How to Switch Cell Phone Providers

By Robert Vaux

Cell phone carriers promise easy terms when you switch over to them, but the reality is much different. Hidden charges can bite you if you don't check the contract carefully and your new provider may not offer everything it promised. You should balance the switchover period carefully so that you don't miss any calls, and you may need to purchase equipment which you weren't aware of when you signed on. Switching cell phone providers can be moderately painless, however, if you plan carefully and follow a few basic steps.

Things You'll Need

  • Cell phone
  • Land line
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Step 1

Evaluate your cell phone needs. Before switching providers, you need to settle on a plan which does the things you require without saddling you with a lot of unnecessary (and expensive) extras. Examine your cell phone habits--how much you use it, where you use it, whether you use additional features such as text messaging, and if you use it over a wide (national) area or just in your local region. Draw up a list of services you need, and then study various plans offered by different providers to see which one matches them the best.

Step 2

Ask friends and family members about their coverage with different cell phone providers. They can give you insight on how good the service is and whether there are any problems with coverage or poor customer support. If possible, borrow their phone for a few days and use it in your home, at your job and in places where you often visit. That will give you a strong idea of the coverage provided and whether any particular company is deficient in places where you'll likely use the phone.

Step 3

Check with your existing provider about your current contract. The fine print can be a killer with cell phone contracts and you may be assessed a hefty fee if you end the contract before the stated terms are up. If you're not willing to pay the fine, then find out exactly when your contract ends and make plans to switch over then.

Step 4

Call your new provider and set up the terms of your contract. Stress the requirements you have and ask specific questions about their ability to meet them. If you're having difficulty with coverage in a certain area, ask them whether they plan to put up a tower nearby. Finally, make sure you ask about your existing phone number and whether they will allow you to keep it if you change providers and cell phones. Many of them will, which eliminates the headache of having to give your friends and family a new phone number.

Step 5

Do not drop your original service yet. Wait until your new coverage is completely up and running before making the switch. That will prevent you from losing any calls or messages, and in most cases, your phone number needs to be active for you to make the switch.

Step 6

Contact your original provider and tell them you intend to terminate coverage. If your new service is already active, you should experience minimal disruption when they switch you over.

Tips & Warnings

  • You may need to purchase another cell phone when you switch providers. Though the phone number itself can switch over, your existing phone may not be compatible with their network. Many services offer phones at a free or reduced cost if you switch over, so be sure to ask about them when performing your research.
  • Be sure to have a copy of your bill with you, both when you talk to your old provider and when speaking to your new one. They will require the information it contains.
  • Don't necessarily give up on your old provider if you want to make a switch. If your contract is expiring and they are eager to resign you, they may offer additional benefits which you should consider when making your decision.
  • Coverage may slip for a few hours when the transfer is made. Many services promise quick transfers, but sometimes it takes longer than they say. You should arrange the switch during a period when you don't need the cell phone, and give anyone who might call an alternate means of contacting you.