How to make unlimited international calls from your home phone

Nov 8, 2016

As the old proverb states, it’s “better to see the face than hear the name.” But if it’s not possible to see the faces of the ones you love because they live abroad, then hearing their voices on international phone calls can be just as good – no matter where you live.

In some of our previous posts, we’ve talked about the history of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, as well as why we use different phone number dialing conventions. And as the demand for the home phone grew in the United States during the late 20th century, so did its massive popularity.

In a similar fashion, phone technology spread across the seas like wildfire as well. Just like we expanded our own North American numbering plan to include area codes at the front of our personal phone numbers, whole countries suddenly had a need to do exactly the same thing.

And since getting across the sea to see loved ones was neither cheap by airplane, quick by ship, nor convenient by any means – the phone rapidly become a valuable tool for keeping in touch with international relatives.

When telephone “lines” crossed an ocean

After the expansion of the wired telephone network across the country, Americans had the ability to make calls from farther and farther away. And the next obvious expansion for phone service was not merely transcontinental, but transatlantic. However, in the early 20th century, this was completely unfeasible.

Running a literal telephone line across the Atlantic Ocean was physically impossible, given the lack of landmass in between the two closest countries. Similarly, burying wires under the ocean all the way from the U.S. to England was technologically impossible. The signal would become too weak over that great of a distance, and the amplifiers and repeaters necessary to boost the signal wouldn’t operate underwater.

So, instead, engineers came up with a completely novel solution – the first transatlantic radio-telephone service. In short, according to The Telecommunications History Group, it worked like this:

First you would change your voice (sound waves) into electricity, as in a normal phone. Then this electricity would be converted into a radio wave, just like those used by radio stations – but on a different frequency – and the radio wave would be broadcast to a receiver. The receiver would reverse the process, taking the radio wave and converting it back into electricity, after which it would be sent down the phone lines to the person on the other end.

In 1915, engineers at Bell Labs created the first of such transatlantic voice transmission using microwaves, and in 1927, it was finally ready for commercial use. However, this system was still somewhat unreliable (due to atmospheric disturbances) and very expensive – as in $6 per minute – back in 1920s dollars.

Americans now make an average of 6.2 billion international calls per year.

And so, after nearly 40 years of innovation, multiple companies came together to design, fabricate, lay, and operate the first ever, working transatlantic telephone cable. And in 1956, they actually did it – nearly tripling the transatlantic phone system in capacity.

Not long after, in the early 1960s, engineers improved upon that radio technology from earlier and expanded it to include satellite systems hovering above us in space. These would bounce and relay international phone call signals to and from anywhere in the world. Since then, our long-distance calling technology has only further improved, making our international calls more reliable, higher quality, and faster due to better wiring, signaling, and satellites.

Why calling abroad isn’t hard

Let’s look at some numbers. Considering that the United States allows over 185 million visits to the U.S. from international travelers, an immigrant population increase of more than 1 million people per year, and the increasing globalization of businesses leading to corporations setting up offices all over the world, Americans now make an average of 6.2 billion international calls per year — and that’s only going to continue trending upward. However, if you don’t know the smart ways to make an international call, then these can become extremely expensive very quickly. So, let’s review how you can get the best deals on international calls for your home phone.

When you’re making an international call from a landline, you must dial the number using the standard international calling format, in this specific order:

  • International Direct Dial (IDD) code
    • This lets the phone company know you’re about to make an international call.
    • Some countries may have more than one IDD, depending on the carrier or type of service.
  • Country code
    • This is the code of the country you’re trying to reach.
    • In some cases, the country code is shared among countries.
  • City Code (Area Code)
    • This localizes your call even more, making for a faster connection.
    • Smaller countries may not use them, while larger countries have hundreds of them.
  • Local number
    • This number rings the specific phone you’re hoping to reach.

International dialing prefixes (or the IDD codes) vary depending on the country from which you’re making the call. For example, when calling international from a landline in the United States, the IDD is 011. With that in mind, here’s a great walkthrough for dialing international phone numbers from America.

And to make your international dialing even easier, here’s a thorough list of country codes.

(It’s also important to note that dialing international phone numbers from a cell phone works a little differently, so be sure to double check that method.)

International calling plans and prices

The cost of making international calls from a landline depends on your specific calling plan. The basic long-distance rate for international calls ranges from a few cents a minute to several dollars a minute. It also varies depending on which country you’re trying to reach, as well as where you’re calling from.

Most major long-distance and international carriers in the U.S. offer special calling plans designed around your calling habits. For example, if you call Croatia from the U.S. twice a week, but hardly ever make national long-distance calls, you can usually find a special flat rate with a long-distance company. These special plans will be much cheaper than the basic, per-minute, international rates.

So, if you plan on making regular calls to certain countries, ask your home phone service provider about details on the special, smarter, money-saving plans.

The benefits of using a landline to make an international phone call

Overall, international calling rates are cheaper in the United States then what phone monopolies in other countries charge their customers. And, when compared to other international calling options like a calling card or a cell phone, it also has some distinct advantages.

First, be aware of extra charges you many incur when using a service such as a calling card to place international calls. Even though they often advertise low rates, they also secretly charge additional connection or maintenance fees. Second, if you use a cell phone to call internationally, you’ll have a greater risk of the call being dropped, considering how far the signal has to travel. Plus, you’ll likely get stuck with international roaming charges if you’re in a foreign country and are calling home.

But, if you want to make international calls to your friends and family living abroad, then it’s never been easier with a home phone line. A number of reputable home phone providers offer international calling that’s both reliable and affordable, and we’ll be glad to get you connected with them. Because even though your loved ones may be far away, they can still sound as close as ever.