Searching for a GPS tracker without a SIM card – for tracking your dog or cat? When it comes to keeping your pets safe, it can get confusing with all the GPS tracker options out there.

For example:

You probably have tons of questions. Luckily, we have tons of answers. So let’s dive right into these, one by one – so you can make the best choice for you and your furry friends.

Quick summary: Is there a GPS tracker without a SIM card? 

Yes, GPS trackers without SIM cards do exist. Also known as GPS loggers, they typically only record GPS data. You can later download and view the GPS data by connecting the logger to your computer.

Importantly, GPS loggers don’t actively track your dog or cat in real-time. They only passively record the information and coordinates based on where your pet might’ve wandered. GPS loggers are generally simpler, less technically advanced devices. They only record your pet’s movements – you’ll have to painstakingly go through the data yourself to locate your dog or cat.

This is why GPS loggers are best recommended for objects like cars. Not living, moving animals. While they’re a cost-effective solution, it’s generally not advisable using a GPS logger to track your pets.

Why do GPS trackers need a SIM card?

Many wonder why GPS trackers generally seem to require a SIM card. After all, there are SIM-less GPS trackers out there. Now since your phone GPS can technically work without one – why do so many GPS trackers require SIM cards?

Here’s the short answer. If you want to send GPS location from one device to another (from your GPS tracker to your phone, for example), you’ll need a SIM card so that the two can “communicate”. The data gets sent by SMS from your tracker to your phone, all thanks to its SIM card.

GPS trackers with SIM cards also help you take a more active role in finding your missing dog or cat.

  • Most GPS trackers need to send location data to another device, for example, so you can view the coordinates on your phone or computer in real time.
  • The most common way of transmitting this information is via the cellular network using a SIM card.
dog GPS tracker and sim card

For this reason, most GPS trackers require a SIM card and a monthly service fee to be paid. The benefit? SIM cards generally make it possible to track something in real-time, over any distance. Which, in a world where dognapping is on the rise, can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring your pet’s safety.

Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive

“Your Tractive device’s GPS module receives signals from several GPS satellites. This helps it better and more accurately calculate your pet’s position. These satellites then forward their location to the Tractive servers with the help of the network module. (Which also includes a SIM card.)

Once the Tractive servers receive this information, you can quickly and easily check your pet’s location when you open the Tractive app.

– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016

Now with all this said, what’s GPS tracking all about anyway?

What is a GPS tracker?

A GPS tracking device (or GPS tracker) is a device that uses GPS and other technologies to pinpoint location. Often used by companies to track vehicles and cargo – and let you see where your delivery is – it’s also loved by outdoorsy athletes and farmers who want to keep an eye on their animals.

Oh, and of course, pet parents! With all the reasons why dogs run away and why cats run away, Tractive pet parents around the world are using our life-saving technology to stay on top of their pet’s safety.

Two dogs wearing Tractive GPS trackers sitting outdoors

A GPS tracker is a device that tracks and records the movements of something or someone, using the Global Positioning System (GPS). Your Tractive device picks up on these GPS signals via its connection to local mobile networks.

So how does a SIM card play a role here? Well, in most cases, location data from the GPS tracker goes to an internet-connected device via cellular network (GSM/LTE), radio, or satellite modem. If a GPS tracker is sending location data over a cellular network, it will need (naturally) cell service and a SIM card. (Basically, a bit like a smartphone.)

Most GPS tracking devices out there use mobile networks and SIM cards. And in the case of your Tractive device, it’s how you can track your pet’s location in real-time.

What are the different types of GPS trackers?

There are many different kinds of GPS trackers. For example, small, wearable GPS trackers. These include trackers for pets, hikers or hunters that prevent them (or their furry friends) from getting lost, as well as devices which can share live location in case of emergency.

Larger GPS trackers – like a car navigation system – often have a screen, and can help with finding directions. Asset trackers, on the other hand, mean business, and help companies follow trucks, boats, containers and more.

⚠️ Beware of “fake” GPS trackers – a.k.a. Bluetooth tracking devices – that are sold as GPS units even though they don’t have GPS technology. Many item-finding Bluetooth devices like Tile or the Apple AirTag weren’t built with pets in mind and may even create health hazards for your pet.

GPS Tracker Comparison

To help you get your head around the different types of GPS tracking devices out there, we’ll be comparing four categories. GPS trackers and satellites or iridium trackers which contain a SIM card, and GPS loggers and navigation systems which do not require a SIM card.

Tractive GPS tracker for dogs

GPS Tracker

– Small, personal GPS tracker, used to track pets, vehicles and people
– Able to track pet’s health and wellness indicators through activity & sleep tracking
– Real-time, live tracking
– Virtual geofencing options, with “safe zones” and “no go zones”
SIM card required, connects to best network available
– Unlimited range, worldwide coverage
– Low cost ($50) and a small monthly subscription fee
– Popular brand: Tractive

Built for pets? Yes.

Tractive GPS tracker for dogs

Satellite or Iridium Tracker

– Adventure and rescue tracker: best for extremely remote areas, as it can provide potentially life-saving communication where there’s no cell service
– Uses satellite communication systems (such as Globestar)
SIM card might be required, depending on the tracker
– Unlimited range, worldwide coverage & real-time tracking
– High cost of $100 to $600 and a monthly subscription fee of about $15
– Popular brand: Spot

Built for pets? Not 100%.

Tractive GPS tracker for dogs

GPS Logger

– Only records route, which can be viewed on your computer after a hike or walk is over. Used by bikers, hikers and skiers.
– No active tracking, only passive. No protection against theft.
No SIM card required. The route is not sent to a phone.
– Exact positioning, worldwide coverage
– Costs around $50 – $150
– Popular brand: Renkforce

Built for pets? No.

Tractive GPS tracker for dogs

GPS Navigation System

– Used in cars and vehicles for navigation purposes.
– Built-in monitor or screen which displays location
No SIM card required, route is not sent to a separate device
– Costs between $100 – $350
– Popular brand: Garmin

Built for pets? Not 100%.

Are there GPS trackers without SIM cards?

So, like in the examples above, SIM-less GPS trackers do exist. These trackers, however, are mainly used when real-time tracking between devices is not necessary. For example, GPS loggers record route data, which can then be uploaded and viewed on a computer at a later point in time2. As the name suggests, GPS loggers are great for logging GPS data, but not providing a real-time tracking service.

Satellite trackers such as Spot use GPS to determine location, but then send that data over the Globalstar satellite network rather than cellular networks. For this reason, they do not require a SIM card, but still require a high monthly service fee and initial investment. Satellite trackers are most helpful in remote areas with no cell coverage. For example, when you’re climbing mountains in the Alps and want to let your family know you’re OK.

With GPS navigation systems, GPS location info is displayed on the same device on it was recorded. In other words, no need for a SIM card.

What about Bluetooth trackers? Most Bluetooth trackers do not use GPS technology, so their range is very limited. However, some combination GPS and Bluetooth trackers do exist, like Tractive. See our GPS vs Bluetooth tracker comparison for more information.

Do all GPS trackers need a SIM card?

So do all GPS trackers need a SIM card to work? Technically, no. As mentioned above, there are some types of GPS tracker that contain SIM cards, as well as SIM-less GPS trackers. For example, the navigation system in your car is one type of GPS tracker that does not require a SIM card.

On the other hand, the average dog or cat GPS tracker contains a SIM card in order to make real-time tracking possible. Among GPS trackers with a SIM card, some are exchangeable and some are non-exchangeable. But in general, we’d always recommend you choose a GPS tracker that lets you track your dog or cat in real-time. Or notifies you immediately if they’ve snuck past a “safe zone” – so you can better keep them safe.

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How do I choose the right GPS tracker for me?

When it comes to getting a GPS tracker, the first thing to do is think about what you need it for. A GPS tracker for a puppy will have totally different requirements than a GPS tracker used to track a company truck.

After that, you can look into the factors below.

Battery Life

How long should the battery last on one charge? 24 hours? 7 days? Or one year? Don’t forget, longer battery life often comes with the trade-off of less features, or higher prices. Tractive’s DOG XL Adventure Edition comes equipped with a 30-day battery life.

Tractive DOG XL Adventure Edition

Always know where your dog is

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your dog too.

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Battery Type

Should the battery be replaceable, non-exchangeable, or rechargable? For example, someone spending a lot of time outdoors – and isn’t sure when they can next recharge – might prefer being able to swap batteries and go on.


What kind of charging mechanism should the tracker have? Do you want to be able to charge it like your phone, or keep it plugged into your car at all times?

Range & Coverage

Over which distance should the tracker work? Is unlimited range important, or is it enough that it works in your backyard? Will you be using it in the city, or in the countryside?

Tractive’s GPS range is unlimited – so you can track your dog or cat no matter how far they’ve wandered off to. Besides, it connects with mobile networks across 175 countries, so you can stay on top of your pet’s location, even while you’re on vacation.


Should the device be waterproof? Shock-proof? Chew-resistant? Tractive’s DOG XL Adventure Edition comes with extra-tough, fiberglass-reinforced casing. So your dog can happily (and safely) chew on it with zero damage to their teeth or your device. Making your outdoor adventures that much more fun.

Size & Weight

How big should the tracker be? Does it need to be small and lightweight? For pet parents with smaller dogs or cats, this might be an important question. For example, Tractive’s CAT Mini comes with a weight-adjustable collar to fit cats of all breeds and sizes.

A cat wearing a Tractive GPS tracker


What extras would you like your from your GPS tracker? With Tractive GPS & Health Trackers, for example, you can get alerts if your cat or dog leaves a safe space, see location history and let family, friends or pet-sitters track with you. That, plus keep your buddy fit and in shape with built-in activity monitoring.

Here’s one of the key features you can use if your pet likes to sneak out of your house – a Virtual Fence.

Tractive Virtual Fence setup infographic

Many people looking to buy a GPS tracker might be turned off by the subscription fee that often comes with the price tag. So they look for a GPS tracker without a SIM card or subscription plan.

But by doing so, you’re going to miss out on the benefits that come with a GPS tracking service. For example, staying on top of where your dog or cat is – every 2-3 seconds. Or being able to track them in real-time.

And in the long run, all these benefits can make all the difference between a pet who’s safe and sound at home – or out missing instead.

Tractive pet monitoring

Always know where your pets are

Follow every step in real-time with unlimited range. Get alerts if they wander too far. Keep them happy & healthy with Wellness Monitoring. And let others – like walkers or sitters – keep an eye on your pet too.

Shop GPS Trackers

What’s the benefit of having a GPS tracker with a SIM card?

Wireless communication between devices

The advantage of a built-in SIM card in your tracker is that it’s connected to the local mobile network. That means it can communicate with other devices. Say you put a GPS tracker on your outdoor cat’s collar, to help track their backyard adventures and ensure they don’t wander off. The tracker’s SIM card lets it forward location data to your phone.

So with a SIM card in your GPS tracker, you can track your dog or cat with just a glance at your phone. (Because of the connection between your pet’s tracker and your device.)

Real-time tracking

A SIM card also lets you track every moment. For example, Tractive GPS lets you go into LIVE Mode so you can get location updates every 2-3 seconds, and know your cat or dog is safe and sound. All that is made possible by the tracker’s integrated SIM card.

white dog carrying stick in mouth running through a lake outside,  wearing a dog tracker on the collar. Tractive GPS app screenshot example in foreground

Without a SIM card in the GPS tracker, these benefits would normally not be possible. Which, when you’re tracking your dog or cat, can endanger their safety. Because if your pet has wandered somewhere dangerous outdoors and you only get a notification later on, it might be too late for you to intervene. (As compared to if you’re tracking them live.)

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How does the Tractive GPS tracker work with a SIM card?

Here’s what’s going on inside a Tractive GPS tracker with a SIM card. Your Tractive device contains:

  • a GPS and network module
  • a SIM card
  • a WIFI module
  • a Bluetooth module
  • a speaker
  • an LED
  • an accelerometer

Tractive uses multiple local satellites to calculate your dog or cat’s GPS positions. It then gathers this information and forwards it to the GSM module.

The GSM module then connects to the mobile network – and you (usually via a smartphone, tablet, or computer).

Now with your Tractive GPS app, you can quickly and easily read your pet’s GPS live location data by visualizing it on a map – like this:

Tractive GPS app feature screenshot LIVE Tracking

Can I use a GPS tracker without cell service?

Yes, in the case of your Tractive GPS, you can still track and find your pet even without cell service. Your dog or cat will still need to have shifted back into GPS range for it to update on your app. But features like Location History can store your pet’s positions even without coverage.

Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive

“If you want to pinpoint your pet’s location or store their Location History, you don’t actually need a cellular connection. So once you’ve equipped your Tractive GPS, there’s no need to worry if your device loses coverage for a little while. Your tracker stores your pet’s positions securely. So you’ll be able to see where they’ve been even if you’re offline.”

– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016

Most GPS trackers are capable of recording GPS data without cell service – that’s the essential function of a GPS receiver. The big question is, how would you like to view the location data?

  • A GPS logger can help you record GPS coordinates (without cell service) which you can look at later on a computer.
  • Similarly, a navigation system displays location on the tracking device itself, meaning it doesn’t need cell service.

For live, active tracking however, you will need cell service so the tracker can actively send location data to your phone (or tablet, or computer) in real-time. But even without cell service, you can still make use of Tractive’s other features – like Radar Mode, which can help you locate your pet via Bluetooth instead.

How Tractive helps save lives – even in areas with poor cell service

The Tractive GPS Heat Map feature which helped locate the kittens.

Tractive’s Location History actually helped an LA-based animal rescue track and find a family of sick kittens. Bringing together an entire community – and also helping them find a happy, healthy forever home.

Both cats and dogs tend to frequent familiar environments – so one of the features of the Tractive GPS is a Heat Map. Which shows you where your pet might end up wandering to most often. It’s a simple way to identify your dog or cat’s local haunts so you can pick them up quickly.

Tractive’s Location History helps you pick up what spots your pet might like to frequent. And in many cases, it’s even saved lives. Like Imogen, a high-energy Borzoi, who ran past her fence – and crashed through the ice into a nearby lake. Luckily, her mum was able to rescue her from freezing and drowning just in time, with a little help from Imogen’s Location History.

So if you’re a pet parent looking for complete peace of mind, invest in a Tractive GPS tracker.

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How about a GPS tracker without subscription?

You might be wondering if there is a GPS tracker without a subscription plan. Is it possible? Sure. Is it useful? Probably not.

After all, most people looking for a GPS tracker for personal use in 2023 would like to be able track from the comfort of their phone. And one of the best ways to make that happen is a SIM card and cell service. Plus, a subscription can come with a lot of peace of mind.

For example, the SIM cards used in Tractive GPS trackers work with as many as 175 local cell networks around the world. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing coverage because you’re tied to a single provider.

All of that, for what comes to the price of a coffee and a cookie a month. Not bad, right?

To find out more about features and services that come with a subscription and GPS tracker SIM card, check out our Tractive plans.

So…what’s the best GPS tracker for tracking pets?

To track your dog or cat in real-time (as you might often need to), we’d always recommend your very own Tractive GPS & Health Tracker. It comes with a built-in, non-exchangeable SIM card that automatically connects to the best network, so you can track your furry friend anywhere in the world. (Aka, no need to buy your own SIM card.)

Because when it comes to keeping your dog or cat safe, few experiences are as terrifying as finding them gone. It’s the story of Tractive pet parents around the world who’ve invested in their very own GPS trackers – SIM, subscription, and all.

Here’s one from Michel and Anja, who found their adventurous outdoor cat, Nala, missing one evening – but tracked her down soon after in an abandoned house:

A cat wearing a Tractive GPS tracker outdoors

“We went into LIVE Mode and…ran towards the location Tractive GPS had pinpointed. We came to an empty house that was still under construction.”

 At that point, we had already given up hope and thought that we were never going to be able to find her. So, out of desperation, I shouted out her name.

“And she responded! Nala started screaming as soon as she heard our voices...our little furball managed to pull it together and we finally took her home. After a little comfort food and some cuddling, her world had been restored to normal.

“We are both so very thankful that this day – after a few hiccups – had such a happy ending. The fact that Tractive GPS even worked inside that empty house completely saved us and really turned this thing around. I love Tractive for keeping our cats safe.

For max security, invest in a GPS tracker with a SIM card

The bottom line: with the help of a SIM card, GPS trackers let you track your dog or cat in real time. Without a SIM card, GPS trackers would most likely not be able to send GPS location data about your pet’s whereabouts to your phone. In other words, a SIM card can be a very valuable component of any GPS tracking device.

Cattery owner and trainer, Clair Chesterman

“Tractive is the #1 cat GPS tracker in the industry. And it’s the highest quality cat tracker you can find. I was able to set the safe zone as my house area and once my cat gets outside I get an alert right away.

In fact, it probably saved my cat’s life that time she chased a bird and got lost. She was scared and I was able to find her with the help of the GPS tracker. Tractive’s chip frequently calculates your cat’s location and is updated on the map every 2-3 seconds. Furthermore, the LED will help you guard your furry friend at night..”

– Clair Chesterman, Owner of CFA and CCA-registered cattery and fostering company, FluffyMeowPaws3

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Infographic: Summary GPS Trackers with/without simcard

Curious how the Tractive GPS works? Here’s everything you need to know – in just 2 minutes: