With cell phone plans costing anywhere from $30 to over $100 per month, many people wonder if it’s possible to get cell service for free. The short answer is yes, there are a few legitimate ways to get free or very low-cost cell phone service.
Using a Free Phone Service
Some providers offer completely free cell phone service with a limited number of voice minutes and text messages. For example, FreedomPop offers a free plan that includes 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages, and 500MB of data each month. You’ll need to provide your own compatible phone or purchase one of their low-cost devices. While 200 minutes isn’t a lot, it can work for light users or as a backup line.
The Pros and Cons of Free Phone Services
Free phone services like FreedomPop have some advantages and disadvantages:
|Completely free service||Limited minutes and texts|
|No contracts||Slow data speeds|
|Bring your own phone||May have limited coverage|
|Good for light users||Extra fees if you go over limits|
Using a Family Member’s Plan
Another option is to join a family member’s or friend’s cell phone plan if they have extra space. Many major carriers allow adding lines to their shared plans for just $20-30 per month. You’ll get a separate number with unlimited minutes and texts. Data is shared between all lines on the plan. This can be a good economical option if you know someone willing to add you.
The Benefits of Joining a Family Plan
- Very low monthly cost (usually $20-30)
- Get your own phone number
- Unlimited calls and texts
- Access to full cellular network
- Can use any unlocked phone
Using WiFi Calling Apps
Several apps allow making voice calls and sending texts over WiFi using your existing phone number. As long as you have access to a WiFi connection, you can communicate for free. Some top WiFi calling apps include Google Voice, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and more.
The main catch is that you’ll need an initial cell plan or phone number to set up the app. But once it’s set up, you can use WiFi for all your calling and messaging needs. If you already have a phone number you want to keep, this can work well.
Benefits of WiFi Calling Apps
- Make calls over WiFi for free
- Send messages for free
- Keep your existing number
- Use on any WiFi connection
- Works worldwide
Using VoIP Services
Voice over IP (VoIP) services provide phone service over the internet. Options like Google Voice, Skype, and Vonage allow you to make and receive calls using an app or VoIP phone adapter. You’ll get a new phone number with unlimited calling and texting. There are often low monthly fees around $5-10 per month.
Pros and Cons of VoIP Services
|Cheap monthly rates||Need internet connection to make calls|
|Unlimited minutes||New phone number|
|Good call quality||E911 service limitations|
|Bring your own device||Not good for heavy data users|
Using a Mobile Hotspot
If you have access to an unlimited mobile hotspot device, you can use WiFi calling through it instead of paying for cell service. For example, you can create a hotspot with your existing phone plan. Then connect another phone to the hotspot for WiFi calling capabilities.
This avoids paying for two separate cellular plans. But it does use up data from your existing plan. So it only works if you have an truly unlimited high-speed data allotment.
Pros and Cons of Mobile Hotspots
|No additional cell plan needed||Uses data from your existing plan|
|Works with WiFi calling apps||Need unlimited high-speed data|
|Connect multiple devices||Drains phone battery life|
|Portable WiFi access||Hotspot data may be throttled|
Getting a Government Subsidized Phone
Government assistance programs like Lifeline provide free or subsidized cell phones and service to low-income consumers. Lifeline provides a free smartphone with talk time, texts, and data to those who qualify. Individual states also have assistance programs that provide free basic phones and minutes to eligible residents.
Benefits of Government Phone Programs
- Free smartphone with service
- 500-1000 talk minutes per month
- 500-Unlimited texts per month
- 1-4GB data per month
- Free basic phones available
- Available to low-income households
Finding Community Phone Programs
Some community assistance organizations offer free “community cell phones” for individuals in need. These programs distribute donated basic phones with a certain number of monthly minutes. The phones and service are provided at no cost to eligible applicants who may have low incomes or be experiencing homelessness.
To find these programs, contact local social service agencies, community centers, shelters, or churches to ask about availability in your area. The phones typically have limited capabilities but do provide basic talk and text.
Benefits of Community Phone Programs
- Provide free basic phones
- Include a set number of talk minutes
- Allow emergency communication
- No contracts or eligibility requirements
- Available locally in many areas
Considering a Prepaid Plan
Prepaid cell phone plans provide service that you pay for upfront each month. Since it is paid in advance, there are no contracts or commitments. Prepaid plans start around $15-20 for a basic phone plan or $25-$50 for a smartphone plan with data.
While not free, prepaid can offer cell service at a very low cost, especially if you use a limited number of minutes and little data. It offers flexibility if you need a phone sometimes but not every month.
Advantages of Prepaid Cell Plans
- No long-term contract
- No credit check
- Lower monthly rates
- Pay only for what you use
- Easy to stop or restart service
- Compatible with most unlocked phones
Getting Creative to Reduce Cell Costs
If you need full cell service but are looking to spend as little as possible each month, there are some creative ways to reduce your cell phone costs:
- Use apps like Google Voice for WiFi calling
- Negotiate lower rates with your carrier
- Consider a family plan to save money
- Buy a cheaper prepaid plan and use WiFi when possible
- Take advantage of promotional offers and plan discounts
- Use cashback apps and rewards programs
- Buy a refurbished phone to save money upfront
Finding the Best Free or Cheap Cell Plans
The table below compares some of the best options for free or inexpensive cell phone service:
|Plan||Monthly Cost||Minutes||Texts||Data||Phone Provided?|
Getting by Without a Cell Phone
If you ultimately determine having a cell phone isn’t affordable or necessary for your lifestyle, it is absolutely possible to function without one. Here are some tips:
- Use landline phones at home and work
- Communicate through social media and messaging apps
- Carry some change for pay phones
- Get a pager for emergencies
- Use WiFi calling services when access is available
- Let important contacts know the best way to reach you
While completely free cell phone service is hard to come by, there are many ways to reduce your cell costs or even get free service with limitations. Compare all the options to find the best fit for your talk, text, and data needs. With a little creativity, you can maintain cell phone access on a budget.