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Can you call 911 without cell service?

You're probably in luck, but there are limitations you need to be aware of.
By
December 4, 2023
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Green Calling On Phone
Harley Maranan / Android Authority

If you’re in North America, you know to call 911 during an emergency — but calling isn’t as simple as it was during the ’90s. Most people use cellphones now, which come with complications like SIM cards and radically different subscription plans. So then, can you reach 911 without cell service? Without a SIM card? What if you want to use your computer, a smart speaker, or smart display?

QUICK ANSWER

Yes, you can call 911 without a carrier plan or even a SIM card, although you'll still need to be within range of cellphone towers. You can't usually call 911 without a phone unless you're using a VoIP app that supports E911, or a cellular-equipped tablet or smartwatch.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

Can you call 911 without cell service?

apple iphone satellite connectivity 911
Apple

If you mean without a carrier plan, certainly. 911 is considered such an essential function that even if your plan lapses, or you never paid for one in the first place, you’ll still be able to reach out. This also applies regardless of which network your phone might be associated with — since most technical barriers have evaporated, your T-Mobile phone (for example) should work just fine in an area normally only covered by AT&T, as far emergency calls go.

There is a big catch though. If you get disconnected during a 911 call, you’ll have to call back yourself, since dispatchers won’t have a phone number you’re associated with. That may mean having to refresh them on who you are, and in extreme situations, it may be too dangerous to make that second call — the last thing you need is a beeping phone when there’s an intruder with a weapon.

You do need some sort of network to connect to, so if your phone is showing “no service,” you’re probably out of luck. The good news is that even when regular service drops off, there’s sometimes a transition zone flagged as “SOS only.” This supports emergency calls and texts, but nothing else. Some devices (such as the iPhone 15) go a step further, building in satellite communications so you can send out text alerts in some of the most remote places on Earth. Check to see if the country you’re in supports your phone’s satellite service, however.

Can you call 911 without a SIM card?

Sony Xperia 1 V SIM SD card tray
Harley Maranan / Android Authority

Yes, although you’re going to be subject to the same problems as calling without a carrier plan. Indeed a SIM (or eSIM) is what usually allows you to connect to a carrier’s network. Without one, you’ll only ever be able to make emergency calls.

Can you call 911 without a phone?

Amazon Echo Show 8 (3rd gen)
Amazon

Potentially. Some internet-connected devices with VoIP (voice-over-IP) apps may support E911 (Enhanced 911), letting you tie a physical address to your call. Normally, some sort of precise location info is required by 911 services, it’s just more difficult when you’re only calling through an IP address rather than a device connected to celltowers and/or GPS. E911 is actually vital to home security services like Arlo and Ring, since when you’re on a trip, you could potentially dial the wrong city’s dispatchers for trouble at home.

The most reliable way of calling 911 without a phone is probably Skype. You can dial emergency services if you’re using the Windows, Mac, or Linux version of the app, so long as you’re in Australia, Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, or the United States. Check Microsoft’s official support page for the latest details.

One notable gap is Zoom. The company does technically offering emergency calling, but only through Zoom Phone, a cloud-based VoIP system for businesses. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be in a situation where you have access to Zoom Phone but not your own cellphone.

Another major gap is smart speakers and displays. Neither Amazon Alexa nor Google Assistant can dial 911 unless you’re using them on a phone, and the same applies for Apple’s Siri — trying to place a 911 call on a HomePod will simply re-route it through your iPhone, which in this case is presumably absent. You can have Alexa speakers and displays dial personal contacts, or (if you’re paying for it) a manned hotline, but those people will have to contact 911 on your behalf.

If you’re willing to “cheat” a little, there are cellular-equipped tablets and smartwatches, such as some Samsung Galaxy Tabs and the Apple Watch Ultra 2. These should support calling 911 without a carrier plan, but devices like the Ultra 2 may require activation and/or configuration for cellular first, so you’ll probably want a compatible plan regardless.