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Toll Free vs Local Numbers

toll free vs local number

Toll free numbers vs local numbers. We've noticed plenty of confusion about the differences between the two. We also see plenty of misinformation out there about when a business should use toll free vs local numbers. Today I hope we can do a better job explaining the pros and cons of both options than other online resources have done so far.

In this article, you'll find:

Before we dive in, let's make sure we are all talking about the same thing. If you are unsure what a toll free or local number is, check the dropdowns below for a quick overview.

What is a toll free number?

Toll free numbers are national phone lines that allow callers to reach you without being charged for the call. They have distinct dial-codes, usually starting with "800," "1800," or "0800." Notable exceptions include:

  • US & Canada: As the supply of 1-800 number combinations became strained, the FCC began issuing toll free lines with dial-codes beginning with "1-888," "1-877," "1-866," "1-855," "1-844," and "1-833."
  • China: While toll free 800 numbers exist in China, these numbers have several limitations. Today, most companies use the popular "400" numbers as their toll free alternative. 
  • Indonesia: Indonesian toll free numbers begin with the "01" or "07" prefix, and include an extra "0" when being dialed from within the country. 
  • Japan: Toll free numbers in Japan have different dial-codes depending on which organization they were issued from, with "0120" the most common. 
  • New Zealand: Though 0800 is the most popular, some toll free numbers issued by Vodafone use the "0508" prefix. 
  • UK: While 0800 is the UK's most common toll free prefix, 0808 numbers continue to grow in popularity.
  • Vietnam: Toll free numbers are marked by the "120" or "122" dial-code. 

Related: Interested in testing out a toll free number from any of 150+ countries? Learn more here: Toll Free Numbers for Business

What is a local number?

Local numbers are standard numeric phone numbers that begin with a distinct dial-code (area code) depending on the city they are issued from. Unlike toll free numbers, local numbers are not free for the caller when dialing them. Another major difference between local numbers and toll free numbers is that local phone numbers are not all issued from the same network infrastructure. Practically speaking, this means they are not as well regulated as toll free numbers and can be more complicated to transfer from one carrier to another. 

Related: Interested in setting up a local business number from any of 2,500+ cities? Learn more here: Virtual Local Phone Numbers

Toll Free vs Local Numbers for Business

So which is better for business, toll free or local? The quick, easy, and honest answer is... it depends! But don't worry, we know that isn't a satisfying answer. So to give you a better answer, we reviewed several use-cases and a mountain of data to put together a more conclusive recommendation.

In the following sections, we explain how and why we came to our conclusion in great detail. But for those that want to skip to our conclusion, here it is: In most situations, toll free numbers are better than local numbers for business. Again, there are plenty of exceptions to consider. But in general, you're going to have an easier time managing toll free numbers and here's why:

  • In many regions, setting up a local number requires additional paperwork, such as business registration, a copy of your ID, etc. Setting up toll free numbers takes just a few minutes
  • Many cities will not provide local numbers to you until you can prove that your business maintains a location in the city you want to set up local number in (this is particularly common in Europe)
  • Toll free numbers are easier and safer to port from one carrier to another
  • Toll free numbers beat local numbers as marketing tools in almost every study
  • Custom toll free vanity numbers are much easier to find than local vanity numbers

Why Most Companies Choose Toll Free Numbers Over Local Numbers

Unlike most the articles we've seen comparing toll free vs local, we aren't just giving out recommendations based on what we sell. If you're interested in the facts and figure that led us to these conclusions, we've included them all below!

Local Numbers Are Often Harder to Set Up

Like we mentioned above, you can set up a toll free number in just about any country worldwide in 5 minutes or less. In comparison, local numbers from several popular cities will require you to complete additional paperwork possibly even provide proof that you have a local address within that city. We've included some common examples where customers see this issue below.

Countries that require proof of address for local numbers:

  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Jordan
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Norway
  • Pakistan
  • Venezuela

Countries that don't require a local address, but still need additional paperwork for local numbers:

  • Cambodia
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Russia
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Uganda
  • Ukraine

These paperwork requirements are mandated by the governing bodies within each of these countries. In other words, no matter which vendor you use, these additional verification steps will always be required when trying to set up local numbers from these countries.

Toll Free Numbers Are Easier to Port to New Carriers

In the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and several other popular markets, regulators require toll free numbers be portable and hold carriers responsible for honoring porting requests in a timely manner. The same requirements are often not in place when it comes to transferring local numbers. In addition, local numbers are not maintained in a national database like toll free numbers are, meaning that coordinating porting requests between several local carriers can be quite chaotic and slow, depending on the carriers involved. If you ever want to transfer your business number to a new carrier, you are much more likely to have a hard time keeping your local numbers than you will a toll free number.

Related: AVOXI offers $25 - $1,000 in credit for every local or toll free number you port to our network! Learn more here: business phone number porting

Toll Free Numbers Are Better Marketing Tools

In 2019, is there really a difference between toll free and local numbers when it comes to your marketing efforts? To be honest, this one surprised me as well. While I expected this to make a difference in countries where callers face higher local rates or are more price-sensitive, advertising campaigns using toll free numbers still outperform campaigns with local numbers everywhere, even in countries like the US, Canada, UK, and Australia, where callers no longer face long-distance rates as long as they are dialing a number in-country. Check out the data for yourself:

Online Advertising

In a study that compared the user behavior over 100,000 sessions, mobile ads featuring a vanity toll free number outperformed the ads featuring a standard numeric number by 33%.

differences between toll free or local

Radio Advertising

In a study that compared the response rates to radio ads that featured a vanity toll free number vs ads that used a standard number phone number, advertisements using a toll free vanity number drew 58% more calls.

toll free vs local number for business

Visual Media

Advertisers using visual media ad campaigns (television, print magazines, billboards, etc.) saw a 110% improvement in consumer recall when using a toll free vanity number vs a standard numeric phone number.

are toll free numbers still relevant

Recall Rates by Age Group

Not too long ago, 800response contracted a 3rd party agency to conduct a massive market research study that compared consumer recall rates of toll free vanity numbers vs regular numeric business numbers. They found that toll free vanity numbers outperformed standard numeric phone numbers in several ways, including:

25 - 34 77.7% 19.6%
34 - 49 81.5% 18.9%
50 - 64 85.6% 21.7%

Vanity Toll Free Numbers Are Easier to Find

As we briefly mentioned before, one major difference between toll free vs local numbers is how they are issued and regulated. There is no national database that tracks local number availability, making it very difficult to tell if the personalized local number you are looking for is even available. And because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of carriers that may be holding the local vanity number you are looking for, finding it is incredibly difficult.

In contrast, toll free numbers are attached to the same national database, which means certain carriers can search easily see all available toll free number combinations. This makes it very easy for companies like AVOXI to reserve a toll free vanity number for you upon request.

Do you have a vanity number in mind for your business? We'll help you find it! Just describe what you're looking for in the form below and we will search the database for you. After a quick search, we will email you the availability of your number as well as similar alternatives. We'll help you find your vanity number, even if we aren't the service that can provide it.

Final Thoughts: Toll Free vs Local

Did we clear up any confusion you had about toll free numbers vs local numbers for business? And does our recommendation make sense, or do you still have questions regarding toll free vs local? If you do, please let us know! The purpose of this post and others like it is to provide a helpful resource for our readers, and your feedback is critical in that goal. Either way, thanks for checking in!