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Calling Home from the US

The best way to call home from the US are the prepaid phone cards. Generally speaking, the best way to call in the US are by using prepaid phone cards (called also prepaid calling cards).

Prepaid calling cards are excellent because it allows you to place a phone call anytime. They are called "prepaid" cards because you buy and pay for them first, before you place a phone call. You purchase calling cards for different dollar amounts ($5, $10, $20 etc). You can purchase them from supermarkets, post offices, gas stations etc. You can call virtually from everywhere where you find a phone. They offer you flexibilty and you don't have to carry coins with you. With a calling card it is possible to place local, long distance or international phone calls as well.

Where can you buy them? You can buy calling cards at superstores or grocery stores (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Vons, Publix, Superfresh etc.), most gas stations and post offices. So practically everywhere.


Phone cards (calling cards) in the US work differently than in Europe or other countries. You use them differently. I am telling you this because I recall when I was using a calling card for the first time I was pretty confused.

The main difference is you don't introduce the calling card in a phone. Instead the card has on its back a toll free number and a PIN number (or calling card number) composed of 10-13 digits. You dial the toll free number first and a voice message will guide you through the calling process. You will be prompted to enter the PIN number after. If your PIN number is correct you will have to enter the phone number you want to dial. So there is no physical contact of the card with the phone. You even don't need the card if you know the numbers.

You can use the calling card for any destination. You can call locally, long distance or internationally. Depending on your call destination and the available rates, a recorded voice message will tell you the available minutes or dollar amount left on your card, and will connect your call. When you have only one minute remaining on your card you will be prompted to finish the call, or you will be disconnected. You can use the card for one single call, or as many calls as you want, until you have available minutes.

Just as a sidenote comparing the US phone card system with Europe (and possibly with other oversees foreign countries). As we've seen earlier, in the US you don't necessarily need a physical phonecard to place the call. It is enough if you know the toll free number to call and your PIN number.

In the US there are hundreds of different types of calling cards and calling card companies available. Many of the calling cards rates are optimized for a certain geographic area. Thus there low rate calling cards for most of the countries e.g. Mexico, India, Siria, European countries etc.

How to pick up the suitable card for yourself? You should be aware of a few hidden tricks calling card companies use. Most cards have hidden fees, various connection fees which will make them finally more expensive. Don't make your decision on the rate/minute only. A card which advertises a rate of 1.9c/min but charges you an additional 50c connection fee each time you call, is not cheaper than another one with 3.9c/min flat fee, especially if you are making short calls.

You might ask me at this point what calling card I recommend you? I personally use for over a year a rechargeable AT&T flat fee calling card purchased from Sam's Club. This is so far the best calling card I've got, without any hidden tricks or surcharges. You can purchase it initially with 400, 600, 1000 and up to 2000 minutes. I like it, because it offers:


low flat rate in the US, 3.4 cent/min


1 minute increment billing


no connection fee


no service or maintenance fee


low payphone surcharge fee


no expiration date


it's rechargeable in 200 mins increments


plus it has a good rate with Canada and Hungary, where I used to call the most

These specifications may vary and change in time. About 2 months ago the rates on this card went LOWER. I can buy 400 minutes for the US for only $13.88. I can recharge my card calling a toll free number by using a VISA or any major credit card. Plus AT&T recently introduced a new automatic recharging system which is very convenient, because you don't have to interrupt your phone calls to recharge your card. Whenever your calling card balance goes low, your card will automatically be recharged from your credit card in the background, with the minute amount specified by you. Isn't it wonderful?

If you can't get the Sam's Club card I recommend you the AT&T card from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart are one of the cheapest supermarkets in the US and are found almost everywhere. Their card have good rates without hidden charges. The cards never expire and are rechargeable.

Pay phones

Like everywhere in the world, there are public phones available on streets. These are called payphones. You can use coins, calling cards, your credit card to place a call.

If you use coins a 3 minute local or long distance call will cost you 35c. Most phones will accept quarters (25c), dimes (10c) or nickels (5c) coins. Pennies (1c) are not accepted.

You can use calling cards to place a call. Additionally, following the instructions on the payphone you can charge the call on your credit card. This might be more expensive than the other ways but it can help you in an emergency situation if nothing else is available.

If you want to call someone and you don't have any money, calling card or credit card, you can still place a collect call. This is when the other party you are calling will pay for the call. You will have to dial the operator (see instructions on the phone) and tell her you want to place a collect call. The operator will ask you the phone number you want to call, will call the number for you, and ask the party if they will accept the collect call or not. If they do, you will put through. If the party you are calling decides to refuse the collect call the operator will let you know and you will get disconnected.

When placing collect calling instead of just dialing the operator pressing "0" you can place collect calls cheaper by dialing 1-800-CALL-ATT or 1-800-COLLECT. These are special collect call services which will give you a cheaper rate per minute than other services.

All toll free numbers can be called from payphones for free.


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