Updated on 12/13/22
Every day, 365 days a year, year in and year out, we get a couple comments that say things like, “My phone is telling me that my PUK is locked” or “What is a PUK code?” Here are a few recent examples:
Brooke said, “I have an Android free cell phone. I locked my SIM card, and have no idea how to unlock the PUK code lock. Any instructions would be appreciated. Thanks.”
Julia said, “i have a Alcatel phone and accidentally locked my SIM card and now it’s asking for my PUK code and I’ve tried 0000, 1234 and 1227.”
April said, “My phone keeps asking for my PUK code and says remaining Quota:10.”
Danny said, “I need my PUK code for my phone, I’m locked out… Thank you. I have a TracFone, Alcatel, Lifeline.”
Hunter said, “I need help. I locked up my phone. It is asking me to enter PUK I don’t know what that is.”
Calm down. Take a deep breath. Getting locked out of your phone is a problem that can easily be solved. It’s something that happens to all cell phone users, not just free government cell phone customers.
It’s usually a sign that you entered the wrong PIN number three times. To correct the problem, you need to call your free government cell phone service provider and ask for a PUK. But what is a PUK?
PUK is an acronym that stands for “PIN Unlock Key.” It’s a unique code (usually eight numbers long) that’s linked to your individual SIM card. (NOTE: Although most phones ask for a PUK code, others may ask for a PUC code. PUC is another acronym that stands for “PIN Unlock Code.” Despite the different names, a PUK code is exactly the same thing as a PUC code.)
Bad luck with your PUK?
You probably created a PIN number on your SIM card as an extra level of security. Your PIN is the number you need to type in each time you turn on your phone. Your PUK code is like a fingerprint — it is unique to your SIM card. It keeps strangers from being able to use your phone and you should never share it with anyone.
Unfortunately, if you enter the wrong PIN code three times, the SIM card is programmed to lock automatically and you will not be able to use your phone. This is when you’ll get that message that says “Enter PUK” or “Enter PUK code” or “Enter PUK to unlock your SIM card” or something similar.
As we said, breathe easy. Getting your PUK code is as simple as calling your service provider’s customer service or tech support team (although we must admit that many of our readers complain that it’s virtually impossible to speak to a live human being when they call their service providers).
Only your service provider can retrieve your PUK code. Some service providers will give you your PUK when you begin your service. If your service provider is one that does, make sure you write it down somewhere or memorize it. Others service providers will only provide you with your PUK when you call them with a problem. Of course, they want to make sure you’re really who you say you are before they give you the code, so be prepared to answer some security questions.
You can find a list of the largest service providers and their contact information here.
What happens after I get my PUK code?
After you get your PUK code, power up your free government cell phone. In most cases, a notification will pop up telling you to enter your PUK code. Just follow the step-by-step prompts on screen.
After your free government cell phone unlocks, you may be required to enter a new SIM PIN number. Do it. But remember that you can go to the “Settings” menu and turn off this feature once it’s fully unlocked.
Do not attempt to guess your PUK. Repeat: Do not guess.
Never attempt to unlock your free government cell phone by guessing your PUK code. Why not? Because if you enter the wrong PUK ten times, your SIM card will go into a permanent lock down state. (See April’s comment at the top of this article.)
That leads to a whole new series of problems. You’ll have to contact your service provider and request a brand new SIM card and you may be charged a substantial fee. Even worse for most people, you’ll be forced to live with a dead cell phone until your new SIM card arrives in the mail.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Readers are now asking us if any of this information on this page changes because of the exciting new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The simple answer is no. All the information found in the original version of this page remain the same. Even if you have combined your Lifeline discount and your ACP discount into one account, all the PUK information remains the same.