What is a toll-free number? [2024 Guide]

Dive into the world of toll-free phone numbers, area codes, vanity numbers, and frequently asked questions.
Blog image: Toll-free number meaning

Whether you’re a local brick-and-mortar shop or a multinational Fortune 500 organization, how you choose to communicate with customers and prospects can mean the difference between churn and loyalty.

Organizations choose toll-free numbers to power voice channels, and different types of toll-free numbers send different messages to your customers and prospects. Should you choose a standard toll-free number, pick a branded vanity number, or use an international toll-free number? Let’s explore your options, and what’s best for your goals.

What is a toll-free number? 

Toll-free numbers are phone numbers with distinct three-digit codes that users can dial without incurring charges for the call. 

The toll-free caller’s recipient incurs the cost of the call, so toll-free phone numbers are often used by organizations to connect with customers and provide information over the phone. With this type of number, customers can contact a company without worrying about long-distance fees or making an out-of-state call.

3 types of toll-free numbers

Local or global organizations have different needs and can use country-specific or global toll-free numbers. There are three types of toll-free numbers a business might use:

1. Standard toll-free numbers

Also called domestic toll-free numbers, standard toll-free numbers (TFNs) are set up within a specific country, and only people of that country can dial the number for free. A U.S. toll-free number, for example, can only be dialed by users within the North American Numbering Plan (NANP). 

Regions covered within the North American Numbering Plan

Any company in these countries or regions pulls from the same SOMOS inventory. Users within any of these countries should be able to reach a standard/domestic toll-free number. The NANP includes 25 regions: 

  • American Samoa
  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • The British Virgin Islands
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Grenada
  • Guam
  • Jamaica
  • Montserrat
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sint Maarten
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • United States 
  • United States Virgin Islands

2. International toll-free numbers 

International toll-free numbers (ITFNs) are accessible within the same country they’re designated for, and you can’t route toll-free calls in from a different country.

Keep in mind that toll-free numbers are international from the perspective of the buyer. To a US customer, a UK toll-free number is an international toll-free number, and only users in the UK can call that number. To a UK caller, the organization’s UK toll-free number is a domestic number.

3. Universal international freephone numbers (UIFNs)

Universal international freephone numbers are reachable internationally and free for the caller, but have limited country coverage. 

Some toll-free numbers are accessible for users with international dialing only. For toll-free numbers in India, the calling party within India must activate “international dialing” on their account to be able to dial India toll-free numbers.

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Toll-free number area codes

Toll-free telephone numbers in the NANP are regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and RespOrgs assign the numbers in the SMS/800 database. Then, SMS/800 (also called SOMOS) manages toll-free phone numbers for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

The most common type of toll-free number is 800, but many other codes have been created since the beginning of the toll-free number. In addition, 888 and 877 are used in many countries. Note that some geographic area codes are similar to toll-free codes, like 801, 818, and 860. 

U.S. toll-free number area codes

The SMS/800 database and RespOrg structure are used in the NANP. Area codes 822, 880, 881, 882, 883, 884, 885, 886, 887, and 889 are reserved by the FCC for future toll-free number usage.

The list below includes toll-free area codes commonly used:

  • 800
  • 888
  • 877
  • 866
  • 855
  • 844
  • 833

Other toll-free area codes

  • 800-855: This is reserved for services for deaf or hearing-impaired users.
  • 800-484, 800-703, 800-744, and 800-904: Reserved by FCC

Non-U.S. toll-free area codes

  • 800-389: Bahamas
  • 800-534: Barbados
  • 800-623: Bermuda
  • 800-415: Dominican Republic
  • 800-751: Dominican Republic
  • 800-907: Dominican Republic
  • 800-271: Trinidad

What is a vanity toll-free phone number?

Vanity numbers, also known as branded numbers, are 1-800 numbers that simply spell out a word, phrase, or acronym chosen by the organization. Popular examples of vanity phone numbers are 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-888-CONTACTS, or 1-800-BUY-CARS.

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Benefits of vanity (branded) phone numbers

Vanity toll-free numbers can bring more value than initially meets the eye. Businesses choose vanity numbers to power their toll-free services for three main reasons: 

  1. Brand recognition. A memorable vanity number lets you stand out from your competitors and helps customers remember your brand.
  2. Accessibility. When customers are trying to contact your organization, they can dial without extra effort, a long number, or extensions. Instead, customers can reach you simply by dialing the digits they already know.
  3. Customer loyalty. Vanity numbers can build trust with your customers because you’re easily accessible if they need support. 

Toll-free numbers: FAQs

Is the 833 area code a toll-free number?

Yes. 833 is the newest NANP toll-free area code, released in 2017. 

Can users outside the country reach my toll-free number?

Sometimes. Toll-free numbers are typically only reachable from within their native country, so it depends on how the organization has set up routing. 

Is there an 881 toll-free code?

No. Toll-free area code 881 is excluded because it’s a special dialing code in the group NXX for various other purposes.

Are there U.K. toll-free area codes

Most of the U.K. has toll-free number services. However, there are certain areas excluded from toll-free services, like calls to the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. 

What’s a 900 number?

900 numbers are pay-per-call services used by phone companies to charge calls that exceed long-distance service rates. 

Learn more about toll-free numbers & codes

Your organization’s phone number can help your brand image and customer experience or hurt it. Whether you’re a nationwide chain with brick-and-mortar shops, or you’re a global organization offering cloud technology, toll-free numbers can add a lot of value to your brand.