Cost and coverage are two major reasons why folks switch their phone carriers. Actually, let’s rephrase that. Cost and coverage are two major reasons why folks WANT to switch their carriers. Most people don’t get around to switching carriers because, let’s face it: the process seems like it could be a major pain that cuts into our Saturdays.
The lifespan of your relationship with your carrier usually goes like this: You are thrilled with the deal you get. A couple years later, you have “no complaints”. Year or so after that, you are not happy. Months later, you want out. Months later still, you are not happy and have not done anything about it. You either make the move and switch or find yourself saying, “I hate my carrier” ad nauseam. And no one suffers more than the people who have to listen to you.
Spare your family. Spare your friends. Spare your wallet. Here's the truth: comparing cell phone plans and switching is easier than you think.
Keeping Your Phone Number
You can keep your number. Thanks to something called the Wireless Local Number Portability (LNP).
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stipulated that all wireless carriers must allow Wireless LNP. This means that carriers need to port your number, no ifs, ands or buts about it. As long as your number is staying local, you can switch without fear and keep it the same. For instance, you cannot port your number to a new carrier if you relocate from New York to San Francisco. You'd have to get a San Francisco area code.
The Rules of Porting Phone Numbers
- A carrier cannot stop you taking your number with you, but a new carrier is under no obligation to accept it. Obviously, most carriers are more than happy to accept a new customer, and this will not be a problem. However, there are cases where some pre-pay carriers will not accept ported numbers.
- Only the primary account holder can fill out a port request. If you are an authorized user on a family/share plan, you must establish a separate service with your current carrier before you can initiate a port request. If you have a company phone, you may not be able to port your number if the service is in your company’s name.
- Even if you are in debt to your current provider, you can still port your number elsewhere. You will, however, be liable for any debts, and may have to pay an early termination fee if you are under contract (although some carriers will pro-rate this, so it may still be financially viable if you are some way into your contract).
Which Numbers Can I Port?
- You can port your cell phone number, wireline number or fax number. Pre-pay numbers can be ported, but must be active at the time you wish to transfer the service.
- You cannot port 800 or pager numbers. So everyone paging folks "143" still, you're out.
- You cannot port a number to an existing account – porting only works when you are opening a new account with a carrier.
How to Switch Carriers Now
We’re not going to tell you that the process is seamless or that it takes five seconds. It is, however, much easier than you think. And, tens of thousands of people are doing it every day.
Here’s exactly what you need to do to move your number to a new carrier and walk away feeling empowered and happy.
Do NOT cancel with your carrier before signing up with your new one.
Once you’ve decided which carrier, plan and cell phone you want to go for, you'll contact your new provider. This might be via online sign up, on the phone or in a store. You'll be giving them some information during the sign up process (name, address, current carrier billing information) and they will be able to port your number before you cancel service your old carrier. If you want to keep your device, you may also need to provide your phone’s ESN/IMEI number, which is usually located on the back of your phone or under the battery. Your phone may or may not work with your new carrier so be prepared to buy a phone.
If you cancel with your old carrier first, you'll lose your number.
Once your new service is activated, your existing service should be automatically cancelled – however, we recommend giving the company a call to finalize the transfer (and perhaps negotiate any termination fees or other charges). You will usually receive a bill for any outstanding debt within a month.
Your new carrier will then contact your current carrier and start the porting process. You do not need to do anything else, just wait for your new service to start.
And just like that, you have left your carrier.
- Sign up with a new carrier first.
- Let them take care of everything for you.
- Tie up loose ends with old carrier.
Can I Use My Phone During Porting Process?
During the porting process you can make outgoing calls on your old cell phone, but incoming calls will only go to your new phone.
How do I Switch Carriers with a Prepaid Phone?
All operators require at a minimum that the number you are porting and the account number and PIN or password. Most also ask for the account holder's name and billing address. If you don't know your account number or password check out this helpful list of prepaid phone pin numbers and porting information so you can switch your prepaid phone carrier.
Does It Cost Anything to Port?
In theory, providers can charge a small amount to process porting. In practice, however, this does not tend to happen due to competition between carriers. But you should always double check when asking to port – you may be able to get any fees waived.
Tips for a Smooth Transition
- Do your homework. Research plans and devices that work best for you.
- Check the coverage map. Make sure that you get great coverage in your area (and elsewhere if you travel a lot).
- Check if your current device is compatible with the new network – many are not, and you may need to get a new phone.
- Remember, you’re still liable for any remaining debt and/or termination charges with your old provider - porting your number does not mean you can break your contract.
- Voicemail messages won’t transfer to your new phone, so make sure you listen to them before changing carriers. Same goes for other features, such as call forwarding and caller ID – you will need to set these up again with your new provider.