Toll-Free Numbers: What They Are, How They Work, and How to Get One

Ogi Djuraskovic
Updated: October 4th, 2023
6 min read
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Toll-Free Numbers: What They Are, How They Work, and How to Get One

We’ve all seen those ads on TV at least once. They talk about a particular product, and then a catchy melody starts as a very satisfying number is posted on the screen. 

The more satisfying the number and the catchier the tune, the more likely it is that you will remember the product they advertised. Even though the frequency of these jingles has recently declined, we still fondly remember some melodies, numbers, and products they promoted.

However, while the jingles have appeared less frequently, these satisfying and specific numbers are still in use and are called toll-free numbers.

You might see fewer of them on TV, but companies and businesses still use them on a large scale. That’s because they still have a significant and practical purpose for these companies.

Toll-free numbers explained

Invented sometime in the 1960s by AT&T, one of the largest US telecommunications companies, toll-free numbers were initially implemented by businesses that wanted to let their customers reach them without incurring long-distance charges. That’s because they are telephone numbers that don’t cost the caller anything to use. Instead, the company that owns the number pays for it.

This is exactly how companies and businesses still use these numbers today. They increase the company’s reach, help create a better marketing strategy, improve customer loyalty and satisfaction, create a better brand image by making the company appear professional, and are extremely easy to remember.

Companies often use toll-free numbers for their customer service.

In the US, they begin with one of the seven combinations of three-digit codes: 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, and 888.

This is how toll-free numbers are recognized. Usually, the numbers that come after this set of three digits are also quite memorable.

How it all works

After you select a phone service, purchase the desired toll-free number, set up call forwarding, and activate the toll-free number, it works in the following way. When the customer calls the toll-free number, it’s rerouted and transferred to a local phone number which belongs to the owner of the toll-free number.

Toll-free numbers use a monthly rental fee and a per-minute charge totaling from several dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on multiple factors. The cost for the call is billed to the owner or the company. Of course, the whole point of toll-free numbers is that they’re free for customers to use.

Additionally, toll-free numbers often connect to VoIP service providers. These providers offer virtual numbers that work differently than traditional ones, and people use them to place calls over the internet.

They can route the call to a phone that supports VoIP or to a conventional phone number. You can access virtual numbers in the same way as a regular toll-free number.

Business benefits of using toll-free numbers

Just because we no longer see these toll-free numbers advertised in jingles on TV doesn’t mean that they no longer exist. Toll-free numbers are, in fact, still very much in use all over the world because there are various benefits to companies and businesses using them.

Some of these benefits include: 

New marketing channels

You’re presenting your company or business as reputable by using toll-free numbers. Their primary purpose is to reach customers beyond the local market. Also, companies often use these toll-free numbers to gather and analyze data. 

Using a toll-free number often lets companies and businesses see where the call is coming from, giving them an insight into which areas and regions are doing well and which areas need to be further marketed to. Toll-free numbers can be a massive help to the marketing department. 

Create a better image

Adding a toll-free number service for your company or business can help build a better reputation. These numbers can help businesses with building a brand. They increase people’s trust in the company and enhance the brand image.

Customers are more likely to feel like they matter, are essential, and that their voice counts. Of course, this should be true regardless, and any business that wants to succeed and stay profitable in the long term should be aware of these elements.

However, simple things, such as a toll-free number, let customers know that the business cares.

Extended service

These numbers can increase the availability of your business or company. They make it easy for customers to reach you, increasing their loyalty and satisfaction, which are essential to keep a business successful and profitable in the long run.

Moreover, because people from around the world can reach your business completely free of charge, they’re more likely to use the option and spend time giving your business further insight into additional needs. 

Reach more people

Toll-free numbers can be beneficial for international companies selling a product or service worldwide. For example, if Coca-Cola, a US-based company, didn’t have a toll-free number, how many people from India, Ethiopia, or Chile would call them?

With toll-free numbers, you’ll be able to reach people worldwide. More precisely, they’ll be able to contact you.

Remember that choosing the correct phone service is crucial, as it allows toll-free number calling for each country or area where your business offers a product or service.

Easier to remember

As we’ve previously mentioned, most of us might still remember some product advertisements from TV commercials. While this was partly because of a catchy tune, the phone number used in the commercial can also make the ad memorable.

This is why these commercials often use specific toll-free numbers. They’re easy to remember, making it easier for customers to contact the business, get information, or make a purchase.

For example, a number such as 1 800 555 7777 is much easier to remember than 1 970 523 6948.

Should your business use a toll-free number?

If your business is entirely local, meaning your product or service always stays in the country, you might not need a toll-free number. Additionally, a toll-free number may not be worthwhile if your business does not need to rely on phone communication.

On the other hand, for all conventional business types that do business internationally or need to rely on customer communication, a toll-free number is a very beneficial tool.

For example, obtaining a toll-free number is a good idea if a US company makes a product and exports it to Canada and Mexico. Otherwise, customers from Canada and Mexico will most likely never call the business.

Yes, you could fix this problem by implementing an email system. However, not only is it a much slower system, but many potential customers are not as comfortable with an email system as they are with just calling the business directly. 

This is precisely why any international business should implement a toll-free number. It will improve customer communication, therefore improving the product or service. When customers make your business profitable, hearing what they think is crucial. 

Also, in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to the amount of money that many businesses make, toll-free numbers aren’t expensive, and getting one is easy.

How to get a toll-free number

Obtaining a toll-free number is relatively straightforward, only requiring a few steps.

First, choose a phone service that provides toll-free numbers for business use. Then, go over the available numbers. Don’t get discouraged if the number that you want is already in use. Chances are that some will be already taken since so many companies and businesses use these numbers.

When choosing a toll-free phone number, it’s best to choose one that is memorable and points to your business. People often pick vanity numbers. Those are numbers that spell something – a famous one you might remember from TV ads is 1-800-MATTRESS. 

Remember that the phrase or number in question should point to your business, not just a product you might expand from later on.

After you’ve chosen a phone service provider and a number, you need to purchase it. The cost will depend on both the service you’ve chosen and the number itself. Then call forwarding must be set up. The service provider will give you a phone number linked to your toll-free number. Finally, all that’s left to do is to activate the toll-free number.

How to choose the best option

Choosing a toll-free number can be tricky as the market is oversaturated with various options, offering different services at different price points. To make a decision, you must go over the steps involved, examine what options you need and which ones you can skip. 

You should first consider the size of your company or business. Depending on the size, you might need more than one toll-free number. Some phone services offer multiple toll-free numbers, but this can cost extra.

Next is choosing the number(s). You want to select toll-free numbers that aren’t already in use, that are relevant to your business, and that are easy to remember and connect to you.

After you’ve decided on the number(s), it’s time to think about advanced services. These include voicemail, text messaging, call forwarding, routing, tracking, virtual receptionist, greetings, interactive voice response, and more.

It’s best to research these options yourself, find what each of them does, and conclude what you and your business could use. After you’ve considered these elements, you can choose a phone service that will suit your company’s toll-free number needs.

What are the costs

The cost of a toll-free number isn’t static and will depend on multiple factors, such as the service provider, the type of number that you want, and all of the advanced features you might require. Of course, the price will also depend on the country of your business.

For example, basic toll-free numbers can range from $10 to $30 monthly. However, more advanced systems have a decent number of advanced features that you might find helpful. In that case, the price can be from $50 to $200 per month.

Additionally, these services often don’t include other fees, such as setup and activation. Instead, these are often separate expenses. However, depending on the scale of your business, the number of toll-free numbers you need, and the features you choose, you might receive discounts or even the setup and activation for free.


Toll-free numbers are an excellent way to give customers a free method of contacting your company or business. This can improve your business’s customer service. Other benefits of using a toll-free number for a business include reaching more people, creating a stronger image, and making the number easier to remember.

Multiple companies offer toll-free number services, but choosing the best option can take time and effort. Of course, how much it costs will depend on the size of your business and what additional functionality you’ll want to use with your own toll-free number.

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