California Lifeline Free Cell Phones

TWO big free phone providers in California are now offering UNLIMITED VOICE and UNLIMITED TEXTS. Will the others match the incredible deal?

One would think that the trendsetting state of California would be at the forefront of the free government cell phone program. But it wasn’t until late 2012 that the first company, ReachOut Wireless, entered the state. And now in 2014 we see four major phone vendors participating in the California Lifeline free cell phone program.

But the late start in California has been all but made up for now. Leading the country with the best widely available plans are Assurance Wireless and Budget Mobile, which provide struggling Californians with a free phone, free unlimited voice minutes and free unlimited texts.

This is great news for the not-so-Golden State with their unemployment levels higher than national average, and run by one of the most dysfunctional governments in the country.

The companies listed below are some of the biggest players. We would not doubt that others begin operations in the state shortly.

Free Cell Phone Providers in California:

Here’s a list of all the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones in California. They all offer different plans with different numbers of minutes, different refill options, and serve different geographic areas. So click through them all and find the plan that’s best for you.

Lifeline Discount Companies in California

Since California is such a big state, you may find that none of the companies offer free government cell phones where you live. But no need to despair, since you have another option. The companies below, while not offering free cell phone plans, do offer substantial California Lifeline discounts off their regular mobile phone plans:

How to Qualify for a California Lifeline Cell Phone

There are two ways to qualify, and they are a bit different than other states.

Method 1 Program-Based – You can qualify if you or another person in your household is enrolled in any one of the following public assistance programs:

  • Medicaid/Medi-Cal
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8
  • Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
  • Healthy Families Category A
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
  • Stanislaus County Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (StanWORKs)
  • Welfare-to-Work (WTW)
  • Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN)
  • Tribal TANF
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Head Start Income Eligible (Tribal Only)

Method 2 Income-Based – You may also qualify if your total annual household gross income is at or less than annual income limits for your household size:

Income Based Eligibility for California
Members in Household Annual income Monthly Income
1-2 member $25,500 $2,125
3 members $29,700 $2,475
4 members $35,900 $2,992
5 members $42,100 $3,509
6 members $48,300 $4,025
7 members $54,500 $4,542
8 members $60,700 $5,059
For each additional member add $6,200 annual or $516.67 monthy

Latest News for California:

California news: Budget Mobile now offering free government cell phones with unlimited talk and unlimited text - Budget Mobile, a free government cell phone provider, now gives unlimited talk and unlimited texting to low-income Californians!
How to get a free government cell phone in California - The California Lifeline program offers great deals on free cell phone service in California. Unlimited voice and text. Many providers to choose from.
Assurance Wireless gets aggressive: Introduces unlimited talk/unlimited text Lifeline plan in California - Assurance Wireless just introduced the best plan in the free government cell phone business. California customers now get free unlimited talk, free unlimited texting, and of course, a free cell phone.
California breaks out the checkbook, offers more money to free government cell phone companies - In addition to the $9.25 that the federal government pays Lifeline cell phone providers, California will now pay those companies an additional $6.35 to $13.15 per month for some customers.
Free government cell phone war heats up in California: Assurance Wireless enters the state - Assurance Wireless has just been approved to offer free cell phones in California. And that is good news, indeed, for low-income residents of the nation’s largest state.
California joins the 21st century, finally approves free government cell phone program - The California Public Utility Commission is just weeks away from authorizing Sprint’s Assurance Wireless subsidiary to offer free government cell phones.
Free government cell phone program creeps into California - Telescape is providing cell phones for low-income residents in Bakersfield, California under the Lifeline program. The plan gives $2.50 per month for 300 minutes.
Lifeline Cell Phone Service Comes to California - California has been conspicuously absent from the list of participating Lifeline states. But now it's covered by fast-growing cell phone company ReachOut Wireless.
$3.7 Billion in Income Could Be Generated for the Poor by Making Lifeline-Subsidized Free Cell Phones Available to All Eligible Americans - $3.7 Billion in Personal Income Lost in States – Including CA, CO, HI, MT, NE, ND, OK, SD, VT and WY – Without Access to Program for Their Poorest Citizens.

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  1. If you are going to ask "how do I get a cell phone?" go here instead.
  2. If you are going to ask "how do I get a replacment phone," go here instead
  3. We are not your cell phone company. All technical questions should be asked of your vendor.
  4. Your comments are moderated, and we will manually approve those worth publishing within 24 hours.


  1. David Calvert says

    Is this service temporary or is it permanent? I have so little money ,I wouldn’t be able o buy a phone.

    Thank you,
    Sincerely, David.

    • says

      You need to reaffirm eligibility every year. You’ll be able to use it until the program eventually ends, if it ever does.

  2. David Ledesma says

    I have only a land line. I am subject to falls from seizures, chronic injuries. etc. I have Medical and Medicare. I have oxygen for CPOD and leave my house alone only to walk my dog and with my daughter once a month to get groceries, but she works hard as a chef and has little extra time for anything.A cell phone would give me a measure of safety. I am Federally disabled and, although I consider myself blessed among the world’s citizens, the state considers me part of the “Special Low Income Medicare beneficianary program.” If help for me to move towards the future is available, it would be gralefully recieved.

    • says

      As you can see in the list of qualifications above, in California Medi-cal makes you eligible. Now just contact any of the phone companies you see listed above on this page.

    • says

      You will need to contact the companies listed in California, above, to see who is in Palmdale.

  3. James says

    Today is March 27, 2015. I first contacted Tag Mobile (in Carrolton, TX) on Feb. 20 to use their company for my free cell phone service. They said they’d send an app. By Mar. 2, I did not have it. I called and they said they would send it. By March 14, I had not rec’d. it., so i called again. They again said they’d send it. By March 19, I had not received it, so called. They said they’d overnight it to me. They didn’t. On March 24, they said a man would contact me from their sales team by 48 hr. He didn’t. On Thurs. Mar. 26, they assured me I ‘d be called by 1:00 PM PST. I wasnt’. PLEASE AVOID USING THIS COMPANY. THEY DO NOT SEND APPS. FOR WHATEVER REASON.

  4. Jade Williams says

    I don’t have a phone I need one I baby si children and need to contact there parents for the time being of me having them for the afternoon

  5. Mary says

    Can I use a phone that I already have?
    My friend gave me her old phone, Samsung Galaxy 4 , I am currently unemployed and cannot pay to activate it.

    • Lifeline distributor says

      No. Unfortunately you can only use the phone that is provided to you with the benefit service. Fortunately, companies like us give you a brand new smartphone (android) that you can use with the free minutes and text

  6. Debra Pace says

    I applied for a phone last week and something went wrong after submitting all my information to one of your representatives and was told to come back after 24 hour period to get my phone, well when I returned they told me I would have to come back the next day because they were out of phones and I did and they were still out of phones, so I was told to come back on Monday which I did and the people were not there so here it is Tuesday and the people are still not there. I have you on hold right now a 2 1/2 hour wait and being transferred to 6 different very rude people that don’t seem to know how to rectify this situation. I would like for someone to tell me what you did with my information. They did tell me they gave the phone to someone, well it was not me.

  7. Denise Frane says

    Looking for Phone that works in rural Lake County, California. Not many phone work here. My LG Trac Phone often does not get signal at my home.

    • says

      As with any product, you contact the vendor of the product. If you’re in California, the list of vendors is in the article above.

  8. dawn renee urrutia says

    I applied for your service with surelink and am waiting now that my assurance account expired. I was given my password when i signed up.

  9. Steve Alvarado says

    Please update New California. Provider’s..Surelink,Tag ,Access!. California’s Gold Rush!..who’s next..

  10. louie caballero says

    $ 25,500 for 2 adjusted income is that the threshold for qualifying for free cell phones perhaps internet and T.V service as well ?

  11. Rebecca says

    what if i do not have a proper address for the delivery of a government phone? I have been told I qualify for this.


    • Lifeline distributor says

      Yes, but you can only have one Lifeline program at a time. If you switch, your old phone will get cancelled. Don’t let any lifeline provider convince you that you can keep two free phones (you can’t and the state with notice and cancel both phones….then you have to pay $39 to reactivate your phone)

  12. RUTH PONCE says


    • says

      We have not heard of an end date to it. So far it has only expanded. Generally speaking, government programs don’t end, they just get bigger. For good or worse.

  13. Franklin Dancing Eagle says

    I am a 78 year old male with degenerative joint dease. I am a receiver of Medicare and Medical.
    I would like to know how to and receive a free cell. I am on S’S and SSI.

    • says

      I believe we’ve covered it all in the article on this page, above. Did you have a specific question not answered in the article?

  14. ryan taylor says

    recently my phone from Verizon was lost and i no longer have or am using the account sent to me by the government. please help in any way possible to get a new phone so i can continue to use the privilege of a phone service so kindly provided to me by the tax payers of this county… my contact info at the moment is760 774 **** Thank you very much.

  15. Ron Terrazas says

    MEDI-CAL RECIPIENT IN Califirnua…have AT&T service but phone bill is inconsack survivoristently very high for reasons unknown or unexplainable up to $4000…which is untenable…need help underwrstaning what other options I have here…Los Angeles County resident…disabled….stroke/ heart attack survivor

  16. mark says

    Soy senior y no entiendo bien donde aplicar, necesito hacerlo por la computadora o ir a algun lugar , mi zip code es 90650 y tengo medical

  17. Patty Dann says

    I am inquiring on behalf of my sister. She does not currently have a computer so if you have any info on computers for low income families please pass along.


  18. Lawrence says

    i lost my lifeline phone. any way to put the service on my new phone? and where is the san diego office. i want to apply as a marketer.

  19. Madlen Laura Simms says

    I am a disabled California resident living in Humboldt County. I am interested in a lifeline cellphone for low income/disabled residents.
    I am concerned about reception, as I am told by my family and also a low income friend that Verizon is the only cell service with adequate reception.
    As I would also eventually like to train for employment (accomodating my disability: epilepsy), I will need unlimited talk text AND data/affordable internet service.
    You can reach me at (707) 822-****: this is my father’s home phone. You may leave a message if I am not in.
    My address is Madlen Laura Simms, **** LK Wood Ct. Arcata, CA 95521.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks much, Madlen

  20. Diana clemons says

    how do I join this program to sign
    people up for this free cell phone service I have a building 10,000 square feet and I sometimes hold meetings a couple of my meetings are with low income mothers

    • says

      Each individual joins on their own, by contacting any of the phone providers listed above on this page.

      • Bun sotha says

        Hi I want to apply for free phone but I don’t know where to go. Please can you help me show address in Los Angeles for me .

        Thank you.

  21. Kay James says

    What this article fails to mention is the fact that if you already have Lifeline service with another carrier, you have to cancel your old service and sign up with one of these cell phone carriers in order to get a free cell phone. I live in CA and have had Lifeline with AT&T on my land line for years. Now I’m facing surgery so I wanted a cell phone, but I would have to cancel my Lifeline program with AT&T in order to qualify for a this program. Since I know nothing about these other carriers, I’m not willing to do that. I don’t want to end up paying more for my land line service just to qualify for a free cell phone that I probably won’t use all that much. Better to pay for a $20 cell phone with a pay-as-you-go program than find yourself stuck with a huge bill from some other provider you know nothing about, as far as I’m concerned.

  22. Arshdeep Kaur says

    we are low income family of five members in 92509 zip code area. I am not sure how to get assistance for internet connection and phone services.

  23. nasir says

    i am temporay disability since may 2014 and do have few surgerys to go and my income has reduce since i am on income is $629.80 for every 2 weeks.
    and have 3 children to support.
    please advise if it is possible.
    i do have 2 children in high school.
    thank you,
    nasir hussein

  24. pat Duarte says

    I have cell phone, Lumina 521, is there a lifeline service plan offering free min/text that I can use my own phone rather then the ones they provide

  25. Jose F. Medeiros says

    I signed up for Budget Mobile, and the phone arrived in about two weeks. The refurbished Blackberry 8330 curve works well other then the ball not moving up for selection of items. After three months, they turned off my service claiming that I did not mail in my form to the California Lifeline program, when I actually did, and told me that I have to fill out a new application, and receive a new phone number. What pisses me off is that the customer service rep stated that they can not let me reuse my phone number, isn’t that against the FCC’s portability law for phone numbers?

  26. chuck robbins says

    Hi, I got my phone the day after I wrote y last comment asking about who is responsible if the phone does not arrive. So, that question no longer applies. I am happy to say that activation was a breeze. The phone works great, I am now able to apply for work and leave a phone number for possible employers to contact me.

    My hopes are high that this is going to be the one thing that will guarantee a job for me in the very near future. I would thank the company and the govt., but, in the end it is the taxpayers who pay for this, so, to all of you reading this… THANK YOU!

    Chuck Robbins

  27. Porsha says

    I just mailed back my phone last Friday because it wasn’t working properly. Without having to call and wait on hold forever is there ANYWAY of finding out if my phone has been received?

  28. Dana says

    I have one from budget mobile but it’s totally defective and flips out with no one touching it or even near it. When it first started it all stopped working now the texts. and phone ate working bit the calls won’t. When I try to call someone it says “the code or number I entered is incorrect.” In those words. When someone heiress to call me it says “the number you are calling is temporarily out of service or unavailable.” Does that mean I’m out of mins or is the phone just broken?


    two weeks ago i was coming home at around 9 pm from visiting my ill sister, i am disabled,, my car broke down on the way home i had no way of calling for help as i had no cell phone due to limited funds,i cannot afford one i am 76 yrs old an has to say it was very scary for me as nobody stopped to help me,i had to walk to a gas station that was several blocks,away,i walk with a cane as my mobilty is limited,ths station man was very nice he let me use the phone to call for help,i would so like a free cell phone, to have in case of emergencys, i sure hope i can get a phone it would ease my mind when i go out,

  30. Dan says

    This is for anyone interested in joining Lifeline in California. This has been my experience so far:
    There are two applications to fill out to enroll in the program. One for the Federal Government, and one for the phone company that you chose. They are short and easy to fill out. Once I mailed them off, it took quite awhile to receive the new phone in the mail. But once I did, it was very easy to activate and use right away. The company I joined is Assurance Wireless. They started off giving me 250 free voice minutes every month and 250 text messaging a month. But recently have extended the program for unlimited free minutes & text messages. This company seems to have the best deal. But here’s the thing that didn’t work. Assurance Wireless uses Virgin Mobile which is powered by the Sprint®Network. And unfortunately there is no coverage where some family of mine lives, like Tuolumne County and El Dorado County. So I’m currently trying to switch to another company.

    Reach Out Wireless has coverage service in those areas and they said I can keep the same phone number I have. Unfortunately, and ironically, for a communications company, Reach Out Wireless is very, very difficult to communicate with, and get a hold of. I’ve tried to apply three different times, with three different methods (one through the mail, one by fax, and one on their website), and I still haven’t heard back from them. My mom, who lives where Reach Out has service coverage and Assurance does not, actually did get a Reach Out phone in the mail, but it didn’t work. Turns out the battery was bad and she’s having a hard time getting them to replace it with a working one. If you are lucky enough to get through to them and get a working phone from them, and if their plan hasn’t changed, you still get 250 voice minutes a month but they charge $2.50 every month. That’s only 1 cent a minute. And if you need more minutes it cost another $2.50 for another 250 minutes. So, they’re not free, but still pretty cheap.

    The latest good news: When I first applied almost a year ago, there were only two companies in California to choose from. Now there are four. Telscape Communications and Budget Mobile both offer 1000 free voice minutes. But Telscape doesn’t cover my area. Budget Mobile does, but they said I cannot keep the phone number I already have. On the plus side Budget does cover parts of Tuolumne County and El Dorado County.

    You will have to renew your participation in the Lifeline Program every year to be reviewed and to see if you are still eligible. And you may be reviewed at any time. So just like any other government assistance program, there is “oversight” making sure no one is “cheating the system”. Which is good. I only need the assistance when I’m not making enough money and can’t afford the bills. So there you have it. I hope this helps.

  31. Timothy Cook says

    I have had three out of the 4 plans in california. I would not recommend Reachout wireless
    there “free” phone’s are poorly refurbished and tend to breakdown And contacting customer service is a bitch. This is not only my experience but my friends as well. I left Assurance to go to Telescape because (at the time) they offered more minutes. I am sticking with Telscape (even though Assurance now has an unlimited plan) for one reason. The Assurance cell phones are new, but small. A little difficult for someone with vision problems or disabilities. As far as I know you can’t use another phone. I know for a fact you can’t use any kind of smart phone. Other than that I found assurance to be superior in every other way. They are easy to contact, customer service is always helpful and friendly etc etc. I just wish the had bigger phones.

  32. Roger says

    I am a homeless man. I make about $6/month recycling cans. I cannot prove income because you can’t prove a negative. I have never gotten any government assistance. Or a job. I would like a phone with 30 talk minutes/month (no texts, I don’t know how to use those). It would save me a lot of time because people could tell me when to meet them and I wouldn’t have to go places only to find they weren’t there. I have never had a phone. My question: How can I get a phone without an address and without proof of non-existant income?


    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      Unfortunately, there’s probably not a way for you to get a phone, because 1) you need a physical address, and 2) you have to be on either one of the qualifying government assistance programs or prove you low-income with pay stubs, etc.

      It’s a shame that someone who is poor, homeless and doesn’t take money from the government, is a person that cannot get a free phone.

      • Lifeline distributor says

        if you stay on and off or eat at a shelter or food pantry for hot meals, you are allowed to use their address as your temporary address to apply for the phone. I would suggest that you apply for EBT (food stamps) that way you can not only get food in your stomach, but you can then apply for a free government phone. Not sure what area you are in sir but if you are in South Orange County, the General Relief offie will give you an EBT card the same day you apply….2020 w walnut st, santa ana, CA

    • Dan says

      Hey Roger,
      I’m homeless too. I gave them the address for the homeless shelter I go to as my residence. And they accepted that. As for your income, I would assume that $0 income would qualify you. You shouldn’t need to show any documents of $0 income. Maybe send them copies of your payment stubs for recycling cans. It’s worth a try.
      Good luck brother.

      • ed says

        But then once you’ve given them a receipt proving you had earned income by recycling . With the IRS and our present administration you may be forced to pay a TAX on those few dollars you made , but you’ll still get your phone .

  33. Stephanie hollon says

    My family are involved in cal works, cal fresh (snap), medical, lunch programs, I was given a number while whatching commercials and applied but we were told our city wasn’t eligible, but I keep receiving calls and am told we are qualified. I would like a straight answer please.

    Stephanie, Jack, ****** (16) and ***** (15)
    **** Levelside Ave.
    Lakewood, ca, 90712

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      We don’t have anyway of knowing, as you would have to contact the various vendors on this page. The best deal in California is Assurance Wireless so try them first.

    • Lifeline distributor says

      You qualify if you receive any of the participating benefits. Go to your local benefits office (General Relief Office)….many times there are companies posted outside that are signing people up for these programs right there. That way you can ask them in person. Look for my company “Access Wireless,” we will give you a brand new activated Android Smartphone right there in person

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      They are to help people of low-income, via income verification or participation in various government programs. There is absolutely nothing to do with race or ethnicity.

  34. suzanne cyr says

    in 2012 i signed up with Verizon, they had a discounted landline type phone for $20 unlimited voice, no text, no data, But they overcharged me every month, and stole from me,,i had to sign a two year contract, it was a nightmare to my budget,

  35. Paul Wright says

    I would like to thank Assurance Wireless Virgin Mobil for after following instructions and directions I have received my first phone. I was told from the beginning that it would not work in brick buildings. I have only found one place that I don’t get a bar to send a text. I am pleased that I get unlimited minutes for voice and unlimited texts. Oh, by the way I am a bricklayer.

  36. Sonjanette says

    I signed up for my Obama phone on 8/04/2014 through a vendor at the Riverside Bus Terminal and have not heard anything or gotten my phone can you tell me what is going on

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      It takes a while to get these phones, more than a month often. You can contact the company, which is one of the ones listed on this page.

  37. Ali Zaidi says

    Good Morning
    I want to know how to apply for free phone because i am very low income person, i am diedbities patient and my also. My total monthly income $971 after deduction. I have section 8 house and food stamp also. Due to diedbities i cant hard work. I am working as a Security Guard in Orange County . Can you e mail office address?
    [address removed]

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      Sorry, we don’t send out applications. You need to contact one of the vendors on this page.

  38. Kat says

    I have received the free phone offered but I would like to use a phone I already have instead of the free phone offered. How can I achieve this?

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      Some vendors let you bring your own phone if it is compatible with their network. You’ll just have to contact them all and ask.

  39. Kat says

    I was sent an alert message via email when I changed my personal identification number (PIN). Is it normal practice for both the PIN and account number to be sent in the same email? If is not, how do I go about switching companies (does the 60-day rule still apply)?

  40. Angelique says

    If you haven’t found any locations yet. I have a couple of places: 90th and Bancroft & 35th and International. I just got my phone from 90th and Bancroft last week. This one is through Budget Mobile I believe. You get 1,000 minuets & unlimited texts a month. The phones are really nice.

  41. Myriam says

    Hello, My husband applied to the program but the phone didn’t work and had a very bad signal in my area, we applied with Telscape, can we switch the company?… do you know if Verizon will come soon with this program because my area its kind of difficult for reception, Telscape told me to return the phone but know that I know that we can choose the company, we would like verizon better, Can we?

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      You can switch companies after 60 days. At that time you would contact another California provider and them them you want to switch. No plans that we know of for Verizon to enter the free Lifeline cell phone biz.

  42. Maria C Muro says

    I am snding this message, because I am trying to help an elder person who is 81 years old and she doesn’t speak too much English and she doesn’t have a computer. Where she can apply for this program? I will really appreciate your help.

    Please contac me and help me to help some one in need.


    Maria C Muro

  43. Dino says

    I was signed up and approved back in June of this year. I spoke once to the 1-800 number and was assured my phone was being shipped and that was on July 1st. It’s now middle of August and no phone and funny thing is. That 800 number is now out of service. I’ve spoken with the partnership that takes care of the ten dollars and was advised that’s same number they have and the number I was issued was in fact registered to me. So how do I contact a number that no longer works and receive a phone that’s already registered to me?

    • Dino Soke says

      It has been since July 1st since I’ve received my “Qualification” letter for the Lifeline program but as of yet I have not received the phone. The 1-800-480-0430 number seems to be out of service. I have spoken once to them and was assured the phone was being sent. That was June 25th, 2014 when I spoke with the person. How do I go about calling a real number to a real person to receive my phone???

  44. jewell says

    I’m on food stamps and get $300 in cash aide. My son is a 8th grader. Is there a plan we can get for us to have phones. And my son gets free food from school as well

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      Yes, there is! Just look up at this page and you’ll see links for Assurance Wireless,
      Budget Mobile, ReachOut Wireless and Telscape. The school lunch program he is on will qualify him.

  45. MIeng Nguyen says

    I have received the letter to qualify for one Life line cell phone on 06-06-2014.But i didn’t got any cellphone until now. Please review and response my case.

    Thank you so much.
    Mieng Nguyen

    • Free Government Cell Phones says

      You need to contact your phone provider. We’re not the cell phone company.

  46. ron weiner says

    If I qualify for a free cellphone and I have two children in school is there cellphone assistance for them.

    • kennedy says

      you can give one the free reachout phone and the other a (mostly) free freedompop phone. you have to buy a sprint phone and pay $20 to activate it,but after that its completely free as long as you only use the 500mb free data.

  47. stephen fine says

    Hi my name is stephen fine a gentleman about 5 weeke ago signed me to an obama phone at the losangeles mission i was just wondering where it was and if i was still getting one thank you because i would like to have one thank you