How To Call US Toll Free Numbers From Overseas

Jennifer Saranow Schultz at New York Times Bucks blog wrote an interesting story: Calling Your Bank Collect from Outside of the U.S. She lost her laptop when she was in China. She wanted to call her bank and credit card companies to check if there were unauthorized access to her accounts.

As you know, 800/888/877/866 toll free numbers typically don’t work outside the US (some work in Canada). Jennifer saw ¨call collect¨ on the back of her cards with a direct number. So she dialed that number from her hotel phone. She thought that would make it a collect call. She ended up with a big charge for the one-hour call. She had to plead with the hotel and the bank for a credit saying the bank wasn’t clear on telling its customers how to make a collect call.

Since I’m currently vacationing outside the U.S. and I had to call my travel agent for making some changes to the itinerary, I thought I’d share the best way to call a US  number from overseas, whether the number is toll free or not.

First let’s backtrack a little on collect calls. A collect call means the receiving party pays the cost of the call. You have to ask an operator to call the receiving party and get their consent. If the receiving party agrees, the operator connects the two of you. So if you want to make a collect call, you first have to get hold of an operator. If you are in a non-English speaking country, ideally you want to get hold of an English speaking operator.

Both AT&T and Verizon publish a list of local access numbers in different countries. Get those numbers for the countries you will visit before you leave the US. Then you will be able to get hold of an English speaking operator. Here are the lists:

That will work for collect calls. If the party you are calling doesn’t offer a collect call number, and you don’t want to pay a huge bill on international phone calls, the best way is perhaps using Skype.

Skype offers low cost international calls over the Internet. If you find an Internet connection, you are in business. You can have Skype on your smartphone or laptop. Or you can use a free computer at a hotel; many have Skype already installed. Or you can find an Internet cafe. The best part is that it´s free to call US toll free numbers with Skype. You don’t have to add any money to your Skype account if you only call US toll free numbers.

If you do add a little bit of money to your Skype account, you will be able to call other numbers at a very inexpensive rate, around US$ 2-1/2 cents per minute. A 30-minute phone call will cost less than $1. It works with in-country numbers too. Have a change of plan and want to call ahead to your next destination, use Skype.

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  1. nickel says

    Yeah, I use my Skype Out account on my iPhone to make calls back to the US when I’m traveling outside the country – wifi only unless you want to pay ridiculous data fees.

  2. dave says

    skype works ok for toll free calls. But I now use google voice. I use it because it is free to call both mobile and landlines in the US and Canada (even from China, Philippines, Thailand or any other country that you have an internet connection). It also calls toll free numbers (800, 888 etc). I’ve been living outside the US for many years and all my calls to the US are free. (you need to sign up for google voice while you are in the US .. or have someone else do that for you). After that it works just fine from outside of the US.

  3. Jeff Turner says

    For international calls you can sign up for skype business account, it is cheap, and make call via your computer or a phone that has skype capability as long as you are in wifi access area. Many international companies, such as ours, are going to skype for it’s cost effectiveness. We were able to make arrangements for our clients to call our 888 number from overseas where we absorb the cost.

  4. laura says

    Yeah, I tried this and it wasnt free. A 9 minute phone call to my credit card’s toll free number cost $10. i tried calling without skype credit and the call was repeatedly disconnected. Once I put money on the account I was connected at what I thought would be an inexpensive rate but it cost >$1/minute.

    So this article is either missing some instructions, inaccurate, or obsolete.

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