When you dial a telephone number in the United States, from the United States, things are fairly simple. First, you dial a three-digit area code, which sends the call to the appropriate regional switching station. This is followed by another three-digits called the exchange, which bundles the numbers as circuits onto a switch. Finally, you’ll dial four digits called the subscriber number, which is an individual’s personal number that functions as their telephone address. If you dial from a landline, the entire sequence of numbers is preceded with the number 1.


The number 1 represents the country code for the North American Numbering Plan, a shared plan of which the United States is a part. If you’re calling from the U.S. to the U.S., you never leave this plan. 10 digits preceded by the country code. Nice and simple.


If you want to place an international call, however, simple quickly becomes complicated — and expensive.


International Numbering Plans


The North American Numbering Plan — which is the basis for telephony in America, Canada and most of the Caribbean — is one of many numbering plans that vary widely depending on the continent, region or country that the call originates and where it’s going. Governed by the International Telecommunications Union, these non-uniform numbering plans require callers to jump through several hoops when dialing internationally. The standard international calling format requires callers to:


  • Dial an international dialing prefix: This “out” number depends on the country where the caller is located. In the U.S., for example, callers wishing to reach someone in another country’s numbering plan must first dial “011”. This is like dialing “9” on an office phone to get an outside line.
  • Second, dial the country code of the party receiving the call: These numbers can be between one and four digits. In Malaysia, it’s 60. In Panama, it’s 507.
  • Next, you have to find the area code. Like the United States, the numerical phone structure in most countries is broken down by region — but not always represented by three digits.
  • Finally, you’ll dial the local number, which can be between five and eight digits (local numbers in the United States, of course, contain seven numbers).


The Options


In recent years, a litany of options has sprung up to make international calling easier and more affordable. Voice over Internet protocol — or VoIP — technology routes calls through the Internet for web-based calling. Calling cards are prepaid solutions that are usually country or region specific. Minutes-based mobile plans are offered on an international basis by many large carriers and take the headache out of some of the numerical jumble of international dialing. But one option stands out among them all: virtual numbers.


Virtual Numbers Make International Calling Easy


Virtual numbers are telephone numbers that aren’t associated with a specific phone line. Instead, calls coming into a virtual number lead to a forwarding service that routes incoming calls to any number or series of numbers that have been set in advance. It doesn’t matter where the call originates, and it doesn’t matter where the person receiving it is located.


Let’s say a virtual number is attached to an international number local to Panama City. A person in Panama City calls the familiar, local number containing the country code, area code and local number scheme he or she is used to. That call could be routed to an office in Minneapolis, a VoIP number in Pittsburgh or a mobile phone of an employee — all without the caller ever knowing that the call left Panama City.


International calling no longer needs to be the headache that it once was. As the landline dies off as a legitimate business tool, the complicated and expensive numerical schemes required for global calling are — thankfully — dying with it. Virtual numbers provide an easy, low-cost alternative to calling around the world.