Shouldn't texting from the US to the UK be less of a kerfuffle?
October 2, 2019 11:55 AM   Subscribe

While in the UK, I tried to text my UK friend from my US-based cell phone, and nothing happened. Back in the US, I've tried alternative protocols, and I'm getting error messages.

I just got back from two weeks in the UK. Near the end of the trip, I texted a UK-based friend at the number they gave me so we could meet. I typed 44 07XXX XXX XXX as was written out. My friend didn't get the text, and when I later showed them to make sure I hadn't mis-entered the phone number, they said, "Oh, you're texting with Messages? Um, take the zero before the seven out." I did, but they still didn't get it on their (incredibly-not-smart phone) but possibly did get it on their tablet. (We were in a rush to the airport and in a crowd, so this didn't get resolved.)

I'm home now, and did some Googling; it appears I should have typed 011 before the country code AND removed that zero before the 7. (Why remove the zero? Is that only for calling within the UK?) So, I did that, texting with the 011 before the country code, and Sprint sent me "Message sent to invalid destination. Please check your number and try again." (Previously,
I hadn't gotten any error message.)

Further Googling suggested I replace the 011 with a plus sign, but that yielded the same error message as adding the 011.

At the moment, I have no way to connect with this person to clarify, but it's not urgent. Still, I'd like to figure out what I'm missing. Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese to Technology (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone in the UK uses Whatsapp. Have you tried that?
posted by kickingtheground at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I haven't had any trouble messaging friends in UK with Messages as long as they have an iPhone — and are on Wifi. I have had success with Signal for communicating with UK friends who use Android.
posted by terrapin at 12:03 PM on October 2, 2019

I'd think you should use the + sign here from what I know. There might also be more obscure rules about international texts in particular which I'm unfamiliar with.
posted by Alensin at 12:04 PM on October 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

You need to use the + sign or preface the number with 011, just as you would do when making an international voice call.
posted by slkinsey at 12:06 PM on October 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yep, it’s the combination of needing to use + and eliminating the leading zero. I bumped into that issue when i moved to NZ. Now I enter all phone numbers using + and country code.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:18 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yep, even though you're in the UK, your call will route like you're in the United States, because you have a U.S. phone number. So you need to type 011 (this tells the tower or whatever that you're texting outside the U.S.) then 44 (the specific country code) then the number without a zero. The zero in U.K. phone numbers is acting as the "1" does in U.S. numbers, ie, that it's a "long distance" or non-local call. However, since you've already dialed 011 44 the zero is not necessary and will be interpreted to be part of the phone number, which is why your text didn't get delivered.
posted by Automocar at 12:20 PM on October 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

It looks like people are missing some of the things I wrote, so to be clear, I *am* in the United States, not the UK.

I tried using the plus sign; I tried using 011. (Not together, of course, and both without the leading zero before the 7.) Both yielded that error I provided above. That's why I'm writing.

terrapin: this person does not have a smart phone, iOS or Android; the phone is not a flip phone, but otherwise appears ancient.

kickingtheground: I've just downloaded What's App and followed the instructions, making sure I used the plus sign and the 44 and removed the leading zero. I sent the message and got the exact same error message, "Message sent to invalid destination. Please check your number and try again." For what it's worth, in the list of my contacts that What's App shows me (with various friends having "hey there, I am using What'sApp" under their names), my friend does not appear. This person is not very technologically advanced; I'm not surprised they are not on What'sApp.

Automocar: that explains why the very first attempt didn't go through, but not any attempts since then.

Trying not to threadsit, but anyone have any other ideas? (For reference, I'm on iOS with Sprint.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:27 PM on October 2, 2019

Saw your update--I'm confused. At the beginning of your question you said you were in the UK when you tried to text.

At any rate, it makes no difference, because your phone with a U.S. number will work the same in the U.S. or the UK.

Seeing people saying you need to type a + sign. Nope. You don't. 011 44 will work.

I'm intrigued by this part of your question:

I did, but they still didn't get it on their (incredibly-not-smart phone) but possibly did get it on their tablet.

What kind of tablet is this? Does it have a cellular network? What type of phone do you have? If it's an iPhone and you have iMessages turned on, and the "tablet" in question is an iPad and they also have iMessages turned on, the iMessage system is probably getting confused. It's sending out as an iMessage first (as default behavior), the system is seeing that it was delivered to the iPad, but the phone never gets the text because it was never actually sent as a text.
posted by Automocar at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2019

What happens if you try to call? Does the call go through? Do you have any restrictions on international texting or calling with Sprint? I'm in the US, and my uncle in the UK is on both Whatsapp and in my contacts - his number shows up as: +44 7xxx xxxxxx. Calls, texts and WhatsApp messages go through with no issues.

Googling your error message gives solutions for Android phones (Samsung) where the dialer history needs to be cleared.
posted by Everydayville at 12:40 PM on October 2, 2019

Also: if you're getting the same error message from texting and Whatapp--that makes absolutely no sense. They are completely different protocols. Whatsapp uses TCP (so basically, the "internet") and texting does not. AFAIK Whatsapp does not have an SMS "fallback" if the number you're attempting to send a message to isn't registered with Whatsapp.
posted by Automocar at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does your phone plan definitely include international texting? (Sorry if you've mentioned this and I'm missing it)
posted by trig at 1:17 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I tried using the plus sign; I tried using 011. (Not together, of course, and both without the leading zero before the 7.)

Seconding that the number should look like: +44 7xxx xxxxxx
posted by pipeski at 1:20 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would get a Google Voice number and try it from there. GV rates for calls are really low. Not sure for texting to Great Britain, but it should be low. Get the number, load $1 to the account and try it. If it works, voila, great. If not, you are out less than $1.
posted by AugustWest at 1:27 PM on October 2, 2019

The third time you tried sending an SMS (which was when you were back in the US) should have worked. That is the correct way to call/SMS a UK mobile number from a US number. The '0' that precedes the first '7' in your friend's mobile number is only used when calling a UK number from another UK number. So just to clarify, if you tried 011 44 7XXX XXXXXX that was correct.

Since you have an iPhone using the Messages app and your friend doesn't have a smartphone at all, you need to send an SMS rather than an iMessage. The difference is that an SMS goes through Sprint's cellular network and iMessage goes as data through Apple's servers. So the problem here, as Automocar suggested, could possibly be Messages is getting confused. Another possibility could be that your Sprint calling plan doesn't have international texting.

One step you can take for sorting out Messages is to go into the settings for Messages and locate the switch for 'Send as SMS' and make sure it's in the ON position.

A little extra info regarding the plus symbol:
Using the plus symbol instead of 011 is optional. Either way should work. When you see a contact list the plus symbol in front of their number, it just means you should use your own country's exit code (which is 011 from a US phone) before dialing that person's number. On modern smart phones the plus symbol can be used instead of dialing the exit code and the phone will automagically know to use your country's exit code.
posted by theory at 1:47 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if the issue could be with your friend's phone. Does their plan allow international texts? Can they receive them from others?

Nthing Signal if WhatsApp isnt working (though that's quite odd given how the app works)
posted by ananci at 1:48 PM on October 2, 2019

Do you have International Roaming as part of your plan? If not, I don’t think you’d be able to call or text a UK number from your US-based phone, no matter where you are.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:06 PM on October 2, 2019

Have you both called your carriers to confirm that international texting is turned on? I’m not familiar with UK plans, but in the US you generally have to ask them to turn it on.
…they still didn't get it on their (incredibly-not-smart phone) but possibly did get it on their tablet.
Do you have an iPhone, and do they have an iPad? If so, then iMessage could be kicking in here. Since your friend doesn’t have an iPhone, they would only receive the message on their iPad. If they don’t have an Apple device, or if it’s not set up to receive texts for their phone number, then iMessage won’t get involved.

If you have an iPhone then you can tell if iMessage is in use because the text field will say “Text Message” instead of “iMessage” in light gray. Messages sent with iMessage have a blue background; messages sent with text messages have a green background.

The iPhone will be able to handle +44 7XXX XXX XXX correctly, even if your in the UK on a UK sim card. I have +1 or another international prefix on many of my contacts.
posted by danielparks at 2:08 PM on October 2, 2019

Oh, and Signal, WhatsApp, etc. will not work if your friend doesn’t have a smart phone. They all require having the app running at both ends.

Google Voice and Skype will, since they integrate with the regular phone system. (I don’t know if you can text with Skype.)
posted by danielparks at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since some people are missing things that are in my original question and in the follow up, and as this may be useful for people down the road, I'll try to repeat/clarify and am sure the mods will scoop me up if need be:

Last week, in the UK, I typed the number as my friend wrote it, but not knowing that the plus sign was part of the number and not just a "hey, this is a phone number" sign. I typed 44 07XXX XXX XXX. It did not go through to my friend's very old-fashioned phone. My friend said, "Maybe it came through here" pointing to the tablet, but we were running in a crowd and so it's a "possibly" -- I just don't know. There is no further information I can provide about the tablet; I couldn't see it; it looked like a Mini. I removed the 0 before the 7, and there was no change. The text didn't go through. We moved on to our separate flights. Let's assume the missing + sign was the problem and move onward.

TODAY, in the US, I tried it as 011 44 7XXX XXX XXX as well as +44 7XXX XXX XXX, and both yielded the quoted error. (Previously, I had not received errors, the texts just didn't go through.)

As suggested, I installed What's App, but as I could see that my friend does not have a What's App account (and as later posters have noted that non-smart phones can't use it), let's leave that aside.

I just spoke to multiple people (all over the globe) at Sprint; they verified that I've set up the number correctly and that I have international calling privileges. They don't know why the call won't go through, and they believe the only possibility is that the phone number on my friend's card is incorrect or that there's something wrong with my friend's phone. Until my friend contacts me, there's no more to do. But this should help everyone else in the future to know to use 011 OR the + sign and to remove the leading zero between the UK country code and the phone number. Thanks, all!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:36 PM on October 2, 2019

Your friend could have a phone plan that doesn't accept international texts to avoid the charge?
posted by ellieBOA at 12:40 AM on October 3, 2019

Your friend may have written down an incorrect number? You could try calling it (as +44 7xxx xxxxxx) and see what you hear when you're connected. If you get through to your friend, it's just a weird SMS thing. If you get some beeping and/or an error, it's a wrong number.
posted by rd45 at 1:55 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

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