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Switching phone carriers: How hard is it, and can you keep your existing phone?
Let’s be honest; sometimes, change can seem overwhelming. That’s true even for something as simple as switching phone service. The good news is switching cell phone carriers doesn’t have to be complicated. In this guide, we explain how to switch your phone carrier while keeping your number, as well as what you’ll need to know before jumping in.
How hard is it to switch carriers?
Switching phone carriers doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, those with an e-SIM phone can start with a new network in literally minutes. That said, there are many things you’ll want to consider, such as porting an existing number, keeping your existing phone, and more.
How to switch your phone carrier and keep your existing number
Want to change your phone carrier but keep your existing number? It’s actually a very simple process that involves contacting your new carrier before canceling your existing provider’s service.
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what carrier you’re interested in. You have a few choices:
- Go with a postpaid plan from one of the big carriers (Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T).
- Consider a prepaid phone plan that uses one of the big three as its partner network.
- Consider a plan through your internet provider. This includes services like Spectrum Mobile and Xfinity Mobile.
Once you’ve figured out your carrier, most of the work is over. Your new carrier can help you initiate a number transfer, help you get a new phone, and much more. The exact steps will vary depending on your carrier. You can head to Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile to run their respective eligibility tools. A brick-and-mortar store can also help you get set up. This includes carrier stores as well as retailers like Best Buy.
As already touched on above, you’ll need an active carrier membership to port your number. If you’ve already canceled or are in default for lack of payment, you likely won’t be able to transfer numbers. The actual transfer process will typically be free, though some smaller prepaid carriers charge for the privilege.
Can I switch my existing phone to another carrier?
If you’re thinking about switching cell phone carriers but still have a decent phone, you might be curious if you can port it over to another carrier. The answer is often yes, though it depends on a few factors.
Let’s start simple. Have you paid off your device? If you’re on a phone installment plan, you’ll need to pay it off before your existing carrier lets you leave with your existing phone. Even those on prepaid might find there are minimum terms for how long a phone is on a prepaid network before you can switch it. You’ll need to contact your current carrier for specifics, such as how much you owe or any other hoops you must cross to switch carriers.
Thankfully most carriers actually pay you to switch! These deals are meant to help subsidize any costs needed to switch networks. It’s also an excellent way to pull customers away from a rival carrier. The exact amount offered will vary. Check out our section below on switching phone carrier deals for more details.
Have your phone paid off? Another factor is compatibility. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all have tools on their websites for checking your IMEI to ensure your existing phone will play nicely with their network. The same goes for the vast majority of prepaid phone carriers.
The good news is that most modern phones will work with just about any US carrier, especially those bought through a carrier or in unlocked form from a major retailer. Differences between GSM and CDMA used to make things a bit more complicated, but these days most phones sold in the US will play nicely with both network technologies.
Do you have an e-SIM slot? If so, this is the fastest way to switch!
If you are keeping your existing phone, you’ll be able to switch almost instantly if you have an e-SIM compatible device. An e-SIM is basically a virtual SIM card. Not all carriers are compatible with this technology, but it means you won’t have to wait for a sim or go into a brick-and-mortar location to switch your phone plan.
You can learn more about eSIM vs SIM in our guide.
Getting a good switching phone carrier deal
Whether you plan to keep your existing phone or trade it in, most carriers have deals specifically designed for switchers in mind. Typically these promotions require you to port an existing number from a rival network.
Let’s take a look at the big three carriers for more details on their rewards for switching:
- AT&T provides up to $500 when you switch networks and bring your own phone. This will come in the form of a $250 bill credit per device for up to two devices.
- T-Mobile offers up to $650 off per line, which can be used toward device installment and payment plans.
- Verizon will cover up to $540 in credits for switching to pay for early termination fees and more.
In addition to these discounts, all three carriers will offer switchers big trade-in credits for their existing phones. Often this even includes older and broken devices! There are also sometimes extras like gift cards and other promotions that can sweeten the deal further.