How To Get a Free Cell Phone When Switching Service Providers

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Picking the right cell phone service for your family can be a real headache, but getting a free cell phone in the process can be a nice benefit.

Free cell phones are a moving target. We have lots of good information below, but it’s always best to check with carriers for their latest offers.

This article was updated in September 2023 and I review it every two months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.

Best Free Cell Phone Deals From the ‘Big 3’ Providers

If you’re in the market for a cell phone, you’re likely keenly aware of the presence of the industry’s “Big 3”: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile own a major portion of the market share in this space.

That includes an infrastructure of cell phone towers throughout the United States, but it also means these companies have a good deal of influence on the pricing for some of the most popular phones available.

These companies run promotional deals frequently, which makes it both easy to find a deal that seems appealing and confusing to determine which deal is best. Let’s sort through some of the offerings from each provider. These offers are active as of September 2023.

AT&T

AT&T Prepaid Cov

If you’re hoping to grab one of the latest devices for free, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are going to be your best bets for finding a deal. 

For example, AT&T is currently offering four phones for free after 36 months’ worth of billing credit: the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5, the Apple iPhone 14 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S23 and the Google Pixel 7

Each of these devices requires an eligible unlimited plan and trade-in. 

Here’s what you’ll have to do to get a free phone from AT&T:

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  • Purchase an eligible smartphone on a 36-month installment agreement including taxes on full retail price up front and a $35 activation/upgrade fee
  • Activate or keep your eligible unlimited plan (min. $75/mo. for new unlimited customers before discounts)
  • Trade in an eligible smartphone in good working condition within 30 days of activation

To get the iPhone 14 Pro for free, the eligible device you trade in has to be worth at least $240 to qualify for the full discount. Other deals require a device worth at least $35. For the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5, a trade-in of a Samsung Galaxy S, Note, or Z series smartphone from any year will be accepted in any condition.

You can learn which smartphones are eligible to be traded in for these offers by clicking “Available offers” and then “See offer details” on the device you’re interested in purchasing.

According to AT&T’s website, credits will start within three bills after completing the trade-in. Credits will be applied in equal amounts over the term of the installment agreement. From there, you may need to click “Additional Details” and “Eligible Devices.”

You can check out all of AT&T’s cell phone deals on the company’s website.

Verizon Wireless

Things to Know Before You Sign Up for Verizon

Verizon Wireless is currently offering a selection of over 30 free smartphones with the activation of a new line on one of Verizon’s select 5G Unlimited plans.

According to the deal details, the Unlimited Plus or Unlimited Ultimate plan is required. These plans cost $80 and $90 respectively with an autopay and paperless billing discount. Once you activate a new line on an eligible plan, you’ll get credit on each bill for 36 months to cover the cost of your new device.

As of September 2023, Verizon offered 84 different smartphones, and many of them are eligible for discounts. However, these deals also require a 36-month commitment to an unlimited plan on a new phone line. You can check out the full details of any of these offers by visiting Verizon’s website and clicking on the phone you’re interested in.

Here are the phones currently available for free at Verizon Wireless:

  • Apple iPhone 14 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 14
  • Apple iPhone 13
  • Apple iPhone 13 mini
  • Apple iPhone 12
  • Apple iPhone SE (3rd Gen)
  • Samsung Galaxy S23
  • Samsung Galaxy S22
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A03s
  • Samsung Galaxy A23 5G UW
  • Google Pixel 7
  • Motorola edge+ 5G UW
  • Motorola edge 5G UW
  • Motorola one 5G UW ace
  • Kyocera DuraForce Ultra 5G UW

There are a few other free phones available that are certified pre-owned:

  • Apple iPhone XR
  • Apple iPhone XS Max
  • Apple iPhone XS 
  • Apple iPhone 13 mini
  • Apple iPhone 13
  • Apple iPhone Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone 12
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro
  • Apple iPhone 11
  • Apple iPhone SE (3rd GEn)
  • Apple iPhone SE 2020
  • Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW

The fine print explains how this works, though. You’re actually paying for a phone and then getting credit back on your bill each month: “Purchase on device payment or at retail price required. New line required. Promo credit applied to account over 36 mos; promo credit ends if eligibility requirements are no longer met; 0% APR. Unlimited plan required. Taxes & fees may apply.”

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You can check out the full details of each Verizon Wireless deal here. Simply select the phone you’re interested in and click on “See Details” under “Ways to Save.”

T-Mobile

T-Mobile unlimited plan deal

If a 36-month commitment is too long, T-Mobile offers free phones with a 24-month agreement. To get these deals, you’ll either have to activate a new line and/or trade in an eligible device (and stay on an eligible plan). If you have T-Mobile’s new Go5G Plus plan, you may also be eligible for these deals.

Get up to $830 off:

  • Apple iPhone: 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, 13 Pro, 13 Pro Max, 14 Pro, 14 Pro Max
  • Samsung Galaxy: S21+, S21 Ultra, S22+, GS22 Ultra, S23+, S23 Ultra, Z Fold3, ZFold4, Z Flip3, Z Flip4

Get up to $800 off:

  • Apple iPhone: XR, XS, XS Max, 11, 12, 12 Mini, 13, 13 mini, 14, 14 Plus, SE (3rd gen)
  • Samsung Galaxy: S20, S20+, S20 Ultra, S20 FE, S21,S21 FE, S22, S23, Note10, Note10+, Note10 Lite, Note20, Note20 Ultra, Z Fold2
  • OnePlus: 10 Pro, 9 Pro 5G
  • Google Pixel: 7, 7 Pro

Get up to $400 off:

  • Apple iPhone: 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, SE (2nd Gen), X
  • Samsung Galaxy: S8, S8+, S8 active, S9, S9+, S10, S10e, S10+, S10 5G, Note8, Note9, Z Fold, Z Flip, A51, A51 5G, A52, A52 5G, A53 5G, A54 5G, A70, A71, A71 5G
  • OnePlus: 7T Pro, 7T Pro McLaren, 7T, 8T+ 5G, 8T, 8 Pro 5G, 8 5G, 9 5G, 10T 5G
  • Google Pixel: 4, 4 XL, 4a, 4a 5G, 5a, 5, 6, 6 Pro, 6a
  • LG: Wing, Velvet, V50 ThinQ, V60 ThinQ
  • Moto: razr 4G, razr 5G, Moto Edge, Edge 20 Lite, Edge 20 Fusion, Edge 2021, Edge 2022

    T-Mobile also offers up to $300 in credit (applied over 24 months) on select devices when you activate a new line with a 24-month commitment on a qualifying plan even without a trade-in. Here are the devices available for free without a trade-in:

    • T-Mobile Revvl 6x Pro 5G 
    • T-Mobile Revvl 6x 5G
    • T-Mobile Revvl 6 Pro 5G
    • Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
    • OnePlus Nord N30 5G
    • OnePlus Nord N300 5G
    • Motorola moto g stylus 5G (2022)
    • TCL Stylus 5G
    • TCL 30 XE 5G
    • Nokia G310 5G

    The cost of these phones is offset by a credit on your monthly bill for 24 months. If you don’t keep your service for the full two years, T-Mobile will bill you for the remaining balance on the phone. So it’s actually free only if you stay with T-Mobile for the duration of the deal.

    You can see all of T-Mobile’s free phone offers online or check out all of T-Mobile’s smartphones and click on the device you’re interested in to see the details of available deals.

    Best Free Cell Phone Deals From Select MVNOs

    “MVNO” stands for mobile virtual network operator.

    These cell phone service providers don’t actually own their own cell towers. Instead, they rely on partnerships with the Big 3 providers (Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile) to provide a cell signal to customers. Other small cell phone service providers are owned by one of the Big 3. While these service providers work similarly to MVNOs, they’re technically resellers. Examples include Visible (owned by Verizon Wireless) and Metro by T-Mobile.

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    Using either type of these lower-cost cell phone service providers can be an opportunity to get a good deal without sacrificing reliability. These providers are also a good place to start if you’re looking for an affordable cell phone plan for two lines. Check the coverage maps for your area closely to ensure the MVNO or reseller you are considering will provide adequate connectivity.

    Metro by T-Mobile

    If you’re looking for a free cell phone without a 24-month commitment, Metro by T-Mobile (Team Clark’s Review) is one of your best bets right now.

    Metro by T-Mobile is offering your choice of one of 21 free 5G phones right now when you switch. The current selection of free devices includes: 

    • Hot Pepper Tabasco
    • TCL ION X
    • Wiko Voix
    • OnePlus Nord N200 5G
    • OnePlus Nord N300 5G
    • OnePlus Nord N30 5G
    • Motorola moto g play (2023)
    • Motorola moto g 5G (2023)
    • Motorola moto g stylus 5G (2023)
    • T-Mobile Revvl 6 5G
    • T-Mobile Revvl 6x 5G
    • T-Mobile Revvl 5 Pro 5G
    • Samsung Galaxy A03s
    • Samsung Galaxy A13
    • Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
    • Samsung Galaxy A23 5G
    • Nokia G310 5G
    • TCL 30 XE 5G
    • TCL Stylus 5G
    • Google Pixel 6a
    • Apple iPhone 11

    To get this deal, you’ll have to purchase the phone and activate it on an eligible Metro by T-Mobile monthly plan. You’ll also have to port your old number from your current carrier. Some of these offers are available online only while others are in-store only and some can be purchased either way. Selection and availability vary by location, and a $20 per line activation fee may apply in store.

    You can check out the full details here.

    Cricket Wireless

    Cricket Wireless (Team Clark’s Review) is also currently offering a free phone when you switch to the service bring your own phone number.

    Right now, if you sign up for a plan that costs at least $40 per month, you can get a free TCL 30 Z or Cricket Ovation 2. If you sign up for a plan that costs at least $55 per month, you can get a free TCL ION Z, Cricket Vision Plus, Cricket Ovation 3, Cricket Debut Smart, Cricket Innovate E 5G or Motorola moto g play (2023). If you choose a plan that costs at least $60 per month, you can also choose between the Motorola moto g pure, Samsung Galaxy A03s, Motorola moto g stylus (2023), Cricket Icon 4, Motorola moto g 5G (2023) or Samsung Galaxy A14 5G.

    With most of these deals, you’ll pay for the first month of service at the point of sale plus the device taxes.

    Visible

    Visible (Team Clark’s Review), owned by Verizon, offers unlimited wireless plans for as low as $30 per month per line. When you switch to Visible Wireless, you can get a new phone for free by trading in your old device

    Right now, Visible offers the Orbic Joy and the TCL 30 LE devices that you can swap to for free.

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    To get either of these phones for free, create a Visible account and transfer your number to start the process. Choose the Orbic Joy device or the TCL 30 LE to swap to, and Visible will mail it to you along with your SIM card and a pre-paid return label. You can then use the label to send in your old device.

    Deals on Phones That Don’t Require Carrier Commitment

    You may not like the idea of being committed to one carrier for any length of time. After all, freedom of choice without repercussion is a powerful negotiating leverage. The free cell phone game understandably is not for everyone.

    For those who want to avoid cell phone commitments, you’re more likely to find a cheap phone deal rather than a free phone.

    If you’re willing to invest in a phone that is not the latest model, there are deals to be had. Much like car dealers looking to clear the way for next year’s models, cell phone carriers and manufacturers have to clear inventory on phones that are to be replaced by the annual upgrades.

    An important tip for shopping for a phone independent of a carrier: Make sure that you’re buying an unlocked phone.

    If you buy an unlocked phone, you should be able to take it with you from carrier to carrier with only the need for a new SIM card (check on this before purchasing). At this point, you’ll truly be free to shop for the best monthly plan knowing your phone is already paid off.

    Be sure to check online retailers like Amazon for deals on unlocked phones. For more tips on how to get a better deal, check out our article on the best places to buy an unlocked phone.

    Is Taking the Free Cell Phone Worth It? 

    The answer to this question is maybe. It really depends on your personal situation.

    If you need the latest technology but don’t have the cash to pay for the phone upfront, committing to one of these cell phone carriers in exchange for the phone is a viable option.

    But keep in mind that the latest and greatest models are not necessarily going to be free even if you sign up for a commitment that earns a bill credit. If you’re not careful, you may end up making a sacrifice on both the quality of the phone and the freedom of choice in your service provider.

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    If you’re happy using a phone that’s a few generations older, you should be able to find a phone at such a low cost that you probably won’t see the need to commit to a particular service provider.

    Article Updates
    • September 8, 2023: Updated free phone selection and requirements from all carriers
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