Understanding Telephones in London

London Telephone Box, Taxis and Double Decker Bus

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All of the codes required to make phone calls in the UK can be confusing. BT Directory Enquiries is 118 500, or you can search online.

International Directory Enquiries From the UK

If you need assistance, you can speak to the UK Operator on 100.

In an emergency, dial 999.

Need mobile wifi rental while in London and the UK? Try Fonmigo mobile wifi rental.

01 of 07

Recognizing London Telephone Numbers

Businesswoman using cell phone in library

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020 is the dial code for the whole London area. A standard London telephone number looks like:

(020) 7xxx xxxx or
(020) 8xxx xxxx or
(020) 3xxx xxxx (020 3xxx xxxx numbers were released in 2005.)

  • The fourth and fifth digits 72 to 79 were mostly inherited from old 0171 numbers, and are still mostly inner London.
  • The fourth and fifth digits 82 to 89 were mostly inherited from old 0181 numbers, and are still mostly outer London.
  • The fourth and fifth digits 70 and 71 are new numbers and can be anywhere in London (Numbers like 0171 0xx xxxx and 0171 1xx xxxx were not valid in the old system).
  • The fourth and fifth digits 80 and 81 are new numbers and can be anywhere in London (Numbers like 0181 0xx xxxx and 0181 1xx xxxx were not valid in the old system).

How to Write London Telephone Numbers

You will often see London telephone numbers written incorrectly as:
0207 xxx xxxx or 0208 xxx xxxx or 0203 xxx xxxx
Note, the London dialing code is (020) so this incorrect spacing can be confusing as you'll think there's a 4 digit area code. London local numbers have eight digits after the (020) area code.

UK Telephone Numbers

These places use the (02x) xxxx xxxx format:

  • London, Southampton, Portsmouth, Coventry, Northern Ireland, Cardiff.

If the code is (011x) or (01x1) then the number is written as 01xx xxx xxxx. That affects numbers in most of the major population centers in the UK, outside of London:

  • (01x1) Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Tyne and Wear/County Durham
  • (011x) Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol, and Reading.

Other UK area codes start (0 1xxx) xxxxxx.

Check UK area codes on the Ofcom Area Code Tool.

Cell Phone/Mobile Phone Numbers

Cell phone numbers start 07xxx xxxxxx. These are charged at a higher rate than landlines - both to dial from and to call.

Non-Geographical Numbers

These are popular for businesses. The most common non-geographical numbers look like this:
0845 xxx xxxx or 0870 xxx xxxx and are charged at a higher rate.
Look out for 0842, 0843, 0844, 0871, 0872, and 0873 numbers that are also charged at a higher rate, and are regulated as premium rate numbers from 2009.

The latest non-geographical numbers include 0300, 0303, 0306, 0330, 0333, 0345 and 0370 numbers; all written as 03xx xxx xxxx. These are charged at geographic rates and have to be included in call plans.

0500 xxxxxx, 0800 xxxxxx, 0800 xxx xxxx and 0808 xxx xxxx numbers are often referred to as free numbers but the call is only free from a landline, not a mobile.

Premium Rate Numbers

These usually start 09xx xxx xxxx and have some incredibly expensive call rates - over £1 ($2) per minute minimum. They also have long recorded messages which just clocks up the cash for the line owners. Keep clear of these numbers!

If you like smartphone apps you may well be interested in the review of M8 Your Local Mate.

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02 of 07

Payphones in London


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In central London, you will see the iconic red telephone boxes but elsewhere they have been replaced with glass boxes. The newer glass telephone boxes usually have to advertise on all sides so you will still have privacy when making a call.

Payphones in central London often accept credit card payments but may charge a higher rate.

There are different types of payphones available in London. Most are run by BT (British Telecom) but there are some other companies too.

  • Standard payphone: Make telephone calls to landlines and mobile phones.
  • Text and email payphone: Make telephone calls, send text messages to mobile phones and emails.
  • Internet kiosks: Make telephone calls, send text messages, and access to Internet services.
  • Text direct: Allows a caller to send a message to another textphone by using the keypad or dictating a message via an operator.

How to Use a UK Payphone

  1. Lift the receiver and wait for dial tone (continuous tone).
  2. Pay: Insert phone card in slot, or deposit coins (10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2). See the UK Currency Photographs to familiarize yourself with the coins.
  3. Dial the number, including international codes if necessary, and wait to be connected.
  4. While you are on your call you can see the display to check how much credit you have left. If you hear a rapid beeping noise it means you need to deposit more money or insert another phone card.
  5. If you have credit left and want to make another call, do not replace the receiver - press the 'follow-on call' button.
  6. If you have finished your calls and have credit left, replace the receiver and whole coins should be returned. This doesn't always happen so I would recommend talking that bit longer and using all your credit.

Find out the costs to use a BT payphone.

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03 of 07

Calls From Your Hotel Room

Hand scrolling on phone at festival

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A lot of hotels have phones in each room which you can dial directly from (you don't need to call Reception or the Operator to make a call). You will usually need to dial 9 for an outside line from a hotel room or a business phone, but never from a residential (home) phone.

You can use a pre-paid calling card to save money on your calls but you will often still be charged a 'connection' fee on your hotel bill.

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04 of 07

Prepaid Calling Cards

Prepaid calling cards

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Prepaid calling cards mean you buy a card for a flat rate and then money gets deducted for each call you make. Call rates can vary so make sure you choose one based on the country you want to call. Prepaid calling cards are available from nearly every newsagent in London so you won’t have problems finding one. Or you can buy one in advance from one of these providers:

Of course, there are many more companies selling these calling cards so check the latest deals online.

On the back of each card, there is a toll-free number (0800 in the UK) that you dial before dialing your destination number.

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05 of 07

Making International Calls From the UK

London Telephone Box

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The international dial code from the UK is 00.

Then add your country code:

  • USA and Canada: 1
  • Australia: 61
  • China: 86
  • France: 33
  • Germany: 49
  • Japan: 81
  • New Zealand: 64
  • South Africa: 27
  • Spain: 34

Then dial the area code and the number.

A call to the US will be:
00 + 1 + area code + local number.

If you need assistance you can call the International Operator on 155. There is no charge to speak to the Operator but if they connect your call you will be charged a higher rate.

If you are using a phonecard you must have at least £2 credit to make an international call.

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06 of 07

Calling the UK From Overseas

International phone calls

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International dial code from USA: 011

International dial code from most of Europe: 00

United Kingdom country code: 44

If you see a UK number like 020 7123 1234 and need to dial it from overseas:

  • dial the access code
  • then country code
  • and remove the first 0 from the UK area code before dialing the rest of the code and number.

For example: (from the US): 011 44 20 7123 1234
NOT: 011 44 020 7123 1234. You must remove the first zero from area code.

If you see a UK number written as +44 20 7123 1234, this is already in the approved international format. Simply replace the + with the access code and then dial all of the digits as shown.

For example: (from the US): 011 44 20 7123 1234

You will occasionally see a UK number incorrectly written like +44 (0)20 7123 1234 with a zero in brackets that should not be there. This written format is NOT recommended and will confuse some dialing software.

The number is NOT: 011 44 020 7123 1234. You must remove the first zero from the area code when you dial.

But remember you do need this 0 when calling another UK number from within the UK.

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07 of 07

Cell Phones in London

Young lady using smartphone on train platform

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If you are used to using your cell phone regularly you may well want to bring it with you to London and the UK but the problem is that most US cell phones are not GSM. You will need a GSM phone that works on both the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands for use in the UK and/or Europe. Such phones are often described as "tri-band" or "quad-band".

Check the specification of your phone in the product manual, or with your provider, or at GSM Arena by entering the model number in the 'quick search' box.

Most "3G" handsets (900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and/or 2100 MHz) will work in most urban areas of UK and Europe, giving enhanced web and email access, as well as being usable for normal talk and text services. Do beware of roaming data charges, as internet access will be *very* expensive.

What's GSM?

GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communication and is used across Europe and many other places around the world. But not in the US. GSM phones can be 'locked' to a network but they can be unlocked to allow you to use all the networks in the UK.

You will also need a SIM card.

What's a SIM card?

SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module. This small piece of plastic (less than the size of a postage stamp) has a chip which holds all the information about your cell phone number, your contacts, security access details, etc. You can move your SIM to a new cell phone so you can keep all your important numbers and don’t have to change your number when you get a new phone.

Cell Phone Options for US Visitors

  1. Contact your phone network provider and check if you can use your phone in Europe. They may have options for you as a current customer.
  2. Consider switching carriers, if you are not on a contract. AT&T appear to be offering GSM technology so speak to them about your requirements. Find your local AT&T store.
  3. If you travel regularly, buy a GSM handset from around $50. If your trip is for more than a few weeks it can be cheaper than renting. Check out the options at Mobal Rental.
  4. You can buy or rent the National Geographic Talk Abroad travel phones and SIM cards (with UK and US numbers). It's a simple phone but it may well be all that you need.

You will still need a SIM card for these phones. Find out more about pay as you go cell phones in London.

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