The Best Places to Buy Unlocked Phones
If you’ve shopped lately for a new phone, you know how easy it is to end up spending nearly $1,000 to get the latest device — only to be stuck in a contract for a year or more. But shopping for an unlocked phone online can save you hundreds of dollars. And you’ll have the freedom to change carriers at any time, potentially saving you even more money in the long run.
In this article, I’ll compare prices among several major online vendors to find deals on unlocked cell phones. I also got input from our sister site ClarkDeals.com, which tracks cellphone prices continually, to see where you can get the best overall deal.
The Best Places to Buy Unlocked Phones
What Is An Unlocked Phone?
An unlocked phone is a cell phone that you can use on multiple networks. If your phone is unlocked, you’ll be able to switch easily between different service providers. That means you’ll always be in control of your phone bill, and you’ll be able to change carriers at any time to get a better deal.
If you’re shopping for a new phone and you plan on using one of the big three cell phone providers (or one of their discount brands), the provider will most likely offer better deals on phones than you could find on your own. But if you switch carriers frequently, you’re the perfect candidate for an unlocked phone.
“The beauty of an unlocked phone is that you are a free agent,”
says money expert Clark Howard. “You can go anywhere.”
Any unlocked smartphone you buy is going to work on GSM networks like AT&T, T-Mobile or smaller carriers that use the same towers. However, if you’re going to use an unlocked phone on a Verizon or Verizon reseller network, you’ll have to make sure that it’s CDMA-compatible.
Warranties and return policies will vary on unlocked phones depending on where you buy them and whether they’re new or refurbished. For that reason, it’s important to read the information provided by the seller before you make your final purchase.
If you find that a particular phone won’t be covered by any warranty or insurance, that doesn’t automatically make it a bad deal. Just consider paying your phone bill with one of these credit cards that provide cell phone protection to ensure you’re covered.
The Top 7 Places to Buy Unlocked Phones
When you’re shopping for an unlocked phone, it’s important to decide ahead of time whether you want a new device or one that’s been refurbished. While you can get a new unlocked phone for a reasonable price, you’re going to find better prices on used and renewed models.
I researched the online prices for several popular phones — new and used — to see how major vendors’ prices stacked up against each other as of July 2020.
As you can see, the prices for unlocked phones tend to stay in the same range across retailers and independent sellers. Still, you’ll find enough of a difference to make it worth your time to compare prices.
For the Samsung Galaxy A51, Best Buy offered the best price on a new device: $274.99. I also checked the price at Swappa, which sells only used phones. It was $260, so in this case, you’re not saving a whole lot by buying used.
The unlocked Moto G7 Power was available at Best Buy, Amazon, eBay and B&H Photo for the same competitive price of $180. These are especially great deals because Clark recommends the Motorola product line for people who are price sensitive.
“Motorola seems to have gotten the compromise right between price and quality. A lot of (new) unlocked phones with really good screen sizes are going to be in the $200s,” says Clark. “The big market though for unlocked phones seems to be used iPhones.”
A renewed iPhone 8 was available at Newegg for only $250 at the time of writing. I also found a refurbished iPhone X at Walmart for $450. Surprisingly, both of these prices beat the best offers I could find for pre-owned late-model iPhones on Swappa.
Below, you’ll find more information on buying unlocked phones from each of these retailers including what brands they carry, the cost of shipping and more.
1. Best Buy
Best Buy carries more than 200 unlocked cell phones that you can browse online.
If you know what phone you’re looking for, you can use the search bar to see if Best Buy has it in stock. Or you can use the filters on the side of the screen to narrow your search.
While you’re browsing phones online at Best Buy, note that most of the initial prices you’ll see are offered with same-day activation, even with unlocked devices. If you plan to activate your phone at a later date, you may see a slightly higher price. The prices in the comparison above indicate the higher “activate later” prices.
Best Buy offers free shipping for online purchases over $35, which includes most unlocked smartphones. For faster delivery, choose free same-day pickup at your nearest store.
Amazon is another great place to shop for an unlocked phone. You’ll find new and refurbished devices available directly from manufacturers as well as from independent sellers at good prices.
Like Best Buy’s website, you can search for the specific device you’re looking for, or browse the available selection by filtering your results with the tools on the left-hand side of the screen.
Amazon carries all the major cell phone brands, and many of the phones are eligible for free two-day shipping if you’re a Prime member.
You’ll find more than 1,000 unlocked phones online at Walmart.com. The retailer carries phones made by Apple, Samsung, LG, BLU, Motorola, Google and more. In addition to searching for a specific phone and browsing by brand, you can also narrow your search results by condition, screen size, price and carrier compatibility among other filters.
When I compared the prices of refurbished iPhone X devices, Walmart offered the lowest price I could find online. It even beat Swappa’s best offer for a used iPhone X in good condition! Because of this, I recommend checking out the prices on unlocked phones at Walmart.com before deciding where to make your purchase.
Phones sold directly from Walmart are eligible for free pickup in-store, and many devices qualify for free shipping.
For some of the best prices available on pre-owned and refurbished unlocked phones, be sure to check out Swappa. The online marketplace allows you to buy phones directly from independent sellers.
Every listing on Swappa is reviewed and approved by a moderation team that checks verification photos, serial numbers, criteria compliance and seller history. You can browse the approved listings for phones in fair, good and mint conditions.
When you’re looking at phones on Swappa, know that the price you see is the price you’ll pay. You won’t see any additional shipping charges unless you want express shipping.
You’ll find great prices on unlocked smartphones online at eBay. In fact, Team Clark has found the most deals on unlocked phones at eBay over the past four years.
The marketplace includes listings for several brands, but this is an especially good place to shop for an iPhone.
“There’s an extremely active market for unlocked iPhones,” says Clark. “If you go on eBay, you’ll see a huge number of sellers that offer reconditions iPhones unlocked at very good prices; it’s a very affordable way to buy them!”
Of course, be sure to check a seller’s rating and take the time to read customer reviews. Also, familiarize yourself with shipping and return information before making your purchase as those policies vary by seller.
At Newegg, you’ll find unlocked phones beginning as low as $125. The website stocks devices made by Apple, Samsung, Google, ZTE, LG Motorola and more.
Newegg’s offerings range from refurbished devices to the newest releases. To find some of the best available deals on the site, check out the Open Box Sale tab.
When I compared prices on a refurbished unlocked iPhone 8, Newegg offered the same low price as the best available offer on Swappa. This beat the prices for devices in the same condition at Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart and eBay at the time of writing.
Most of the unlocked phones you’ll see on Newegg are eligible for free shipping, which means you won’t have to worry about any additional charges.
7. B&H Photo
Lastly, be sure to check the prices on unlocked phones at B&H Photo unless you’re shopping for an Apple iPhone. Currently, they’re unavailable from B&H Photo. Still, you’ll find a selection of more 120 unlocked phones.
You’ll find the biggest selection of Samsung phones, but the retailer also carries devices made by BLU, Google, LG, Motorola and more. Most orders over $49 qualify for free expedited shipping.
If you aren’t sure which phone you’re interested in purchasing, you can choose up to four devices online at B&H Photo to compare. You’ll see the prices and all of the technical specifications side-by-side for the selected phones, which makes it easy to decide.
Where to Find the Best Deals on Unlocked Phones
If you’re not in a hurry to make your purchase, taking the time to wait for a good deal is a great way to save big. At ClarkDeals.com, the team has been searching for the best deals available online for the past four years. In that time, more than 70 great deals have turned up for unlocked phones.
I looked back at each of those deals to see where we’ve found the best prices over time.
As you can see, we’ve found most of our deals on unlocked phones online at eBay. With so many independent sellers and new deals every day, eBay is a great place to shop for an unlocked phone. This is especially true if you’re looking for a refurbished iPhone!
Amazon has also offered great deals on unlocked phones in the past. Specifically, we’ve seen a lot of great prices on Motorola phones from this online retailer. Meanwhile, B&H Photo is a great place to find deals on OnePlus, Sony and Motorola phones.
Woot, which is Amazon’s clearance site, also periodically sells unlocked phones beginning as low as $100. Note that these deals are typically available only for one day, which means you’ll have to check the site regularly to catch them before they sell out.
You can also expect to see great deals throughout the year on unlocked phones at Best Buy, Motorola and Newegg.
If you plan on using one of the major cell phone providers (or a discount brand that uses the same towers) you will most likely get an unbeatable deal on a new cell phone in exchange for signing a contract. But if you plan on switching carriers often, being a “free agent” with an unlocked phone is the route for you.
To get the best price on an unlocked phone, you’ll have to take the time to compare prices before you make your purchase. Be sure to check out the selections at Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart initially.
If you’re open to buying a pre-owned phone, visit Swappa and eBay for reputable listings on used phones in good condition. Finally, Newegg and B&H Photo will also likely have competitive prices on unlocked phones.
If you aren’t in a hurry to make your purchase, try to wait for a good deal from eBay, Amazon, B&H Photo, Woot or Best Buy. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re looking at a good deal, use a tool like Google Shopping to price compare or use Camelcamelcamel to see the price history of a product on Amazon.
When you do find a good deal on an unlocked smartphone, don’t hesitate to grab it before it sells out!