Monday, December 12, 2011

Doom, part 387,913, 201

There are many benefits to living abroad, but also many frustrations. One constant problem is the failure of US businesses and government departments to recognize that people living outside the United States cannot ring "800" numbers (and connect with the US or Canada).

I have lost count of how many times I have had to explain this. Many countries have "toll free" phone numbers that use the prefix "800": the US and Canada are not alone. These phone calls are free, but they are only free - and permitted - by people living in said countries. For example, a company with a "800" number in the UK cannot be contacted on this number from outside the UK. Likewise, a company in the US with an "800" number cannot be contacted on this number from outside North America. This makes sense: why think international calls would be free?

The Department of Education should receive some credit for trying to become more aware of this problem, but they have fallen for a simple error. Student loan holders using the MyEdAccount.Com website are offered  an "Overseas/International" number to contact them: 011-315-738-6634. If it is not already obvious, the prefix "011" is what Americans would dial if making a non-North American phone call. The problem is that you do not dial 011 when making international phone calls from any other country in the world.

Whoever dreamt this up knows enough to note that an American must dial "011" first when making an international call from the United States. That's the good part. However, you would dial "011" followed by the "country code" (the US country code is 1; the UK country code is 44) and telephone number. So I would have been perhaps more impressed if MyEdAccount.Com said the number began "011-1" because at least then they would acknowledge that overseas/international callers (a) must dial an access code (b) followed by the country code (even though the numbers are false). I suspect that the "correct" number to dial for all persons living outside North America is instead 001 315 738 6634.

The point of the story is you would expect business, loan providers, etc to have at least some international customers/users. There is then an interest - from a self-interested, business-perspective - in getting their contact information correct. Moreover, you would probably especially expect such (modest?) standards from body working with the Department of Education. Let's hope this is corrected soon.


ADHR said...

Small correction: not all US-based 800 numbers work from Canada. You have to specifically ask for a toll-free number that'll work in both countries. I've run into this (living in Canada) a few times.

What I never understand is when companies won't give out any other number. Given a seven-digit phone number + state, I can figure out all the extra numbers I have to dial from anywhere -- so why keep it secret?

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that the "correct" number to dial for all persons living outside North America is instead 001 315 738 6634."

I wish this were the case. I just dialed the above number and was met with more frustrating beep-beep-beeping. It's almost like they don't want me to pay my loans...

Anonymous said...

My personal theory is that they don't want to answer the phone so people can't get their IBR info in correctly and lower their monthly payments. I thought at first it was just lowest-bidder incompetence, but lately I'm starting to suspect actual malice.