You may have heard your insurance company or law enforcement encourage you to record your IMEI. You might have even seen it in your phone’s settings or device packaging. What isn’t so clear is what the IMEI number is actually for.
So, what exactly is an IMEI number, and how do you find yours?
What Is an IMEI Number?
The International Mobile Equipment Identity—or IMEI—is a unique numerical identifier for every mobile device.
This number helps to differentiate each device from one another. If you take your phone in for repair, they will track it using the IMEI to distinguish it from the other millions of iPhones, for example.
A standard IMEI number is a 14 digit string, with an additional 15th check digit for verifying the entire string. There is also a 16 digit variation that includes information on the device’s software version, known as the IMEISV.
Since 2004, the IMEI appears in the format AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D. The sections labeled A and B are known as the Type Allocation Code (TAC). The TAC portion of the IMEI identifies the manufacturer and model of the device. For example, the Google Pixel TAC code is 35-161508, while the iPhone 6s Plus is 35-332907.
Some models have multiple TACs depending on revision, manufacturing location, and other factors. For example, the iPhone 5C had five different TAC codes.
The six C digits represent your device’s unique serial number, and the handset manufacturer defines these. The D portion of the IMEI is a check digit that ensures the IMEI meets the Allocation and Approval Guidelines. The check digit is displayed on packaging to prevent incorrect IMEI recording, but it doesn’t make up part of the documented IMEI.
While the IMEI number is undoubtedly significant, it isn’t the only regulatory requirement for your smartphone. Manufacturers have to abide by regulations for each region they want to sell their devices in. The IMEI doesn’t show that the equipment meets any of those other safety and regulation requirements.
Finding Your IMEI
There are a couple of ways you can go about finding your device’s IMEI. The most universal approach is to head to your device’s dialer app. Tap in *#06# and the IMEI will be displayed on the screen.
If you have an Android or iOS device, then the IMEI can be found under Settings too. On iOS head to Settings > General > About and the IMEI will be displayed. Copying the IMEI is as simple as tapping and holding on the number. Android devices may vary, but generally heading to Settings > About Phone should display the IMEI.
If you can’t access your device, there are other ways to find your IMEI too. The retail packaging should have a label with the IMEI displayed. If your device has a removable battery, then the IMEI is often listed underneath the battery. Many devices have the IMEI printed on the back. Others, including the iPhone 6s and above, have the IMEI inscribed on the SIM tray.
However, if you are about to purchase a new device, particularly a second-hand one, you’ll want to verify it’s status using the IMEI, too. To do this, head over to IMEI.info and enter the smartphone’s IMEI number.
This free tool will tell you a bit about the device, as well as offer you additional services like a basic blacklist check. If you want to gain even greater clarity, IMEI.info has premium services like a separate blacklist check for each major US carrier and a SIM-lock status tool.
If you’re after the information in a hurry, and don’t mind paying for it, the premium service CheckMEND offers a Device History Check for just under a dollar.
What Is an IMEI Number Used For?
The IMEI’s primary purpose is to equip your device with a unique ID number. So, in practice, the IMEI is very similar to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) used in the automotive industry. Although sometimes confused, the IMEI number is entirely separate from your SIM number and cannot be changed.
When you connect to a cell network, the provider captures both numbers to enable their service. The SIM number identifies your subscriber account, while the IMEI only identifies the device.
If your device is lost or stolen, you can contact your provider who may be able to place a block on the IMEI number, preventing it from being used to connect to the network. Your provider may also be able to contact other networks, asking them also to block the device. Once you’ve done so, you can then use built-in tools to find your phone’s location.
Law enforcement often keep records of lost and recovered phones, identified by their IMEI. Since there is no good reason to change the device’s IMEI, the practice is illegal in many regions.
While it may be illegal to change the IMEI of a device, it does happen. Thieves, in particular, will attempt to take non-blacklisted numbers and apply them to their stolen devices to make them usable again. For this reason, we recommend that you never share or post your IMEI number online, or else you may find your device cloned.
We advise against sharing personal data online more generally, too.
Have You Recorded Your IMEI?
The IMEI number is one of the most important and unique ways of identifying your device. If you haven’t already, you should locate it and take note of it right away.
Keep a record of your IMEI somewhere safe, so it’s there if you ever need it. If you are looking for a digital safe, then a password manager might even do the trick.
That said, if you’ve found or recovered someone else’s smartphone, you may be wondering how to get it back to them. In that case, you’ll want to know what to do if you find a lost or stolen iPhone.