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How to Switch Mobile Networks and Keep Your Number

Switching mobile networks seems like it might be a hassle, especially when you want to keep your number. But actually, it isn't. The industry has streamlined the process so that it all happens pretty seamlessly, and with the least amount of effort on your part.

In fact, we can break it down into four simple steps:

  1. Contact your network to tell them you want to leave, and to ask for your PAC code. This is the porting authorisation code, a nine digit number that is used to move your phone number from your old network to your new one.
  2. You'll get your PAC code either right there and then over the phone, or you'll get it by text within two hours. The code is valid for 30 days.
  3. Now the fun bit: shop for a better deal with a new network. Use our postcode checker to find networks with outstanding coverage in your area. When you sign up they'll send you a new SIM card with a temporary phone number. Make sure you activate this when it arrives, but keep your old SIM in your phone for now.
  4. Finally, give the PAC code to your new network so they can start the switchover process. It should be completed the next working day. Once it's done, just pop your new SIM card into your phone and you're good to go.

It's so easy to switch mobile networks and keep your number. It enables you to shop around for better deals, so that you can shave a few pounds off your bill each month, or get more data for the same amount of money.

Now, let's run through any questions you might have.

How do I get my PAC code?

To get your PAC code, just give your network a call. Some smaller networks don't have customer service lines, so you'll need to do it online instead.

You'll need to provide some security information when you ask for the code. This is necessary to prevent anyone else being able to move your number without your knowledge. For the same reason, you need to keep your PAC code in a safe place after you get it.

You should receive your PAC code within two hours of asking. In many cases you'll be given it when you call. But sometimes you'll get it by text instead (or as well).

From July, you'll be able to request your PAC code via text message.

Do I have to pay for my PAC code, or to leave my old network?

No, you don't pay for your PAC code. When you call your network they might put you through to the Retentions department where they'll offer you a new deal to try and get you to stay. But they can't prevent you from leaving, and you are legally entitled to get your PAC code.

That said, while the PAC code is free, you will have to pay up any remaining time on your old deal. You normally have to give 30 days notice to leave, so if you're in the last month of your contract, there's no problem. Anything longer, though, and you'd probably be better off waiting. That is, unless you don't have a choice, like if you're moving to an area where your old network has poor coverage.

If you're out of contract, on a 30-day rolling deal, or on pay as you go, you won't have to pay anything to leave.

How long is my PAC code valid?

A PAC code is valid for 30 days. It also triggers the 30 day notice period you have to give to leave all but a pay as you go deal.

How long does it take to transfer my number?

When you give your PAC code to your new network, the process to port your number will start on the first working day, and should be completed on the second. So, if you give them your PAC code on a Friday, the switch will happen on the following Monday; or if you do it on a Saturday, the switch won't happen until Tuesday.

Your phone number will remain linked to your old SIM card until the switch happens. Keep using your old SIM - even after you've submitted your PAC code - to ensure you don't lose service. When it gets deactivated, you can start using your new SIM.

What's the best time to sign up to a new mobile plan?

Assuming you're on a either a pay monthly or SIM-only contract, you will have to give 30 days notice when you want to quit. You'll also need to sign up to your new deal during this 30 day period, which means there will be an overlap where you're paying for both.

If you time it right, you can make this overlap as short as possible.

  • When you sign up with a new network, they will send you a SIM card. Allow up to five days for this to arrive.
  • When you give your PAC code to your new network, you should allow four days for the switch to happen. This will allow for weekends, bank holidays, or any other unforeseen delays.

Based on this, we can say that if the day you receive your PAC code is day one:

  • you should sign up to your new network around day 20 or 21
  • you can submit your PAC code as soon as your new SIM arrives and you've activated it, but definitely no later than day 26

This will mean that there's only around ten days where you're paying for both your new and old mobile plans.

If you're on pay as you go deal you don't need to worry about this. Just remember that you can't transfer any remaining allowance to your new SIM card, so be sure to use up your data and make any expensive calls before you submit your PAC code to trigger the switchover.

What happens if I change my mind?

Your PAC code expires after 30 days. If you decide you don't want to switch networks, just don't use the code. Your existing service should continue as normal.

If you don't change your mind, but just run out of time, you'll need to get a new PAC code.

And what if you get buyer's remorse? You do get a 14-day cooling off period when you sign to a new network, so you can cancel without penalty. (Note that this period starts the day you sign up, not when your number gets switched, which might be as much as 10 days later.)

What happens next depends on whether or not you've submitted your PAC code to begin porting number to your new network.

If you haven't, simply cancel your new deal, destroy your PAC code, and your old plan should continue as before.

If you have, you'll need to get another PAC code from your new network, and then find another new deal to switch to. You can't undo the number porting process, and your old plan will have ended the moment the switch went through.

Will my old phone work on my new network?

It will work, but you might need to unlock it first. When you buy phones direct through a mobile network they're often locked so that they can only connect to that one network. You can unlock it, though. Contact the network to request an unlock code. This will often be free, especially if you're out of contract, or you might be a charged a few pounds if you're still in contract.

Phones that aren't locked will work on any network.