Many convenience groceries and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50. Many public pay phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. Local calls made from most pay phones cost either 25¢ or 35¢. Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. To make calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.
Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll-free. However, calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, "dating" services, and so on) can be expensive -- charges of 95¢ to $3 or more per minute. Some numbers have minimum charges that can run $15 or more.
For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0 then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
For directory assistance ("Information"), dial 411 for local numbers and national numbers in the U.S. and Canada. For dedicated long-distance information, dial 1, then the appropriate area code plus 555-1212.
As with all large American cities, Chicago is covered by the major national cellphone networks, including AT&T, Sprint, Nextel, and T-Mobile. If you're traveling from elsewhere in the U.S., your phone should work here -- although you may be hit with roaming charges that make your per-minute costs higher than usual.
Although you can rent a cellphone through companies such as InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or most rental car locations, it's simpler and relatively affordable to buy a prepaid cellphone. Companies such as Virgin Mobile and Cricket sell basic, bare-bones phones for as little as $15, and you can pay as you go for calls, without signing up for a monthly plan. You can find prepaid phones at many of the large downtown drugstores, including Walgreens, 757 N. Michigan Ave. (tel. 312/664-8686), and CVS, 137 S. State St. (tel. 312/609-1215).
If you're not from the U.S., you'll be appalled at the poor reach of the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless network, which is used by much of the rest of the world. Your phone should work in Chicago, but it definitely won't in many rural areas. To see where GSM phones work in the U.S., check out www.t-mobile.com/coverage. And you may or may not be able to send SMS (text messaging) home.
Internet & Wi-Fi
If you are traveling without your own computer, almost every hotel in Chicago has a business center with Internet access for guests (although you may have to pay extra to use it). The Harold Washington Public Library has computers available to the public for free. You can also pay per hour to use computers at FedEx Offices; centrally located stores include one at Illinois Center, 111 W. Wacker Dr., near Michigan Avenue and Chicago River (tel. 312/938-0650), and inside the John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave. (tel. 312/664-5966).
In Lincoln Park, you'll find Screenz, 2717 N. Clark St., 1 block south of Diversey Ave. (tel. 773/912-1565; www.screenz.com), a computing center where you can check e-mail, burn CDs, and print out your digital photos. The only downside is that it's not within walking distance of downtown hotels. To find other cybercafes in the city, try www.cybercafe.com. Both O'Hare and Midway airports have Internet kiosks that provide basic Web access for a per-minute fee.
If you plan to bring your own computer, both airports, most hotels, and many cafes and restaurants throughout the Chicago area have gone Wi-Fi, becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed access or charge a small fee for usage. In the Loop, Millennium Park; Daley Plaza (along Washington St. btw. Dearborn and Clark sts.); the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; and the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., all have free wireless access. Elsewhere in downtown Chicago, Starbucks, the sandwich chain Cosí, and McDonald's have numerous locations that offer Wi-Fi access for customers. Wireless hotspots in Lincoln Park include Panera Bread, 616 W. Diversey Pkwy. (tel. 773/528-4556), and Argo Tea, 958 W. Armitage Ave. (tel. 773/388-1880).
To find more public Wi-Fi hotspots in Chicago, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.