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Looking for info on making calls with a local phone plan

Hi all.

I did a pretty good job with tech on my recent trip to France and Germany (just back last night). However, making calls really didn't work.

I had a local phone package (just changed the sim in my unlocked phone) and it had plenty of data, European call and text available, and a French phone number. I could easily call or text my husband, who had a similar package, so I know for sure calls and text were enabled. But there were two things I couldn't do. Note, if you were using a North American phone plan, I'm not sure we were in the same situation--I am most interested in feedback from those using European phone plans/phone numbers.
--Couldn't figure out how to call North America collect. I needed to talk to my bank, and I couldn't find a way to call collect. No matter how I sliced it, I used minutes on my European line, which had a limited credit for calling outside of the EU. My bank has numbers published and says "call collect from outside Canada" but I had no idea how to get an operator from a European mobile phone. I tried a couple of times but used up the international credit on my phone before I even got off of hold with my bank (€25 worth!). Maybe a land line would have worked, but I had no access to a land line. When I googled "call collect from Europe", I got a TON of different businesses that do it for you, but that seemed sketchy. I did try one--when the call was answered, I asked to confirm that this would not cost me on my European plan, and the "operator" had NO CLUE how to answer my question. She clearly was someone who had taken a work-from-home job and had little or no training. I was not inspired to go forward with them! So--how do you place a collect call these days?

--Second, I could NOT for the life of me figure out how to make local calls or texts. Which numbers do I use? There's a country code then some "+##" stuff that seems to change depending on whether it's local, domestic, or EU. I thought I tried every combination, but nothing worked. (My husband managed to call me from his French plan, and I just then used the number that was in my contacts to reach him after that--but we couldn't recreate it to reach other numbers.) When I tried to call or text our hosts, or local restaurants or whatever, I never once connected.

E.g,. if I am within France trying to call our air bnb local host, I have this number 04 90 43 ## ##. (last four digits masked as # for privacy.) Also rendered as 003349043 ## ##, which I believe includes the country code. What do I actually dial from a French phone that is within France? Similarly we had a host in Germany with a number rendered as +49 177 327 ## ##. How would I call that from France? (EU calls were covered in my plan) What about when I and my French phone plan are in Germany?

Thanks, would love some recent experience that makes sense of this for me. I googled my heart out but never found a solution that I could make work.

Posted by
1951 posts

Yeah, I just purchase data SIM cards only in Europe, then I purchase cheap Skype minutes which allows for calls everywhere (including both cellular and landlines) and I don't get tangled up in stuff like Calling Collect or searching out 1-800 #s.

Posted by
178 posts

Periscope do you buy directly from skype? I haven't used it in years but I probably still have an account somewhere.

Posted by
31060 posts

Skype Out is a very very cheap to a landline in USA / Canada. I haven't used it for a while - I haven't called a landline for virtually anything for a couple of years because I use WhatsApp and Zoom for just about everything now I that I know how to make my Dick Tracy video phone work - but Skype is free even from overseas to 800 numbers, and a penny or two per minute to regular numbers.

The number code is so easy with a mobile phone. If you save everything in the same format in your contacts it will always work no matter what plan or mobile phone company or even brand of phone.

Always use the long form. The example you gave of +49 177 327 ## ## is perfect. You just don't need spaces or parenthesis at all. Just run it together. The phone won't care where in the world you are, next door or in Egypt. It figures it out so you don't have to. Most phones, Android or iPhone, help you put the number in the contacts. If you use Skype it does too.

So here's how it works. Know when you're home if you want to dial somebody in another area code you put 1(234) before the number to tell it to go to that area code, if you make an international call you need to tell it to go to that country and its area code. Depending on where you are dialling from you need to dial a code to tell your phone to expect an international number and not a local one. That code is different in many countries. So don't sweat it - let your smartphone be smart. Just use the plus key "+" and the phone does the heavy lifting because it know where you are and which code that system wants. Then add the code for the country you want to call, no matter where you are. Every country in the world has a code, from 1 to 3 digits long. Canada, USA, Mexico and some Caribbean islands and US possessions, the code is "1". Most European countries are 2 digits long - Germany is 49, France is 33, UK is 44, etc. Then each country will have a different number of numbers for the internal area code and local number. The person giving you the number, or the webpage, will give it to you in the form you can use. They probably out in spaces based on how the numbers are thought of - in the UK it is area code plus 2 pairs of three digits for many phones, in France everything is in pairs of numbers xx xx xx xx. Don't worry about the spaces - the phone doesn't care.

So when you put Eddie's Cheep Cheep Rooms in the phone contacts it is +491773279999. Even if your husband has an iPhone and you have Android. How you enter the contacts list will vary by phone, but once you have it worked out, every number works the same way. For a number in Toronto it is +14161234567.

Get in the habit and you will see how easy it is. Then just go to Eddie's Cheep Cheep Rooms in your contact list and press dial and enjoy the easy call. You can even say on an iPhone, "Hey Siri, dial Eddie's Cheep Cheep Rooms" and the magic will happen.

Sorry I can't help with the collect call. I haven't made one for at least 25 years.

Posted by
16 posts

Wow Nigel, you are so knowlegable! Your explanation makes it sound so simple. You must be a good teacher. Plus, I've been meaning to tell you your input on this site is invaluable. Many, many people read and follow your advise here. Thank you!

Posted by
178 posts

Agree, Nigel, very clear explanation, thanks for the analogies and detail. I am all about making my phone do the work.

The collect call thing threw me for a loop too. I don't know why the CC company keeps putting it that way. I think next time I will tweet at them and get them to call me; that didn't occur to me this time (but I think they staff their social media better than they staff their call centres). Or, you know, load some skype credit.

Posted by
14027 posts

The last time in Germany for me was in 2019. As usual, I made local phone calls by using a German phone card (left over previous trips and they still do exist, or just dropping in coins, say , at the train station of a city making a call to the hotel in that city. I punched in the local number preceded by the zero, no country code is needed. The 3 or 4 digits following the zero is the "area code", (Vorwahlnummer), then enter your party's number made up of 4 to six digits. Inside the country always the zero first, eg calling from Munich to Frankfurt, hit the zero. Calling from London to Munich, ie, outside the country, don't hit the zero after you entered the country code of Germany (49). I don't use google.