“Can I use my current phone with my free government cell phone service?” is the one of the most frequently asked question we get here at FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net. And no wonder: Millions of Americans have spent hundreds of dollars to purchase their own cell phones and really want to hear that they are compatible with the free government cell phone program.
With that in mind, we put our team of ace research assistants to work gathering the official policies from each and every company that participates in the Lifeline Assistance cell phone program.
There are five major companies whose business is nearly national in scope, plus another dozen or so smaller, regional companies that are substantial enough to include in this compendium. Let’s start with the national companies:
Safelink Wireless – Safelink, the oldest and best known of the companies that offer Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones, has millions of customers in 39 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico.
The Safelink website has a handy video tutorial that gives you step-by-step instructions on how to Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP). It’s headlined:
“Use your own Phone, get Bonus Free Service”
That’s about as simple as can be. Under the website’s Terms & Conditions (clicking will download a PDF), it says:
Upon enrollment in the SafeLink Wireless Program, you have the option of using your own phone (Bring Your Own Phone or BYOP) subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the following paragraph or receiving a SafeLink Wireless phone delivered to your home address noted in the application…
You may be able to activate the Service on a compatible, unlocked handset You provide Yourself (BYOP). Some SafeLink features are available only on SafeLink handsets and will not be available with BYOP. If you are activating your Service with BYOP, you must use a compatible phone that does not interfere with our Service and complies with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Devices capable only of using data are strictly prohibited and Your use of any such device is grounds for immediate termination of Service without a refund. You are responsible for ensuring that your BYOP wireless phone is compatible with the Service and meets all Federal laws and standards. You are further responsible for the purchase and maintenance of any additional hardware, software and/or internet access required in order to use the Service. SafeLink Service will only work with wireless devices that are compatible with our network. Not all services are available with all wireless devices or on all networks. We may remotely change your wireless phone’s software, applications or programming without notice. This could a ect (sic) your stored data, your phone’s programming and how you are able to use your wireless phone.
Assurance Wireless – Assurance Wireless is a division of global giant Virgin Mobile. It’s a major competitor that serves 40 states and the District of Columbia. Its policy regarding using your own cell phone is complex, but clearly presented:
Can I use a Virgin Mobile PayLo phone with an Assurance Wireless account?
Selected Virgin Mobile phones other than the primary handset, the Assurance Wireless Jax by Kyocera, may be used with an Assurance Wireless account. However, for the best customer experience, we encourage you to use the handset sent to you by Assurance Wireless. From time to time, a different model phone may be provided to new Assurance Wireless customers due to availability.
Can I use any Virgin Mobile phone with my Assurance Wireless account?
Selected Virgin Mobile phones may be used with an Assurance Wireless account excluding the Party Animal, Super Model, Blackberry® and Android™ models. However, for the best customer experience we encourage you to use the handset sent to you by Assurance Wireless.
Can I use a Blackberry with an Assurance Wireless account?
No, the Blackberry data platform cannot be used with an Assurance Wireless account.
Can I use an Android™ phone with an Assurance Wireless account?
No, an Android™-powered phone cannot be used with an Assurance Wireless account
Can I use an iPhone® with an Assurance Wireless account?
No, the iPhone® data platform cannot be used with Assurance Wireless account.
ReachOut Wireless – ReachOut now offers free government cell phone service in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Here’s the text of the company’s policy on using your own cell phone:
You are also able to use a different phone model with Reachout Wireless™ service. There are restrictions on the type of phone you can use. Phones must be a CDMA type phones. These phones are very common and inexpensive. They are available at almost all retail wireless locations in your area. Inform the retailer that you would like to purchase a CDMA phone and that you DO NOT want it activated. Inform the retailer that you have active service, and would like to purchase just the phone equipment. You may contact us online or over the phone prior to purchase to verify if the phone equipment is compatible. You may also choose to purchase a compatible phone from us. ReachOut Wireless™ provides phones starting from as low as $15 up to $189, depending on the make and model you desire (including shipping).
Budget Mobile – Budget currently offers free government cell phone plans in 30 states and have already announced expansion plans into 17 more states and Puerto Rico. Here is the company’s bring-your-own-phone policy:
Unfortunately, we are unable to transfer your mobile number to another phone you already have.
Life Wireless – Life Wireless does business in 25 states plus Puerto Rico. Its bring-your-own-phone policy says:
Customers may also use their existing unlocked GSM phone by ordering a Life Wireless SIM card. This free SIM card can be inserted into the customer’s handset and activated for immediate use.
The Big Five may have the bulk of the nation’s free government cell phone customers, but scores of small, regional companies give them plenty of stiff competition. Let’s take a look at the policies some of the larger ones have instituted:
Assist Wireless – Assist Wireless already competes for your Lifeline Assistance business in three states (Arkansas, Maryland and Oklahoma) and expects to soon expand into ten additional states (California, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas). Unfortunately, they do not allow you to use your own phone.
Cintex Wireless – This smaller free government cell phone company offers Lifeline Assistance plans in Arkansas, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The company’s website suggests that for all their Lifeline and paid plans, they don’t send you a phone, but instead send you a SIM card that will work in any GSM phone that you have. If you already have a SIM card in your phone, you can activate it on their website.
StandUp Wireless – StandUp Wireless is a Lifeline Assistance vendor in eleven states (Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin). They do not allow you to bring your own phone, and must use the one they give you.
Can I use my own phone with StandUP Wireless?
No. You can only use your StandUP Wireless provided phone with our service
Wireless for Hope – Wireless operates in just two states — Arkansas and Louisiana — and also does business under the Easy Wireless name. The company’s bring-your-own-phone is spelled out on the Easy website:
Easy Wireless is diligently working on a “Bring Your Own Device” option for our customers. At this time, any phone programmed on the Easy Wireless service is limited to phones from the company only. Phones have to be researched to make sure they are CDMA ready and PLBL approved. This process can take a few days to confirm. For the convenience of the customer, Easy is not yet offering the Bring Your Own Device option. However, once this process is allowed, there is still a limit to the type of phone that can be programmed for Easy Wireless service. For instance, some Blackberry®, Android™ -powered phones, and i-Phone™ models cannot be used on Easy Wireless’ platform. For the best customer experience we encourage you to use the handset sent to you by Easy Wireless.
Tag Mobile – Tag Mobile serves up free Lifeline cell phones in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. There’s nothing on their website that addresses the issue, but we called their customer service department and were told that you must use the phone they provide.
Care Wireless – Care concentrates its business in Illinois. Despite that limited service area, the company’s website answers the “Can I use my own cell phone?” question very clearly:
I have an old cell phone, can I use that instead of the one I get for free?
No. Care Wireless provides you with a free cell phone. Our service only works on phones that have been set up to work on the Lifeline service.
Alaska Wireless – Alaska Wireless, as you might guess, offers Lifeline service in Alaska. Their website does not say their policy, but customer service wrote us the following:
You may switch your services to Lifeline as long as the phone you use is a basic device and not a smart phone.
FreedomPop – FreedomPop is not an official Lifeline phone provider, but we include it on FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net because they offer a terrific deal that provides free service on a high-end phone. But they’ve recently added a “Bring Your Own Phone” program and, just as it sounds, you can bring your own phone. There may be some restrictions on which types of phones.
And the others – In addition, a handful of the smaller, regional free government cell phone companies also neglect to include their bring-your-own-phone policies on their websites and have not responded to our requests for information. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to determine the policies of True Wireless (Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Texas), Yourtel Wireless (Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Maine, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington, Rhode Island and Washington), Terracom Wireless (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia or Wisconsin), and i-Wireless (Ohio and Kentucky).
Our advice? If you already have a cell phone and want to find out if you can use it as your free government cell phone, here’s what you should do:
Visit our States page and note which companies compete in your state. Then come back to this page and note which ones will allow you to bring your own phone.
That could tip the balance and help you decide to which free government cell phone company is right for you.