Disclaimer: Use this information at your own risk. You are responsible for your domains and what happens to them.
You have a dot-com/net/org/whatever, and you’re dissatisfied with your current domain registrar and want to switch for any number of reasons (saving money, getting more features, having better peace of mind, etc.) However the process of transferring a domain is, in a word, weird. Weird enough to the point where you’re not sure about doing it because you don’t want to "lose" your domain.
The process of transferring a domain from one registrar to another is admittedly not straightforward, so I’m going to attempt to put it all in plain English.
Things to know up front about domain transfers
1. No two registrars transfer domains the same way
While domain registrars make it really easy to transfer domains to them, they purposely make it difficult to transfer domains from them.
2. It usually takes at least 5 business days for a transfer to complete
As fast as it is to register a domain, the transfer process is very slow. Registrars do this on purpose because they make no money from transfers; it’s a very low priority for them.
3. It’s (usually) not free
You will incur a cost when transferring the domain to the new registrar. Fortunately, the cost will be minimal because I don’t know of any registrar that doesn’t offer some sort of discount as a thank-you for transferring a domain over to them.
Transferring the domain
1. "Unlock" your domain at the registrar you want to transfer your site from
The "locking" of a domain is a security feature to prevent unauthorized domain transfers. You may have this enabled and not even know it, so you’ll have to login to your existing domain registrar, look up the information for your domain and see if there’s anything there that "prohibits unauthorized transfer" or is simply labeled as "locked", and unlock it.
2. Register an account you want to transfer your domain to
For the registrar you want to transfer you domain to, go to their web site and first set up a free account (you need one in order to manage your domains there once transferred).
3. Request a domain transfer at the registrar you want to transfer your domain to
The new registrar you want to use will make it very obvious where to request a domain transfer, usually labeled as a big fat button that says "TRANSFER A DOMAIN" or "DOMAIN TRANSFERS".
At this point, this is where you spend money. As said above, you will usually receive a discount from the new registrar for transferring a domain over, so the cost shouldn’t be too much. A dot-com for example will usually not cost more than $10 to $15 to transfer over.
Note: If you care about protecting your registration information, it’s highly suggested that you make it a private registration. This may cost a few bucks extra, but it’s worth it. REMEMBER, not all domain types can be registered privately. COM and NET can be privately registered, but ORG, INFO, ME, US and a whole bunch of others usually cannot.
After you’ve spent the money, the new registrar is most likely going to inform you that it needs a "transfer code" for the transfer to actually start. See next step.
4. Get the transfer code from your old registrar
This is where things can get a little difficult.
No two registrars put where to get a transfer code in the same place. Some make it easy to get to while others bury it deep.
Usually, the option to get a transfer code for a domain is in the same area you would go to update registrant information.
With the Dotster registrar for example, the place to find where to request that code is under "Services for this domain". You get to this by viewing the domain info, then scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the page and you finally get to where you want to be:
(Note the links at the bottom in the image shown above.)
Your transfer code will either be given to you on the old registrar site, or it will be emailed to you.
Important note: The email address used to send you your transfer code will be the one that’s on the domain registrant information.
5. Input the code at the new registrar
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in good shape. Go to your new registrar’s site, login and input the transfer code. The new registrar should make this very easy to do and tell you exactly where to go it.
6. Start waiting
It does take at least a week for a domain transfer to complete and there’s unfortunately no way to speed it up.
In the interim, you may receive a bunch of emails from both registrars, and this is normal. There will be many "ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?" type of emails. Read through each one carefully. Ordinarily there are no steps to take, and they are strictly courtesy messages to let you know what’s going on. But if there are any emails that instruct you to actually do something, follow those instructions.
7. Periodically check the status at both the new and old registrars every few days
Both registrars will have areas to check the domain transfer status. Watch both of them and check up on the status every two days or so.
If you happened to initiate the transfer on a weekend, it’s doubtful anything will change in the status updates until the end of Tuesday.
After five business days, the transfer should be completed.
8. Lock the domain
To prevent any unauthorized transfers in the future, lock your domain. The new registrar may have automatically done this on your behalf, but it’s a very good idea to check and make sure.
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