This is the guide for people on a cellphone contract and wanting to get off. Here, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to switch carriers, keep your number, and maybe even keep your device! All in plain English. Isn’t that great?
Why get contractless cell phone?
- Choice. Normally, you get 3 or 4 carriers to choose from. But the prepaid market is fiercely competitive with close to one hundred different carriers! That’s a lot to choose from!
- Freedom. No 2-year commitments here. You can leave a prepaid carrier at any time with no termination fees!
- Price. With a wide-open, competitive market, prepaid gets you the same service at a better price. It’s just that simple.
Please note that these steps only apply if you are out of your contract and going month-to-month. Leaving your contract before your 2 years are up will incur an early termination fee. It is usually best to avoid an early termination fee when switching cell phone companies
Step 1: GSM or CDMA cell phone carrier?
NOTE: You can skip to Step 2 if you don’t want to keep your phone.
If you want to keep your phone, you’ll need to determine what type of service it gets. There’s two types: GSM and CDMA. Carriers mostly use one or the other — rarely both. Here’s what the major carriers use:
You can almost always take a GSM phone to a GSM carrier. Most times you can take a CDMA phone to a CDMA carrier. However, you can never take a GSM phone to a CDMA carrier or vice versa. The technologies are not interchangeable.
Note: Never forget to research your phone’s specs. Even if a GSM phone is going to a GSM carrier, it may not operate on the necessary frequency bands. Googling the model number should give you this information.
Step 2: Get your account number.
Note: if you don’t want to keep your phone number, you can skip to step 3.
While you are still with your old carrier (do NOT cancel your service yet!), call the customer service line and ask for your wireless account number. Sometimes an account number may be found on your bill, but it’s not always accurate.
Write down the account number. Your new carrier will need this to keep your number.
Again, don’t cancel your service just yet! Later, it’ll be cancelled automatically when you transfer the number.
Step 3: Check your cell phone coverage.
If you’re happy with your current carrier’s coverage, go for a reseller of that carrier. It’s usually comparable coverage and much cheaper.
Step 4: Pick your carrier.
Here’s huge lists of them listed by major networks. There are a lot of smartphone options beyond the big four carriers in the US. If you’re looking to save money, these lesser-known plans might be the ticket.
- Sprint Resellers
- Verizon Prepaid and Resellers
- AT&T GoPhone, T-Mobile Prepaid, and Resellers
BONUS: Feeling adventurous? Try out a “hybrid” network! (splits your cell service between wifi and cellular). These are experimental, but cheap (as low as $20 a month). It could work for you!
Step 5: Pick your device.
If you can keep your current phone, great! Generally, you’ll need a SIM card if it’s a GSM phone, or the IMEI number if it’s a CDMA phone.
Otherwise, you’ll notice that your devices are much more expensive up-front than on-contract. That’s because prepaid carriers don’t roll the cost of the phone into your bills — you pay in full up-front. But that’s okay, you’ll still be saving money.
If you are buying a device off Amazon or another place online, get one that has a clean ESN. This means the device is legit — not reported lost or stolen.
Phones which have been lost or stolen have bad ESNs. Their IMEI numbers have been marked as unusable in the carriers’ systems and cannot be re-activated. Obviously, avoid these.
Step 6: Place your order.
This is when your new carrier will ask for your account number. Provide it along with any other relevant information from your old account. Order any equipment, SIM cards, accessories you need and play the waiting game. Alternatively, you can buy these items at retail.
Step 7: Be free!
Once the goods arrive, activate your stuff and you’re set to go! Enjoy your freedom :3