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I just had a lot of grief changing a plane ticket from a somewhat exotic location.

It involved calling with Skype from Tbilisi Georgia to the nearest office for my airline in Istanbul Turkey.

It turned out the office's booking system for the airline was having some trouble but he told me I could call the airline direct on a toll-free number. He assured me it would work even though I didn't expect such things to work internationally.

I tried using Skype and I tried using a Georgian mobile phone. I couldn't get either to work.

So that's the back story. The actual question is Is there a way to call "international" toll-free phone numbers?

The reason for the scare quotes on "international" is because it's a vague term. It may mean either of these things:

  • Something like 800 / 0 800 / 1 800 numbers that can be called from any country.
  • Toll-free number in country A that can be called even if you're in country B. In which case you'd need to use the country code as well as the 800 / 0 800 / 1 800 part somehow.
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My experience is that you can't call these from a mobile even in the country and as increasingly people (where I am in Europe) don't have landlines it proves a tricky situation. I'm trying to find a non 800 number to call the airline here but it's impossible to find since it is Air New Zealand's EU site. –  Aoraki Oct 7 at 10:58

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Generally

The simple answer is: you can't...from a normal phone. Toll-free numbers are specific to the phone exchange system of a particular country and thus when calling from a VOIP phone provider like Skype or calling from a different country's network the call won't get routed through correctly. Your alternative to insist on asking for the version of the toll-free number with an international dialling code. In most cases, toll-free numbers are simply forwarding call internally with a phone exchange and by changing the prefix, you get the real number. In the UK for instance we have Say No To 0870 which provides listings of direct numbers.

North America

A more complicated answer is that for countries under the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) Agreement such as USA, Canada and handful of other countries they all have a common numbering system and toll-free calls will be supported. This may or may not always work depending on whether the toll-free number owner allows such calls: see this guide on international toll-free calling.

Skype

For selected few countries, Skype does support free calls to toll-free numbers. This covers US and UK among major countries, which should cover a wide range of financial, airline, and travel assistance numbers. Manually change the country to the one you're dialling to from the drop-down list in Skype's phone pad if you don't want to type in a number with international dialling code.

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Thanks @hippietrail for whipping the answer into shape. –  Ankur Banerjee Dec 11 '11 at 15:03
    
Great research, thanks +1 –  Burhan Khalid Oct 7 at 11:00

If it's a true international toll-free number then it will have Country code +800 - Universal International Freephone Numbers (UIFN). These numbers are toll-free from any country that participates in the UIFN scheme and from which the number's owner elects to receive calls. UIFN number must be provisioned by the owner for each individual country they intend to receive calls from.

International Telecommunications Union

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Aha! I was wondering if there were any kind of phone number specifically intended to be free to call from anywhere in the world. This +800 country code is a great answer I had never heard of before! –  hippietrail Dec 12 '11 at 12:33
    
At least AIR Transat uses such a number for customer services. It extremely convenient, no long list of local numbers and free of charge anywhere. –  AVee Dec 14 '11 at 20:47

Nobody has posted anything here in a while, but I just learned something that might be useful to others. It is very cheap and easy to phone a US toll free number from a cellphone in Indonesia.

Dial 01-017-1-***-???-????

The *** is 800, 866, or whatever the toll free code is. It only costs Rp400/min which is less than 4 cents.

I got this code by calling the cellphone service provider here in Indonesia. I suspect telecom companies in other countries have similar setups, so it would be worth giving them a call.

Too many times while overseas I've felt cut off from so much useful stuff by not having access to toll free numbers. At least while I'm in Indonesia that won't happen again.

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This routes your call through a specific carrier. A partial list of carriers is on Wikipedia. –  Michael Hampton Dec 18 at 4:37
    
Thanks, Michael. A useful link. It seems VoIP makes it possible now to call these toll free numbers, and to do it cheaply. –  binturong Dec 18 at 5:16

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