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Phoning Abroad

You have just arrived in your new home overseas, would you be able to give your phone number to a friend back home?

Most people do, but don't assume. A friend gave me her cell phone number some days ago. She lives in France and I live in Italy. I saw an eight digit number, I didn't see any International code and I knew I had a problem.

Many many years ago, before direct dialling, life was easier. You rang up the operator, asked for a number in a city/country, and the operator took care of everything.

Of course, back then, the 2 minute call from Milan to Rome, could also cost you 20 EUR in todays money, so may be things got a bit complicated, but they certainly got cheaper.

Let's examine a UK phone number: + 44 (0) 171 XXX XXXX

If this was a real number it would be somewhere in England, in the London area.

The secret parts of a phone number

A phone number is made by 4 different "sets" of numbers:

  • by international standard the "+" sign indicates the International Direct Dialing prefix (IDD), which may be different in different countries. Most countries use "00" as IDD, but not all. USA, Canada, Mexico, as an example use "011" and Russia uses "8" and then "10" after you have heard a second tone.
  • 44 is the country code;
  • (0) this is the National Direct Dialing prefix (NDD). If calling from abroad this number in brackets should NOT be dialled. You must dial it from within the country, but depending on the country it might be dropped or dialled when calling from within the same city.
  • 234 is the area code;
  • XXX XXXX  is the actual phone number.

IDD Prefix (International Direct Dialing)

The IDD prefix is the international prefix needed to dial a call FROM the country listed TO another country. This prefix is internationally indicated by a “+” followed by the country code for the country you are calling (see below). The IDD situation in many countries has been changing regularly. Some countries have multiple IDDs, with each one used by a different long-distance carrier.

Country Code

The country code is the national prefix to be used when dialing TO that particular country FROM another country. In some cases you will also need to dial a city or area code.

NDD Prefix (National Direct Dialing)

The NDD prefix is the access code used to make a call WITHIN that country from one city to another (when calling another city in the same vicinity, this may not be necessary). The NDD is followed by the city/area code for the place you are calling. Phone numbers are often written in this format: +44-(0)171-XXXX-XXX.

This expresses the numbers used for both international and national long-distance calls.

In the example, + 44 indicates the country code, while (0) indicates the NDD. When dialing from outside the country, the NDD would not be used after dialing the country code; when dialing from within that country, the NDD would be used, but the country code would not. You know what really makes all this a nightmare? Each country has different IDD and NDD.

You will find here a complete list of IDD's, NDD's and country codes

So if someone gives you a phone number and doesn't use the International Standard correctly you may very well be stuck! And even the written language on phones and calling cards isn't very clear.

Author's story: Let me tell you a little story. Some time ago I was traveling across the USA with friends. While we were in a small town in Arizona, these friends needed to call back home (Italy). They knew English, they had a calling card, they had a phone sitting next to their bed in the hotel room, so they picked up and dialled. The hotel phone had instructions printed next to the dialling pad: “ Outside calls dial 9 +”. The calling card said to dial 011 Country Code etc. They confused the IDD with the NDD and ended up calling 911. Five minutes later, after an obvious wrong number “ I got the operator and just hung up, I didn't want to pay a surcharge!” a cop knocked on their door and after giving them a heart attack, graciously explained them they had called the US emergency number, and that you should never hang up on that operator! That's another nightmare. Each country has different emergency numbers.

After all what do you expect: in the globalization era we haven't agreed yet on a common linear measure, weight or even side of the road were to drive!!! So, are you still sure you know your phone number and how to make an international call?