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 major cities, but take a look at your wireless company’s coverage map on its website before heading out; T-Mobile, Sprint, and Nextel are particularly weak in rural areas. If you need to stay in touch at a destination where you know your phone won’t work, rent a phone that does from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com), but be aware that airtime is pricey.
If you’re not from the U.S., you’ll be appalled at the poor reach of our 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. To see where GSM phones work in the U.S., check out www.t-mobile.com/coverage/national_popup.asp. And you may or may not be able to send SMS (text messaging) home.
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 a pay phones cost 50¢ that is, if you can find one. They are a dying breed; only about 200 remain in the city. 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 tel. 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.
Internet & Wi-Fi
You’ll find that many cafes have wireless access, as do most hotels. Check www.wififreespot.com for a huge list of free Wi-Fi hotspots—including every Starbucks and Peet’s coffee shop, Barnes and Noble, Fed Ex office, and McDonald’s. You can also log onto www.cybercafe.com. The Metreon Entertainment Center in SoMa is completely wired, as are City Hall and San Francisco International Airport. In July 2013, Google gave the city a $600,000 gift to cover the cost of free Wi-Fi in 31 parks for at least 2 years. San Francisco has a goal to have citywide Internet access as soon as possible.
When all else fails, ask a friendly local where you can get Wi-Fi nearby. Most will know a good spot.