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How to switch mobile phone providers without the pain

If you’ve been thinking about switching your mobile phone provider, but given up because it’s fiddly or too hard, this guide is for you. It may sound technical or overwhelming, but changing mobile providers - and keeping your existing number - is simpler than you think.

By Carolyn Tate

Maybe you’ve already tried our 9 hacks to to lower the cost of your mobile phone plan but that bill is still giving you palpitations each month.

Perhaps you want better service or coverage in your area?

Or you might want to connect digitally with the grandkids but make sure it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg - whatever the reason you want to switch, this guide will show you how easy it is to keep your number and switch providers.

The first thing you ideally want is an ‘unlocked’ phone or handset.

Why unlocked phones make switching easier

First things first, let's talk about 'unlocked' phones. Unlike phones bought on a payment plan bundle, which are often locked to a specific provider, an unlocked phone gives you the freedom to choose any network.

This means you can shop around for the best deals without any restrictions. 

Whether you buy your phone outright or get it unlocked later, this flexibility is a game-changer for managing your mobile costs and options.

Don’t worry if you bought your phone as part of a plan or bundle though - if you’re out of contract, your phone may already be unlocked. 

If you do have a phone that’s locked to a particular network, however, you may have to either wait until the contracted time has elapsed before you leave, or pay a fee to unlock your phone early.

Speak to your provider about what options are available, and their associated costs.

You can also read Citro’s partner Tangerine’s tips on how to save your mobile data and keep your mobile costs low.

Have you paid off your handset?

If you bought your mobile phone on a plan from your provider, you may still be paying off your handset (if this is the case, it’s possibly also locked to that provider’s network). 

Check with your provider about the status of your repayment plan. Your provider may require you to pay off the handset before they will release you from your contract.

Important things to know before you switch

Before you make the switch, there are a couple of  important things to know.

Don’t cancel your existing account

You can only keep your number and transfer it to a new carrier if you still have an active account. Cancelling your existing account means your number will be released, and you most likely won’t be able to get it back again.

Shop around for a new plan

The world of mobile phone plans is highly competitive, so shop around and find a plan that suits you and the way you use your phone. 

You might like to look at bundle options if you also have a home phone and/or internet provider - or if there are several people from the same family looking for a plan. 

Some providers have options such as sharing data among family members. 

But also beware of paying for things you don’t need. If you have Wi-Fi at home, and you don’t use much data while you’re out, you won’t need to pay for an expensive data plan, for example. Read more on Citro’s guide to saving on internet costs.

Your step-by-step guide to keeping your number when you switch

Now, let's get to the nitty-gritty of keeping your phone number when switching providers. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Pick a new provider and apply for a new plan - either in person, over the phone, or online - ensuring you tell them that you want to keep your existing number (some providers may call it ‘porting’ your number over to the new provider). If you’re filling out an online form, this option will come up on the form you’re filling out.
  1. Wait for your new SIM card to be delivered in the mail. You can continue to use your existing SIM card and phone account until your new one arrives.
  1. Follow the instructions that arrive with the SIM to activate it. You won’t need to do anything to retain your old data, including names and numbers - this will all come with you, stored either in your phone or in your associated cloud storage.
  1. Once the SIM is active, which can take between a few minutes and a few hours, you can use your new account with your old number, as you always have. Your phone bills will now arrive from your new provider, and you are now subject to the contract you have signed with them.
Removing the SIM is pretty easy once you figure out where it is on your handset - when removing the SIM, try to avoid touching the gold contacts on the bottom side. Some handsets need a special tool, like in this picture, to get the SIM tray in and out. Check your handset instruction book to find out what your phone needs.

What about your old mobile service?

Once your number is transferred, your old mobile service will be automatically cancelled.

You will most likely receive a final bill, if you were on a post-paid service. If you were on a pre-paid service, the remaining value on your account will probably be lost.

Will my phone work with the new network?

Most phones these days are compatible with different networks, especially if they are unlocked. 

If you're unsure, though, check with your current provider or try a SIM from a different network in your phone to see if it works before you sign a new contract.

 Hopefully that process doesn’t sound too onerous or difficult. 

Switching mobile providers isn't just for the tech-savvy - it's a straightforward process that can bring significant benefits, from cost savings to better service.

If you've been considering a change, use these tips and go for it! 

The world of better deals and services is just a few simple steps away. Remember, keeping up with technology is not just about staying connected; it's about making choices that work for you. 

Happy switching!

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