How to Make International Calls from the USA: A Guide

February 19, 2018

A quick guide to making international calls, how domestic and international phone numbers work, and a brief look at international calling rates.


Difficult but Necessary

QuickCall is a global company based in America, and we have customers in nearly 100 countries making international calls. This page is for US customers who may not have the familiarity with global calling that our other customers do.

Calling a different country from the United States can be confusing, expensive, and overwhelming at first, but this guide will dispel some of the mystery surrounding it.

With an increasing amount of immigration and globalization, the methods of connecting with people worldwide have grown which gives you more choices in how you connect and why. Many people now use the Internet and apps to talk internationally, but there is still a significant amount of traditional international calling. Maybe you need to call your family back in your home country and they don’t have WiFi, or perhaps you need to contact important business connections overseas. Whatever the reason, it’s likely you’ll need to place an international call through traditional phone lines on some occasion.

There are many ways to make an international call.


How Do Phone Numbers Work in the United States?

In order to understand all phone numbers, it’s best to first understand the parts of a domestic, United States phone number.

Domestic US numbers generally have a main phone number and area code. The area code is a 3-digit number placed before the remaining 7-digit phone number. For instance, the area code from Cleveland, Ohio would look something like this: 261-123-1234. The 216 denotes that the numbers following are from Cleveland, Ohio.

US Domestic prefix: when dialing inside the US and calling from a land line, you must dial a 1 prefix plus the full number. Mobile users don’t have to dial a 1, even if they are calling a land line. That is because mobile carriers will automatically dial the 1 for you.

What’s the difference between +1 and 1+?

When dialing inside the US, dial a 1 only and then the rest of the number. You don’t have to dial the plus sign (+). When you are dialing internationally from a mobile phone, you may be required to use the + symbol before the 1 or any other country code. It varies by country and also how your mobile carrier is configured, there is not always a standard. If you find you can’t complete an international call from a mobile phone, try it again with a + and see if that makes a difference. When you’re traveling abroad, you may find that you have to begin with + in any call from a mobile.

How Do International Phone Numbers Work?

Calling internationally is a bit more complex because the makeup of different countries’ phone numbers may be different, and if calling from the United States, can have more components to them. Also, be sure to check if phones from a certain country will have differing rates, or even a different method of dialing the number itself.

Phone numbers in different countries have many more digits in order to recognize national and sometimes even city or region codes. Numbers may change in size depending on the country or location within the country.  In order to call a different country from the United States, you generally need to dial:

1. The outgoing code (011 when dialing from US)
2. The country code, which is normally 2-3 digits in length.
3. The city and/or region code, which may be from 1-4 digits long.
4. The main phone number. This varies between 4-8 digits long.

Let’s take an international call to a cell phone in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil as an example.

The number will look something like this:

011 – 55 – 21 – XXXX-XXXX

011 is the US-specific “exit” code.
55 is the country code for Brazil.
21 is the city code for Rio De Janeiro.
XXXX-XXXX is the recipient party’s phone number.

This is the main procedure to dialing an international call from the United States, but be sure to look up the dialing procedures for each country since they might have small differences from each other. For instance, you do not necessarily need a city code for every international call you make.

Also, definitely check the rates of the country as well, since they could vary not just because of the fact that the call is international, but also if the recipient of the call is on a mobile phone or a landline, or in a particular city with different calling rates from the rest of the country. There are also sometimes premium numbers that cost more, either because of where they’re located or if there’s a fee associated with it.

International Plan Subscriptions & Bundles

Service-providers offer international plans with varying monthly rates that make international calling much cheaper than the basic, non-plan rate. Calling China, for example, can cost anywhere between $5 and $6.76 for the basic rate. If you call China often and don’t want to starve your wallet, paying a monthly of around $10-15, the first 60 minutes will be included, and anything past that limit will generally cost $1 or less per minute.

Keep this in mind: It’s possible for the actual rates to be more expensive than advertised, so make sure to customize your plan however you can. If you call Romania often, it’d be a good idea to seek a more specific plan from the provider and tailor the plan to the country itself.

Again, these rates may differ depending on a multitude of factors, like phone’s type (mobile/landline), the call recipient’s country, and the service provider, but getting an international plan is a reasonably easy option, if not always the cheapest depending on how often you make an international call.

QuickCall offers a per-minute plan that is flexible and low cost; you never pay for more than you use. Search our rates to see how much you can save calling any country in the world.

What about calling cards?

Paper and virtual calling cards were popular for many years but are not ideal. They’re a hassle to use, they’re certainly not a cheap long-term option (or even short-term option), and they often involve shady efforts to expire quickly or charge you for hidden fees. However, if you only need to make one or two calls, but don’t want to purchase an entire plan, a calling card may be a decent way to avoid paying $5 per minute.

When using a calling card, be careful. Read the fine print. Do research on the wording if you’re able. Calling cards can use strange wording such as “3 minute rounding” which can mean that if you talk 1.5 minutes you might be charged 3 full minutes, or “maintenance fees” that charge you the first time you use the card or every week after your initial use. Make sure there is a free 1-800 customer service line on the card in case you have a dispute.

Also, ask around if any of your family or friends have used calling cards that didn’t charge them money for every little thing. They’re okay if you keep track of your minutes and use it to its fullest, just don’t rely on calling cards in the long-term. Calling cards usually won’t be the best option if there are others available, however.

Internet Calling Services

Over the past 15 years or so, a new way to call internationally has emerged: Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) and over-the-top (OTT). VoIPs can be traditional phone services that use entirely internet for the connectivity (such as Vonage, XO or MagicJack), and OTT are the internet-based calling applications such as Skype, Viber or Quickcall. Like any other long-distance calling method, they may not serve all your needs, but these apps offer a wider variety of services than service plans or calling cards.

Some of the advantages to using apps are that you can make video calls, multi-party calls, and switch easily to chat functions during the call so you can send links or files or emoji. It’s also typically free to make internet calls (although most VoIP providers do charge a fee for equipment and monthly or yearly access to their network).

The drawbacks to OTT and VoIP are that you typically can’t call 911 for emergencies, and calling services may not work during power outages because of their reliance on a broadband connection (although you can use your cell phone carrier for data and still make calls on QuickCall, or any wifi hot spot). For the most part however they’re versatile, and above all, they’re cheap.

When placing international calls, always keep your options open, and never be afraid to switch your approach. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses (some more than others). Refer to this guide if you end up doing more research and want to weigh your options.