Popularized in countless action movies of the 90s, you’d think they went extinct along with the idea of privacy but burner phones are still a thing.
We wrote this guide on burner phones back in 2021 but updated it this year with the best burner phone models and a few reasons why having a burner phone is a thing – a good thing.
What is a burner phone? As per the old-times definition, a burner phone is any cheap, disposable phone that you simply throw away when you don’t need it anymore.
Long thought to be the mark of a criminal trying to evade authorities, burner phones can also be the choice for people concerned with surveillance. In the name of privacy and to fight online tracking, a burner phone can be a very valuable tool.
If you have a job that requires you to be available at all times, burner phones are also a great way to separate your personal life from work contacts.
Plus, another reason to get a burner phone is for travel – not only you can more easily disconnect from social media and that stress, if you lose your phone it’s no biggie, you can just get another one.
Still, this is the big question most people have about burner phones.
Are burner phones illegal?
Fortunately, the answer is no. Anyone can have a burner phone and a burner SIM card.They have many uses, and not all of them are illegal like you see in the movies.
Burner phones can also act as a backup for emergencies – a dumb phone with a prepaid SIM you take with you on holidays, just to have a backup in case you lose your primary device.
They can also act as a phone with a SIM from another company with better coverage that you keep in the car to use when your main provider’s service is spotty. Since cheap burner phones are usually not smartphones and instead have very limited features, their battery life is incredible. If you rarely use them, they can go up to a month on a single charge, so they’re great to have on hand.
Of course, a true burner phone means that it’s completely disposable – it’s so cheap, you can buy it anywhere, and you can throw it away, along with the SIM card as well.
By far, our favorite use for a burner phone is as a way to avoid annoying marketing offers. Know all those services that text you incessantly, even after you opt out of marketing communications? Just use your burner phone with its burner SIM, and all those messages will go to a phone you rarely use. Just select all the messages once in a while and bulk delete them and you’re set to go – no more sales you just “can’t miss.”
Can burner phones be traced?
Still, a lot of people turn to burner phones as a way to protect their privacy. Even though they have “nothing to hide”, as the old saying goes, people still want to make calls, text and buy things without that information tied to their personal profile.
In countries where prepaid SIM cards are available without having to show ID, if you buy a SIM card and burner phone with cash, that purchase is anonymous and almost impossible to trace.
When it comes to actually tracing a phone, security experts are divided.
Some say that, with the proper steps taken, burner phones can’t be traced, and others say you should always assume that a sufficiently sophisticated tracker would find a way to keep up with you.
After reviewing countless guides, we think it’s best to err on the side of caution and say that yes, burner phones can be traced.
First of all, any phone operator has access to your call logs, text messages, data usage and location off the signal bounced off towers.
Using a burner phone bought anonymously and using a prepaid SIM card topped off using only cash is a way to add a layer of privacy over your activities but not an infallible one.
First of all, a burner phone and anonymity aren’t at all synonymous. If you use a burner phone to talk to friends you also contacted through your regular phone, it’s easy for that burner phone to be traced back to you.
Thanks to advances in voice recognition software, you making a call, even an encrypted one, could also be a dead giveaway to your identity.
In short, burner phones can be traced, so err to the side of caution if you want to use them for risky purposes.
If you want to use a burner phone as an emergency device, we compiled a list of affordable options with decent specs and battery life – see them below and what they cost.
If you’re thinking of a burner phone just to avoid cold callers and marketing followups, we also have some great choices of apps that can save you money and time.
How much is a burner phone?
We looked high and low and found that burner phones can start as low as $20 but you get the best deals at around $50. We narrowed down our list of the best burner phones at just 3 options – take a look at what they have to offer before you go shopping.
The smallest, cheapest burner phone
My personal favorite burner phone is this tiny phone that costs about $25 and does everything a phone should do – aka make calls.
Tiny phones were a trend that sadly didn’t catch on but I tell you, they’re an amazing choice for peace of mind, especially for women.
When traveling, a tiny phone can be slipped into your backpack or in a fashionable pouch on your belt without adding any weight. A burner phone like this can become invaluable if something happens to your main phone. Plus, if you lose it, it’s easy to replace as well. The only downside is that it’s still on 2G but we’ll explore other options below.
Check it out here.
CUBOT Pocket mini phone the size of a credit card
If you can’t go without smartphone features in your burner phone, the good news is that they do make tiny smartphones – about the size of a credit card.
The CUBOT Pocket 4.0 inch mini smartphone is just a bit larger than a credit card and weighs just 128 grams. Since it runs Android 11, any modern app can work on it, so it could work as a burner phone designed specifically to have as a travel backup.
Cat S22 flip phone as a water resistant burner phone
This Artfone 3G/2G device is a cheap burner phone with big buttons that’s perfect for elderly users – and it’s also a flip phone, so double points for nostalgia!
If you’re the type to go on an adventure where your electronics might get dunked in water, CAT makes a great burner phone that’s also a flip phone with most modern apps, from web browsers to social media and stuff, thanks to running Android.
For water sports or beach time, the CAT S22 flip phone is a fantastic burner phone that can become your primary phone as long as you’re out adventuring. It’s IP68 and MIL-STD-810H compliant, which means it can survive most any abuse you can think of – including getting dunked into bleach or dropped 10 times a day.
Personally, after dropping my phone in the garden one too many times and finding it in unspeakable shape thanks to wet dirt and slugs, I’m considering getting a burner phone just for those things alone. A rugged phone that’s a flip phone AND dirt cheap? How can any millennial resist it?
Walmart prepaid phones, Mint Mobile prepaid plans and other convenient burner phone plans
If you’re planning to buy a burner phone for any reason, we’d recommend you keep it cheap and go for a prepaid phone.
Since a burner phone isn’t something you use a lot, a prepaid phone is the best budget-friendly option.
Unlike the monthly plans offered by carriers where you pay at the end of the month based on what you used, prepaid phones have you buy upfront a certain amount of data and minutes to be used in the next 30 days.
While deals exist for monthly phone plans, for a burner phone a prepaid phone is the best option, since you can simply stop paying for it once you don’t use it anymore.
In the US, the most popular ones are Walmart prepaid phones, simply because they offer truly unlocked cell phones at reasonable prices. If privacy isn’t what you are looking for, at Walmart you can get a 6-inch display unlocked smartphone for about $80. Then, just get one of their many prepaid phone plans with unlimited talks and texts – they start at about $15 for a Tracfone prepaid plan.
You can also check out Mint Mobile’s prepaid plans – you know, that cheap phone company made famous by Ryan Reynolds from Deadpool.
The Best Burner Phone Apps
If you don’t want to go out of your way to buy a secondary phone and another SIM card, there’s always the option of burner phone apps.
Whether you’re looking for a burner phone app for Tinder or other subscription-based services, there are plenty of options.
Burner App – Free Trial and Paid Plans
Well, surprise surprise, the best burner phone number app is simply called “Burner”.
This is the most convenient app we tried so far in the US.
Instead of you having to buy a disposable burner SIM card, Burner gives you a disposable VOIP number – you can use it to receive spam from online shopping, for dating, for buying or selling things on Craigslist and so on.
All the texting and calling is done from the Burner app and you can create multiple phone numbers. Once you have no use for one, just ‘burn’ it and that’s it.
Still, keep in mind that privacy isn’t a main feature of this app.
“Calls made through Burner show up on your phone bill as calls between your Burner number and your personal number. The end numbers you are calling through Burner are not shown. Incoming calls show up as calls from your Burner number,” says the company.
The Burner app is free to download and has a trial period, then has a subscription starting at $4.99 per month.
Hushed: Paid Burner App with Pay-As-You Go Options
If Burner is US-only, another alternative is Hushed. It works just as well, with options like call forwarding and auto-replay, but gives you burner numbers for 40 countries, including Canada and the UK.
Starting at $1.99 per month and letting you access your Hushed phone number from anywhere in the world online, this is a great service if you travel a lot.
Here, the drawback is that Hushed phone numbers aren’t guaranteed to work with the 2FA required by most apps.
“Hushed phone numbers are NOT guaranteed to work with third-party verification due to blocks implemented by certain services, for example, Social Media, Banking, Email, Apps, etc.
We do not intentionally block anyone from receiving these codes, but it’s common that some services will prevent verification texts from being sent to certain phone numbers due to their own security policies,” says the company.
CoverMe: Paid Burner Phone App with Privacy-Oriented Features & Strong Encryption
For the privacy-oriented people who don’t want a burner phone call showing up in their call logs.
CoverMe Private Messenger gives you a US or Canada phone number, so you can use it to subscribe to apps or hide your main number from unwanted contacts. Using VOIP, it lets you make anonymous, encrypted phone calls in the US, Canada and China.
Everything on CoverMe is end-to-end encrypted and there’s even the option to set disappearing messages like on Signal or other secure chat apps.
For the extra careful, CoverMe lets you hide everything, from text messages, call logs and contacts with a simple shake – just shake your phone if you feel someone staring over your shoulders and everything will be locked away.
So, what would you choose? Do you need an actual burner phone or a burner app will do the trick? Tell us in the comments if you have a tip to add to this guide and we’ll update it accordingly.
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