Most everyone is familiar with 9-1-1, 4-1-1, and 6-1-1 numbers in America, but there are other equally valuable three-digit numbers worthy of remembrance or plugging into your contact list. And that includes the equivalent numbers in other countries, when you travel.
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I can’t think of anyone who has not used 9-1-1 to call for help in a law enforcement, fire, or medical emergency, or to report something in need of Police investigation or intervention. Almost everyone with a cell phone knows that 4-1-1 is directory information, and that 6-1-1 is commonly used to reach their carrier regarding issues with their cellular account or the phone, itself. But what about 2-1-1, 8-1-1, and other numbers in the series? Not so much. Even more problematic, is what happens when you are in another country. What numbers do you use, then? This post will answer that, and give you all the numbers for popular North American destinations.
While there is some international cooperation in assigning such numbers, there remain vast differences. The European Union, has its own set of numbers, and while the UK employs some of them, they also have their own set, devised before the EU had existed. Yet Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are slightly to vastly different from England, Canada almost identical to America. Asia and the Middle East is a hodge-podge, while South America is a bit of hodge-podge, but like Canada, also employs 9-1-1 for the main number. Some countries, like Mexico, have sort of ignored the issue (both the government, and citizens – see note), though they are at least using 9-1-1, as of late. Africa is just plain behind the times, you will need a different number everywhere you go, in most cases.
Fortunately, it’s not at all hard to find out what emergency numbers are available when abroad, and it can be done online easily before you travel, at WikipediA, where almost every country is cited. One can also search on ‘emergency phone numbers’ + (country name). Travel agents, airline and cruise ship firms, State Department offices and any Embassy (any nation), will generally have the answer. If already in the country, any citizen should be able to at least give you the key-most emergency number for fire/police/medical… if you both speak a common language.
You can see why programming them into your phone beforehand might be a good idea.When abroad, you should always program the local US Embassy or Consulate number into your phone, as well. And, btw, before you travel, check with your phone company about how to avoid huge phone bills while abroad. It is easy to run up bills into the thousands of dollars, if unaware. There are several things you can do, including purchasing a temporary sim card with a foreign carrier, or special temporary rate plans from your carrier. Just know that your cell carrier may not be interested in telling you about options they can’t make money on, if they do not have partnership arrangements in place, overseas. So your travel agent and the like may be a good second-opinion resource. Image: WikipediA.
The American system would seem to be far more robust than many other three-digit systems. The list shown here also includes Canadian numbers, which do not necessarily apply outside of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan:
America Canada Service
2-1-1 2-1-1 Community health and social services: suicide prevention, welfare programs, access to free services such as for food, housing, legal aid. Includes State, County, public/private entities. An operator will inquire as to need, and provide suggested local contacts.
3-1-1 3-1-1 Frequently available in larger cities, similar to 2-1-1, but Municipal.
4-1-1 4-1-1 Directory Information or ‘operator.’
5-1-1 5-1-1 Available in many areas: automated road condition reports, and a means to report accidents and road hazards not require 9-1-1 help.
6-1-1 6-1-1 Direct contact with the cellular carrier’s customer support.
7-1-1 7-1-1 Reserved, not in use.
8-1-1 In most locations, connects to a centralized information system for utility services, principally to locate underground lines. It is currently not used to report problems, but that may change in the future.
aaaaaa.aa8-1-1 Tied to the national health care system for urgent care requests.
9-1-1 9-1-1 Police, Fire, Medical emergency ONLY. Also good in Mexico*, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.
*Mexico is began implementing 9-1-1 in 2017, but may not be in service in less populated areas, and the person answering may not speak English and a transfer to someone who does may not be very fast. Previously, Mexico had separate 8 digit numbers for fire, police, and ambulance, and those numbers remain in place. The Military has its own phone number for crime-lord response, but Citizens tend to have no faith in any such services, there, because help seldom responds, or they do not trust Police/military. A group called Angeles Verdes (“Green Angels”) offers roadside aid and travel advices, tourist helps, answering in English: dial 0-7-8.
I almost forgot the handy ‘star codes’. It’s amazing how many people don’t know them… or have forgotten them (like me, almost). Star codes are also a three keystroke ‘number’ made up of two numerals preceded by an asterisk keystroke, found just left of ‘zero’ on the dial pad. They are also known as ‘Vertical Service Codes’ (VSC), Custom Local Area Calling Codes (CLASS, or LASS). They allow the you to directly interact with the digital telephone switching system, telling the hardware how to handle a given call situation differently. They can provide improved privacy/security or added feature-benefits in how you use your phone. Like the previous 9-1-1 numbers (save 6-1-1), they generally apply to both cell phones and land lines, though some function only on one or the other.
There are some 33 different codes in all, many in the form of paired codes, one to turn a feature ‘on’, and another for ‘off.’ Many are special functions tied to the type of phone account the subscriber has, or to optional features for an extra charge, and some would seem unlikely to be used very often. Some smart phones internally employ star codes such that the user is unaware, and does not need to know the code, such as when blocking a number. Because of these various variables, you should visit your service provider’s Web site to see which codes are specifically available to you under your service plan, and review your phone’s handbook to see how it might be handling such provisions.
However, there are several very important star codes which apply to everyone, which you should commit to memory, because all phones will work with them, and you don’t always end up using your own phone. Too many of them to detail, here, but there is a handy list at WikipediA. Scan the list and take a bit of time to mouse over the blue (hot link) text on their page, for a popup explanation, as the short description may not prove as useful in your evaluation. Click it if more text than will fit the box is apparent.
Take note of things like anonymous call rejection, call blocking, caller ID controls, and call trace. That last one is used when calls involve threats or are in some way malicious to you, your phone, or the phone company; it reports it to the phone company and can result in a notice being sent to Police and/or a joint investigation through the phone company. If particularly threatening or criminally harmful, you should also file a Police Report, and include the time/date along with the fact that you did use star 57… because Police will not otherwise contact you from just punching in the code, and just pushing the code alone won’t give Police the full story. I use it when I get calls from impossible phone numbers (scammers), and I let an appropriate agency know about it, if warranted.