August 26, 2016

Guide to Activating or Switching to a Smartphone with Tracfone

Tips and Advice for Activating or Switching to a Tracfone Smartphone

We get a lot of questions from our readers here at TracfoneReviewer about switching to Tracfone smartphones, and as more and more people make that transition, we wanted to share the best advice and tips we've gathered from our experiences, and those of our readers.

tracfone smartphone activation
How to Activate a Tracfone Smartphone
If you're in one of the following situations, this how-to will be especially helpful for you:
-Switching from a Non-Smartphone to a Smartphone
-Switching from one Smartphone to Another
-Activating a New Smartphone
-Switching to a Tracfone BYOP device.

What we want to share is some information on how to start the transfer or activation process, and our best advice on making the transition as smooth as possible. A number of longtime Tracfone users are making the switch to Smartphones (partially because of the closing of 2G networks) and it can be very challenging and frustrating to try and figure out how to do it.

Let's start with the activation process.

Basic Process for Activating a Smartphone

Here are the basic steps we would recommend for activating a smartphone with Tracfone. Before we start, keep in mind these points about smartphones:

Remember that...
  • You cannon switch from a smartphone back to a regular phone
  • Airtime on smartphones is split into three pools - Talk/Text/Data
  • Smartphones come with Triple Minutes for Life, but won't accept promo codes
  • Smartphone-only airtime cards do not triple.
OK, now let's start the process.

Step 1 - Verify what coverage works best in your area

Verify and purchase a phone that will be compatible with your geographical area. Tracfone offers both GSM and CDMA coverage, but some areas only have one or the other. For their GSM coverage, they use AT&T cell towers and for their CDMA coverage they use Verizon towers. If you've already got a phone from Tracfone, check what comes at the end of the name. a 'G' at the end means GSM, a 'C' means CDMA (for example, the LG 306G uses GSM).

how to activate tracfone smartphone
Tracfone Activation Steps
For those planning to bring their own device, check that the phone you are purchasing is unlocked, and compatible with the network you plan to use. Some smartphones can actually be used with either network, like the new Moto G 4th Gen.

If you're shopping for phones, visit our Cell Phone Reviews page or our Tracfone BYOP page.

Step 2 - Gather Necessary Items

To activate a new Tracfone smartphone, you simply need the phone you wish to activate, and the red activation card which includes the serial number.

To activate a phone on Tracfone BYOP, you will need a Tracfone SIM card kit, the phone you wish to activate, and an airtime card (or credit card to buy airtime).

You can get the BYOP SIM card kit from Tracfone, or get it from Amazon or BestBuy for $1. Also available from other sources.

If you're transferring service, you should also have your old phone with you.

Step 3 - Start the Activation Process

You can either call Tracfone or use their website to start the activation process, but we recommend using the website.

Go to Tracfone.com and look for the orange button towards the top right of the screen that says "activate/reactivate/transfer" and choose this option.

Follow the prompts, choosing whether you are using a Tracfone Smartphone, or a BYOP device. Then continue to enter the information as prompted.

We've heard from many readers who have been able to activate their device in a matter of minutes. But things don't always go so smoothly, so continue on to the next step.

Step 4 - Check that Everything Works

Once you complete the activation process (which usually takes less than an hour, but may take up to 2 days), make your test calls, test texts, and check that your data works.

If something is not working, start by turning your device off and back on (for most devices this means hold the power button for several seconds until it powers down or asks if you want to turn it off), and then wait at least 48 hours after activating to see if it will start working.

If you still don't have an active device, it is time to contact Tracfone.

There are (at least) 6 Ways to Contact Tracfone:

  • Call Tracfone - 1 (800) 867-7183 (this is their customer service number, available 8AM-11:45PM EST 7 days a week)
  • Text Tracfone - Text 'HELP' to 611611 (we've never actually tried this, so don't know how well it will work)
  • Email Tracfone - This doesn't seem to be available at the moment
  • Use the Tracfone Forum
  • Use the Tracfone Facebook page
  • You can also chat via Facebook
Here is the contact page on the Tracfone website

For most, calling is the best way to get help, although other methods might work better for you depending on your situation. Be prepared to be patient and clearly explain your problem. Tracfone customer service is not the best, but I've always had my problems fixed eventually.

The majority of people have no issues and smoothly activate their new phone or transfer their number and minutes. But a small percent seem to run into issues, anything from Tracfone sending the wrong SIM, to ill-informed customer service. Based on years of comments and reports from our readers, these issues just sometimes happen, and you will need some patience and determination to work through it.

Leave a comment with your preferred method of communication, and any other feedback on contacting Tracfone in the comments below!

Additional Tips and Advice for Actuating a Tracfone Smartphone

Here are some extra tips and helpful information we hope will make for an easier activation process and answer some of your questions.
  • Double check your coverage area. One way to check what service you have in your area is to enter your zipcode on the Tracfone website when shopping for a phone. If only CDMA devices show up, you live in an area best suited to CDMA. But, that doesn't mean GSM won't work in that area. We've heard from several readers who reported using a different zipcode to activate their phone and the device still works in their home area.
  • Buying Tracfone smartphones from other retailers like Amazon, eBay, HSN, QVC and retail stores, can often be much cheaper than buying directly from the Tracfone website.
  • Most unlocked smartphones will work with Tracfone BYOP. Occasionally they don't, but with enough persistence they might. 
  • You can check your device's IMEI or ESN number on the Tracfone website to see if it is compatible, although they are occasionally wrong.
  • Get a BYOP SIM card kit from Amazon or BestBuy for $1. This includes all the SIM cards you will need (Nano, Micro and Regular) and a network activation code.
  • If you're having trouble with getting help from customer service, try escalating to Tracfone's Florida help center number: 1-800-876-5753. But if the lines are busy, you'll be directed back to regular customer service. 
  • Try to be clear and patient with customer service. They are not the easiest to understand, nor are they always correct, but they do try to sort things out. If you're not making progress, ask for a supervisor or hang up and call again.
  • Turning your smartphone off and back on will often solve problems. Doing a full reset may also solve issues if you can't find a different solution.
  • If you are transferring from one smartphone to another, you should be able to log into your Google account on the new phone and automatically load your apps, contacts, and other information.
  • If your Data or MMS is not working, you can try updating your settings here.
Over the last several years Tracfone has become much better at activating smartphones and BYOP devices. Those that tried activating smartphones when they were first released probably remember all the issues. But many problems have been fixed, the BYOP program has been expanded to almost any smartphone, and the activation process is generally fast and easy.

We hope these tips will help make your activation process easier, or give you the confidence to give it a try. Leave a comment with further questions, or any tips we missed! (FYI - comments are posted after they are moderated, as we get a lot of spam)

Join our Facebook page where you can post questions, and see the latest news and information about Tracfone.

If you're looking for a new phone, see some great Deals and Discounts we recently posted!

Also, take a look at our update to 4 Ways to Check your Airtime with Tracfone if you like to keep track of your minutes balance.

Thanks for visiting!

27 comments :

Dory said...

One of your best articles ever, thanks!

John Hufnagel said...

Great info Peter. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You mention that smartphones come with triple minutes for life. This would only be for Tracfone-branded smartphones and not for the BYOP program, correct? So if I bring my own unlocked phone to Tracfone, I must use smartphone-only airtime cards which do not triple. Am I understanding this correctly? Thank you!

William McInnes said...

One problem I have, I just transferred from a TracFone LG Power to a byop Nexus 5X, and it was successful, but voicemail does not work. Any quick fixes for this? TracFone's website wouldn't give me any info. When I call voicemail it hangs up.

Disgruntled College Grad said...

What about the phones that LTE? I've seen them with different letter designations VL and AL

Disgruntled College Grad said...

I bought the ZTE Maven and moved my service just by putting in my SIM from my old Tracfone LG15. No activation or anything else; but ATT wouldn't unlock it and Tracfone of course said it was unsupported, but I haven't had any issues

Peter Vanosdall said...

Both smartphones and phones on the BYOP program get triple minutes, but only on regular airtime cards. The smartphone only cards do not triple. You can use either smartphone only cards or regular airtime cards with your smartphone, but the smartphone only cards are generally a better value.

Peter Vanosdall said...

Yes, VL means Verizon LTE, and AL is ATT LTE.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying that!

Anonymous said...

If I'm transferring from a non smartphone to a android smartphone will my contacts, photos, etc. transfer automatically or is it a manual processes that I will have to perform. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I'm considering playing Tracfone musical chairs and having trouble understanding how to pull it off.
Here's the setup:
- My wife and I both have Tracfones
- Mine phone has a ton of minutes, but little service time left. (not really relevant, just fyi)
- Hers has a ton of service time left, but few minutes.
- We would like to give her phone and account (service time) to our son as an emergency phone, but with a new number
- She wants to transfer her number to a brand new account
Is it doable?

LINDA OZAG...Photography said...

Please explain how to buy triple minutes. I get triple minutes for life with the smartphone offer I bought. I don't understand which offer to use.

Anonymous said...

No. You manually do it.

Sonje said...

My iPhone resident voicemail used to work but due to a system upgrade does not. Cust Svc had me down load YouMail and that voicemail app has worked. And, actually, it is much better than the original one.

Anonymous said...

You should be able to do this. The first step is to have the new phone active and all the phones linked to the same "My Account" on tracfone.com

You might need to call Tracfone to get the old number transferred to the new phone ... but sometimes you can do this yourself online.

For the phone with lots of minutes and little service left, buy 1000 texts for $5 and when checking out you'll be offered a year of service without minutes for $50

Anonymous said...

Good News! The LG Premier is available at QVC as of last night.

Disgruntled College Grad said...

There is no "buying triple minutes". All of the service cards that say 60/90/120/200 minutes will triple on the smartphones. All of the smartphone only cards do not triple.

willow said...

I live in a rural area where the only available mobile coverage is Verizon. I purchased a Tracfone ZTE Valet a year ago precisely because Virgin Mobile (Sprint/CDMA) was unusable there.

Now my Valet is acting up frequently and contemplating replacing it.

Now all the Tracfone devices have suffixes L or G. I know G is GSM (T-Mobile) and L also seems to be T-Mobile GSM network. I cannot find new devices with letter C at the end.

Is Tracfone phasing out CDMA/Verizon? Or is there a way to tell if there are LTE devices that connects via Verizon and not T-Mobile? I am confused.

Peter Vanosdall said...

Tracfone changed their designation of CDMA phones to 'VL' (Verizon LTE) so look for phones with that in their name, like the LG Premier (L62 VL).

willow said...

"One way to check what service you have in your area is to enter your zipcode on the Tracfone website when shopping for a phone. If only CDMA devices show up, you live in an area best suited to CDMA."

This is not always reliable, unfortunately.

For example, try ZIP Code 97051. This ZIP Code covers a wide area including major highway, urban area, as well as a wide swath of mountainous rural area. Tracfone.com leads me to buy GSM models that only work in the city and along the highway. According to a cell tower search website there is only one tower in this ZIP Code for most carriers, alongside the highway. Verizon Wireless only has additional towers up in the mountain area.

Because of the terrains, there are areas in 97051 that are outside the reach of all carriers except Verizon.

So I suggest, if you are in rural or remote areas, also checking the coverage maps of respective carriers (Verizon for CDMA, AT&T and T-Mobile for GSM) with the exact address (Tracfone does not have search feature by exact address).

willow said...

Does this mean regular Tracfone cards are no longer valid on newer smartphones? I hate some of the prepaid carriers beginning to offer many specialized prepaid cards with different validities, as most retailers wouldn't carry all of them.

willow said...

I noticed Tracfone.com now also sells BL. What's B?

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
Studied your posts prior to switching from a dumb AT&T GoPhone to a smart Tracfone. You need to update things: BYOP activations do not come with Triple minutes for life. When I went to add regular Airtime, that did not triple minutes either, so I wound up selecting a 1 year smartphone card with only 400 minutes for $125. If they were still giving 1 year of service time for $50, I could have done better with regular air-time card, but now that product has doubled to $100. Wound up costing quite a bit more, for less, than your blog led me to expect. But still lots of helpful info, so thank you.

Disgruntled College Grad said...

As long as the phones have bluetooth it shouldn't be a problem

Disgruntled College Grad said...

The smartphone only cards do not triple, the regular airtime cards (60/90/120/200/400) still triple.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I've used Tracfone for about 8 years & had 7 different phones. I just bought 2 Galaxy Grand Primes (for me & my wife) from HSN with 1 yr. service & 1350 min. Wanted to transfer my old phone number, minutes & 6 mo. of service remaining and add promo year & minutes, as have done in the past. I Never had a problem on all prior phones, activated & transferred old # & minutes, then added new service & minutes - minimal time to complete. Had a horrible time doing that on both new phones this time! Spent about total of 3 hrs. on phone with Tracfone to get both phones completed properly. First phone I did online - old number & minutes transferred fine and new year of service added fine - BUT did Not get my 1350 new HSN Promo minutes! 2 hrs. to clear that up. 2nd phone I first called & activated with new number - easy & quick - got new # & promo year of svc & 1350 min. very fast. Then I called to transfer old # & minutes, which was not a problem in the past. This time old #, remaining service & minutes transferred But I Lost the new promo year of svc & 1350 minutes!!! And that was done via talking to a Tracfone rep. That took almost and hour to get cleared up! You used to activate new then Add promo svc & minutes. Now promo & minutes are tied to new phone serial #, so supposed to simplify activation I guess. Obviously that does Not work too well, at least for me, if you want to activate, transfer old and add new promo & svc. I strongly suggest anyone trying to do the above get a printout of your old service end date and remaining minutes, text & data off the website Before you try to activate new phone to have proof of your old phone remaining service & minutes. Tracfone could NOT even verify on their records my old phone balance minutes & service end date - They have no way to find that on their computers, per what they told me. On my first new phone they told me the computer showed my 1350 minutes was added But if was Not - I'm glad I had my account printout to give them the exact totals!

Dan said...

For what its worth, here's a pleasant tracfone experience:
I had a 3G LG Power tracfone with lots of minutes, data, and service time. I saw a LG Stylo 2 steaight talk phone at walmart. I bought it expecting to have to sacrifice my balance and switch to straighttalk. But teacfone let me activate it as a byop and keep my balance! I'm delighted with the phone so far, and didn't have to get it through hsc!