Have you realized the drugstore reading glasses aren't cutting it anymore? Has your child come home with a note from the teacher saying they're having trouble seeing the board? Facing an unexpected appointment with an eye doctor and expensive prescription glasses can be both shocking and expensive.
The connections among poverty, eye care, and wellbeing are stark. Until recently, there were few options for eyeglasses for less than $400. Thankfully, new innovations, businesses, and public health initiatives offer very stylish and affordable eyeglasses — as well as some that are free.
My personal experience: Recently got a new pair of eyeglasses at a very nice local boutique. Price, all-in with high-end progressive lenses:
I also got a second pair with the same prescription from my eye doctor for this pair from Zeelool, for $110.95, all-in, including the highest-end lenses and shipping:
The right combination of resources for free or inexpensive prescription glasses and exams can help you get your vision back on track without breaking the bank. This post explains the ways to get affordable or free life-changing eyeglasses.
Can you get free prescription glasses?
Many organizations, such as VSP Eyes of Hope and Sight for Students, offer low- or no-cost eye exams and eyeglasses for households who meet the income guidelines for eligibility. Medicaid covers vision care for children. Even if you don’t qualify for those programs, plenty of online retailers offer great deals on affordable eyewear, buy-one-get-one-free eyeglasses discounts, “first pair free” prescription glasses promotions, and more.
Many online discounts are open to all, but most of the nonprofit assistance programs require you to meet income eligibility tied to the federal poverty level. Here's a look at the poverty-level income guidelines in the United States, based on the number of people in a household:
|Persons in family/household||Annual household income poverty guideline|
For families/households with more than eight people, add $4,720.00 for each additional person.
Where you can get free prescription eyeglasses
Charitable programs provide free eyeglasses to people who meet the income requirements and don’t have vision coverage through an insurance plan. You can also find retailers that offer special deals on free glasses for new customers, sometimes even including eye exams.
New Eyes is a nonprofit organization that provides single-vision or lined bifocals to people whose monthly income is less than 250% of US Poverty Guidelines. You can apply independently or have a health care worker or social worker assist you.
Who is eligible for free prescription glasses from New Eyes?
New Eyes serves people in the United States who need glasses but can’t afford them. New Eyes does not offer vision screenings, so you’ll need to arrange that on your own — and other resources can help with that cost. New Eyes requires you to present a glasses prescription written in the past 12 months that includes your pupillary distance measurement. New Eyes provides links to free and low-cost eye exam providers on its website.
Are there income guidelines for New Eyes?
Yes. Anyone living in a household with a net monthly income less than 250% of US Poverty Guidelines is eligible for vouchers.
VSP Eyes of Hope
VSP Eyes of Hope is a program from the vision insurance provider Vision Service Plan that issues vouchers that cover the cost of eye care and glasses to adults and children.
Who is eligible for free prescription glasses from VSP?
Anyone of any age can apply for glasses from VSP Eyes of Hope. You can get a gift certificate for glasses if you have vision care or work with one of the program’s partner organizations to get an eye exam. VSP in-network eye care providers, such as VisionWorks and MyEyeDr, accept these gift certificates.
Are there income guidelines for free glasses from VSP?
VSP requires a household income of below 200% of the federal poverty level for you to qualify.
Where you can get free glasses for kids
Experts estimate that about 25% of kids in America need glasses or contacts. Glasses can dramatically improve how kids do in school, according to research from Johns Hopkins University, and numerous programs aim to help families get vision screenings and free glasses for kids under 18. Many school systems can provide extra information on how to help kids get vision screenings and affordable glasses. Ask your child’s school nurse or school counselor for more details.
InfantSEE is an initiative from the American Optometric Association to provide eye exams to babies. The program website has a searchable listing for participating doctors. You can look for doctors in your area by entering your ZIP code.
Who is eligible for free prescription glasses from InfantSEE?
The American Optometric Association recommends that babies have their first eye exam between 6 and 12 months. These exams can identify vision issues before they become serious problems. This program provides exams for families who cannot afford them otherwise. If your baby needs more treatment, the program will help you get it.
Are there income guidelines for free glasses from InfantSEE?
There are no income guidelines. Use InfantSEE’s Find a Doctor tool to contact local providers for more information.
Vision to Learn
The Vision to Learn program works with school systems to provide vision exams and glasses to K-12 students. The clinics are open to students in participating schools. Vision to Learn has programs in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
Who is eligible for free prescription glasses from Vision to Learn?
Students in participating districts are eligible for glasses through this program. Vision to Learn brings mobile vision clinics to schools, and the staff gives eye exams. Any kids who need glasses receive their prescription and pick them out from the opticians.
Are there income guidelines for free glasses from Vision to Learn?
Vision to Learn does not provide stated income guidelines.
VSP Sight for Students®
VSP Sight for Students is another program from the insurer Vision Service Provider. This program provides eye exams and glasses to children ages 19 and under by partnering with community organizations and schools to distribute vouchers for eye exams and glasses.
Who is eligible for free prescription glasses from VSP?
Children under 19 who don’t have vision coverage can benefit from this program. School nurses can apply in advance for gift certificates for free glasses to distribute to students in need. Community partners like Prevent Blindness also distribute gift certificates. Contact VSP Sight for Students directly if you need more information about receiving free glasses for a student at partners.vspeyesofhope.com.
Are there income guidelines for free glasses from VSP?
Yes, VSP states qualifying income guidelines. Your household income has to be below 200% of the federal poverty level for your student to qualify.
Where to get free prescription glasses online
Even if you're not eligible for government or charitable vision care programs, you can still find affordable glasses. Some retailers offer deep discounts, so it’s worth checking out your options for free prescription glasses online, too — including free prescription lenses for new customers.
ABBE is an online provider that sells a wide variety of glasses. ABBE offers a limited selection of frames for free when you use the code FREEABBE. Most clear, single-vision lenses are also free. It also has a buy-one-get-one-free offer. You’ll need to provide a valid prescription from an eye doctor when you order.
Finest Glasses is another retailer that offers a limited selection of frames for adults and kids for free with other options for cheap eyeglasses frames. You’ll need to get an eye exam from your eye doctor before you order, and frames and most single vision lenses are free.
The Glasses Shop
The Glasses Shop offers a specific selection of frames for adults and kids, and you can get your first pair of prescription glasses free with the code FIRST FREE. Single vision lenses with anti-scratch coating are included. You’ll need to provide a prescription from an eye doctor to order.
Kits offers more than 200 styles of the house brand frames free to first-time purchasers. Most single-vision prescription lenses are included. Use the code FREEKITS. You will need to get a prescription from your own eye doctor.
What if the free prescription eyeglasses programs require an eye exam?
If you need help getting an eye exam, some programs cover that, too. If the programs listed below don’t operate in your area, contact your health department or your primary care doctor. They may have good information about free or low-cost vision care in your area.
EyeCare America for free eye exams
Eye Care America is a program run by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They offer eye exams through a network of participating doctors. To qualify for this program, you need to be uninsured and over 65 years old. If you are at increased risk of glaucoma, you can get a free glaucoma screening. This program doesn’t include eyeglasses.
Lions Club International for free eye exams
The Lions Club International, a large charitable organization, has partnered with Johnson & Johnson to offer the Sight for Kids program. This project aims to train school staff to perform basic vision screenings and refer kids for follow-up care if they need it. Kids can get free glasses through the program as well. Check with your child’s school to see if they offer this program.
New Eyes for free eye exams
New Eyes allows you to renew your glasses prescription online if you live in certain states. This renewal is not a complete eye exam, but it will enable you to order new glasses if your previous prescription is more than 24 months old.
State and local government resources for free eye exams
Some states or localities have vision clinics for residents. If you’re looking for a free eye exam near you, check with your state or county health and human services department to find information about vision care in your area.
Some schools of optometry at university medical schools offer free or low-cost exams. Students perform the exams while their instructors supervise. If you live near a medical school with an optometry program, you can call and ask about becoming a patient and their fees.
Local stores and vision centers
Some retailers like Walmart or Target, grocery stores, and pharmacies might have onsite vision centers that can perform low-cost eye exams. These options aren’t free, but they can be a great option for cheap eye exams and glasses. The average Walmart eye exam cost ranges from $50 to $100 without insurance. Exams at Target Optical and Walgreens range from $60 to $100. Members-only stores like Sam’s Club and Costco typically offer special pricing for vision screenings, as well. Sometimes, if you buy glasses, you’ll get a discount on the exam, the glasses, or both.
What if you don’t meet the requirements for free prescription glasses?
Even if you don’t meet eligibility guidelines for free glasses, you can find reasonably priced options at some of the new online retailers that have created a new competitive eyeglass marketplace:
With hundreds of frame styles for kids and adults, 39 Dollar Glasses offers exactly what the name suggests. Frame and single-vision lenses start at $39. If you want specialty lenses or need bifocals, the lenses cost $80. You can pick up to five pairs to try out at home to how you like the frames before you commit. They’ll mail you the frame and you have five days to decide, then you send them back using a prepaid mailing label.
Discount Glasses offers a large variety of frames for kids and adults, starting at about $39. The base price includes single vision lenses, and costs increase for bifocals or specialty lenses. Get $15 off orders of $50 or more using code “DEG15AF” at checkout.
Zeelool has hundreds of stylish frames for kids and adults, including some sale frames under $10 per pair. Single vision lenses are only $5 more, with progressive and specialty lenses costing more, starting at $40 for progressive lenses.
I bought a pair of very cute prescription progressives from Zeelool recently and was amazed by the large offering of very, very cute frames — with prices ranging from $3 to about $30 — with frequent BOGO deals. It was really remarkable.
Expect to pay more for lenses, though shipping on orders greater than $69 is free.
These cute green and gold wire glasses cost as such:
Progressive lenses with advanced treatment: $35
Blue light blocking: $50
I will say that the quality of the lenses of my Zeelool glasses is inferior to the $1,000 pair I bought at a local boutique — but for the price it is still a great value. I especially recommended inexpensive online eyeglasses for kids like mine who refuse to wear them.
Zenni has hundreds of frame choices for adults and kids, with some as low as $6.95. The price of the frame includes basic single vision lenses, and student discounts may apply for some kids’ glasses as well.
FAQs about free prescription glasses
If you have health coverage through a government-sponsored plan, you might have vision care benefits you can use for an eye exam or prescription glasses.
Does Medicaid cover vision?
Children and teens enrolled in Medicaid are eligible for vision screenings and follow-up treatment. Your state Medicaid agency can provide details for your area. Adult vision screening benefits vary by state. Many states cover eye exams, and some cover one pair of glasses per year.
Does Medicare cover vision?
Medicare does not cover routine eye exams or prescription lenses. Some Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plans offer vision coverage as part of the benefits. Medicare will cover treatment for eye conditions such as glaucoma or complications from diabetes.
Does CHIP insurance cover glasses?
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers routine eye exams and glasses for children. Check your state’s program information for details.
How can I get free prescription glasses?
Many organizations such as VSP Eyes of Hope, New Eyes, and VSP Sight for Students offer low- or no-cost eye exams and eyeglasses for households who meet the income guidelines for eligibility. Household income requirements range from 200% to 250% of US Poverty Guidelines ($18,310 for a family of two people, $23,030 for a family of three, and up from there for larger households). InfantSEE, which provides vision care for babies, has no set income requirements.
Even if you don’t qualify for those programs, plenty of online retailers offer great deals on affordable eyewear. Check out ABBE’s free and buy-one-get-one-free eyeglasses discounts, as well as the “first pair free” prescription glasses promotions from Finest Glasses, The Glasses Shop, and Kits. Zenni’s cheapest options are $6.95, and Zeelool offers sale frames for less than $10 with basic lenses for $5 more, but customizations can increase the price substantially. Glasses from 39 Dollar Glasses are $39, and pairs from Discount Glasses start around $39, too.
Can you get free prescription sunglasses?
Many vision plans — including government-sponsored plans — cover prescription sunglasses, though you should read the fine print to make sure those won’t be the only glasses covered for that year. Retail sites that offer deals on free glasses often specify that the lenses must be clear, not tinted or transition-type lenses. If you need prescription sunglasses for work or due to a health condition, ask your doctor how you can get your glasses at a lower cost.
Check out these other helpful and free resources for low-income families and individuals: