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Assurance Wireless has now been approved in California! The state of California has changed the procedure in its Lifeline Assistance Plan, and now free phones are available in California! To find out how to get yours, see our Assurance Wireless California page. There we have listed the entire procedure on how to get a free government cell phone in California and have posted the documents you need to get started.

This site gets many visitors of from the state of California who want to apply for a Lifeline phones but cannot download an application.  This is because California probably has the most unique Lifeline Plan in the country. This is probably no surprise from the state that gave us Arnold Schwarzenegger not as action hero, but as Governor. Doing things differently is just part of what makes the state special. Since the procedure for applying for a new phone is a bit different from other states, we’re going to give it some special attention.

There are currently 2 companies that are offering discounted phones in California, Reachout Wireless and Cricket Wireless, and there are others that have been approved but have not started to offer phones in the state yet. We will discuss them in greater detail below.

Difference #1: Service is subject to an activation fee

While some states allow you to receive a free cell phone and free service every month, residents of California usually have to pay an activation fee when receiving a Lifeline phone. Some of the approved carriers in California have large activation fees. While that is bad news, the silver lining is that the activation fee can usually be spread out over several months, so customers avoid a large upfront payment.

The Reachout Wireless activation fee is $42.00, but for this amount the customer does not have to pay any additional money for a phone. The Cricket fee is a bit more affordable at $7.50; however customers must either pay for a phone (or use a handset they already have). Cricket’s phone models start at $39.99.

Assurance Wireless, who has been approved to offer phones in California but have not begun their service in the state yet, will offer their service with no activation fee.

Difference #2: You can’t get free phone service in California, but you can get discounted service.

All of the plans for all of the carriers are subject to monthly fees.

Reachout Wireless Plans:

  • For $2.50 a month, customers get 250 minutes  per month
  • For $5.00 a month , customers get 500 minutes per month
  • For $20.00 a month, customers get 1,000 minutes per month

On all of the above plans, text messages are charged as one plan minute each. Caller ID, Call Waiting, Voicemail and Nationwide Long-Distance are included in each of these packages.

Cricket Wireless Plans

Cricket Wireless offers a $13.50 discount to all of their plans. Their cheapest plan starts at $21.50 (the cheapest plan does NOT include Call Waiting). Cricket Wireless offers unlimited texting as part of their plans. Becoming a customer of Cricket Wireless is a process that brings us to our next point.

Difference #3: The process for getting a phone in California may be a bit different.

Cricket Wireless is a full service provider that gives discounts to their Lifeline Customers.  However, you must first activate a regular account with Cricket before you apply for Lifeline benefits. When you have your new account, it becomes a two-step process. First, fill out a federal Cricket Lifeline request form linked here. About 3 weeks later, you’ll receive a Lifeline application form in the mail (it will arrive in a pink envelope). The application form must be completed, signed and returned by the due date in order to complete the second step.

While the application is pending you should continue to make all of your payments to Cricket Wireless at the regular amounts. When the application is fully approved, you will receive a discount dating back to the date the application was approved credited to your account.

For Reachout Wireless, applicant cannot apply by fax or mail. Anyone who wants to get a phone from Reachout Wireless in California must apply either online by visiting their website, or by calling them on 1-877-870-9444.

Difference #4 California has slightly different standards for eligibility.

This is a good-news/not-so-good-news bit of information. California’s plan has several government-programs whose recipients are accepted into the program, more than most states, which will make it easier for more people to get a Lifeline phone.  The bad news is that the income guidelines are the highest for any state in the country

Program-based eligibility

If you receive benefits from any of the following programs, it’s likely you are eligible for a discounted Lifeline phone:

  • Food Stamps
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Medicaid/ Medi-Cal
  • Healthy Families Category A
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • National School Lunch’s Free Lunch Program (NSL)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance or Section 8
  • Woman, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
  • Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Stanislaus County Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (StanWORKS)
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS)
  • Welfare to Work (WTW)
  • Tribal TANF
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Head Start Income Eligible (Tribal Only)

Income-based eligibility

You will be eligible for a Lifeline phone in California if your household income is below the following figures:

Household  Members

Household Income

1 or 2






5 and up

Add $5,800 for each member

Future Carriers

Other companies like Assurance Wireless and Telscape Wireless have been accepted as providers in California, but they have yet to launch their services. They have announced their plan packages, which are very similar to the ones that Reachout Wireless currently offers, so don’t expect increased competition to have an immediate impact when these companies start operating.

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