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Toll-Free Numbers

What are Toll-Free Numbers?

Toll-free numbers are telephone numbers with specialized three-digit codes that can be dialed with no charge to the caller. These numbers let callers reach individuals and businesses outside their area code without having to pay a long-distance fee for the call, the entity that owns the number being the one who absorbs the cost.

Many companies have a toll-free business phone number as a convenience to potential and current customers. A toll-free number will differ from a local number as it begins with special three-digit codes including:

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

These codes are known as toll-free codes and are not interchangeable.

Who Assigns Toll-Free Numbers?

The Federal Communications Commission sets and enforces the rules for obtaining and using toll-free numbers but does not actually assign toll free numbers. Somos, Inc., is the administrator of the toll-free number database. Somos also certifies Responsible Organizations or RespOrgs. RespOrgs reserve and manage numbers on behalf of toll-free subscribers.

Graphic of smartphone with 800 number displaying

History of Toll-Free Numbers

Before toll-free calling, individuals not dialing a local number had to pay long-distance charges for calling any person or business outside their area code. The only way to place a call at no charge was to call a phone operator and request a collect call. The person answering the call had to accept the charges before the operator could connect the two parties.

AT&T introduced toll-free numbers in 1967. The communications giant set up the service as a call-forwarding plan that charges the called party instead of the caller. The first toll-free code was 800, so many people still refer to toll-free numbers as 800 numbers.

The supply of 800 numbers was depleted by 1996, leading to the introduction of 888 numbers. Since then, increased demand has led to the inclusion of several other toll-free codes. 

How Can I Call a Toll-Free Number?

Callers can dial a toll-free number just like any other number: Press “1” followed by the toll-free prefix. The owner of the number pays for the call with the caveat that the caller may incur a charge from their mobile phone service provider if they don’t have unlimited minutes in their calling plan.

How Do Businesses Acquire Customized Numbers for Toll-Free Calling?

Companies can reserve a vanity number, which is a toll-free number that spells a word, name or acronym. Vanity numbers are an effective advertising tool because the phrase or acronym is instantly recognizable and memorable compared to a string of numbers. Calls are made by simply pressing the numerals that correspond to the letters in the vanity number. 

Can I Call a Toll-Free Number Internationally?

International calls can be quite costly, so many toll-free number owners block access from international callers. If the phone numbers are not blocked, the caller will incur the charge for calls. Businesses typically provide a local number for use in countries outside the US.

International toll-free numbers, also called Universal International Freephone Numbers (UIFNs), are an exception. These phone numbers come with an additional country code and are free to call anywhere in the world. A UIFN consists of a three-digit country code for global service and an 8-digit Global Subscriber Number, all preceded by an international prefix.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a vanity number?

A vanity toll free phone number is a number selected because the numbers correspond to letters, using the ITU E.161 letter mapping standard, that might spell a word or acronym of significance to the subscriber.  Some well known examples are 1-(800)-COLLECT, 1 (800)-FLOWERS, and 1 (800)-CONTACTS.

What is an 800 number?

An 800 number is a toll free number starting with the 800 code. Because they are the original toll free phone numbers the term 800 number has entered the common lexicon as a catch all for all toll free numbers.

What is an international toll free number?

An international toll free number known as Universal International Freephone Numbers (UIFNs) is a phone number with an additional country code that is free to call anywhere in the world.  

Why should I use a single toll-free number instead of spreading messages across multiple numbers?

Spreading similar messages across multiple numbers as a way to avoid per number rate limits and volume limitations is called “snowshoeing” and is a common technique used by spammers. Adopting this technique often results in your messages being blocked based on your message content, including your URLs. Using a single toll-free number provides a better user experience for businesses and their customers and reduces the likelihood that TCPA-compliant (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) messages will be blocked for violating CTIA guidelines than using pools of rotating numbers.

What is toll-free messaging?

Toll-free messaging is the process of sending and receiving text messages (SMS and MMS) from a toll-free number, such as those starting with 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, 833, and 800. Toll-free messaging is classified as application-to-person (A2P), as described in the CTIA best practiceswhich allows these types of messages to be sent at higher message-per-second (MPS) rate limits – exactly like those previously reserved for short codes.