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Toll-free number

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A toll-free number or freephone number allows others to reach you from within one country (or within North America) without incurring long-distance tolls. As the long-distance charges are paid by the recipient, these DIDs are per-minute and carry a slightly higher cost than local inbound numbers. See Ordering a Toll Free Number and Porting a Toll Free Number for details on obtaining a toll-free number.


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Benefits of Having a Toll-free Number for Your Business

North America

As of 2017, North American toll-free numbers begin with +1-800, 1-833, 1-844, 1-855, 1-866, 1-877 and 1-888. In the original North American toll-free area code, 1-800, new toll-free numbers which spell meaningful phonewords have long been hard to come by due to widespread abuse of the system. A 2011 Associated Press report indicates one company alone is hoarding a quarter of the entire 1-800 area code but nothing has been done, largely due to FCC unwillingness to enforce existing regulations against hoarding, warehousing and brokering. At most times, the North American "Service Management System (SMS/800)" database behind will have no available 1-800 or 1-888 numbers (although quite a few 1-855's and other newer codes remain available).

This leaves a few options:

  • An existing 1-800 can be ported in from another carrier.
  • A number (including a vanity number) may be obtained more easily in a newer area code, such as 1-833 or 1-844.
  • If 1-855-(yourname) is gone, try a few other alternatives - 1-855-(your product name), 1-855-(the last seven digits of your local number), anything which looks vaguely memorable. Try 1-844 and 1-833's. If these fail, buy an ordinary toll-free DID number which spells nothing as these are available for immediate activation from inventory.
  • As there are no "new" true 1-800 numbers left, a few companies act as RespOrgs (supposedly, "responsible organisation" - in tollfree numbers, a role similar to a registrar for Internet names) specifically to "drop-catch" disconnected +1-800 numbers as they become available. It is possible to obtain a number from an independent RespOrg (like and port it into; these services are not carriers and don't provide the ongoing interexchange carrier service. This can be an expensive, time-consuming option as the drop-catch RespOrg charges hundreds of dollars (if they get the number), the number has to become available and the number must be ported once it's working.
  • New toll-free area codes tend to appear every few years; the most recent was +1-833 which opened on June 3, 2017. Requesting numbers as soon as any new area code becomes available is advisable, as the process rapidly devolves into a landrush for the best numbers. The most valuable generic vanity terms like FLOWERS or HOLIDAY tend to be gone in the first few seconds.
  • If you feel you absolutely must engage a US lawyer to contact the Federal Communications Commission and demand that some phone-sex spammer stop hoarding "your" 1-800-company name (along with a million others), it might be a good idea to grab and publish a plain +1-844 or 1-855 in the meantime. The process is slow and the outcome not guaranteed. In some cases (like +1-800-HOLIDAY vs. +1-800-H0LIDAY, with a zero in place of the 'O') a fight involving a distinctive number has been dragged in vain all the way to the appeal courts.

In general, once you have your toll-free DID, it works in much the same way as any other inbound number.

A few practical considerations:

  • If you market primarily to one large city (and its suburbs), obtaining a local number in that city may be a viable alternative to a toll-free number. It has no premium cost, it looks local and any inbound wrong number calls will usually be from just the one local area. Conversely, a national toll-free number can be a means to avoid needing multiple local numbers from multiple cities and is easily brandable.
  • It may be best to leave a local number on your outbound caller ID. There's no technical restriction on displaying +1-855-555-5555 or similar, but too many of these calls currently are telemarketers, fly-by-night bill collectors or other undesired enquiries. Many called parties will therefore hesitate to answer a call from any unfamiliar non-geographic number.
  • Calls from US pay phones would be notoriously expensive, where enabled, as the owner of the pay phone is paid generously per call (typically sixty cents on top of the per-minute cost of the call), however originating calls from payphones to toll-free numbers is not guaranteed to work.
  • Calls from Alaska, Hawaii, US possessions and the three Canadian territories (+1-867) may also be excluded due to their premium cost; lists Alaska as "unlocked on request" at a higher per-minute cost.
  • Caribbean toll-free numbers normally cover one country only, despite their use of the seemingly-familiar North American +1-areacode-number format.
  • Calls to toll-free numbers from overseas, with rare exception, will fail. "The number you have dialled is not available from your calling area." In the rare instance where they do complete, they're not free. Most advertisers will list a local number and a toll-free number to avoid becoming unreachable in this manner.
  • Inbound wrong numbers are a potential problem, especially if your number is one digit away from some huge national franchise. It may be best to wait a few days after your number is activated and working before printing it on advertisements and business cards; if the 'phone rings off the hook with misdial calls, it's not too late to request some other number. Typically, this issue is worst in true +1-800 and less of a problem for subscribers with newer, less-used area codes like 1-833, 1-844 or 1-855.
  • Know what calling area you want before you order; one toll-free number to cover all of the US and Canada is possible, but may add cost as it increases the number of inbound wrong numbers. While is one option to limit what area codes can call, it may make sense to decide whether calls from another country are desired when initially choosing a carrier.
  • If you are getting wrong numbers and don't want to change your toll-free number or coverage area, sending calls to interactive voice response will give misdial callers who hear your company name announcement an opportunity to silently hang up before the calls are sent to a live person.


A country code +800 nominally exists for international calls but is rarely used. Typically, toll-free numbers are obtained separately for each country in which they are to be used - so an Australian toll-free covers only Australia.

See Ordering an International DID number

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