I have needed to switch phone providers a few times. Here are some things I learned along the way.
The following is just what I have experienced. Your experience may be different.
If you are traveling with an unlocked phone, you can temporarily use a different phone provider. This can be handy if you go to a country where your usual provider would charge you a lot of roaming fees.
If the change is temporary, you just need to get a prepaid sim card and swap it for your usual sim card. Then you can swap back when you’re ready to go back to your usual carrier. There is more about that in the Three Ways To Avoid Roaming Fees post.
It takes multiple steps to permanently switch phone providers. If your new provider is a big company, you may be able to get this all done by walking into one of their stores and talking to the person at the counter. For smaller companies, you will have to do a lot of it on your own.
Here is a high level overview of what’s involved. It’s just meant to give you an idea of what the process is like. If you need help with the specifics, your new phone provider should be able to work out the details with you. If they can’t, that’s a sign that their customer support is not going to be good enough.
Step 1: Pick Your New Provider
If you want to keep using your old phone number, ask your new provider if you can keep your old number. I have never been told I can not keep my old number, but I have heard that some numbers can not be ported.
Step 2: Use Your New Sim Card
To connect to the new phone provider, you will need to use the new provider’s sim card. A sim card is a little piece of electronics that fits inside your phone.
If you are buying a new phone, they will probably set it up with the new sim card, so there’s really nothing for you to do here.
On the other hand, if you already have an unlocked phone and you want to bring it to the new provider, you will need to buy the sim card from the new provider for anywhere between $0 and $10.
Replacing the sim card was an easy, no-tools procedure in all the phones I have used. If you aren’t able to do this with your phone, there is probably a shop in your area that can do it for you. If your new phone provider does not have physical stores, try a phone repair shop.
Step 3: Activate Your New Sim Card
You must activate your sim card before it will work. Some providers send their cards “pre-activated”, meaning they will work as soon as you put them in your phone. If the card is not pre-activated, you will have to follow some instructions from the new provider. For me, this involved logging into a web site and typing in the number printed on the sim card.
Step 4: Port Your Old Phone Number
When a new provider starts service on your phone, you get a new phone number. If you want to replace that new phone number with your old number, you can “port” your old number to the new provider.
The new provider will need some information from you. The exact information varies. For example, that may include your account number with the old provider, and a pin from the old provider. The new provider needs this so they can contact the old provider and work out the details.
It can take anywhere from an hour to several days to transfer a phone number. It takes the most time when the old provider is a VOIP provider, like FreedomPop.
Step 5: Cancel Your Old Plan
It is really important that you keep your old plan active while setting up the new plan. This is especially true when you are porting your old number to the new provider. If you cancel your old plan too soon, you might not be able to get your old number back.
Once your new plan is working like it should, make sure your old plan is cancelled so that they do not bill you again.