Travel Tips

Telephone Tips

Cellular telephones and handheld devices are the best communication medium for most USA visitors. Many wireless networks in the US, are now equipped with GSM technology allowing international travelers with compatible devices to communicate with US networks. Your service provider should be able to explain that GSM telephones are classified as dual-band, tri-band, and quad-band. Tri- and quad-band are recommended to provide the best service in the USA.

Cellular Phone © Corel
Prepaid cellular phones are another very convenient way for foreign visitors to stay connected.

Before traveling to the USA, check with your service provider about coverage. It may be that the “smart card” (also known as a SIM card) in your existing cellular telephone simply needs to be replaced with one that is compatible. Since SIM cards are not readily available in the USA, it might be wise to purchase your SIM card before you depart. You might, also ask about USA roaming rates as the charges could be very high!

Renting a Cell Phone in the USA

Another option is to purchase a USA compatible cellular telephone rental plan that includes accessories, voicemail, and more. These rental plans can be purchased at retail cell-phone stores, on the Internet, or from some of the rental car agencies. Under such plans, the rental cost of the cellular device can range anywhere from completely free up to $5 to $7 per day. You can expect to pay rather expensive connect-time rates ranging from 70 cents to several dollars per minute for calls within the USA plus extra charges for long-distance and international calls. This may be expensive, but it provides you a very convenient way to stay connected while traveling around the USA.

Prepaid cellular phones are another very convenient way for foreign visitors to stay connected. These “pay-as-you-go” telephones are now available at many phone stores, drug stores, department stores, and shopping-mall kiosks. The prices of the phones are as low as $29.99, but you must prepay the per-minute calling charges. You can easily purchase additional minutes by using your bank credit card at any later time. If you shop around, you can find some of these phones with very competitive international calling rates.

Public pay-telephones and hotel telephones can be very expensive

Public pay telephones that accept coins, calling cards or credit cards can be quite expensive. Fifty cents is typically the minimum charge for a local call with very high long-distance rates. Many pay telephones in the USA now offer English and Spanish language capability. If you must use a public pay telephone, try to find one operated by a major service provider such as Bell Atlantic, Southern Bell, or Pacific Bell as their rates are usually the most reasonable.

Most hotels offer free local telephone calls, but typically charge for all long-distance or international calls. At some hotels, these charges may include connect fees or surcharges plus $1 to $3 per-minute for long-distance calls and even more for international calls. If you plan to use a hotel’s telephone service, always check their telephone rates before making a call.

Calling cards or credit cards can be used for telephoning

Telephone calling cards can be used for long-distance or international calls from any telephone. They typically require you to call a toll-free number (800 or 888) to access the provider’s network. You can purchase calling cards on the Internet or from many retailers throughout the USA including most department stores, gas stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, discount stores and shopping-mall kiosks. Rates can vary from 5 cents a minute to 35 cents a minute for domestic calls. International rates can be as low as 20 cents, but can also be as high as $8 per minute. It pays to shop around for the best rates

Some credit cards now allow you to charge telephone calls directly on your account. Similar to a calling card, you must call a toll-free number (800 or 888) to connect to the credit card company’s network. You then dial your credit card account number, your secret code, and the number you are calling. Calling rates vary, so you should contact your credit card company for their rates.

How to Make Telephone Calls in the USA

Emergencies requiring the police, the fire department or medical assistance can be reported from any telephone including cell phones. Dial: <911>. This is normally a free call from any pay telephone. That means, no coins or credit cards are needed! In most parts of the USA, the emergency response center will immediately know your location without being told.

US telephone numbers are typically 10 digits long and consist of a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. When dialing a number outside the local area code, you must first dial a 1.

long-distance calls area code number
1 206 555-1212

Some clever advertisers have realized it may be difficult for people to remember a long telephone number, so they convert the numbers to letters that spell out an easy-to-remember word. For example, a pizza delivery restaurant advertisement may say, call “1-800 MY PIZZA". If you check the numbers on any telephone, you will see these letters correspond with the numbers 6974992. This is just another way of saying: call 1-800-697-4992.

Making International calls from the USA

To place an international call, dial: <011> + country code + city code +number.

Calls to Canada, Puerto Rico, and some Caribbean countries can be completed without the additional prefix or country code. They are the same as any other long distance call placed within the USA. Dial: <1> + area code + number.

Finding a telephone number in the USA

Directory assistance is useful in finding telephone numbers. This automated response system communicates in both English and Spanish and is accessible when using any type of telephone including cellular. You may be charged up to $1 for this service. Simply dial:

<411> to request local and long-distance numbers

<1> <800> <555> <1212> to request a toll-free number

The Internet now provides easy access to telephone listings throughout the USA. You can use Yahoo People Search at this web site: or several other free telephone directories on the Internet.

Speech or hearing disability

People with hearing or speech disabilities using Text Telephones (TTYs/TDDs) can communicate with people using standard voice telephones. Dial:

<711> to connect to a relay service who will forward your message.

<1> <800> <855> <1155> or <1> <800> <855> <4000> to connect to the TTY Communication Assistance Operator. The initial call is free, but long-distance and operator-assisted calls will incur charges.
Written by: Cindy Singleton
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco /
Photo Description: Baltimore, Maryland