under most circumstances, your new provider handles just about all of the communication with your old provider to cancel your service. It is recommended, however, to give them a call to confirm after you’re up and running on your new provider.
How to Change Carrier and Keep Your number
This section will cover the core of this article. How do you change carriers and keep your number? Fortunately, it’s not too complicated! You are traveling well-worn roads with this one, and just about every major carrier has plans in place to help your change progress without any major hiccups.
Porting Your Phone Number
When you switch carriers, step one is to check your eligibility. There are a few cases where this is not possible, but you can look up a provider’s transfer eligibility portal, or something similar, to confirm whether or not you can make the change. When you’re shopping around for a new carrier, you should always check the eligibility to make sure you can make the change. If a carrier doesn’t allow transfers from your current carrier there’s not anything you can do to change that.
Once you’re set on your new carrier and you know that you’re eligible for a transfer you’re all set to purchase a new plan. There are often ways to do this online, but we recommend visiting a store or getting on the phone with an agent in order to make sure that you’re taking the right steps. This process should be easy, but any mistakes are pretty hard to settle.
Have your current account information on hand when you purchase your new plan. If you are keeping your current phone, they may ask for the phone’s ESN/IMEI number, which is found in the settings under device info. After you iron out the details with your new provider, they should handle the rest. They will contact your current company and begin the process of changing your plan and keeping your phone number.
If your phone has a SIM card, you might need to swap it out for a new one, courtesy of the new company. There will most likely be a few hours (up to a day) of time when your phone is offline. This is the time it takes for your two carriers to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. After that, you’re all done! Congratulations! You’ve got a new service provider and your phone is up and running.
Unlocking Your Phone
One complication in this process is that sometimes carriers “lock” phones. That is to say, when your phone is locked it means you cannot transfer it to another carrier. It’s annoying, but phone companies do this in order to discourage people from “hopping” networks every month or a few months to keep abreast of the new customer deals and, in short, be a thorn in the carrier’s side. If you haven’t paid off your phone you might get hit with an early termination fee by your current provider.
Different carriers have different specific requirements for unlocking your phone and it’s all pretty secretive and happening behind the scenes. Your phone might be unlocked right now! Just go into your settings and, if you have an iPhone, go to cellular and cellular data. If you see “Cellular Data Options'' then your phone is unlocked. For Android phones, go to settings and mobile networks. If you see network operators then your phone is unlocked!
If you don’t see that, then, unfortunately, your phone is probably locked, meaning you can’t transfer that phone to the new carrier at this time. There are some carriers who won’t unlock your phone unless you ask. This process will hopefully be quick and easy. The specifics vary slightly from carrier to carrier (except Verizon, which unlocks phones automatically after 60 days), it all boils down to meeting specific requirements and submitting a request online or in-store.
In general, you must have had your phone for a few months, paid it off completely, and it often must be a phone purchased from the carrier itself. You can search for carrier-specific requirements to make sure you’re good to go or you can talk to a representative to see if there’s something that you still need before you can unlock your phone.
Unfortunately, if you are set on keeping your phone you might have to wait a few months if it’s not eligible to be unlocked. If that’s the case, you have to wait until you hit the last of those requirements or get a new phone with your new provider.
Do’s and Don’ts of Keeping Your Number
Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve discussed so far. We recommend taking all the time you need in order to make sure there are no errors made along the way.
- Do check your eligibility to make sure the switch between carriers is possible
- Don’t call before you have your account information in order
- Do make sure your phone is unlocked and ready to transfer
- Do decide if you want to keep your old phone or get a new one
- Do find the carrier and the plan that works best for you
- Don’t cancel your old plan before you switch to your new one
Porting Your Number to Example Carriers
If you are looking to change your phone plan and keep your phone number, our best advice is to contact the old carrier and your new carrier for specific details. Sometimes obstacles arise from unique aspects of your current plan, and your carrier is best equipped to deal with those. In this section, we will discuss the normal procedure for a few carriers to help you familiarize yourself with the process as long as everything goes according to plan.
The team at Mint Mobile is happy to help you with the switching process. After you are sure that your number and phone are transferable to Mint, you are set to grab your account details and activate your plan at Mint Mobile.
The people at Mint will send you a new SIM card that you can put into your phone, and then you’ll be good to go!
Verizon will contact your old provider and take care of the fine details of switching. One big pro of switching to Verizon is that they often offer the best deals to customers switching from other carriers and are keeping their numbers. When switching to Verizon and keeping your number:
- Have an unlocked phone
- Check to see if your number is available at Verizon
- Keep all your account information at hand
- Purchase a Verizon SIM card
- Begin the transfer process online/in store
Interestingly, it is possible that your phone number won’t be available even if the rest of your details check out. Fortunately, the chances of this are slim to none. With a carrier as big as Verizon, they’ve got the switch covered.
The process to transfer your phone number to T-Mobile with your new plan should be pretty simple. T-Mobile has transfer agreements with just about all the wireless providers, so almost every number is compatible with their transfer system. After you confirm your eligibility, the rest of the process should look something like this:
- Gather your account information
- Ensure your phone is unlocked and ready for transfer
- Purchase a T-Mobile Sim card
- Pick out your preferred T-Mobile plan, and follow the instructions given by the website or the representative
- Hang out while the people at T-Mobile contact your old carrier and complete the switch!
Some of T-Mobile’s best deals are for people who are switching carriers. As we mentioned before, however, make sure that you’re not getting sucked in by the shiny discounts. Some of their biggest savings come by giving you a load of stuff that you don’t need, resulting in you spending more money anyway due to the higher base price.
Just like the others, the process of transferring your phone number to AT&T should be pretty easy! They’ve worked hard to make it as hassle-free as possible to make sure to get as many new customers as they can.
- After checking eligibility, purchase an AT&T SIM card for your current phone
- Gather up your account information
- Purchase an AT&T plan
- Doodle while they send the transfer request to your old carrier
The porting process at AT&T is pretty fast! They try to complete the transfer within 3 hours, whereas the transfers from other companies can sometimes take the whole day. Just like T-Mobile, make sure to check out their deals to see which one is best for you!
Major Carrier or MVNO?
The Case for a Major Carrier
Major carriers own and operate their own cell phone towers. This means that you get the fastest service at all times, and know exactly where your service is coming from. Major carriers are, well, big. They have a huge staff of customer service representatives and should be giving you fantastic service to ensure that you stick around.
Perhaps the biggest case for a major carrier is the deals, the offers, and the bundles. If you are currently a customer of a major carrier or are considering switching to one, make sure to comb their selection of deals and offers to see if there is one that will save you money in other areas.
The Case for an MVNO
Even though their name is a bit of a mouthful, mobile virtual network operators are able to offer much lower monthly plans because they are renting cell phone towers and have fewer expenses than major wireless companies. The major downside is that they don’t have priority service. This, in fairness, does not often cause any problems, but if all of the bandwidth is used up, then the major carrier’s customers will get priority over the MVNO customers.
When you’re choosing between the two, would you rather:
- Pay more for your monthly plan, have high speeds, and enjoy benefits like streaming services or a new phone at a lower cost, or
- Pay less monthly for a more focused plan that provides you with (almost always) high speed internet and no frills.
We hope that this article has illuminated some of the more confusing aspects of changing phone plans and carriers while keeping your number.