International Phone Call Dialing Tips for Travelers

What you need to know about international dialing conventions

Young woman making phone call using smartphone
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Phoning Europe from the US

What are all those numbers? Hold on, help is on the way.

Anatomy of a European Phone Number - Breaking the Telephone Code

First, you will need to know what the sections of a phone number mean. Let's say you want to make reservations at Florence's famed Uffizi Gallery. You will see the number on their website:

39-055-294-883

You may sometimes see it written:

(++39) 055 294883

(The single or double + reminds you to add your International Access Code, which for North America--the US and Canada--is 011.)

What do the numbers mean?

39 is the country code for Italy. 055 is the city or area code for Florence (Firenze). Note: Country Codes can vary from 2 to three digits. City codes in Italy can vary from 2 to 4 digits. The rest is the local telephone number, which also may vary in the number of digits.

So I want to call this number. What do I do?

You must add the International Access Code. For the US and Canada, this code is 011.

So to call the Uffizi and request tickets from the US, you would dial:

011 39 055 294883

in other words:

(Access Code) (Country Code) (Area or City Code) (Number)

Some countries don't use an area or city code, in which case you can omit this number.

If you were within Italy using a phone with an Italian SIM card, you'd simply dial the number: 055 294883.

Dialing North America from Europe:

Simple. To call home, just dial 001, then the American number (area code, then a local number).

The 00 is the direct dialing prefix, and the 1 is the country code for North America (Canada and the US).

What kind of phone do you need to make calls within Europe? You can use your US mobile phone with roaming, which is often expensive--check with your carrier. You can buy a cheap cell phone in Europe with a local SIM, or, if you have an unlocked cell phone and are planning multiple country vacations, you can get a sim card in most countries from a store or kiosk.

If you just make local calls and receive email, a SIM card with 20 or 30 euro credit will probably do. See: Buying the Right GSM Cellular Phone for Europe.