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How to switch cell phone carriers

Sometimes you just have to make a change. Here's how to switch phone carriers and get yourself onto an exciting new plan.
April 12, 2021

We’re on to a new season, and that means it might be time for a change. No, not a fitness or lifestyle change, but a change in mobile carrier. There are more providers than ever before, which is excellent news for you as a consumer. Each one comes with its own list of perks, so it’s worth considering a move. Here’s everything you need to know on how to switch phone carriers.

See also: Our guide to the best phone plans for every type of user

We have plenty of guides to help you choose your next carrier, so we won’t get into too many plans or perks here. However, we’ll give you ample access to our research once you reach that step in the process. Ready to kick things off? Let’s get into it.

Before you switch carriers

Redmi Note 8 Pro review phone call
Kris Carlon / Android Authority

The very first step to take on the road of switching to a new phone carrier is research — lots and lots of research. You’ll want to spend quite a while looking into the best plans from carriers, both big and small. If you want to escape the Big Three carriers’ high prices, it might be time for an MVNO. However, you’ll have to be ready to surrender a few of the creature comforts that leaders like Verizon can offer. Here are a few guides to point you in the right direction:

You’ll also need to know whether or not your current phone will work with your new carrier. The simplest way to check if your phone will work is to see whether you have a GSM or a CDMA device. Verizon carries the CDMA torch alone now that Sprint is gone, and both AT&T and T-Mobile lead the GSM charge. If you decide that you want a new phone, check out our best unlocked phone deals right here.

No matter what, the most important thing you have to make sure you do — or don’t do — before you switch phone carriers is don’t cancel your current service. If you disconnect your line, you’ll lose your current phone number, and you won’t be able to port it to a new carrier.

Now, there are a few more steps you’ll need to knock off before we get to switching. First off, grab all of your old account information. You’ll need to provide it to your new carrier, and you may need it when you port away from your old carrier. Also, make sure your current phone is unlocked. Most carriers unlock their phones after a certain period, or you may have to finish paying off your remaining balance first.

See also: How to unlock a Verizon phone

Steps to switch and port your number

You’re finally ready to make the switch to a new phone carrier. You’ve chosen your carrier, you know what you want to do with your phone, and now it’s time to act. Here are the basic steps you’ll need:

  1. Confirm your eligibility with the new carrier you’ve chosen. You can often do this right on a carrier’s website by entering your 10-digit phone number. Here are a few links that might help:
  2. Contact your new carrier and purchase your new plan and possibly a new phone (or begin bringing your old one).
  3. Provide your current carrier information (name, address, account number) to the new carrier, as well as your IMEI number if needed.
  4. Let your new carrier contact your current provider to begin the porting process; they will do this automatically so you can keep your number.
  5. Give your old carrier a call once you’ve completed the port-over to ensure that your account is fully closed out.

That pretty much does it for the broad strokes, but each of the Big Three has a few of its own steps to follow. Check them out in the next section.

Carrier-specific instructions

If you’ve decided that you want to join AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile, then this is the section for you. Like we’ve said, the process is mainly identical, just with a few other hiccups to watch out for. Here’s how to switch phone carriers and port your number with ease:

Switch to AT&T

How to switch phone carriers AT&T
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

If you want to switch carriers to Big Blue, just be ready to leave that landline behind. AT&T will only allow you to bring mobile numbers, and the process requires just a few steps:

  1. Check your phone number’s eligibility, as shown above.
  2. If you’re bringing your phone, be sure to request an AT&T SIM card.
  3. Purchase a plan and provide your previous account information to your new carrier.
  4. Wait for AT&T to complete the port request, often as little as a few hours.

AT&T will also help you to defray the cost of switching with up to $500 in rewards for each device you bring. It’s a great way to ensure that you switch without paying, at least without spending too much. You can also hack $700 off most new phones when you trade in your current device. Check out the best AT&T deals here.

Switch to Verizon

Verizon logo on phone stock photo
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

If you’ve chosen Verizon as the place to be, landline lovers rejoice. You can bring both mobile and landline numbers to Big Red, and here’s how to do it:

  1. Ensure that your phone is unlocked and eligible to port.
  2. Grab a recent bill from your current carrier and be ready to provide your key information.
  3. Order a Verizon SIM or pick out a new plan and device.
  4. Wait for Verizon to handle the port process.

As with AT&T, Verizon will tackle most of the trouble for you, and it will even send a text message when the process is complete. It can take up to 24 hours for wireless lines, so just be ready for some delays. Verizon isn’t as generous with some of its savings, but you stand to save around $440 if you bring your number and trade for a new device. See more of Big Red’s deals here.

Switch to T-Mobile

How to switch phone carriers T-Mobile
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

The last of the big three, T-Mobile, might also offer the most incentive to switch your phone carrier. You can bring both landlines and mobile lines, and almost all numbers are perfectly compatible. The Un-Carrier is also one of the most willing to help you switch without paying fees or other costs. Here are the T-Mobile steps you’ll want to know:

  1. Check your eligibility and grab all of your important carrier documents.
  2. Acquire a SIM card, plan, and possibly a phone online or at your nearest T-Mobile store.
  3. Wait for T-Mobile to complete the transfer process, often ranging from 10 minutes to 24 hours.

That’s all there is to it. As we said, T-Mobile makes things easy whether you’re coming or going. You will probably find the best blend of deals at T-Mobile as well, especially as a new customer. Check out some of our top picks right here.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Can my old carrier refuse to port my number?

A: No, your old carrier can not refuse your request, not even if you owe money. However, your new carrier can deny the number, though it’s unlikely.

Q: Does it cost anything to port my phone number?

A: Technically, carriers could charge you to port your number. Most do not in the interest of competition, as it could deter people from joining.

Q: How long does it take to port a phone number?

A: If you’re porting a landline, it could take more than one full business day. Mobile numbers, on the other hand, can take just a few hours. Mobile carriers and the FCC have an agreed-upon goal of 2.5 hours for mobile ports, and they can often meet that need.

Q: Can I still use my phone during the porting process?

A: Yes, you can still place outgoing calls while your number changes carriers. Unfortunately, incoming calls will most likely head straight to your new phone for the duration of the process.