Here’s an email that’s typical of many we receive every week:
“Something I would like to see you review, if possible, is which companies offer calling to Canada or Mexico, or other international locations. QLink says they offer international calling, but there are no other details. I have family in Canada that I need to stay in touch with (I live on the border, everyone here has family on both sides, it didn’t used to be a big deal, but now we have to get passports to see one another). There are probably people with relatives in Mexico, too (and they’re not all here illegally — I know people who are 3rd-4th generation Americans, still in touch with cousins down in Mexico; they have tight families).”
It’s an important question to many of our readers. A large percentage of Lifeline Assistance customers are immigrants or children of immigrants and still need to stay in touch with friends and relatives in their home countries.
So we put on our researcher hats and set out to find the international call policy of each Lifeline Assistance company.
Here’s the international service summary our emailer requested — complete details on all the leading Lifeline Assistance service providers. Let’s start with the largest of them all:
Safelink, the largest company in the free government cell phone business, is owned by Mexico’s Carlos Slim, the world’s fourth richest man. So it makes sense that Safelink would allow international calling. Here’s what the company’s website says:
Enjoy calling over 100 international destinations* directly from your SafeLink phone for the same price as any other call. No activation needed, just start enjoying these benefits today, call toll-free 1-800-706-3839. TracFone provides this service; when you call you will be connected to TracFone ILD.
Available International Destinations are subject to change without prior notice. International long distance is ONLY available with the 68 Minutes Plan.
Yes, Assurance does offer an international calling plan. Of course, rates vary depending on the country you’re calling. Here’s what their Terms and Conditions say:
Domestic & international rates are subject to change. Standard message rates are charged when a message is sent or received, whether read or unread, viewed or unviewed, solicited or unsolicited. International: International calls are charged at the per-minute rate for the country being called plus your standard airtime rate. International long distance rates vary & are subject to change without notice (visit assurancewireless.com for current rate information).
California Rates (only available to California FREEdom® Plan customers)
Unlimited Plan: Free Unlimited voice minutes and free Unlimited text messages. International text, picture messaging and voicemail messages are not included in the monthly allocation of messages.
Unfortunately, Budget does not offer international service, but they have proven to be one of the most responsive Lifeline Assistance companies. They answer email inquiries quickly and with smiles on their faces. Here’s how Ace, our Budget rep, wrote when we emailed to ask about international service:
No, we don’t actually offer international service as of the moment.
If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks for choosing Budget have a great one!
It took Access a few days to respond to our inquiry, but we’ll give them credit for getting back to us at all (because a few of the leading free government cell phone companies didn’t respond). Here’s what they said:
“Thank you for your email. We do offer international calling but not as part of the free program you have to put money on your account and the minutes used for international calling will be deducted from that. ThanK you for your business.”
In other words, no, international calling is not part of the Access Wireless Lifeline Assistance plan.
Does Life Wireless allow international calling? Well, as far as we can tell from the company’s Terms of Service, the best answer is probably “Maybe”.
… We may block access to certain categories of numbers (e.g. 976, 900 and international destinations) in our sole discretion. Your plan may include the ability to make and/or receive calls while roaming internationally. Certain eligibility restrictions apply which may be based on factors such as service tenure and/or payment history and LIFE WIRELESS, in its sole discretion, may block your ability to use your phone while roaming internationally until eligibility criteria is met. International roaming rates, which vary by country, will apply for all calls placed or received while outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and USVI. Compatible international-capable device required. If you want to block the ability to make and/or receive calls or use data functions while roaming internationally dial 611. When outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and USVI, you will be charged normal international roaming airtime when incoming calls are routed to voicemail, even if no message is left. Many devices transmit and receive data messages without user intervention and can generate unexpected charges when powered “on” outside the United States, Puerto Rico and USVI.
Translation: Maybe. If you’ve been a customer long enough and if they like you and if they got up on the right side of the bed on the day you ask.
Unfortunately, True Wireless does not offer an international calling plan. However, the company’s customer service department responded to our inquiry with this cheerful response:
“It will be a pleasure to help you but we do not offer international calls on our services, if you have any other question please feel free to contact us through this way or at 877-412-1919 Thank you for contacting True Wireless chat support and have a Great day!!”
If you really need a robust international calling plan, it looks like Tag Mobile offers a good one. We (and our readers) appreciate companies that spell out all the details on their websites.
TAG Mobile will now offer eligible Lifeline customers in 18 states robust wireless service plans to keep them connected. Our baseline Lifeline plan provides:
- 500 Minutes Domestic Talk;
- International calling minutes (total minutes vary based on country rates)
- Unlimited Global Messaging (including Mexico)
International Long Distance – Calls to over 75 countries. Each month, you’ll receive a credit of $1.50 toward international calls to over 75 countries. Click Here for destinations and rates per minute.
For example, calls to Mexico cost from $0.01 to $0.035 per minute depending on the region you are calling.
Terracom does NOT allow international calling. In fact, it’s official policy, as detailed on its website appears to be remarkably harsh.
No. International calling is not allowed on any TerraCom Wireless plan available. International dialing is blocked, but, there are no guarantees that all international calling can be blocked if a subscriber attempts an international call. If a subscriber completes an international call your account will be blocked from making any additional calls for the remainder of the billing cycle except for emergency calls where available. Subscribers may buy additional airtime during this period while their account has been suspended for placing international calls. TerraCom Wireless strictly prohibits international calling.
If you need a Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone plan that allows international calls, look elsewhere. International calling is strictly prohibited on all Assist plans.
INTERNATIONAL DIALING: International calling is not allowed on any Assist Wireless plan available. International dialing will be blocked during account setup. However, there are no guarantees that all international calling can be blocked from your handset. If you attempt an international call and are successful your account may be blocked from making any additional calls for the remainder of the billing cycle except for emergency calls where available. Subscribers may buy additional airtime during this period while their account has been suspended for placing international calls.
As of March 3, 2016 StandUp does not offer outbound international calling, but they do offer a plan that allows inbound international calls and they may launch an outbound calling plan in the near future. Here’s an exchange of emails we had with StandUp’s Vice President of Marketing:
Us: Hi, can you tell me if StandUp’s Lifeline plan offers international calling? Is there somewhere on the website that gives the details?
StandUp: Hello! We are preparing to launch an inbound International Calling Plan that will allow customers to receive unlimited calls from friends and family outside of the US for $10/month. We hope to have this product available within the next 30 days.
Us: I assume that means outbound calls will not be permitted. Correct?
StandUp: Not at this time, however we are testing a new platform that will allow for international dialing.
Good news. EnTouch does permit international calling. It appears that the international calls are routed through a third party provider. Here’s how the policy is described on EnTouch’s websiteCan I Make An International Call On This Phone?
Yes. International Long Distance Available through BOSS ILD. Call enTouch Customer Support for more information at 1.866.488.8719.
Sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but US Connect is not a viable free government cell phone choice if you require an international calling plan. Here’s how the company’s website spells it out:
What if I need to access additional services like roaming or international calling?
International calling is not provided by US Connect. Each minute of roaming will be charged against your remaining minutes at a rate of ten minutes per minute.
Amerimex (Lifeline program DBA SafetyNet Wireless)
There’s no way to misinterpret what one of SafetyNet’s customer service agents said when we asked about this subject:
“No, you cannot make international calls with a Lifeline Assistance account.”
We suspected as much when we found this comment buried deep within SafetyNet’s Terms and Conditions:
“SafetyNet Wireless does not allow international text messages. Attempting to send international messages could result in service deactivation and de-enrollment from the SafetyNet Wireless Program.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If they don’t allow international texts, there was probably no reason to assume that they would allow international calls.
Unfortunately, Cintex does not offer an international calling plan. We found the following information buried in the company’s Terms & Conditions:
Pursuant to the Cintex Wireless Lifeline service, each month you will receive 250 free minutes on the first day of the month. Unused minutes may not be be used in subsequent months. There is no additional charge for long distance calls placed within the United States. Thus, the 250 free minutes can be used to place local or long distance calls. You cannot make international calls with your Cintex phone. One text message consumers one minute.
Wireless for Hope (DBA Easy Wireless)
The short answer is no, Easy Wireless does not currently offer international calling. However, Wirelsss for Hope gives us hope for the future because they used the word “currently”. We’re optimists and choose to interpret that word as meaning “might someday”.
Interestingly, although Easy Wireless says it does not offer international calling, the company’s Terms & Conditions spells out what happens if you should somehow complete an international call. We’re not sure how that would come about since the company says it does not offer international calling, but we suppose there’s are some very bright technical people out there who will be able to figure out a way around the system.)
Currently, the International call feature is blocked by Easy Wireless and their underlying carrier. In the event you successfully access an International Long Distance number, additional charges will incur at the following rates:
Guam, Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands – $0.10
Canada – $0.10
Mexico – $1.45
All other countries (except Guam, Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands) – $1.28
Any charges you incur as a result of attempts to access this feature from an Easy Wireless handset is non-refundable. Airtime deductions for international calls begin the moment the International Long Distance (“ILD”) access number is dialed and may apply to dropped calls, misdialed numbers and busy destination numbers. When making international calls, you may experience connection failures more frequently than calls made within the United States. Easy Wireless will not credit airtime minutes deducted for unsuccessful calls. You will not be able to make or receive calls on your Easy Wireless handset when you are located outside of the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Yes, TruConnect offers international calling via a program called Mega Minutos. They touted the service in a late 2015 press release:
TruConnect launches Mega Minutos international calling in partnership with Lunex Telecom. Call Mexico, El Salvador, or anywhere in the world with no PIN associated … Mega Minutos uses a direct international dial system, in which consumers can place an international call without using a long associated pin number. Customers can assign a direct U.S. phone number for family and friends overseas, making dialing as easy as calling within the U.S.
So there you have it
So there you have it — a complete breakdown of international calling services offered (or not offered) by all the top free government cell phone companies.
Here’s a convenient summary that should help when you’re shopping for a company that offers a plan that’s right for you:
Offers international calling: Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, Budget Wireless, Access Wireless, Tag Mobile, EnTouch Wireless
Does NOT offer international calling: Life Wireless, True Wireless, Terracom Wireless, Assist Wireless, US Connect Wireless, Cintex Wireless, Wireless for Hope (Easy Wireless), SafetyNet Wireless
May offer international calling: StandUp Wireless
One final thing to keep in mind: Be an informed consumer. Use this article as a guide, not as a final authority. Make certain you ask for the details of any company’s international calling plan and make just as certain that you understand those details.
Otherwise, your free government cell phone could turn out to be a very expensive lesson.