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:
  • 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.
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.

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.

Emergency Numbers

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.

Long Distance Telephone Calls

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 book.

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.

Direct-Dialed Call

A call dialed directly, without operator assistance. It is the least expensive and most common type of long distance call.

Person-to-Person 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.

Collect Call

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 telephone bill.

Third-Party Call

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 for confirmation.

"800," "866," "877," or "888" Calls

These are 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.

Calls to Foreign Countries

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 or Mobile Phones

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.

Public ("Pay") Phones

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.

Phone Cards

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.

Internet and E-mail Services

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 computer terminal.

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 Internet connections.


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.