Switching phone providers

Myth or fact?

If I switch cellphone providers, I will lose my current phone number.
  • Myth
  • Fact

You can switch to a new phone provider at any time, and the process is relatively straightforward.

What you should know

If you have a contract

If you have a contract with a cellphone provider and want to switch to a new provider, you will need to cancel your current contract. You can cancel a phone contract at any time but you may have to pay an early cancellation fee. The fee will depend on when you signed your contract and whether you received a discounted or free phone, among other factors. For details, see our guidance on cancelling a phone contract.

Keeping your current phone number

You own your phone number. A service provider cannot stop you taking your number with you when you switch providers — a process called “porting” your number. But a new provider is under no obligation to accept it. Most providers are happy to accept a new customer, and so porting your number to a new provider is rarely a problem.

You can port your cellphone number or landline number. You cannot port a pager number. 

If you are switching localities, you may or may not be able to port your number. You should check with your new service provider if you're moving to another city or province. 

Don't cancel your current service before switching

Do not cancel your service with your current phone provider before you switch to a new provider. You won’t be able to port your current number after your service has been deactivated. It’s best to ask your new service provider to transfer your existing services on your behalf.

Who makes the request?

Only the primary account holder can make a port request. If you are an authorized user on a family or shared plan, you must establish a separate service with your current provider 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.

Work out the problem

Step 1. Make sure your phone is unlocked

If you want to keep your current phone, it needs to be one you can use with your new service provider. 

Years ago you might have heard that it was difficult to switch providers for compatibility issues. Today, most cellphone networks use compatible technologies to deliver their services. A phone bought with one of the major networks will typically work on one of the other networks so long as it is network unlocked. (When a phone is locked to a network, it can only work with that provider’s voice, text and data services.)

You have a legal right to have your phone unlocked, free of charge, upon request.

To make it happen, contact the provider who you bought the phone from, and they will give you a code to enter into the phone to unlock it.

Step 2. Contact your new provider to request a service transfer

Once you have decided which provider and plan you want to switch to, contact the new provider to request a service transfer. You can request the service transfer by phone, email or regular mail.

Your new phone provider will ask for some personal details to set up your account and ask you which services you want to keep, remove or change. Tell them if you want to keep your current phone number. Your new provider will take care of the service transfer for you. 

If you want to keep your current phone, you may also need to provide your phone’s identification number (IMEI number). This number is usually located on the back of your phone or under the battery.

Step 3. Your current provider will cancel your services

Your new service provider will notify your current provider of the transfer. Your current provider will cancel your services immediately. (Alternatively, you can ask to have the cancellation of your current services take effect at a later date.) 

For cellphones, the transfer of service can take a few hours. For landline to cellphone or cellphone to landline, the transfer typically takes up to two business days. 

You might experience a disruption in service while the transfer is taking place, including disruptions to 911 services.  

While you don’t need to talk with your current provider, it’s prudent to give them a call to finalize the transfer. This enables you to confirm any early cancellation fee or other charges. You will usually receive a bill for any outstanding debt within a month.

Common questions

Do I need to provide 30 days’ notice to cancel my current service?

No. There is no requirement to give your phone provider 30 days’ notice of your intention to cancel. You can have your service cancelled immediately and take your number to a new provider within the same locality, on the same day.

Can I transfer my landline number to a new cellphone?

Yes. You can port a phone number from a landline to a cellphone (and vice versa).  

Can I transfer the number I use for my prepaid service to a new service provider?

As long as the phone number is currently active, it is possible to port a phone number from a prepaid plan. However, if the prepaid service has been dormant, the phone number may have been deactivated. Each service provider has their own policy regarding how long prepaid numbers can be inactive before they are deactivated. 

If you are transferring a phone number from a prepaid service, you will not be able to transfer any prepaid minutes or other service elements from your current provider.

Can I use my phone during the porting process?

Generally, you should be able to use your phone as normal during the transfer, although some services may be disrupted.  

If you need to make a 911 call, it may be difficult for emergency services to locate you via your phone number during the transfer period, as your customer and location information is being added to, and deleted from, the service provider databases. So make sure you provide your exact location to operators in the event of an emergency.

Will my current voicemail and other calling features work with my new service provider?

No. Your phone number is the only thing you are transferring to your new service provider. You will have to arrange for new calling features, such as voicemail, call forwarding, caller ID and so on. As well, it is important to check whether any other services that may be connected to your phone number, such as internet services or security systems, might be impacted by transferring your phone number to a new service provider.

Does it cost anything to port my number?

Service rates for porting are unregulated. In theory, providers can charge to port your number. In practice, however, competition between providers means porting fees are not applied or low if the are charged. Even so, you should always doublecheck when asking to port — you may be able to get any fees waived.

If I owe money to my current provider, can I transfer?

Yes. 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 for any early cancellation fee that is applicable if you are under contract.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services
CCTS deals with cellphone, TV and internet service complaints.

  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in July 2019
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 6 minutes

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