United States

Internet, Comunication

Internet, Comunication


By phone

Domestic calls

The country code for the U.S. is +1. The long-distance prefix (trunk code) is also "1", so U.S. telephone numbers are frequently written as an eleven-digit number: "1-nnn-nnn-nnnn". The rest of the telephone number consists of ten digits: a three-digit area code, and a seven-digit number. Historically, area codes used to be geographically defined, but nowadays, they are assigned more by population than location (within a state), so expect many codes in large cities, and only one or two for the entirety of a mostly rural state. Whether a number is a mobile or a landline (and sometimes even its location) often cannot be distinguished from its area code or number.

From a mobile phone, a domestic call is simple: always dial ten digits without the "1".

From a fixed line, you can usually dial a local number using ten digits. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco require eleven digits. Places where a new area code overlays another one require ten-digit dialing, whereas areas with only one area code usually allow seven digits. If a number is written or given without the area code, you can usually dial it like that locally, but dialing ten digits should also work. For long-distance and toll-free, always dial eleven digits.

Domestic calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844 are toll-free. From a fixed line, they must be dialed using the full 11-digit pattern. With few exceptions (such as Canada or, rarely, Mexico) these are not reachable from abroad. (Voice over IP users may be able to circumvent this restriction by calling via a U.S.-based gateway.) The area code 900 is used for services with additional charges (e.g. "adult entertainment"). This is also true of local seven-digit numbers starting with 976 (or, in some localities, 970).

International calls

To dial abroad, the international access code is 011 ("+" will also work on a mobile phone).

Canada, U.S. territories, Bermuda, and 17 Caribbean nations are part of the North American Numbering Plan, and have the same country code ("1") as the U.S. Calls made between these countries are dialed using only the full 11-digit number, but almost all are charged at international rates. Calls between the U.S. and its territories may be more expensive than calls within the contiguous 48 states and D.C., or even calls between the U.S. mainland and Canada (which are typically charged at a higher rate than domestic calls, but lower than other international calls). Alaska and Hawaii may carry a surcharge even for domestic calls, depending on the carrier and rate plan.

Phones and directories

The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, shopping mall entrances and near bus stops. In large cities, they can be hard to find outside of transport stations and hotels. Most are coin operated (quarters, dimes and nickels) and do not accept paper bills. Prices are normally $0.50 for the first three minutes, and $0.25 for each additional minute. An online directory of pay phones can be found at Pay Phone Directory. Calls to 9-1-1, to report an emergency, and to area codes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844 (which are toll-free) are free from pay phones. A few commercial toll-free numbers block inbound calls from U.S. payphones as these calls cost an extra sixty cents to the called party.

Telephone directories contain two listings (often split into two books): the white pages list phone numbers alphabetically by last name, and the yellow pages list businesses by category (e.g. "Taxicabs"). Many residential land-line phones and all mobile phones are unlisted. Directory assistance can also be had (at an extra cost) by dialing 4-1-1 (for local numbers) or 1-area code-555-1212 (for other areas). If 4-1-1 doesn't work, try 555-1212, area code-555-1212 or 1-area code-555-1212. Free directory information (with advertisements) is available: dial 1-800-FREE-411 (1-800-3733-411) or browse free411.com or 411.info. Regional telephone companies' web sites (most often AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink; also Frontier in Connecticut and West Virginia, and FairPoint in northern New England) also provide directory information. Using the website of the company that operates in the region you are interested in yields the best results (e.g. AT&T for most of California, and Verizon for the Northeast)

Long-distance telephone calling cards are available at most convenience stores. They are generally aimed at specific types of call (e.g. domestic, or to particular countries). Credit can often be replenished over the phone using a credit or debit card, but foreign bank cards may be refused. Card calls from payphones via toll-free numbers printed on the cards may be more expensive. There may also be effective charges per connection as well as per minute; some cards also carry hidden weekly or monthly charges which deplete their value.

Mobile phones

The four largest mobile phone networks in the U.S. are AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. These all have good coverage of practically all urban/suburban and many rural areas of the country, although each network has strong and weak areas.

There is no surcharge for calling to a mobile phone (calls to mobile phones are charged the same as calls to land lines), and mobile phones don't pay surcharges when calling domestic long-distance. Instead, mobile phones themselves are charged for all usage, outgoing and incoming. In other words, a call to/from a mobile phone carries the same cost to that mobile phone, but it doesn't matter whether it's local, domestic long-distance, or toll-free. Credit packages from $25/month allow you to make hundreds of minutes' worth of calls. A failed call (or a "missed call") will be charged since you are billed from the moment you dial.

If you want to have a mobile phone in the U.S. while you travel, you have several options:

  • Using your phone from home isn't as easy as in some other countries, because the U.S. (as well as Canada and many Latin American countries) uses the 850 and 1900 MHz frequencies, instead of 900 and 1800 MHz used elsewhere. If you have a phone that's tri- or quad-band (which includes many modern phones), you should be fine; otherwise, this option won't work for you. You will also need to pay attention to whether your phone is GSM/UMTS (used by AT&T and T-Mobile; common in Europe) or CDMA (used by Verizon and Sprint).
    • Roaming service (using your home phone number by simply calling through a U.S. network) is expensive, and will depend on the networks your home provider has contracts with, as well as your own provider's fees. Internet data plans are ubiquitous in the U.S., but the normally-high prices become exorbitant once roaming fees are added.
      • Canadian cell phones may roam at $1.50/minute or more, although plans vary; prepaid-cash users may not roam at all. A small fourth carrier, Wind Mobile, is an exception: While it has a limited footprint using non-standard frequencies at home, it is relatively inexpensive for roaming; a $39 plan (roughly $45 prepaid after taxes) covers unlimited talk, international text, and 5GB of data in the U.S. with no speed restrictions on standard T-Mobile and AT&T cellular frequencies.
      • Roaming is also an issue for Americans who live, work, or travel in areas near the Canadian and Mexican borders. Roaming on non-U.S. networks is equally expensive for Americans. If you're visiting, say, Detroit, there are certain places near the border where the signal from Windsor is stronger, which means that unless you turn roaming off, your phone will connect to the Canadian network. In turn, you'll find yourself with unexpected roaming charges for voice or data on a future bill.
    • Buying a SIM card is a better way to use your personal phone; by installing the SIM card in your phone, you'll have a local U.S. telephone number prepaid with no contract, hundreds of minutes' worth of calls, and large amounts of data. The prices make it more economical for extended stays, but the convenience of cheap calls and data make this an attractive option for any visitor.
SIM cards are available for purchase at some electronics and convenience stores. You'll need to make sure that your phone is not SIM-locked and is compatible with the SIM card and the frequencies of the network. Read the terms carefully, as some plans are actually recurring monthly contracts rather than one-time prepaid plans.
Providers who sell prepaid SIM cards include AT&T's GoPhone, Cricket (which is owned by AT&T), Straight Talk's Bring Your Own Phone and T-Mobile.
  • Purchasing prepaid minutes and a basic mobile phone is your next best option. These can be found at some grocery stores, at most electronics, office supply, and convenience stores, and of course online. A basic phone (without Internet access) and 60–100 minutes of time can be purchased for under $50. In addition to minutes, some prepaid services charge a flat fee per month (e.g. $20/month), or a fee for days when the phone is actually used (e.g. $1.25/day). Prepaid, contract-free mobile phone service is available from many prepaid-only providers, such as Boost Mobile, Cricket, Straight Talk, TracFone, and Virgin Mobile USA, as well as limited offerings from the major carriers: AT&T's GoPhone, T-Mobile, and Verizon Prepaid Wireless.
  • Renting a phone costs from around $3/day, and can be done at shops in most of the larger airports. Depending on how long you're staying and how much you plan on calling or using data, it may be cheaper or easier to use a prepaid SIM card or prepaid phone instead.
  • Getting a phone contract, which is what most Americans do, is something only visitors planning to stay long-term should consider. Unless you've lived in the U.S. for several months, international visitors won't have a credit rating that is recognized by U.S. service providers and therefore aren't able to subscribe to these plans (although some providers will let you get one with a deposit, typically at least $500). Contracts typically require a 24-month commitment (cancellation fees can reach $300!) to a specific monthly rate plan, and in exchange they subsidize the cost of the phone (so basic phones are "free", and smartphones only "cost" $50–$200).

By mail

Addressing mail with a properly-formatted address will expedite its journey with the United States Postal Service (USPS, not to be confused with the abbreviation for private shipper UPS). Most important is the ZIP code(postal code); you can look up ZIP codes and correct address formats online. ZIP codes were originally 5 digits; later they gained a hyphen and 4 extra digits, which are recommended but still optional, and used more commonly by businesses than by individuals.

Addresses should be written in three to four lines like this, which is similar to the format used in Australia and Canada:

Name of recipient
House number and street name
(If needed) Suite or apartment or building number
City or town, two-letter state abbreviation, ZIP code

or, as an example:

Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500-0001

There are recommended abbreviations for state names and terms (e.g. street = ST, avenue = AVE); the USPS address and ZIP code search uses them automatically. The USPS also recommends that addresses be written using only upper case letters and no punctuation (except the hyphen in the ZIP code and hyphens and slashes in some house numbers), but automated sorting machines accept mixed-case lettering and even cursive writing just as easily.

First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up to one ounce/28.5 grams) cost $1.15. (The lower rate to Canada and Mexico has ended.) All locations with a ZIP code are considered domestic, including the 50 states, U.S. possessions, Micronesia (FSM), Marshall Islands, and overseas military bases, ships (APO or FPO) and diplomatic posts (APO or DPO). Domestic postcards cost $0.34, and ordinary letters up to an ounce, $0.47. "Forever" stamps are available for the first ounce of both domestic and international postage, and protect against future increases. Mailing thick or rigid objects, or non-standard shapes increases the postage cost.

Poste Restante, the receiving of mail at a post office rather than a private address, is called "General Delivery." There is no charge for this service. You will need to show ID such as a passport to pick up your mail. You do not need to have mail addressed to a particular post office by its name--use only "GENERAL DELIVERY" in the second line. For example:

John Doe
General Delivery
Seattle, WA 98101-9999
U.S.A.

The last four digits of the ZIP code for General Delivery are always "9999". If the city is large enough to have multiple post offices, only one (usually in the center of downtown) will allow General Delivery. For example, if you're staying in the Green Lake district of Seattle (a few miles north of downtown), you cannot receive your mail at the Green Lake Post Office, and must travel downtown to get it. However, if you're in an independent suburb just outside a large city having only one government post office you can have it sent there. Another option is to rent a post office box.

FedEx and UPS also have a "Hold for Pickup" option and have locations throughout larger cities in the U.S. Though usually more expensive, these may be a better option when receiving something important from abroad.


By Internet

Given the ubiquity of private Internet access, Internet cafés are rare outside major cities and tourist areas. However, you do have some options, except perhaps in the most rural of areas. Accessible Wi-Fi networks, however, are common.

Wireless

The most generally useful Wi-Fi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, though you may need to buy something first. Some cities also provide free Wi-Fi across their downtown areas. Try to use only public networks. Using a private network (even one without a password), unless authorized to do so, is illegal (though enforcement is nearly non-existent), and it may also allow criminals to track your browsing and so defraud you. Even traffic on public networks may be logged.

A few less obvious Wi-Fi spots may be found in:

  • Public libraries – Free Wi-Fi is almost always available, although you may need to get a log-in from the information desk. The network may even be accessible 24/7, so even if the library is closed you may be able to sit outside and surf.
  • Hotels – chain hotels usually have it in the rooms and the communal areas; smaller independent hotels vary. An overpriced option at high-end hotels, but included standard at most economy limited service chains.
  • Colleges and universities – may have networks in their libraries and student centers that are open to non-students. Some have networks accessible throughout campus, even outdoors.
  • Airports – even smaller regional ones offer Wi-Fi. It may cost though.
  • Paid Wi-Fi chains – give you access to numerous hotspots for a small charge, e.g. Boingo.

Mobile broadband via a USB modem is also an option. Service providers include Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile (which uses the Sprint network). Make sure to check a coverage map before you buy, each company has large areas with bad or no coverage. Also, these plans are subject to data limits which are easy to exceed unknowingly! Avoid watching videos over a mobile network.

Public PC terminals

Internet cafés can still be found in some larger cities (e.g. New York and Los Angeles). Airports and shopping malls offer Internet access terminals for very quick use, although these are generally disappearing. Access typically costs $1 for 1–2 minutes of web time. Any public computer will likely block access to undesirable websites and log your Internet use.

You may also consider:

  • Public libraries — have PCs with broadband for public use (although in some areas you may need a library card). Check with the information desk for more information.
  • Photocopy shops — will have computers available for public use (at a cost). E.g. FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos) (+1-800-463-3339/+1-800-GOFEDEX; when prompted by the voice menu, say "FedEx Office" or press "64") is open 24 hr and is nationwide. Some are also commercial mail receiving agents (such as The UPS Store) and offer fax service.
  • Smart hotels — have "business centers" replete with computers, printers, photocopies, and fax machines that you can use at a cost.
  • Electronics stores — the computers on display are often connected to the Internet. A quick email will be tolerated with a smile, six hours of Warcraft won't. The Apple Store is particularly generous and will allow browsing without intent to buy; however, some websites, such as Facebook, are blocked.
  • University libraries — while private universities may restrict entry to their students and faculty, public university libraries are generally required by law to be open to the public (at least as far as books go) and they may also have a computer or two for public use.

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