Whether you’re looking to lower monthly bills and battle the rising cost of inflation, save money on everyday expenses, need a new phone, or plan to move to a new area, switching phone carriers can be cost-effective but also overwhelming. Phone carriers go out of their way to attract and retain customers, sometimes offering free phones, free streaming services, unlimited data, and more with a phone plan. However, these could come with hidden costs or fine print. Read on for how to switch phone carriers with minimal hassle and extra cost savings.
When is the best time to switch phone carriers?
People will choose to switch phone carriers for many reasons. The most common are:
- If your cell phone company doesn’t have good coverage in your area
- If your current plan is charging too much
- When you’re unhappy with the customer service
- If you find a better deal for your family
- If you’re moving to a new area that your previous carrier doesn’t cover
Factors to consider before switching phone carriers
If you’re considering switching cell phone carriers, weigh these factors in choosing the best new cell phone plan and carrier.
Wireless provider costs can include your monthly plan, activation fees for the new carrier, and early termination fees for your previous carrier. Compare each cost element and total costs before you switch carriers. Many carriers offer more cost-effective options if you need a family plan. How many lines do you need?
Searching for a single phone line will have different criteria than four lines. Sometimes, cell phone providers will also offer perks like a free phone. Factors to consider in total costs:
- How much will data, hotspot coverage, and added bundles for streaming and gaming cost?
- Will you have access to 5G network speeds?
- How much are the overage charges (if any)?
- Can you get the device you want if you need to upgrade?
If you plan to continue using your current cell phone, make sure your phone is compatible with the new cell phone provider’s network before making the switch. Cellphones may be “locked” into one network or “unlocked.” If your phone is locked into the network, you’ll need to see if it can be unlocked, and if not, consider whether you’re ready to get a new phone.
Ensure the new carrier provides reliable coverage in the locations you need most. This is especially important if you live in rural or mountainous areas, as coverage can be spotty. But even within metropolitan areas, there can be zones of low coverage. Check coverage at your home, work, and other areas you regularly use your phone. Ask others who use the carrier for their experience.
Data speed and limits
Consider the data speed and limitations of the new carrier’s plan, especially if you frequently use data-intensive applications like streaming videos or music. Some plans charge overage limits that can add up quickly.
Some carriers offer 5G on all streaming plans, while others only offer 4G. Be sure to read the fine print, as some will say unlimited data, but after you surpass a set limit, you’ll be bumped down to 3G, making it difficult to do anything beyond basic texting.
Consider the new carrier’s international roaming plans and fees if you frequently travel internationally. Some plans offer excellent international coverage for a low cost or coverage in certain countries such as the Caribbean.
Google Fi is generally a good plan for regular international travel, although it may lose coverage where local carriers have strong connections. Check each carrier’s international plan options. As an alternative, consider getting an unlocked phone and picking up a local sim card at your destination.
Some carriers offer additional perks such as free or discounts on streaming services such as Netflix, Apple Music, Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Amazon Prime, and Max. Other perks include unlimited data, mobile hotspots, and even no-contract deals.
Good customer service can be crucial if you encounter issues or have questions about your plan. Read customer reviews, speak to friends or family members about their experience with the carrier, and check Better Business Bureau complaints.
9 steps to switch phone carriers
When you’ve found the best plan to meet your needs, there are simple steps to prepare for switching your phone.
1. Check your current contract
Review your current phone contract to determine if there are early termination fees or other penalties for switching carriers. Then, check that your cell phone is unlocked unless you plan to get a new one with a new carrier.
2. Gather personal information
While basic personal information like name and address is simple, you’ll also likely need your password or PIN for the current carrier, the account number of your current plan, and your phone’s ESN or IMEI number. You can find the account number on any account statement, and the PIN should be with the original paperwork you received when you signed up for the plan. The carrier can help you locate the phone’s ESN or IMEI number.
3. Research and compare new phone carriers
Look for carriers that offer the services, pricing and plans that meet your needs and have good coverage in your area. Compare the plans and prices of the carriers you’re interested in, taking into account fees and additional costs. See above for more tips on what to consider when picking the best carrier for your needs, including activation fees for the new plans.
4. Choose a new service provider
Once you have compared plans and prices, choose a new carrier that best suits your needs and budget. The new service provider should meet your criteria for costs, coverage, and other needs like unlimited data, hotspots, or international roaming.
5. Purchase a new phone if needed
If you need a new phone, you have the option to purchase one that is compatible with your new carrier. Some carriers will offer discounts or free phones. Others will roll the costs of the new phone into your monthly payments, assuming you sign a contract for at least two years.
6. Request to transfer your phone number
Once you’ve selected the carrier and the plan, contact your new carrier and request to transfer your phone number. Your new carrier will handle the number transfer process. Wait for the activation to start using your phone on the new carrier.
7. Cancel your old service
Once your new service is activated, contact your old carrier and cancel your service with them. You can do this over the phone or, in some cases, online. However, most major carriers don’t allow you to cancel online or over an app. Instead, they request that you call them. You can find contact information for your carrier on its website, on the “contact us” page, or in the app.
8. Return, keep, or sell your old phone
It’s common to get a new phone with a new carrier. If you have an old phone from your old carrier, return it to them if required, trade it in, or sell it. If you signed up for a payment plan for the phone and then canceled before the contract is up, you may be required to pay the balance due for the phone’s costs.
9. Pay the final bill
Pay any final bill or fees owed to your old carrier as part of the process of fully switching over to your new carrier. If there are early termination fees or other costs, it will charge these on your final bill. Try to time your cancellation to be within days of the end of a billing cycle. If you cancel service two days after the previous bill, you’ll still have to pay for the whole month.
When Not to Switch Cell Phone Carriers
If you’re locked into a contract with high termination fees or are paying off a cellphone with your current provider, switching might not make sense, especially if coverage is reasonable and you’re not moving. Likewise, if the switch leads to small monthly savings but you’ll incur additional activation or termination fees, it might not be the right time to change cell phone carriers.
Instead, consider switching to a lower-cost plan that meets your needs and researching cell phone carriers to make the switch when your current contract ends.
How do I know if my phone is compatible with a new carrier?
If your phone is unlocked, it is compatible with any carrier. If you purchased the phone while signing up for a new carrier, it might be locked into that carrier. Major carriers like AT&T also offer the option to call in and check whether your current phone is locked to a carrier.
How long does it take to switch phone carriers?
Switching phones can take as little as a few minutes but can take up to 24 hours.
Will switching carriers affect my credit score?
If the new carrier performs a hard credit check, you might see a temporary drop in your credit score. However, it shouldn’t drop more than 10 points. It won’t affect your credit score if the company doesn’t perform a hard inquiry.