If you bought a used phone, you will likely have to activate it before you can actually use it.
When your premium used phone arrives in the mail, you won’t be able to use it for phone calls or text messages, or anything in between until you activate it.
This sounds intimidating and technical – but it’s actually quite easy, as long as you know your provider, what type of phone you purchased, and the simple steps to activate your phone.
The process of activating is a bit different for each carrier, but this guide is designed to help you find all of the answers to your questions and give you step-by-step instructions on how to easily activate your new or used phone with the most common carriers.
In this guide, you will learn:
- What is Cell Phone Activation?
- Why Do I Have to Activate My Phone?
- What is an Unlocked Phone?
- Do Unlocked Phones Need to Be Activated?
- How to Activate Your iPhone
- How to Activate Your Android Phone
- Activating Phones: What You Should Know About Each Carrier
- What Are the Best Used Phones for Easy Activation?
- Where Can I Buy Unlocked Used Phones?
- And more…
Let’s get started.
What is Cell Phone Activation?
Cell phone activation is what basically turns your service on. The phone itself doesn’t do much unless it is connected to a carrier, Wi-Fi carrier or cell tower. Just the same as any other physical device you have like a tablet or computer, you have to turn it on, sign it up with whatever Wi-Fi or cell phone provider you have, and then sync it to your account, with all of your information so that it is associated with you.
Why Do I Have to Activate My Phone?
What you need to activate your phone is based on the type of phone you have. For example, if you have an iPhone you might need the IMEI number, something you can have displayed on the phone before you start the activation process or find on the phone packaging. Otherwise, you will need a SIM card and a wireless network with which to connect. For Android devices similarly, you will need a SIM card and the phone itself. We address this more in the sections below.
What is an Unlocked Phone?
An unlocked phone is simply one that is not tied to a specific carrier. Basically, carriers sell phones at discount prices, and are able to do this by locking users into long contracts with monthly payments. In return, you cannot take the phone you pay for off their network while under contract. Unlocked phones are not locked into any contract, and can be compatible with more than one carrier – depending on their build.
Do Unlocked Phones Need to Be Activated?
Not always. Technically, once your contract is up, your phone is locked still, but does not need to be activated. However, when purchasing new or used phones that are unlocked, you will need to activate them before using them.
How to Activate Your iPhone: 8 Easy Steps
If you have a used iPhone, you can activate it by following these simple steps:
1. Insert Your SIM Card
Take your SIM card and place it in the SIM holder which is on the right side of the iPhone. You might need a small nail or paperclip to open the tray into which the SIM card fits.
2. Turn On Your New Phone
With the card secure in place, turn on the phone, but give it a few moments to boot up. If for any reason, after a few minutes, the phone isn’t turning on, you might want to try another SIM card just to determine the root cause, and if it is the phone or the SIM.
3. Begin the “Start-Up” Process
You should be prompted right away with a step by step setup where you slide the prompting to “set up”. If for whatever reason the old phone wasn’t wiped back to factory reset settings, you can follow the steps on the screen for that, and then subsequently conduct the start up process.
4. Select Your Wireless Network
Choose the wireless network under the “choose a Wi-Fi network” section. You should do this at home where you can use your personal Wi-Fi network safely.
5. Give Your Phone Time to Activate
Don’t panic if things aren’t happening straight away. This can take a few minutes. The iPhone will try to automatically activate once it connects to the wireless network and this can take a minute. If you get any error, like “SIM card error” that means the card was inserted incorrectly, so go back and try it again, then follow the same steps. If it can’t connect to any wireless network, plug the phone into your computer and use iTunes to complete the activation.
6. Back-Up Your Old Cell Phone Data
During this process you will want to make sure data like saved voicemails are written down , contacts and texts are saved somewhere because they might not go to the new phone. Don’t forget to do this ahead of time. If you are going to trade in your old cell phone after activating the premium used iPhone, you will want to make certain you have saved the old cell phone data and then wiped it for security purposes.
7. Get Your IMEI Number
Dial *#06# to have the IMEI number displayed on the screen. It might also be printed on the packaging. You will likely need this during activation.
8. Visit Your Carrier’s Website to Activate
Each site is similar insofar as you will need to activate, authenticate that you are in fact choosing to activate, and then confirm the change to the new device. The steps are simple to follow and if you get stuck at any point you can call their activation support line.
How to Activate Your Android Phone: 7 Super Simple Steps
If you purchased a used Android phone, you will need to activate it once you receive it. You can do this in a handful of ways:
Step 1: Use an Existing Account
If you have an account with a carrier network, you can visit your online account and activate your new device via the website. There should be an option labeled “bring your own device”, “activate own device” or “switch to own device”. From there, follow the instructions from your carrier network to select the line you want to activate.
Step 2: Make Sure It Is Compatible
Not all network carriers are the same, so you will need to make sure the device is compatible with the plan and provider you have. For a new device, a premium used phone, you will need to type in the device ID and have it verified online.
Step 3: Authorize Your New Device
The network carrier will want to make certain you are the one authorizing this change so, for security reasons, you will get a text code on the new device which you will need to enter on the given site when prompted.
Step 4: Check the SIM
Once this authorization is confirmed, the SIM card will need to be checked. For this you can type in the SIM ID, follow the site instructions to check and confirm it.
Step 5: Add a Device with an App
You might not have or be able to access the site for the network provider, but you might have an app for them. If that is the case, and steps 1-4 were not working, you can open the app on your new phone and follow the instructions for adding a device.
Step 6: Confirm with the App
If you already have your premium used phone in hand, you can choose the type of device it is, the Android operating system, and then type in the ID for the device. Follow the same confirmation steps.
Step 7: Phone it In
If you are unable to access the internet, and the apps aren’t an option either, you can always activate the new device by phone. To do this, use the respective number for the provider you have, and be prepared to give them the receipt of purchase the SIM card, and have the phone on hand for any additional details they ask.
Activating Phones: What You Should Know About Each Carrier
Each carrier has slightly different requirements. For more specifics, check out the company pages for each activation requirements:
If you get stuck at any point, you can contact activation customer support for each major carrier:
- Sprint: 1-888-211-4727
- T-Mobile: 1-877-347-2127
- Verizon: 1-877-807-4646
- AT&T: 1-866-895-1099
With each carrier you are able to connect directly from the website, using an existing account. This means, for example, if you already have an account with AT&T, and now you simply have a new phone, you can log into your AT&T account online and follow the steps within the website to activate it. Most carriers have an app which, if you already have set up you can also use. For example, if you have the Verizon app you can use that to set up your new device.
Activating your premium used phone should take no more than a few minutes once you have everything, including the SIM card and the phone. The cost for the actual activation is nothing, assuming you already have a service provider. The SIM card and the phone or what cost and with certain SIM cards you have 2-year contracts or you have a month per month contract. Either way, this is where the cost comes into play.
Activating Your Used Sprint Phone
- Call or sign into your Sprint account and select the devices section.
- Activate the phone from the drop-down menu by choosing the type of device you want to add.
- Follow all of the steps to confirm the device and follow through with authentication measures.
Activating Your Used T-Mobile Phone
- Have the SIM serial number and the phone serial number on hand.
- Click the button that says activate phone on the device after you have inserted the SIM card.
- Follow the steps to set up your account if you don’t already have one and confirm the new device by providing the activation code, the SIM serial number, and the phone’s serial number.
Activating Your Used Verizon Phone
- Call or visit the website.
- Follow every prompt after you have inserted the SIM card into the new device.
- Follow the confirmation and security steps to confirm the new device.
Activating Your Used AT&T Phone
- Call or visit the website.
- Select the activate button for a wireless device, enter all of the required information, and follow every prompt necessary to complete the activation which might include entering data from the device itself and confirming a security code sent via text.
What Are the Best Used Phones for Easy Activation?
The easiest phones to activate are ones that are unlocked. They have already been cleared of their current contract with the previous carrier, and can easily be transferred to some or all of the most common networks. This makes the process easy, no matter what carrier you have, or phone model you purchased.
Where Can I Buy Unlocked Used Phones?
Tip: You can filter by ‘Unlocked’ or filter by carrier to find the phone that works for you.
More Used Phone Activation FAQ
Now that you know how to activate your phone with different providers, let’s get a closer look at some other questions you might have.
How do I activate my SIM card?
This is based on the carrier you are using, but in essence, you put the new SIM card in and follow the instructions on the phone.
How long does a new SIM card take to activate?
It should take a matter of minutes to complete the process.
Do I need a SIM card to activate my new phone?
Yes, you need a SIM card to activate your new phone. Think of your SIM card as an identifier without which your new phone cannot be activated.
How do I know if my phone is unlocked?
You will be told when you purchase it whether it is locked or unlocked, but you can also try putting in any other SIM–that of a friend, former phone, or a test one from a phone store–and if it connects to a network without issue, it is unlocked.
How do I activate my phone without paying?
You shouldn’t have to pay to activate your new phone, as the process itself is free. The SIM card and the phone are what costs money.