Calling abroad made simple

By Philip Wagenaar

(First of two parts, click here for part two.)

“Grandpa, would you help me?” my 11-year-old grandson Casey asked. “When I was out, my friend Peter phoned from the Netherlands and left his number on the answering machine. I have been trying to call him back for over an hour but I keep getting a busy signal.”

“Which number did you dial, Casey?”

“0297-387 640.”

“That is a valid number, but only when the call starts and ends inside the Netherlands.”

“Oh,” he replied, puzzled.

When you make an international call from the U.S., you must insert two additional sets of digits in front of the telephone number you wish to call. They are the International Access Code, also known as the International Direct Dialing Prefix, and the Country Code.

International Access Codes

The International Access Code (IC) does what its name suggests: it gives you access to the international phone system by directing the call outside of a country’s domestic phone structure.

Every international call starts with an IC, which is specific for the country from which you dial. The IC for the U.S. and Canada is 011. Australia’s IC is 0011 for voice calls and 0015 for faxes. For most other nations, the IC is “00.”
Some states, such as Israel, have several ICs, each belonging to a different long-distance company.

A handful of former Soviet Union countries, such as Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, require the dialing of an “8,” waiting for a second tone, then dialing a “10,” a sequence usually written as “8~10.”

Since the IC varies with the country of origin, international telephone numbers are usually written with a “+” before the number, where the plus stands for the IC. For example, Peter’s number may be written as +31-297-387 640.

Country Codes

After entering the International Access Code (IC), you must enter the second set of digits, the so-called Country Code (CC), to access the phone system inside a country. Each nation has its own code.

For example, the CC for the U.S. is 1; for the Netherlands it is 31; for France, 33, and for China, 36.
In Peter’s number, 011-31-297-387 640, the “011” is the IC for calls originating from the U.S. and the “31” is the country code for the Netherlands.

The North American Numbering Plan (NANP)

A group of countries has implemented a phone system, called the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), which is analogous to the one in the U.S.

The NANP countries are the United States & its territories, Canada, Bermuda, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos.

All have agreed to use the country code “1” and to use the sequence 1- (area code) - (7-digit local number) for calls between the countries, a configuration similar to U.S. long-distance numbers.

Accordingly, to call Canada from the U.S., you enter 1- (specific area code, e.g., 604 for British Columbia) - (7-digit local number). To phone Bermuda from Canada, you dial 1-441 (area code for Bermuda) - (7-digit local number).

The subscriber number

After entering the IC and the CC, you have to insert your party’s subscriber number (SN), which you usually find on a website or in the local directory.

We can divide the SNs into two categories, depending upon a country’s telephone structure:
I. Those that use a long-distance prefix for domestic calls.
II. Those that do not use a long-distance prefix for domestic calls.

In the first category, to which the U.S. belongs, SNs have the configuration z-bbb-xxx xxxx. The “z” is the long-distance prefix (which in the U.S. is a “1”), the “bbb” is the area/city code (AC) and the subsequent digits comprise the local number (LN). Note that, depending upon the country, each component of the SN may have a variable quantity of digits.

Publications usually refer to the long-distance prefix as the National Direct Dialing Prefix (Nat. Pref.). The term is easy to remember, since it is the first digit(s) used for national, i.e., domestic, calls from one area or city to another.

For most countries, the Nat. Pref. is either a “0” or a “1.”

In some phone systems, as in the U.S. and Canada, you may omit the Nat. Pref. and/or area code for local calls within the same geographical area.
This is illustrated in following examples.

    In the U.S.,
    • when phoning within the same area code, dial xxx xxxx (that’s the LN only).
    • when calling a neighboring area code, use bbb (that’s the AC) - xxx xxxx (that’s the LN).
    • when phoning intercity, dial 1-bbb-xxx xxxx.
    In the Netherlands, to Peter’s number (which is 0297-387 640),
    • from outside the 0297 city code, enter 0297-387 640.
    • from inside the 0297 city code, dial either 0297-387 640 or 387 640 (this LN is all that’s necessary).
    In countries belonging to the second category, i.e., those without a “Nat. Pref.,” SNs have one of the following configurations:
    a) an area and/or a city code + a local number or
    b) a local number only.
    Domestic calling usually is as simple as dialing all listed digits.

For example, in Greece, whose phone system follows configuration (a), the Athens Holiday Inn is listed in the telephone book as 210 (that’s the AC) - 7278000 (that’s the LN). Thus, to call this property within Greece, you would dial 210-7278000. For an international call, you would use +30-210-7278000, where “30” is the CC for Greece.

In Portugal, which follows configuration (b), the Lisbon Holiday Inn is listed as 210046000. Thus, to reach the hotel from within Portugal, you would dial 210046000. For an international call, you would enter +351 210046000, where “351” is the CC for Portugal.

Note that some countries use both area and city codes.

Making International Calls to Category I and II Countries

Well, so far, making an overseas call looks pretty straightforward.

Nevertheless, there is one caveat. Whenever you make an international call to a Category I country, you must omit the National Prefix (Nat. Pref.) from your dialing sequence. To remind you, many numbers listed on the Internet or in local directories have parentheses around the Nat. Pref.

For instance, to dial Peter’s number, (0) 297-387 640, from the U.S., you have to drop the first “0,” which is the Nat. Pref. This leads to a dialing sequence of 011-31-297-387 640, where 011 is the IC and 31 the CC for the Netherlands.

Other scenarios, such as for the SN (0) 20-xxx xxxx in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), would work out as follows:
• Within the city — dial either xxx xxxx or 020-xxx xxxx.
• For a domestic call from outside the city — dial 020-xxx xxxx.
• For an international call to Amsterdam — ring +31-20 xxx xxxx.

(go to part two)

—The Discerning Traveler is written by Philip Wagenaar.