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How to Switch Phone Carriers and Keep Your Number


September 10, 2019

Are you considering switching phone carriers but don't want to give up your phone number? While your geographical location may be a determining a factor, number porting usually lets you keep your cell number when switching carriers.

Porting isn’t just a convenience offered by the network providers — it’s a requirement of the FCC. There are also rules about how to do it and how long it can take — typically no more than one business day when transferring a number from one mobile provider to another.

To learn how you can keep your phone number if you switch carriers, follow these steps:

  1. Call the new provider to let them know you want to port in your number and become a new customer. Do not cancel your current service before you port your current number, as it’s unlikely to work. Although the FCC requires the transfer to happen in one day, give yourself a few days where your existing service and new service overlap.
  2. Let the new mobile service provider initiate the process of porting your number.
  3. If the new carrier says they’ll charge a fee to keep your number, kindly remind them that’s illegal. The FCC notes that your old mobile service provider can’t refuse to allow you to take your number with you.
  4. Ask if your 911 service will be affected during the time your number is being transferred to your new provider.
  5. When the transfer request is received and activation is completed, your old provider will automatically cancel your existing service.

The one case where you may not be able to keep your number is when you move to a different geographic area. Some rural network providers may also hold a waiver from their state government, in which case they’re not required to transfer existing phone numbers. In this rare instance, you may not be able to take your number with you.

Despite these requirements, transferring your cell phone number should only take a few minutes. Your new provider will contact you when the transfer is finished, and your service is active.

Follow these tips to make sure the transfer goes smoothly:

  • After you’ve signed up for your new service, call your old provider to make sure your service has been cancelled.
  • If you're porting a number for a landline to a new mobile provider, be aware the process may take from four to 10 days.
  • Keep your old phone until the service change is complete.
  • When you’re making the switch, have the address and account number of your current plan with you, as well as your password/PIN (if applicable) to your old account.

If your new carrier offers to pay off your existing service, ask if they will cover any early termination fees (ETFs) and the cost of buying out the contract. For example, some major carriers offer a certain amount per line to buy out existing contracts or will cover up to a certain amount per line on early termination fees. Be specific when talking to your new carrier about any hidden fees and have them clearly explain what will — and won’t — be covered in the switch.

As you consider switching phone carriers, keep these tips in mind if you plan to keep your current phone number. With a little preparation, you can quickly and easily have your old number working on your new phone with your new provider.

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