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Emergency Only Cell Phones

Updated on August 20, 2014

Do You Need a Cell Phone Just for Emergencies?

Cell phones are handy and portable, both attributes that make them perfect in emergency situations. Being able to call for assistance no matter where you are is important for everyone both young and old.

Expensive phones and extended and costly cell phone plans aren't necessary if your primary need is the ability to make emergency calls only. Learn about your options for emergency only cell phones here.

Emergency Cell Phones: The Options

There are a number of options available to those who want a cell phone for the primary purpose of being able to get assistance in emergencies.

Cell phones designed specifically for emergenciesThese emergency only cell phones are designed for ease of use and simplicity. Plans designed specifically for those who want only occasional use are available as well in some instances. Prepaid or Pay-As-You-Go OptionsThere are a number of Prepaid options that allow users to avoid long term commitments and monthly fees. However, the minutes purchased do expire over time and additional minutes must be bought. As with any limited use plan, per minute cost is high but such options still make sense based on the lower total cost. Prepaid phones can be used as emergency only cell phones or for more typical use. Some companies offer only prepaid options; you can learn more about them below. Traditional cellular providers like AT&T and T-Mobile also offer these phones; you can find some of the most affordable offers from them here or search their websites below.

Used or refurbished phones without a service planBuying a used or refurbished phone is fairly inexpensive. Or perhaps you've purchased a new one and have an old one and you aren't sure what to do with it. Either option will be less expensive than a new cell phone. Any cell phone should allow you to dial and contact 911; even if you have no service.

Free phones and service for those with financial need.Lifeline wireless providers exist which can provide free cell phones and service for those receiving financial aid from state or federal programs or who have a household income below the poverty level. SafeLink (800-378-1684) and Assurance (888-321-5880) are two of the options for those individuals to explore to see if they qualify.

Phones Designed for Emergency and Occasional Use

One option on the market is theJitterbug J. The phone itself is very simple to use making it a good emergency only cell phone. It offers

Live assistance/Operator:To contact an operator for assistance in placing calls 24/7. Direct Dial:To contact anyone that you program into the phone with a single push of a button. 911:This allows you to call 911 with one button dialing.The phone is hearing aid compatible, provides bright, enlarged text that is easy to read, and has the potential for voice activated dialing.The Jitterbug J is only $147 and plans require no contract commitment; The plans are as low as $14.99/month giving the user 50 minutes of calling.

There are of course other simple, affordable phones that are designed for easy access to emergency calling. Most of these are designed for seniors and include large buttons, adjustable volume, one button access to emergency numbers but few features. Other examples include the SnapFon ezOne and the Just5 phones.

Prepaid Phones

AT&T Go Phones

The AT&T Go Phone Prepaid Option allows you to purchase minutes prepaid and avoid the commitment and expense of a contract.

Users can purchase a refurbished phone for as little as $7 or $8 and then purchase minutes (typically in $100 increments). For those using their phone 5 minutes or less per day, the cost is only 25 cents per minute.

The minutes have a one year life, thus, regardless of your usage, you would need to purchase another $100 worth of minutes annually. Still pretty economical if you just need a phone for emergency/very occasional use.

T-Mobile To Go

T-Mobile's Prepaid Plans" allow users to purchase talk time in increments as small as 30 minutes for $10. The minutes expire after 90 days requiring the user to purchase additional minutes. They also offer pay-by-the-day options that provide calling for only $1.00 per day (access charge) and then an additional 10 cents for calls outside of the T-Mobile network.

Either option is a good one for those who won't be using much talk time or are looking for emergency only cell phones. There are a variety of phones offered; from $30 to around $100.

Verizon Wireless Prepaid

The Verizons prepaid option provides 3 levels of service. (Visit their page for details) The Core level of service has a 99 cent per day access charge on days in which the phone is used. Calls are 10 cents per minute.

The expiration time on minutes depends upon the refill amount; the more minutes purchased the longer their life. For instance, minutes from a refill of only $15 expire after 30 days, however, minutes from a refill of $100 expire after a year. Clearly, the last choice could result in greater savings for those using their cell phone for emergency purposes only.

Emergency Only Cell Phones When You Have No Service

All cell phones are capable of connecting you to 9-1-1 even if you have no service. Thus, for those who truly want emergency only access, no plan would be required to dial 911 and get a response. However, it is important to understand you will have to explain to the operator where you are, as their system will not be able to identify your location automatically.

This article at Trac gives the details and discusses programming the phone for credit card calls.

For those shopping for a used or refurbished phone without a plan, remember that cell phones now need to be able to operate off of a digital network as analog is phased out. Of course, emergency only cell phones are of no use if the battery is dead; therefore, the user would also need to be sure to have a charger in order to keep the phone powered up for potential use and/or to have an adapter to plug it in for use when needed.

See this FCC site for tips to follow when calling 911 from a cell phone.

Free Emergency Cell Phones for Those in Need

For those who qualify, there are organizations that provide free emergency only cell phones. One example is the SafeLink program which provides a free basic phone and 250 minutes of talk time per month for income eligible households. The free service is limited to one phone per household. A similar service is Assurance Wireless.

Many local organizations exist within communities that will also provide free cell phones to those in need. can assist consumers in finding local organizations to provide emergency cell phones.

Important Tips for Getting the Most from Your Emergency Cell Phone

There are a few things to remember regardless of which of the above options you choose for your emergency only cell phone.

Your emergency phone must be charged when you need it. Keeping a regular charging schedule can be important or you run the risk of being unable to get a signal during an emergency. The phone must be available. It is best if your emergency phone is on your person. Clips are a handy way of keeping one attached to a belt or waistband. When applicable, it is best to program your phone to allow one button dialing for emergency purposes. Do this as soon as you receive your phone. For those who don't typically use a cell phone, be sure you know how to operate it. How to turn it on, place and send a call etc. Again, learn this as soon as you receive your phone.

Photo Credits

Introduction: GMonster25.

Prepaid- AT&T: Kai Henry

Prepaid- T-Mobile: 22n.

Prepaid- Verizon Wireless: geee.darryl.

Emergency Only Cell Phones: Was this page helpful? Let us Know!

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    • budgetmobile profile image

      Budget Mobile 

      4 years ago from Bossier City, LA

      If you can't afford phone service, visit our website and find out if you're eligible for free cell phone service.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      There is too much confusion about cell phones these days. I just need a phone I can take when I go to the Dr an hour away in case of an emergency on the road. Great info and other options than I had considered or thought of. Thanks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice info. Also any phone will dial 911 as long as there is a charged battery in it. Federal law mandates every phone be 911 capeable.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      if I get one of those wristwatch cellphones on ebay and put in an old sim card, will I have a watch that should work for emergencies? Thanks~

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      @Herb Friedberg I suspect the best you will find in terms of a low monthly outlay is Tracfone.You can be connected for as little as $7/month, minutes and days of service carry over, so if you load more minutes, your service days also get carried over and vice versa. Two things though, it really is worth your while to either buy a phone with double minutes for life or a dmfl card-without this, the minutes are more costly. Secondly, I suggest this only if you don't call much and want to keep your monthly cost low. We actually got into the prepaid market with having a Tracfone just for emergencies and the no strings attached approach was so appealing, we now only use prepaid, though not TF as we make use of our phones extensively.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Information helpful, but am still interested in a plan where I can pay X amount of dollars up front and not lose any money within a certain amount of time if I don't consume my alloted time.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank you very much for doing this comparison of the wild west!

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 

      10 years ago

      Another great and informative lens

    • rebeccahiatt profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent information, cell phones are vital and should be affordable to all.


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