Generally, hotel surcharges on long-distance and local calls are astronomical, so you’re better off using your cellphone or a public pay telephone. Many convenience stores and drugstores sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public pay phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. Local calls made from most payphones cost 50¢ (no pennies, please).
That said, there aren’t as many payphones on the streets of New York City as there used to be because of the prevalence of cellphones, and the ones that are there are often out of order.
To make a local call in one of the five boroughs, dial 1, followed by the area code and the seven-digit number. 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. 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 code 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.
Just because your cellphone works at home doesn’t mean it’ll work everywhere in the U.S. (thanks to our nation’s fragmented cellphone system). It’s a good bet that your phone will work in New York City, but take a look at your wireless company’s coverage map on its website before heading out.
If you need to stay in touch at a destination where you know your phone won’t work, rent a phone that does from National Geographic Talk Abroad Services (tel. 800/287-5072; cellularabroad.com) or a rental-car location, but beware that you’ll pay $1 a minute or more for airtime.
You may even consider purchasing a cheap, pay-as-you-go phone in many locations (including convenience stores!) throughout the city.
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 will probably work in most major U.S. cities; it definitely won’t work in many rural areas. And you may or may not be able to send SMS (text messaging) home.
Internet & Wi-Fi
New York is rife with Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) “hotspots” that offer free Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. A good directory of free hotspots in the city can be found at www.openwifinyc.com.
Your hotel may also provide Wi-Fi or broadband access in your room, sometimes for a hefty daily fee. It’s always surprised us that the higher-end hotels are the ones who charge for Internet access, while the budget places are more likely to use free Internet as a selling point.
You can access the Internet for free at Starbucks (www.starbucks.com/coffeehouse/wireless-internet). So, have a cup of coffee and check your e-mail at your leisure. FedEx Office (www.fedex.com/us/office/services/computer/index.html) has free Wi-Fi at most locations, as well as computers you use for 30¢ per minute. There are dozens of locations around town.
Where to Check Your E-mail in the City That Never Sleeps -- If your hotel doesn’t offer free access to its business center or a terminal in the lobby to check your e-mail (and many do), where can you go to check it if you don’t have a computer or smartphone with you?
All branches of the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org) feature computers that offer free access to the Internet, electronic databases, library catalogs, and Microsoft Office. Many branches also offer free Wi-Fi.
More free access is available at the Times Square Visitors Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets (tel. 212/869-1890; Mon–Fri 9am–8pm, and Sat–Sun 8am–8pm), which has computer terminals that you can use to send e-mails. You can even send an electronic postcard, with a photo of yourself, home to Mom.
CyberCafe (www.cyber-cafe.com)—in Times Square at 250 W. 49th St., between Broadway and Eighth Avenue (tel. 212/333-4109)—can get expensive at $6.40 per half-hour, with a half-hour minimum (you’re billed $3.20 for every subsequent 15 min.). But their connection is superfast, and they offer a full range of other cyber, copy, fax, and printing services.
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.