Setting Up Your Mobile Phone for International Dialing

by The Cheshire Catalyst (

When putting overseas telephone numbers or U.S. numbers you plan to call from overseas into the contact list or the address book of your mobile phone, please put the plus sign ("+") in front of the country code, rather than the U.S. Exit Code of "011".

The "+" sign tells your phone to use the Exit Code of the country you're in.  While in the USA, this will be "011", but in Europe and other parts of the world, it will be "00".  The phone will check the current network and insert the appropriate Exit Code.  If an Exit Code is not required because you're inside the country in question, the call will go through as well.

When a friend of mine rented a phone on a recent trip to China and I sent him a text message.  His reply came from "011 86" plus his local number.  My message to him came from "00 1 NPA NXX XXXX".  In other words, each network showed the user the Exit Code required to reach the other party from the network they were in.  The "+" sign does the same job, but doesn't need to be changed when you cross borders.

This use of the plus sign started back in the 1970s, when international business men went to print their phone numbers on their business cards.  The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations, published a standard for how phone numbers were to be represented.  They realized that the Post, Telephone, and Telegraph (PTT) agencies of member states, where governments ran the telecom agencies, and the Recognized Private Operating Agencies (RPOA), where private companies ran the works, all had different requirements for how someone accessed international direct dialing.  What was dialed was left to each national agency, but how to represent it was decided upon by the ITU.

This works pretty well, until you find that in Britain, they dial "0" for a long distance call and "00" for an international call.  The problem was representing both schemes.  So the "zero in parenthesis" was established.  A London number would be represented as:

+44 (0) 845 555 23 68

where the (0) would only be used within Great Britain, and dropped if dialed from outside the country.

This conflicts a bit with the American method of placing the NPA Numbering Plan Area (NPA), better known as an area code, in parenthesis.  The NPA doesn't get dialed if you are within its geographical area.  The other problem that came about, of course, was overlaying two or more NPAs within a single geographical area.

So, our British friend should be programmed in your phone as:

+44 845	555 2368 

and our American friends should be programmed as:

+1 311 555 2368

You can put your phone numbers into your mobile phone with or without the dash characters.  Some phones put them in for you, but the ITU standard is to use spaces.

The Cheshire Catalyst (Richard Cheshire) is the former publisher of the notorious TAP Newsletter of the 7970s & 80s.  He has also attended and volunteered at every HOPE Conference we've ever held.

Shout out: The mAltman.