UIFN vs ITFS: Which Is Right for Your Business?

So you want a toll free number to expand your business into a new market? UIFN and ITFS phone numbers work on a global scale, but how do you choose? We'll help you determine which virtual number is the right fit for your business operations. 

UIFN vs ITFS Business Phone Numbers

As you expand your organization’s global presence, one very important question for your business is: How will customers in these new markets reach us? 

You could continue to use your domestic numbers, but that would mean your international customers would have to pay expensive international rates. Faced with the high cost of calling you, they might choose to reduce their interactions with your organization - or disappear altogether. 

Luckily, you have two options when it comes to offering international toll free calling: Universal International Freephone Numbers (UIFNs) and International Toll Free Service (ITFS). 

In this article, we’ll explain what UIFN and ITFS are, how their number formats work and the worldwide coverage they offer. We’ll discuss their costs and common use cases as well as the pros and cons of using these virtual numbers. 

What is a UIFN?

Universal International Freephone Numbers (UIFNs) are toll free phone numbers that work across multiple countries. And just like a toll free number, the caller doesn’t pay to use a UIFN (the business does). 

UIFNs offer a single point of contact for customers between two or more countries. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) issues and regulates the use of UIFNs. Only nations within the UIFN program have access to these numbers, and businesses must use a Recognized Operating Agency (ROA) to apply for and reserve a UIFN. 

What is an ITFS?

International Toll Free Service (ITFS) is also a toll free phone number that businesses and organizations pay to use with their audiences. ITFS numbers work the same as domestic toll free numbers but permits call origination in one country and call termination in another. 

ITFS numbers map calls between two countries. Therefore, organizations that operate in multiple countries purchase these VoIP phone numbers in blocks to offer coverage between all combinations of the nations they serve.

Understanding UIFN and ITFS business numbers

VoIP coverage

ITFS numbers are available in more countries than UIFNs. While the UIFN program encompasses around 60 countries, ITFS number coverage can reach 170 countries depending on the telecom provider. 

Not all providers are alike. The coverage you need may not be available with every provider you come across. Some may have larger regional coverage, making them more accessible for UIFNs or ITFS numbers comparatively. Thus, your provider choices may affect your decision to go with a UIFN or ITFS. 

International number porting

You can port existing international business numbers to any VoIP provider that supports global freephone numbers. Businesses port their UIFN/ITFS numbers to take advantage of more affordable rates, to gain improved call quality, or to access more business telephone features for their call centers. 

You can see how to retain your legacy number in our international porting guide

Formatting and restrictions

Most freephone numbers work in ways similar to domestic toll free numbers with a few exceptions: 

UIFNs have three parts:

  1. International Access Code (IAC) 
  2. 800 prefix
  3. 8-digit local number

The caller must first dial their IAC (country dial code) before dialing the remaining 11 digits. The code registers where the UIFN-based code originates so it can connect to the correct PSTN. 

Here’s how it would look if an Australia caller was dialing a UIFN:

+0011-800-xxxx-xxxx

ITFS numbers follow the typical toll free number format we’re all used to: Dial a three-digit (sometimes four-digits, depending on your country) prefix of 800, 888 or 1800, for example, then the seven-digit local phone number.

A UIFN requires dialing a unique country code before an 11-digit number. For example, the United State’s country code is 011. If you want to dial a UIFN from the U.S., you would dial 011-800-xxxx-xxxx.

ITFS format is the typical 10- or 11-digit format of domestic toll free phone numbers. For example, if you dial a toll free number in North America, you might dial 888-xxx-xxxx.

International businesses should be aware that some countries may impose more stringent regulations surrounding UIFNs that ITFS numbers aren’t subject to. Here are a few examples: 

  • New Zealand callers can dial ITFS numbers from any mobile phone network. However, only Telecom New Zealand and Vodaphone mobile networks host UIFN numbers. A caller must dial a UIFN from one of these two networks to connect. 
  • The Netherlands does not require all phone providers to offer UIFN registration and support. The law doesn’t require this service and some providers don’t offer it. 
  • Taiwanese hotels must allow guests to dial ITFS numbers from the hotel. However, Taiwan does not require hotels to provide UIFN access.

Make sure you ask your service provider about any country restrictions that may impact your operations. 

Does a UIFN or ITFS cost more?

UIFN costs

UIFNs generally cost more to establish and maintain than ITFS numbers. New UIFN numbers have a once-off registration application fee of $500 USD because of the two-country and two-number minimum requirement. The business using it must then pay usage fees their ROA charges. This is on top of usage costs the local telecom carrier charges.

UIFNs are more tightly regulated and are typically only available in countries with more developed telecom networks and economies. For these reasons, it costs more to reach customers, volunteers, participants and potential clients via UIFN numbers.

ITFS costs

ITFS numbers don’t have a registration fee like UIFNs. Most carriers will only charge for a calling plan, a setup fee, and a recurring rent fee for the toll free number. Additionally, many carriers can offer competitive rates on ITFS numbers since they connect between only two countries. 

FAQs

When should you use a UIFN versus ITFS?

The answer really depends on your global reach. You might consider a UIFN over an ITFS if you carry out calls with customers in several countries that make up the program. If you conduct business in countries outside of the UIFN program, an ITFS phone number may be a better option. 

What are some use cases of UIFN and ITFS numbers?

Wondering when you’d ever need to purchase international toll free numbers? Here are some common use cases by organizations and businesses like yours: 

  • Growing your business: If you're thinking about expanding into another country, getting a toll free or freephone number is an easy way to start. You can easily set up virtual numbers, route calls to existing offices and monitor call volume to help you determine market-readiness in that country.
  • Enhancing your business reputation: An international toll free number implies your organization is established, stable and serious about conducting business in a given country. Plus, offering exceptional customer service means making your sales and support teams available 24/7 through various communication channels including telecom. When you forward incoming calls to team members in different time zones, you can offer local expertise in several native languages across the world. 
  • International advertising: If your business is running a campaign across several nations and needs to advertise a uniform phone number for call tracking purposes, a UIFN is a great solution for consistent advertising. Conversely, if you want to customize your ads by country and can field a call center team in each country, ITFS will likely be a less expensive route to take.
  • International customer support: If your company serves customers in more than one country, offering international toll free numbers lets your customers call in for product information and support without having to pay international rates. 

Pros and cons of global toll free numbers

UIFN ITFS
PRO
  • Up to 60 countries on one phone number
  • Less expensive
  • 170+ country coverage
  • Uniform formatting
CON
  • Limited international coverage
  • Costly registration fee
  • Format can be confusing for international callers
  • Must use an ROA to apply
  • One country per number
  • Costly to track and maintain inventory from several locations

How to get a VoIP toll free business number

Because UIFNs and international toll free numbers are virtual numbers, cloud communications providers will help you get access to an international number and the services your business will need to go with it. 

A CPaaS partner should provide you with answers to your voice coverage and support questions. You’ll also want to make sure all required documentations (if any) are sent to your provider. 

So how do you choose?

Besides letting customers call your business or call center for free, establishing a UIFN or ITFS number elevates your organization in the eyes of the customer as real and reliable. When people can reach you without additional cost to them, they’ll be more likely to communicate with you. As a result, your business has a better opportunity to provide excellent customer service, resolve issues and cultivate customer loyalty.

The most effective use of your communications budget will depend upon your global reach and your staffing/location structure. A UIFN may be worth the cost for its seamless experience across several countries at once. While individual ITFS numbers are cheaper to set up and maintain, the costs of establishing several numbers can add up. Or, you may find that the market you need just doesn’t fall within the UIFN program, making an ITFS number the better investment. 

 

Get More from Your Toll Free & Freephone Provider

Stay connected with your global audience with a modern communications platform that expands as you move to new markets. AVOXI can fulfill your international communication needs with our reliable, geo-redundant networks, comprehensive business phone features and crystal-clear call quality. Contact us today about expanding your voice coverage.