How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK: Samsung S4, 2013 edition

I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 running Jelly Bean (Android 4.2.2). In July 2013 I took it to the UK, where I installed a UK SIM card with pay-as-you-go credit.

Recursive self portrait

Me and my phone.

Here’s what I did.

1. Request a SIM Unlock

A few days before you leave the US, call T-Mobile and tell them you intend to use the phone with a non-US SIM chip, and ask them to file a “Sim Unlock Request”. You will need the phone’s IMEI, a 15-digit number most likely found in Settings under “My Device”. On my S4 it’s under Settings > More > About Device > Status.

The SIM Unlock Request takes 24 hours to process. You’ll receive an email with instructions on how to enter the SIM unlock code once you have your foreign SIM card. Print out the email! You won’t be able to access your email on your phone 🙂

2. Buy and install a UK SIM card

T-Mobile is branded as EE in the UK, so find an EE store, and get a £10 pay-as-you-go SIM card. This will get you 1GB data, 400 texts and 100 minutes for for 30 days. You can top up your SIM card at any shop where you see the “top up” logo.

Remove your US SIM card and install the new one. Your phone will prompt you to enter the SIM unlock code from step 1, which you’ve printed out for offline reference.

3. Restart your phone

When I took my phone to the UK in 2011 I had to do a lot of manual configuring on the phone: How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK. Now, all you do is restart your phone and it figures out the network by itself. And that’s it! Ask the store personnel to double-check your settings, and make sure you can get on their wi-fi, and you’re good to go!

13 thoughts on “How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK: Samsung S4, 2013 edition

  1. Pingback: How I got my US T-Mobile phone to work in the UK | The Clareverse

  2. Yuriko

    When you changed Sim cards, did you have to worry about the network for their wifi? My boyfriend (in England) just got me the sim card and is mailing it to me so when I visit next month, I don’t have to hunt for a sim card.

    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      When the phone was restarted with the new sim card, it automatically detected the network and set itself up. I really don’t remember having to do anything at all – it was simple and quick. I was in a t-mobile/EE store, so the employee there might have done something I wasn’t aware of, but it all seemed to happen automatically. Good luck!

  3. Sarah

    Hi Clare! Can’t thank you enough for your posts from 2011 and this one as well. We are traveling to England for two weeks in July and this is invaluable information. Thank you 🙂

  4. archidroid (Sam)

    Hi Clare. A bit of a random one, but I’m from the UK here in the US. Didn’t think about this until now and just bought a sim card….Do you think I need to call the UK and tell them I’m overseas to enable my phone to do the same thing? Thanks.

    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      Hi TLC! Sorry for the delay, I was on vacation. While on vacation, I used TMobile’s new international features, so I can take a good stab at your question. I have the Simple Choice Plan, which gets you the following when roaming internationally: unlimited data, unlimited text, calls .20/minute.

      I was in Canada for a week, and the service worked perfectly without me having to do a thing. One thing to note is that the unlimited data and text is not high-speed. It’s at a reduced speed. For email, twitter, and text, this was not a problem at all. For browsing, I’d have to load a URL and then wait several seconds for the page to load. The FaceBook app was almost unusable at these lower speeds – images and comments didn’t load at all. I couldn’t get any streaming video to work. GPS mapping worked fine.

      I was in a remote area on an intermittent 3G network, so that might have been part of the problem, but even with 4 bars I noticed the problems with the FaceBook app.

      When you swap out your SIM card for a UK card, you get the high-speed data, and reduced costs for voice, but you have to use a different phone number, which is inconvenient.

      So it’s a trade-off. It’s certainly nice to not have to worry about arranging a new SIM card and a new phone number, but on the other hand, depending on what you’re using your data downloads for, the free services might not be what you need. If you’re sticking with email and simple web browsing, you’re probably fine with the free international roaming service. If you want high-speed data while roaming, say for watching videos or using certain apps like FaceBook, you still might want to consider swapping out your SIM card.

      Hope that’s useful!


  5. chris

    Hi Clare,

    So I’m in the US at the moment, and am considering purchasing a smartphone (the google nexus 5 or the samsung S4) while I’m here and taking it back home to the UK with me. I currently have a T-mobile sim card (Otherwise known as EE) and was thinking of following your advice to request a sim unlock code over here, and putting my UK sim into the phone once I’m back.

    I looked up the eligibility for the sim unlock ( and if I’m not mistaken, it seems like I’d need to have been using the account for more than a year, and with at least $100 of refills onto the sim before I can request a code. Do you have much experience with this, is there anything you’d recommend moving forward? Thank you for writing up this blog, so far your advice has been very useful!

    1. Clare Parkinson Post author

      Hi Chris

      That sim unlock eligibility link is interesting – I didn’t know the requirements were different for pay-as-you-go and monthly plan phones. I guess it makes sense – they wouldn’t want to authorize swapping out a SIM card on a phone that could be stolen.

      I have a monthly plan, not pay-as-you-go, so I must have met the requirements without even being aware of them. I don’t have any experience with pay-as-you-go EE/T-Mobile phones.

      If I were in your place, I’d call T-Mobile customer service and explain the situation and your plan. I’ve found their customer service to be very helpful in figuring out ways to get the service I want. They might have a workaround for you.

      Good luck! If you get a chance, please comment again and let me know how it turns out.


  6. Aric

    I know I’m waking an old thread, but any advice if T-Mobile refuses to give you an unlock code? I have an old T-Mobile phone, was a customer for years but switched to a corporate TMo plan, they don’t really care about that and won’t give me an unlock code because I’m no longer a T-Mobile customer.


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