A telephone is definitely a necessity in the United States. Although
setting up a regular phone in your place of residence is cheaper, it
is not nearly as convenient as a cellular phone.
A cell phone can be fairly expensive depending on usage and other
factors. Be sure to ask others which phones and services they use
before making a purchase decision.
For convenience and privacy, most students will want to have their
own telephones. Almost all dormitories have at least a dorm or a
"floor" telephone, which students share. Other dormitories have
telephones already installed in the rooms. If there is no room
phone, it is permissible to have one installed. Remember that you
will be responsible for the telephone bills. If you decide to have a
telephone installed in your room, ask the residence adviser of your
dormitory for advice. If you live off-campus, you will need a
telephone not only for convenience but also for safety. Ask your
international student adviser for advice on how to get a phone
installed in your home or apartment.
When you get a phone line installed, you will have to buy your own
phone and pay for installation charges and perhaps a deposit (to
ensure that you will pay your telephone bills). You will be billed
monthly for use of the telephone, usually a flat fee for local
service (depending on the kind of service you have) plus extra
charges for long distance calls. These costs vary from area to area
in the United States.
Every telephone customer receives a copy of the telephone directory
for the area and a new copy each time the directory is revised and
updated. There are usually three parts to the telephone directory,
named after the color of their pages:
Telephone numbers in the United States have 10 digits, including a
seven-digit set of numbers that is the prime telephone number.
Preceding the seven-digit number is the three-digit "area code." The
area code serves a wide region, often a large part of a state.
Usually you need to dial the area code only if the number is in an
area with a code different than your own. However, some more
populated areas now have more than one area code and require you to
dial both the area code and prime telephone number even if you live
in the same city.
- The white pages are in front of the telephone book. Listed
here, alphabetically by last name, are the names, addresses, and
telephone numbers of all subscribers, both individuals and
businesses, in the immediate telephone area, except for those
subscribers who do not wish to have such information listed.
Some large cities divide the white pages in two sections, one
for residence listings and one for business listings.
- The yellow pages are in the back part of the phone book or,
in large cities, in a separate book. The yellow pages list
companies, organizations, and services, alphabetically and by
category. There is an index of categories in the yellow pages.
Under each category are listings of firms that provide that
service. The yellow pages can be very useful if you are looking
for a particular business or service.
- Some larger cities also have blue pages for city, county,
state, and federal government listings.
If you need a telephone number and you cannot find it in the
telephone book, you can call "directory assistance" by dialing the
number given in the front part of the phone book. In most areas, the
number is "411." If the number you want is an "unlisted" number, the
directory assistance operator is not allowed to give it to you. Most
telephone companies allow each customer to make a certain number of
free directory assistance calls per month. After that number is
reached, you will be charged a fee for each additional call.
It is very important to write down emergency numbers (fire, police,
doctors, paramedics, campus emergency numbers, and so on) and to
keep them near your telephone. Emergency numbers are given in the
front part of the telephone book, though sometimes there are several
districts for fire, police, and paramedic services (often called the
rescue squad). Be sure that you have the correct emergency numbers
to serve you if you need help, and keep these numbers posted near or
taped to your telephone.
In many communities in the United States, when you need police, the
fire department, or paramedics in an emergency situation, you simply
dial "911." Once you have dialed 911, the operator will ask you what
the emergency is, ask for your address, and then summon the
appropriate help. Most of the time, the operator will stay on the
line and give you support or advice until help arrives. It is very
important to call 911 only in an emergency situation, and it is
illegal to use it otherwise.
Some people believe that if you dial "0" in an emergency, the
operator will call for help. This is not true. Often the telephone
operator who processes your calls is kilometers — perhaps several
hundred kilometers — away. In an emergency, you need local help and
should contact 911 for help as quickly as possible.
There are several types of long distance telephone calls. Generally,
when you call someone long distance in the United States, you dial
"1," the area code, and then the seven-digit telephone number.
Various rates are charged for long distance calls, depending on the
time of day, length of call, the type of call, and the long distance
company you use. Be sure to note when rates are lowest, usually
weekends, holidays, and at night. You can find information on long
distance costs and procedures in the front part of the telephone
Long distance service is a big business in the United States. When
you connect with the local telephone company, you will be
automatically connected to their long distance service or you may be
given a choice of companies. You will likely also get calls from
representatives of private long distance companies offering you all
types of deals, rebates, or special packages. Depending on your
needs, sometimes these private long distance companies can save you
considerable amounts of money. Take into consideration what these
companies offer you, compare it to what your local phone company
offers, and take your long distance calling needs into
consideration. Ask your international student adviser for advice on
private long distance companies if you are not sure which would be
best for you.
Below are some of the types of long distance calls you can make in
the United States.
A call dialed directly, without
operator assistance. It is the least expensive and most common type
of long distance call.
An operator-assisted call in
which the operator connects you directly with the person with whom
you wish to speak. Charges are per minute and begin when the
operator puts the person you want to speak with on the line. This
service is more expensive than a direct-dialed call, but it might be
necessary if you need to contact people who are difficult to reach
or if you are calling a country where telephone service is sporadic.
The extent to which some countries accept person-to-person calls
from the United States may depend on the availability of telephone
services, on the telecommunications technology, or on the
governmental regime in place.
An operator-assisted call for which
the charges are billed to the person you are calling. If you place a
collect call, the operator will ask you your name and then ask the
person you are calling whether he or she will "accept the charges,"
that is, allow the cost of the call to be put on his or her
A call made from a telephone
other than your own for which the operator transfers the charges
from the telephone you are using to your own phone number. If,
however, the telephone you are using is a pay telephone rather than
a personal phone, the operator must verbally verify the charges, so
someone must be at your home to answer the telephone. The operator
will call your phone number and someone will have to answer your
phone and verbally accept the charges for the third-party call to be
completed. The charges will then be billed to your home phone
number. Most telephone companies now issue "calling cards" for their
users. With a special identification number, you can have all long
distance calls you make from telephones other than your own charged
automatically to your bill, without having the operator call home
calls made to toll-free numbers. When you call a number that begins
with either of these area codes, the charges are paid by the
business you are calling as a courtesy to its customers.
It is possible to dial direct to almost all foreign countries from
the United States, and direct dialing is less expensive than placing
calls through the operator. To get an international line, you must
first dial "011," then the country code, city code, and telephone
number you wish to reach. International country and city codes,
rates to some countries, time differences, and further directions
for placing international calls are given in the front part of the
telephone book. You can also make operator-assisted calls,
person-to-person calls, and collect calls to foreign countries by
dialing "0" for the operator. Dial the operator if you:
- need a country or city code not listed in the telephone book
under "international direct dialing";
- need help in completing an international call;
- have reached a wrong number or have a poor connection in the
country you are trying to contact and do not want to be charged
for that call.
Cellular phones are widely available in the United States, and most
mobile phones purchased in other countries will not work in the
United States. If you wish to have a cellular phone, it is best to
get one after you arrive. Many types of phones and a number of
service providers are available in most places, so investigate to
find those that best suit your needs. Many cell phone companies
provide free long distance.
These telephones can be found in many locations in commercial areas.
Directions for making calls are printed on the telephone. You
usually need to insert 35 to 50 cents to make a local call. Most
telephone companies now sell debit cards. When you buy the card, you
pay a certain amount that is recorded into the card's computer chip
or magnetic strip. Afterwards, you can use this card in public
telephones until the balance is depleted.
Many supermarkets and convenience stores sell pre-paid phone cards
for specific dollar amounts ($5, $10, $20) that charge a small
connection fee, then provide inexpensive long distance service.
Prices vary by provider, but it is possible to call other countries
for as little as 4 cents per minute; choose the card that provides
the best rate for the country you wish to call.
At most U.S. colleges and universities, you will be assigned, upon
request, a free e-mail address. In some cases, Internet services are
also free. Generally, U.S. colleges and universities have several
computer rooms where you can check your e-mail, use the Internet, or
use various software programs. Because of the popularity of these
services, you might have to stand in line to get access to a
If you want Internet and e-mail services to be connected to your
home computer, there are many possible alternatives. As a student,
you can get a dial-up connection from your home computer to your
university's server at a discount or, possibly, for free. Some
universities even have network connections available in all dorm
rooms. Contact your university's Information Technology (IT)
Services Office for more information. Private computer service
companies, local telephone companies, and some television cable
companies also offer home Internet connections. These private
Internet suppliers can be more expensive to use, but their services
and connection quality might be better. If you are unsure what to
do, ask your international student adviser for advice on home
With the Internet and the ever-increasing computerization of
telecommunications, older methods of communication such as telegraph
and telegram are less and less accessible in the United States. If
you do want to send a telegram or a telex message, look in the
yellow pages of the phone book for "Telegraph Service." Once you
select a company, call and tell the operator the name and address
(including the country) of the person to whom you are sending the
telegram; then, dictate the message. The number of words in the
message and the distance it must be sent will determine the charges.
Telegrams or telexes can be charged to your telephone number or you
can ask the operator to send you a bill.