Proper way to format a US phone number for an international business card? (Need answer fast)

Every so often I rue being an unsophisticated American. This is one of those times.

I have been tasked with creating a one-off business card design for an (American) colleague who will be visiting a French-speaking African nation. My question: what is the proper way to format his US-based telephone number for international distribution?

Note: I am not asking any questions on how to dial a phone number. This is a question of visual presentation. That is, what is the proper format, spacing, and punctuation to use – including proper usage of the plus sign, parentheses, hyphens, and spaces?

Online searches turn up plenty of help on how to dial internationally, but I’m finding it difficult to get a solid answer on the proper protocols of including the country code and how, precisely, to most helpfully group and space the digits. My best guess, before being blessed with the wisdom of the Dope, would be: +1 (202) 867-5309. Now set me straight!

That’s certainly how I format US numbers.

I think you need the US (or Canada) code in there, so for the US it would be +1 01 212 555-2345. I’m not sure what Canada’s international country code is, or other outlying points like Puerto Rico that are in the US/Canada system.

My suggestion is to find a company which is big enough to have international customers, but small enough that their only (or main) customer service department is in the USA. Then go to their website, to their “Contact Us” page, and look at the phone number.

The tricky part is finding a company that does not have European or African phone numbers. Good luck!


  • is to indicate that the dialer must access international direct dialing. As that number varies by country, the convention is to use the plus symbol.

1 is to indicate calling the United States.

202 is the area code. The US, along with a handful of other countries, does not have its telephone area codes beginning with 0. If it did, they would, of course, drop the leading zero anyway. This will not present a problem.

555-1234 is the phone number.

That’s how I’ve always seen it written. I don’t think there’s any easier way to write it but I’m not really up on the ‘international business card’ etiquette so don’t quote me on that!

I beleive the international style is to use periods to separate, giving


That’s something you can hold on to.

I’ve been working in international development for 15 years and either +1.202.867.5309 or +1 202-555-1234 is correct.

Thank you, all, for your quick responses. It’s seems clear that parentheses typically are not part of the presentation, then. I think I’ll go with:

+1 202-867-5309

That would be unambiguous to any recipient, international or domestic, I’d think.

OK, now a follow-up. For French-speaking recipients, what is the pithiest traditional way to label “cellular telephone” on the business card? For example, if this card were for distribution in America, I would be comfortable using the labels “Cell” or “Mobile.” (I don’t want to just use a single letter, such as “C” or “M,” as one sometimes finds here in the States.)

Can I get away with using the label “Móvil”? Is that standard usage in the French-speaking business world?

Thanks again!

No, in French it’s Mobile.* Móvil* is (European) Spanish; many Latin American dialects prefer Celular. But unless you’re making a fully-French version of the card (mine is ES on one side, EN on the other), just leave it as Cell.

Just in case there would be a doubt, I confirm.

Got it, thanks! I realized soon after I posted – but after the edit window closed – that I indeed read the wrong line in the international dictionary. I will be making a fully-French version of the card, single-sided. Any English speakers encountered on the trip will be given my colleague’s normal American business card. As such, I think I’ll go with “Mobile.” (And yes, I know that the regular American business card will lack the “+1” on the phone number… that’s a battle I fought and lost.)

This exercise is more difficult that it might seem at first due to colloquialisms. You never know when a literally translated word or phrase will end up as gibberish in another language. I appreciate the guidance.

International Number Format uses either spaces or no punctuation at all other than +. Spaces correspond to the local convention if used. For example, the International Telecommunication Union’s (Swiss) phone number is +41 32 327 55 11. A US number would be formatted as +1 555 555 5555 or +15555555555, for example.

The last one would be very confusing, though, since it doesn’t separate clearly the optional part. It assumes that the reader already knows the US prefix is 1 and will be able to remember to take it off if calling from within the US.

My own card and any autosigs are formatted (+34) 699 9xx xxx, which follows Spanish ortographic conventions, because IME that way it’s both less confusing to have those 3 9s together and clear which is the optional part.

You seem to have an extra “01” in there. The international code for the US (and Canada and other countries in the North American Numbering Plan is “1”. So you just dial the international access code (represented by “+”, which in most but by no means all countries is “00”) then 1, then the number.

I wouldn’t use parentheses for the international format. In the OP’s example, I’d give it as +1 202 867 5309. Parentheses imply an optional part of the number, which isn’t relevant in this case.

However, for my UK number, I could include parentheses, because UK area codes start with a zero which you omit when calling from overseas. So my number as called from the UK might be 020 7012 3456, but that might be written +44 (0)20 7012 3456. However people who don’t know how international numbers work might find that confusing, so it would be better to write:
UK: 020 7012 3456
International: +44 20 7012 3456

When I was in electronics school, we learned that round brackets surround parts of the phone number that are optional in some circumstances. Since dialling the area code in NYC is now mandatory, the brackets are no longer needed.

+1 212 555 2345 is the best way to write a US number.

It is merely a confusing coincidence that 1 is the North American telephonic country code, and it also happens to be one of the North American trunk dialling digits.

This has the happy result that a North American can write a phone number as 1-212-555-2345 and have it usable for both other North Americans and for international callers. But it also blurs the distinction between trunk dialling digit and international country code so much that many North American people are unaware that North America even has a telephonic country code.

Yes, that’s the clearest way to write a UK number. Prepending the trunk dialling digit 0 to the area code is a local style that isn’t used for dialling UK numbers from outside the UK.

The OP asked how to format it properly, not how to format it sensibly. :smiley:

Kind of. When I’m calling England I will sometimes see (0)44 meaning the zero is optional when dialing the country code. It seems that is the convention when using parentheses in international numbers.

Spaces, no parentheses.

Increasingly I’m persuading my clients to get rid of the parentheses on purely domestic materials. Probably 70% of USians now have to dial the area code even on local calls.

But in most cases you don’t take it off!

For the US number 212 555 1234, you dial

212-555-1234 or 1-212-555-1234 locally, because 212 is in an area where you must dial the area code. (Local dialling conventions vary slightly.)

1-212-555-1234 or 0-212-555-1234 from long distance, depending on how you’re paying for the call–1 is for normal calls and 0 for things like collect calls.

+1 212 555 1234 from international.