A GPS pet tracker can be a lifesaver and helps you keep four-legged family members safe. So if you’ve decided on GPS tracking to follow your cat or dog’s every step, you’ve made a great choice. But once you’re browsing through a pricing page, you might wonder: why do popular GPS trackers for dogs and cats come with a paid subscription? And is there a reliable GPS tracker without subscription for cats and dogs out there?

(Hey, we’d want to save money too.)

To help you make the best choice, we’Il go into different kinds of no-subscription trackers for pets and look at their pros and cons. Plus, we’ll cover whether GPS trackers with no monthly fee are enough to keep pets safe – and why GPS trackers with a subscription plan are worth the cost.

Finally, we’ll introduce you to the GPS tracker that could save your dog or cat’s life.

Is there a GPS tracker without subscription?

Technically, yes. There are some GPS trackers without subscription plans available. However, if you want to be able to follow every step in real time, these tracking devices might disappoint you.

Firstly, not all trackers are built alike. There are:

  • Pet GPS trackers like Tractive which offer unlimited range, real-time tracking, and many more safety and health features.
  • Bluetooth trackers or item finders which are designed to help you find keys and other valuable but easy-to-lose stuff.
  • Adventure trackers that help hikers out in remote areas in case of emergency.
  • Vehicle trackers that help you track your motorcycle, bike, car or truck.
  • Family trackers to check on loved ones, like a grandparent or a child.

Price, range, features and tracker functions, as well as potential monthly fees, all depend on the type of tracker – and what it’s used for. Here are a couple of examples of trackers that don’t require a subscription.

green check markBluetooth trackers generally don’t require a subscription plan, since they don’t have a SIM card. They just send data when there’s a Bluetooth device (like your phone) nearby.

red xThis means that their range is limited to around 76 – 122 meters (250 – 400 ft). So they’re great for finding misplaced items around the house or garden. Bluetooth trackers like Tile or even the Apple AirTag also limit you to fellow Tile or Apple AirTag users. Which limits you to environments you’ll be more likely to run into people with smartphones.

green check markGPS loggers are a type of tracker that use GPS but don’t come with a subscription. They’re also a type of GPS tracker without a SIM card. GPS loggers record GPS coordinates, which you can check later. (Great for logging in your last hike in nature.)

red xGPS loggers can’t send location to another device – like your phone – in real time. Which might not be the best choice for a constantly-moving, high-energy pet. Because tracking your dog or cat in real-time can make all the difference between finding them safe and sound – or not.

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gps tracker app close up

Can I track my dog or cat in real time with a GPS tracker without subscription?

Unfortunately, most no-subscription GPS trackers don’t offer live location or unlimited range, two features that are crucial when you’re trying to find a pet that’s run off.

For example:

  • Some trackers offer a subscription-free version, but only work with WiFi.
  • Other no-subscription pet tracking systems – like those from Garmin or Marco Polo – have a limited range. Aka, they only work within a a few miles.
  • PETFON is the only GPS tracker without subscription that can track in real time. But even then you’re limited to a range of 3.5 miles (5.6 km) in an open field.1

As many pet parents know, our buddies can cover that distance in minutes. And being able to track them live – with position updates every few seconds – is essential to keeping them safe and sound.

That’s why experts say:

A cat wearing a Tractive GPS tracker

If you need real time information about your kids… and let’s face it, our pets are our children… it’s better to buy a real-time GPS tracking device with monthly service.

Live View GPS

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Pros & cons of a GPS tracker without subscription

Let’s dig into the pros and cons of these so-called no monthly fee GPS trackers. The most obvious advantage? Clearly, not having to pay for a subscription.

However, the price you pay for a GPS tracker reflects the quality of the device, the service and the features. So while skipping the subscription might seem smart, it likely means missing out on key peace-of-mind features, like live tracking. And from the stories of happy Tractive pet parents around the world, a subscription-based tracker could even save your pet’s life.

green check markPros

A GPS tracker without a subscription might sound really attractive. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able track for free?

No-monthly fee GPS trackers seem to promise:

  • Low cost
  • No contracts
  • No recurring payments
  • Global service (The G in GPS stands for “global”, so you’d think it works everywhere… right? 🤔)

If the idea of a subscription-free GPS tracker is starting to sound too good to be true – that’s because it probably is.

Once you start thinking about how a tracker without a subscription fee can provide real-time, unlimited tracking… you’ll realize they most likely can’t help you locate your dog or cat in real-time.

The disadvantages of a tracking device without a service fee might not be clear at first glance, so let’s take a closer look.

red xCons

No-subscription GPS trackers lure in users looking to pay 0$ a month. But the cost-saving nature of these trackers can mean that their function and features are limited. Sometimes, they’re not actually GPS trackers at all, but Bluetooth trackers which can only find items within close range.

Common disadvantages of no monthly fee trackers include:

  • No real-time tracking
  • Poor location accuracy
  • Not built keeping pets in mind
  • Fewer pet-friendly features overall
  • Limited range
  • Don’t work with networks in the area
  • May rely on Bluetooth (or a network of devices) rather than GPS
  • Fewer hardware and software updates
  • Higher purchase price

No-subscription GPS firstly trackers have limited range. Like with a Bluetooth tracker, if your pet roams too far, your tracking device will be useless.

For example, item finders like Tile or Apple AirTag don’t require a subscription plan, but they can’t track your pet with the accuracy of a GPS tracker. They also rely on other Tile or Apple devices nearby to locate your pet.

Plus, the purchase price of a tracking device without subscription plan may be significantly higher than that of trackers with a low monthly fee. So you’ll have both higher upfront costs – and a lesser likelihood of keeping your pet safe.

Tractive pet monitoring GPS tracker

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.

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Types of GPS trackers without a subscription plan

So, what are these no-subscription GPS trackers all about? Here’s a short overview of the different kinds of tracking devices you may see advertised as a GPS tracker without subscription.

Bluetooth trackers

Bluetooth trackers are also known as item finders, because they help you locate missing items, like your keys behind the couch. They do this by communicating with your phone using Bluetooth technology, within a limited range, and without too many other features.

generic black item finders gps trackers for keychain

Popular Bluetooth tracker brands include:

The benefits of Bluetooth trackers include their small size and no subscription fee. They also often come with a long-lasting, replaceable battery.

But since they usually don’t contain GPS or a SIM card, these trackers have three big downsides:

  1. Limited range
  2. No real-time tracking
  3. Limited to a network of devices

That means that if your pet leaves Bluetooth range – give or take 100 meters or 328 ft – the tracker will stop working, right when you need it most. Also, you might only get a notification on your phone if, for example, your cat’s Apple AirTag enters within range of another Apple users. Which makes these trackers a poor choice if your dog or cat runs away while you’re out hiking or in nature.

bluetooth vs gps tracker comparison infographic limited range
Follow your dog’s every step with the unlimited range of Tractive GPS
pink triangle graphic with exclamation

Buyer beware: Some companies selling “Bluetooth GPS pet trackers” on Amazon do not contain any GPS technology, and are therefore not true GPS trackers.

For this reason, Bluetooth trackers are best for non-living beings that can’t get too far away – it’s very unlikely that your backpack, wallet, or laptop will jump the fence. So a limited-range Bluetooth item finder should work just fine for locating those items.

With Bluetooth trackers, you’re also missing out on a lot of features that help you know what your furry friend is up to. Like virtual fences, activity tracking, and location history.

In fact, Tractive’s Location History has even saved the lives of dogs like Imogen, who bolted from her yard and crashed through the ice of a frozen lake nearby. Or this family of sick kittens in Los Angeles.

two dogs outside, one wearing a gps dog tracker, one wearing a radio frequency pet tracker

The bottom line: Bluetooth trackers won’t help you find your lost dog or cat in real-time, and only work within a limited radius of your phone. So unless your dog or cat doesn’t tend to stray further beyond a neighborhood block, you’re better off with a dedicated pet GPS tracker instead.

💡Besides real-time GPS tracking, Tractive also helps you track via Bluetooth. So you can get the best of both worlds – all in one device. Here’s how you can use Tractive’s innovative Radar Mode to locate your dog or cat indoors.

Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive

“Much like the AirTag, your Tractive GPS tracker can use a short range radio to help determine your pet’s location. But unlike the AirTag, Tractive also uses mobile connectivity and GPS. So even if your tracker is nowhere near another mobile device, it’ll still be able to send data to the Tractive servers. So you can quickly and easily see your pet’s location in the app.”

– Ivelin Nenkov, Embedded Systems Engineer at Tractive since 2016

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Radio frequency trackers

Radio frequency trackers are another type of tracker commonly considered by pet parents. So do they work better than Bluetooth trackers when it comes to tracking dogs and cats? Here’s a breakdown.

green check markPros

A radio GPS tracker consists of a receiver and transmitter, which communicate using radio frequencies. Radio trackers are considered safe for pets.

Similarly, like Bluetooth trackers, these devices attract users with their small size and long battery. They are also usually subscription-free.

red xCons

Unfortunately, many radio GPS trackers with no monthly fee also have a limited range (130 meters or 426 ft). Additionally, natural or human-made obstacles (like trees or buildings) can reduce that range.

So again, if your pet wanders too far away, you’ll be out of luck with a radio tracker. And probably wishing you had went for a real-time, unlimited range GPS tracker with an affordable plan.

dog GPS tracker and sim card

GPS trackers without a SIM card

Another option is a GPS tracker without a SIM card, like a GPS logger. While they don’t come with a connected subscription plan, you can purchase your own SIM card for the tracker and choose which plan & network you want to go with. This gives you control over costs.

The downside is, your tracker will only work with a single provider. So you may lose coverage in certain areas. For example, if you go on vacation somewhere that doesn’t support your network.

Additionally, many SIM-less GPS trackers are sold by not-so-great manufacturers on Amazon – so quality and customer support could become an issue. Considering you’re relying on this device to keep your cat or dog safe… doesn’t seem ideal.

💡Tractive connects to mobile networks across 175 countries. So you can stay on top of your pet’s location – even while on vacation.

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How much does a GPS tracker for pets cost?

Considering the shortcomings of the trackers mentioned above, it’s wise to consider investing in a GPS tracker with a subscription plan for your furry friend.

And it’s actually more affordable than you might think. You can get a Tractive GPS Tracker for $49.99, and enjoy tracking with unlimited range for only $7 a month*. That’s like a coffee and a cookie a month. (Or less than your monthly Netflix subscription.)

Not convinced yet? Let’s take a look at what else you get when you go with the world’s most-trusted GPS pet tracker.

A dog running through a lake with a branch in their mouth, Tractive LIVE tracking app in the foreground

*Prices based on the US at time of publication. For current prices in your region, check our plans.

What is the best cat or dog GPS tracker?

Around a million pet parents trust Tractive to:

That’s why we’ve been working for over a decade on purrfecting (couldn’t resist!) what we offer dog and cat parents. We promise to keep the cost of the GPS tracker affordable, so that as many pet parents as possible can make use of this life-saving technology.

But don’t take it from us. Read what real Tractive users have to say themselves.

Here’s some features that Tractive pet parents love:

  • LIVE Mode: Find your furry pal in no time with position updates every 2-3 seconds.
  • Virtual Fence: Set up a safe zone (like your yard) or a no-go zone (like the neighbor’s yard!) and get alerts if your escape artist wanders too far.
  • Location History: See where your dog or cat has been in the last 365 days (on a Premium subscription) and discover their favorite spots.
  • Activity Tracking: Set goals and compare activity with similar pets. Spot sleep patterns and know if something’s up. Keep your buddy healthy.
  • Family Sharing: Let friends, family, walkers and pet-sitters track with you.
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

And here’s a story where Tractive’s live tracking and real-time updates have actually saved pets’ lives. Like Happy, an off-leash Golden Retriever, who picked up a scent and ran off into the woods on his first hike outdoors.

Despite her panic, his mum Francesca, immediately switched to Tractive’s LIVE tracking – and found him immediately after.

Two women hiking kneeling down next to golden retriever dog in a lake in the mountains

“Happy is a good dog and at the end of the day, he always comes back. Well, except the time I brought him for our first time to the Siusi Alps. These mountains are known for the intricate paths and the beautiful flora. I was there with Mac, Happy and my family when Happy got lost. Whether this happened because he went after a deer, or not, this is still not clear to me. What was clear is that he was gone.

Then I remembered that Happy had the GPS tracker clipped on. I immediately switched on the LIVE Tracking mode and started breathing more easily the closer I got to his position. I could follow his path, live, directly on my phone and the position was so accurate that… finally there Happy was, sipping water from the source on a mountain’s edge.”

– Francesca & Happy, Italy

Read the full story of Happy, Francesca, and how Tractive’s life-saving technology is keeping dogs and cats safe around the world.

Losing your pet is never a pleasant experience. Which is why choosing a dedicated pet GPS tracker means you ensure they’ll be back in your arms – safe and sound.

Wrapping up: Does a GPS tracker without subscription make sense?

Can a GPS tracker with no monthly fee find your dog or cat? Maybe. Do experts recommend it? No.

  • Subscription-free GPS trackers have cons that often outweigh their pros for pet parents.
  • They fall short when it comes to tracking range, live tracking, pet friendly features and more.
  • Sometimes, they can actually be more expensive than GPS trackers with a subscription!
Infographic: Summary GPS Trackers with/without simcard

Instead, it makes more sense to get a real-time GPS tracker with monthly service for 100% peace of mind.

A GPS tracker with an integrated SIM card and subscription plan can show you where your furry friend is in real time, no matter how far. These are key features for pet parents whose wandering dog or cat may wander off – whether out of fear or curiosity.

So consider investing in a pet tracker that combines both Bluetooth and GPS to attach to your pet’s collar. With your trusty Tractive tracker, you’ll be well on your way to 24/7 peace of mind – no matter where your buddy is.

Here’s how Tractive’s real-time GPS tracking for pets works in the video below:

Curious about Tractive’s other pet-parent friendly features? Check out these reads:

And if you’ve found this article helpful, share it with a friend or a loved one and make their day!