How to make a phone call in the U.S.


Calling from the U.S. is pretty much the same as calling from any other country. However, the different ways to dial a number depending on your location can be confusing when you first arrive.

Telephone numbers in the US consist of a three-digit area code (e.g. 212), a three-digit exchange code (e.g. 324) and a four-digit subscriber number (e.g. 4152). An area code can cover a suburb in a large city (e.g. 212 for Manhattan), a Metropolitan area (e.g. 213 for Greater Los Angeles) or even a whole state (e.g. 207 for Maine).

The resulting phone number can be written in different ways:

  • (212) 324-4152 (standard format)
  • 212/324-4152
  • 212-324-4152

Depending on the location you’re calling from, there are several ways to dial this number:

· To call a local number within your own local area, only dial the last 7 digits (e.g. 324-4152).

· To call from another area, dial 1 followed by the area and the 7-digit number (e.g. 1-212-324-4152). A list of area codes can be found in any phone directory.

· To call from abroad to a number in the U.S., dial your international access number (usually 00), followed by the country code of the United States (1) and then the area code (e.g. 001-212-324-4152)

· To call abroad, dial 011 before the country code.

Toll-free numbers and premium prefixes

There are also a bewildering amount of special code prefixes in America. Some of these prefixes can mean extremely high calling costs so you should be careful when dialing them. Below are some of the most important prefixes:

550, 554, 900, 920, 940 and 976: These numbers are used for premium calls (with premium rates) and are often operated for phone sex, jokes and horoscopes. Be wary when using these services.

800, 888 and 877: These are free phone numbers and cost nothing to call. They are mostly provided by companies, organizations and government agencies. To call an 800 prefix from within America you have to dial 1 first. For information on toll-free numbers, call 1-800-555-1212. You can also call an 800 number from abroad, but in this case the call will probably not be free.

Dialing by the alphabet

Often businesses in the United States will use letters instead of numbers in an attempt to make them more memorable. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The letters are: 1 – doesn’t have a letter, 2 – ABC, 3 – DEF, 4 – GHI, 5 – JKL, 6 – MNO, 7 – PQRS, 8 – TUV, 9 – WXYZ, 0 – doesn’t have a letter.

Messages and answering machines

When making a phone call, don't always expect a cheerful "Good Morning" from the other end of the line. Americans usually don’t say their last name when picking up the phone. A simple “Hello” is most commonly used. When calling the operator (by dialing 0) be direct and note that there is no need to give your name unless you are making a collect call.

In some cases, you will hear a recorded message when making a call. Below is a list of the messages that you're most likely to hear:

· This number is unavailable. Please check the number and try again later.

· This number has been disconnected.

· This number has been changed. The new number is…

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: