Toll-free phone numbers are a staple for many businesses, but you might wonder why toll-free numbers exist in today’s world. Many people have free long-distance calling included in their phone plans. Also, local and toll-free numbers have very similar functionality.

So what’s the difference? And what type of number should you get for your business?

What’s the difference between local and toll-free numbers?

The most significant differences are that local numbers are associated with a specific location. So if you are located in San Francisco, CA, your local number area code would likely be 415 or 628. With a toll-free number, your exact town or city location is not known by the caller. And, as the name suggests, fees are not charged to the caller.

Toll-free numbers have are codes such as 800, 855, 866, etc. They are popular with growing businesses and enterprises because they allow customers to contact you via a single phone number to answer any questions they might have. 

How can I use local and toll-free numbers for my business?

Now that you know the differences, here’s how you can use local and toll-free numbers to benefit your business:

Local numbers:

  • Reach clients in a specific region or city
  • Build a local presence

Toll-free numbers:

  • Make contacting the business from different regions easier
  • Make the business look larger and more legitimate. Toll-free numbers can improve customers’ perception of your business because it shows you have a large team and your company isn’t going out of business any time soon.  

Customer perception of local vs. international businesses

  • For incoming calls, toll-free numbers are a great choice since your clients from all over the US and Canada can call you without any long-distance fees
  • For outgoing calls, the perception is very different. A toll-free number can look like a telemarketer, spam or a robocall. It’s likely your call won’t be answered.
  • Local numbers are more trustworthy. They give the impression that a caller will be speaking to a real person and not a robot.

Pros and cons of local and toll-free numbers 

Local Phone Number Pros:

  • Local numbers are more likely to be answered
  • Local presence
  • Can build trust between your clients and your business by being “closer to home”

Local Phone Number Cons:

  • Makes businesses look smaller
  • Your clients can be charged fees for long-distance calls

Toll-free Phone Number Pros:

  • Makes business look larger
  • Builds a global reputation
  • No fees for national callers

Toll-free Phone Number Cons :

  • Toll-free outbound calls are likely to be ignored as spam or telemarketing
  • Toll-free numbers are less focused on target regions
  • Toll-free numbers are less personal. They’re more appropriate for a team instead of individual business owners
  • Toll-free is only free of fees for a specific area

Should I get a local or toll-free number for my business?

It depends. What we can tell you is that when making the decision, there are some important questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is my customer base local or do I have customers across the US? If you said yes to the former then get a local number. If you said yes to the latter, get a toll-free number.
  • Is my company expanding and requires presence across the country? If you said no, you’re staying within a specific region, get a local number. If you said yes, you’re expanding across the US or Canada, get a toll-free number.

It’s also possible to have both local and toll-free numbers for your business.

When to use a local number

Local numbers are more appropriate for small companies that conduct most of their business within specific cities or regions. For example, if you travel between New York and Chicago for business meetings, it may be beneficial to have local numbers for both regions to connect with your business partners or clients.

Local numbers will have an area code that identifies the city or town the business serves. This is great if you have a physical location, office or shop in that city, then your client base knows you’re close by and easy to reach by phone or in person.

When to use a toll-free number 

Toll-free numbers are great for businesses that don’t have an actual location but serve a wide consumer base across the US or Canada.

For example, if you are working in a home office or out of your basement, you likely wouldn’t want to list your location due to privacy concerns. Therefore, a toll-free number will help your business to look more legitimate and larger, even if you are just running your business out of your house (for now!)

Toll-free numbers are also useful for businesses that aim to expand outside of their current location. This is good for businesses that have an international reach. For example, if you are a local art agency, you likely would not require a toll-free number.

On the other hand, if you’re a software company and you offer customer support for your user base across the US, you would likely find a toll-free number much more useful.

How to get both local and toll-free numbers 

Can’t choose between local and toll-free? You can always get both a local and toll-free number with OpenPhone

OpenPhone is a business phone service that allows you to have both local and toll-free numbers in Canada and the US.

Why do I need a local and toll-free number? 

Many businesses, big and small, have several numbers. Multiple numbers are good for companies that require a different line for customer support, if they have multiple team members extensions, an inbound sales number or if they require a shared number for their team.

  • Get a toll-free number for incoming calls and customer support, get a local number to make outgoing calls for sales
  • Get a shared number in order to delegate responsibility among your team easier and even set hours specific for each of your team members
  • Get multiple local numbers so each of your team members can have a separate phone number and personalized voicemail greeting

Do I need a business phone number?

If you know for sure that you need a business number, you can skip this part. (Great choice, by the way, and congratulations!)

You have likely considered if you even need a business number in the first place. If you’re a startup or small business we know all this information can be a little overwhelming.

A business number is necessary for several reasons:

  • You look more professional
  • You have the ability to keep your personal number private 
  • You expand your communication abilities so your clients can reach you better
  • You can delegate calls to team members so you don’t miss important calls and lose business
  • You have a custom voicemail greeting to make your business look more legitimate
  • You always know when it’s a business or a personal call so you know how to respond and if to respond at all

Get a business phone number with OpenPhone

Getting a virtual number is more flexible than a regular landline or cell phone.

  • You don’t have to carry multiple phones and weigh yourself down
  • It works anywhere in the world
  • You can set your business hours so you’re not getting calls on your off-hours
  • You’re able to have call forwarding to another number and call distribution functionalities for your team
  • Virtual numbers are cost-effective especially if you have a team. No need to invest thousands of dollars into new phones for your team members

Whatever you choose, customers should be able to reach you easily. “Easily” is based both on what is easy for your specific consumer base (local or across the US) and what works best for you and your business.

Ready to get your business number and start calling and texting within minutes? Get OpenPhone today.


Customer Service and Operations at OpenPhone. Founder of SOUL House artist showcase in the GTA. Art is life!

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