What’s the Deal with Toll-Free Numbers?
If you’re familiar with toll free numbers, you know that those who call them aren’t charged. Instead, the business or individual who subscribed to the toll-free phone number service is.
Businesses use toll-free numbers as a way to make it easy for customers to get in contact with them, especially if there are irregular wait times or their customers don’t have access to phones with unlimited minutes and data plans. Additionally, toll-free numbers can be used to create a point of contact with their customers and potential clients, where the business may not have a physical location/office to do business in.
However, does this work when dialing from another country?
The answer is more than likely not. When dialing from another country, the caller will be charged international rates, as if it were any other number – making the call no longer free (and defeating the purpose of a toll-free number in the first place). If the call to the toll-free number does go through, the caller may incur regular international charges or even higher-than-normal fees. Of course, callers are usually informed before the call is completed that they will incur charges, sparing the shock to callers that would otherwise occur. This warning alone can deter customers from reaching a business’ toll-free number, opting for other lines of less-expensive communication, like email.
Furthermore, some long-distance carriers and toll-free number owners may choose to block receiving international calls for this reason. This is why it is generally advised that international callers contact their intended recipients on a regular telephone number or one that matches the country, just in case.
Understanding International Toll-Free Numbers
First, it’s crucial to understand that toll-free phone numbers are country-specific. This means that every country’s toll-free phone numbers have their own set of coverages, restrictions, and accessibility rules, with very little overlap.
As you probably know, the most common United States’ format for dialing toll-free phone numbers is dialing “800” followed by seven digits, or “800-XXX-XXXX” (there are also other toll-free prefixes, like 833, 844, 855 and so forth).
Each country has its own dialing format for toll-free numbers within their country’s borders and territories, with the formatting varying subtly for every country. For example, toll free numbers in Romania have a standard format, and it looks like this: “0-800-XX-X-XXX” (X stands for an unspecified digit). Similarly, toll-free numbers in Germany begin with “0800” and are followed by seven digits, with the standard format resembling “0800-XXX-XXXX”. In Ireland, toll free numbers start with “1800”, which is then followed by six digits. An Ireland toll free number format looks like this: “1-800-XXX-XXX”.
Universal International Freephone Numbers
Unless your business is willing to create different toll-free numbers for every country, there may not be a viable alternative that can allow callers to not be charged for calling toll-free numbers. However, there is an alternative solution that comes with a few caveats. If your business is looking for a solution to provide toll-free phone numbers, universal international freephone numbers (UIFN) can be an answer.
These numbers are assigned a separate country code, which will then utilize the familiar “800” prefix. The only difference is that you add a country code before the “800”. For those dialing outside of the United States, this would be “+011 800 XXX-XXXX”, with X being the rest of the digits.
So, what’s the problem? Calls to international freephone numbers are free when dialed from certain countries that have adopted this system. However, one problem with these phone numbers is that there are relatively high costs involved with subscribing to this service. Businesses that want to keep their overheads lower have to choose between incurring the cost or seeking out alternative methods.
Another problem with UIFN numbers is that they come with a fair number of rules and restrictions, which include requiring these numbers to be registered in at least two countries, and it must be in service for two or more countries 180 days from the day that a business reserved it.
Virtual Phone Numbers as an Alternative
Okay, so if you can’t use toll-free phone numbers internationally or universal international freephone numbers, is there a cost-effective alternative?
The answer is yes. That is, if you use virtual phone numbers. Virtual phone numbers are phone numbers that resemble local and toll-free phone numbers; however, they use the cloud to route calls to a destination phone number anywhere around the world. For instance, if you had purchased a toll-free number in Dubai, Emirati callers can dial that toll-free virtual phone number, which is then instantaneously routed to your call center in the United States. Callers get the benefits of toll-free calling, while your business enjoys the benefits of streamlining the process to facilitate your business’ communication.
Virtual phone numbers serve as a workaround for the lack of a global toll-free phone number, as you can set up virtual phone numbers around the world, and have them routed to a central location – which is what most businesses desire when using a toll-free number, no? Best of all, this allows your business to set up a presence in new markets without having to establish a brick and mortar presence, hiring new staff, retrofitting old equipment, wasting time bringing your staff up to speed with needlessly complex software, and so forth.