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Your one-stop resource for studying in the United States. International students can search our directory of over 4,000 American educational institutions. Find the right college, university, or other school for you, and study abroad in America! Let us provide application forms as well as information on tuition, scholarships, grants, financial aid and much more.

 
 

 Study and Live

Telecommunication

How to Make Calls

One of the first things you'll want to do in the United States is call someone. Here's advice for making local and long distance calls in this country.

Local Versus Long Distance
There are two types of phone calls in the United States: a local call (within the area) or a long-distance call (outside the area). 

  • A local call is typically free unless you are calling from a public pay phone. Local calls from these telephones cost 35 cents for the first three minutes. 

All phone numbers have ten digits: (xxx) xxx-xxx. The first three digits are the regional area code: (xxx). The remaining seven are the actual phone number: xxx-xxxx. To dial a local call, you typically need to dial only the seven-digit phone number, not the area code. This is especially true if you are calling from the same area code. Occasionally, you will need to dial a 1 before the phone number, even if you are calling from the same area code. 

  • A long distance call is made to a number outside of the area. It is billed at various rates, and the cost depends on several factors. Which phone service are you using? What time are you calling? Are you calling within the United States or another country? How long are you speaking?

To make a long distance call within the country, dial <1, the area code and the phone number.> 

To make an international call, dial < 011, the country code, the city code, and the actual number you're calling.>

Avoid making long distance and international calls from a pay phone if you want to pay cash. It can be quite expensive. Your best bets are a credit card or a phone card.

There are other important numbers you'll want to know:

  • Toll free numbers are free. You can dial a toll free number anywhere in the USA, even from a pay phone, and not pay for it. These numbers have area codes that are 800, 888 or 877.

  • Emergency assistance is available by dialing 911. (Fire/ambulance/police) Use this number only when you need help immediately.

  • Directory assistance is available by dialing 411 for local numbers. For long distance numbers, dial 1-(area code)-555-1212. For finding a toll-free number, dial 1-800-555-1212.

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Phone Services

When you arrive in the USA, you will want to order phone service. Again, it's important to note that two different companies will probably handle your local and long-distance service. Be sure to comparison shop so you can find the plan that best suits your needs.

If you are in a dormitory, you may be required to use the local and long-distance services provided by the college or university. This policy changes from school to school. The rates can vary significantly as well. Some offer free local calls. Others charge a fee. If the school provider's rates are too expensive, there are other options like cell phones and prepaid phone cards.

If you are living off campus, you will need to order local and long-distance phone service yourself

Local Phone Services
To order phone service, you should contact the local phone company and order residential service. You can find this company by asking friends or looking in the telephone book. When applying for service, you must provide your address, name and an identification card like a driver's license or passport. You may also be asked to provide a deposit, because you are new to this country and haven't yet developed a credit history. 

There are a number of services available for an additional fee. A few of these services include:

  • Call Blocking: Blocks (or prohibits) certain incoming calls from ringing through on your line. 

  • Call Forwarding: Forwards incoming calls to another phone number you specified.

  • Call Waiting: Alerts you to another call when you are speaking with someone else. You can switch over to the incoming call to answer it, and then switch back to the original caller.

  • Three-Way Calling: Allows three people on different phones to talk at the same time.

  • Voice Mail: Acts as an answering machine service, so you won't miss any incoming calls.

These services offer a number of conveniences, however, they do cost extra each month. You'll want to consider carefully what you really need. 

Long Distance Service
When you sign up for local phone service, the telephone company will ask you to select a long-distance provider. You do not need to use their long distance services. There are a number of other programs available, and rates can vary greatly between plans. For instance, some companies offer one rate all the time. Others have different rates at different times. It pays to consider several options before making a decision.

Keep in mind that long distance carriers charge different prices for calls within the United States and for calls outside of the country. Just because you have signed up for a long-distance rate of 7 cents a minute, doesn't mean you'll pay that price when you call Chile, Germany or China. You will probably pay quite a bit more.

Fortunately, many phone companies offer international call promotions. These programs feature lower rates to certain countries. When you ask about their program, be sure to see if they offer reduced rates to your country. You can save a lot of money, if you do your homework ahead of time.

Many long distance companies offer phone cards. They are very convenient, especially if you don't have a cell phone and need to use a public phone. Do check the rates per minute first, however. They may be higher.

Some of the most popular long distance carriers in the United States:

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10-10 Services

A 10-10 service offers another option for long distance calls within the United States and internationally. This service requires you to dial a number first, before your phone number. The prices can be less expensive in some cases. But not always. To determine whether this program works for you, learn more about these services:

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Prepaid Calling Cards

Another way to make calls is to buy a prepaid calling card. Available for $5, $10 or $20, these cards can be found in stores around the country. They allow you to make calls up to the amount prepaid. To access the service, you simply dial the number on the back of the cards. 

Each time you use these cards, you are charged a small connection fee. For that reason, you may want to use these cards for longer calls rather than short, frequent ones.

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Callback Services

You may find that phone calls in the USA are much less expensive than in your own country. This may be especially true for international calls. If so, consider having your friends and family members use a callback service to call you.

Here's how it works. Say your sister in Hong Kong wants to call you in New York. She would call a callback service and let the phone ring once. This would prevent her from being charged by the local phone company.

The callback service would call her and ask what number she would like dialed in the United States. It would then dial this number for her using an American phone connection. Your sister would be charged US long distance rates instead of the prices in Hong Kong.

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Cell Phones

Cell phones are another alternative to ordinary phone service. They offer the ease and convenience of calling any time, anywhere. Some students use these mobile phones primarily for emergency situations. Others use them more often to make local calls, especially if the school's phone system charges high phone rates.

Many plans start at about $19.95/month and provide 150 hours a month. There are special packages that allow you to make unlimited long distance calls. However, they usually don't include international calls. You may prefer to use other services for these calls.

To learn more about cell phones, contact:

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Internet Services

The United States is very "wired" to the Internet. During your studies, you will no doubt be expected to use the Internet often. It can be extremely helpful for your research, entertainment, education and shopping tasks.

Many colleges and universities provide students with free email addresses, computer access and Internet connections. Be sure to check the policies of the schools you're considering. 

Email is an easy and inexpensive way to keep in touch with friends and family members overseas.

Want to order your own Internet access? You'll need an Internet Service Provider or ISP. Below are the most common types:

Dial-Up Modems: Most Americans use a dial-up modem, which uses the telephone line to access their computers to the Internet. It's inexpensive to use, and there are many plans available. Prices typically range $15-25/monthly for unlimited access. You will also need a modem. A modem is usually in your computer already. Or, it can be purchased as an external component for about $100.

DSL: More and more Americans are having the phone company install high-speed access to their existing phone line. This is called a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). It provides much faster access to the Internet. It is more expensive monthly, and prices average $40-50/month. You will also need an ethernet port or a network interface card. These cost anywhere from $20-80.

Cable: Another increasingly popular option is provided by many local cable companies. You can arrange for fast Internet connections through your TV service. In this case, your ISP becomes the cable TV company. The system is priced about the same as DSL. Prices average $40-50/month. You will also need an ethernet port or a network interface card.

Free: There are several free ISPs who provide access to the Internet. Instead of charging you fees, the company requires small advertisements to appear frequently on your computer screen. 

You're best bet is to shop around to find the plan that suits your need. Here are a few ideas:

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