Do You Have to Pay a Monthly Fee for a GPS System?

By Fred Decker

Some GPS services require monthly fees, while others don't.
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Navigation presents challenges for some people. Those who habitually turn the wrong way even in their own neighborhood may benefit from the availability of inexpensive GPS devices. If your device is capable of locating satellites, you can determine your exact location within a few yards anywhere in the world. Knowing where you are is only part of the picture, though. Knowing what's around you is also important, and that information changes rapidly. Monthly subscriptions, single-payment options and even free updates can keep your GPS device up to date.


GPS map data needs to be updated frequently because the world is continually changing. Roads and landmarks change from year to year all over the continent, eventually making your original maps obsolete. The same holds true for points of interest on your GPS device, which can include everything from historic sites to road construction to the best pulled-pork sandwiches in town. You can enter your own points of interest, but it's easier to rely on specialized services to compile the massive lists of things like gas stations and public washrooms. Daily traffic is the fastest-changing data of all, and this should be updated in real time for the most accurate navigational guidance.

Optional Services

Aside from basic GPS functions, most devices and most companies that sell them offer a range of optional extras. These include satellite radio for entertainment and live weather updates for your current location. Weather updates are especially useful to aviators and boaters, who can face complications ranging from inconvenience to life-threatening danger if conditions change for the worse. While GPS companies often include core updates such as road maps at no charge, these optional extras typically involve additional fees.

Payment Models

The most straightforward payment model for GPS updates is to build them into the cost of the unit, offering lifetime upgrades at no extra charge. For example, Garmin Nuvi models identified by the letters "LT" offer lifetime traffic updates, and "LM" models offer lifetime map updates. Other services might require a one-time payment, a monthly subscription or annual subscription. For instance, satellite radio can be purchased for a one-year term and paid in monthly installments. Points of interest can be downloaded free from some sites, while others charge per download. When you activate a service, it's important to understand whether the charge, if any, is a one-time fee or recurring.


Standalone GPS devices aren't the only game in town. GPS and mapping apps of decent quality are available on all major smartphone platforms. Navigation apps are usually free, but some costs may be associated with their use. A service plan may be required along with a data allowance from your cellular carrier. Both are recurring costs, and if a navigation app pushes you over your data allowance, the resulting fees can be quite steep. Like standalone GPS devices, some additional services such as satellite weather and traffic updates may require payment of subscription fees.