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Toll-free texting essentials: A guide to toll-free SMS and MMS

Mobile phone receiving a toll-free text
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You’ve probably heard that text messaging and SMS services are being used by businesses more than ever before. And if your business has a toll-free phone number, you may not know that people can, and do, text it – whether it’s SMS-enabled or not! Whether you’re doing mobile marketing, digital marketing, or customer service, toll-free texting should be a part of your customer communication strategy. And you can easily enable a toll-free number to receive and send SMS and MMS.

Let’s look at toll-free enabled SMS and MMS, its benefits, and some use cases so you can decide if it should be your organization’s next communication priority.

What is toll-free texting?

Toll-free texting is a business-friendly messaging service that allows you to communicate with customers via SMS or MMS using toll-free numbers (TFNs).

Toll-free numbers start with specific prefixes beginning with the number 8.

Toll-free number prefixes include: 800, 833, 844, 855, 866, 877, 888.

Every phone number that works for toll-free calling can be adapted to send and receive toll-free texting. This is great for businesses that want to use the same familiar number to call and text their customers.

Toll-free texting can create more opportunities for customers to reach out to your brand. It can help reduce customer complaints since you can quickly and easily respond to customer texts, build trust by making it easy for them to reach you, and help you to communicate more effectively.

With toll-free messaging, you can run messaging campaigns using any of the toll-free prefixes. That means you can use a text-enabled toll-free number to send out mass messaging, individual texts, automated texts, verification texts, and notifications, and you can engage directly with customers using two-way messaging.

With business communication in particular, toll-free texting enables you to engage customers through SMS or MMS using your existing toll-free numbers. Plus, toll-free numbers are portable. This means that if your business moves locations, you can keep the same number for sending and receiving important messages which can help you ensure a seamless customer experience.

Toll-free texting offers some unique advantages. For example, you get faster provisioning, and you can send more messages per second. Let’s look at some of the specifics of toll-free SMS and MMS. 


Text-enabled toll-free number capability 

Digital length 

10 digits 

Voice enabled 

Yes, U.S. and Canada 

Messaging model 

Application-to-person (A2P) 


1-5 business days 

Keywords required 

STOP, Unstop – Network managed 


10+ msg/sec

What types of messages can I send from a text-enabled toll-free number?

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the text messages you can begin sending from a toll-free number. For the most part, you can send the same texts as with any other service. But since you already have a toll-free phone number, converting one to do text messaging saves you the trouble of buying a new number. It’s a great way to maximize your current communications stack.

Now, you can send toll-free messaging such as: 

  • Transactional messages: You can use your toll-free messaging capabilities to send shipping notices, delivery notifications, purchase confirmations, and all the other automated transactional messages that customers appreciate.  

  • Verification messages: Toll-free SMS can also send verification messages like password confirmations, one-time passwords (OTP), and two-factor authentication codes.  

  • Customer surveys: Another great use of toll-free texting is to send surveys like the Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey that asks customers if they would recommend your brand. Their answers will reveal brand promoters or detractors, and you can follow up with the potential promoters with ongoing marketing to increase referrals and repeat purchases. Using a toll-free number to follow up on survey responses is critical in determining customer satisfaction and engagement.

  • Marketing campaigns and promotions: You can use a text-enabled toll-free number to send marketing promotions like coupons, new product announcements, loyalty and VIP club marketing, holiday sales, seasonal campaigns, and other campaigns. You can send customized messaging too. Remember, though, that it’s important to get opt-in for marketing content, and any content should be direct marketing, not third-party offers.

  • Reviews and feedback: Use toll-free SMS messages to ask for reviews and feedback on your customer service, products, and other aspects of the customer experience.

  • Appointment reminders: This includes webinar reminders, too. People make online appointments and sign up for stuff all the time and then forget about it. Using toll-free SMS texts, you can make sure your customers and leads don’t miss their appointments with your business.

  • Customer support: You can use toll-free texting to help customers resolve questions and issues related to your products and services. This approach can lead to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

marketing message via a toll-free SMS number

An example of a shipping notification, which can be sent to your customers using a toll-free texting service.

Benefits of toll-free messaging

Toll-free texting helps you communicate in a way that helps you be more available to your customers and provides them with a convenient way to reach out to your business. This is why many people assume they can text your toll-free number. Here are a few other benefits of having a text-enabled toll-free number:


Have two-way conversations

AAA offers roadside service to its members if they have car trouble. Several years ago, AAA discovered that their members were texting their toll-free number when they needed help, and got no response because the number hadn’t been text-enabled.

With help from Sinch, AAA re-configured their 800 number to accept texts. Now, with improved efficiency and automation, their members can get roadside service more quickly, and at less cost to AAA. Everyone wins!

That’s one example of the two-way text-based conversations you can have using a toll-free number. It speeds up the communication process, getting your customers what they need, and with greater efficiency on your end.

AAA toll-free texting handset image

An automated text sent by AAA when a customer texts their toll-free number.


Brand recognition and trust

Toll-free numbers allow companies to use the same number for voice calls, SMS, and MMS, so a consumer can identify who a message is coming from and learn to recognize it. This makes it easier for customers to trust these businesses as they begin to recognize where to turn for reliable communication and support.


One number supports both calls and texts

With toll-free texting, you can keep using the same number for your voice and messaging programs in the United States and Canada. This greater efficiency cuts costs by cutting down the costs of customer service and automated support, saving time and making everything simpler. Employees will remember your number more easily, and customers will recognize it the more they use it.

Best practices for sending toll-free SMS

If you want to start using toll-free texting, the first thing to do is enable your existing toll-free number so that it can send and receive texts as well. This is the first step to begin using toll-free messaging for customer engagement.

Here are a few tips to make sure customers respond well to this new service:

  • Get clear consent (opt in): With any SMS opt-in campaign, make it clear from the outset what customers and leads are getting into. Spell out the details – that they’re consenting to receive text-based promotions, how many texts they can expect each month, and how to opt out. You can then send a high-quality automated welcome text right after they sign up so they recognize your messages. 

  • Make sure your content adds value: If you don’t have something helpful to text to your subscribers, it’s best to not send anything. So, if your goal is to send one text message per week, plan ahead and find something to send that they’ll find useful or valuable – something they will appreciate.

  • Personalize your messages: With effective CRM systems that can integrate with your toll-free texting service, you can create personalized messaging that makes subscribers feel known and well-served. You can personalize by name, purchase history, geographic data, and various other customer data. 

  • Avoid using public URL shorteners: Don’t use URL shorteners like Bitly and TinyURL. These are often used by scammers and look like spam. 

  • Respect timing and frequency: Whatever you promise in your opt-in marketing, be sure to adhere to it. If you promise four texts per month, which is about one per week, don’t break your word and bombard them with ten in one week.  

  • Provide easy opt-out: Each text message should include simple instructions for how to opt out of your text marketing list. This is not only a requirement but is also another way to build trust. 

  • Use text-enabled toll-free numbers to provide an omnichannel experience: Make sure you’re using text marketing as part of your broader omnichannel strategy so SMS and MMS aren’t your only communication channels for engaging with and marketing to customers.


What messages should I avoid sending from a text-enabled toll-free number?

Once you get your toll-free texting service going, there are a few types of text messages you should avoid sending. Here are the kinds of subjects your messages should avoid: 

  • High-risk financial services: Payday loans, auto loans, gambling, sweepstakes, stock alerts, and cryptocurrency are not allowed on toll-free numbers. 

  • Third-party debt collection: Debt reduction, debt forgiveness, and credit repair programs shouldn’t be promoted on a toll-free messaging number. 

  • Controlled substances: This includes federally illegal drugs, even medical marijuana and cannabis dispensaries (even if legal in your state). 

  • SHAFT content: Sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco-related texts cannot be sent with toll-free texting services. 

  • Indirect marketing: Only direct marketing content is allowed on toll-free numbers. That means you can’t send marketing messages if you’re a third party, including lead generation. It must come directly from your brand itself. 

If you text any of the above from your toll-free number, you can expect to have it shut down.

Why would I use a toll-free number rather than a short code?

Short codes are 5-digit codes (or 6 or 8), are designed for high-volume text communications. This type of text message marketing has its uses, but they’re confined to certain categories.

For example, while you can transmit SMS or MMS messages with short codes, you can’t use one to send or receive voice communications. So if you want to use the same number for texting and phone calls, short codes won’t work.

Short codes are best for sending lots of texts in a very short time. With short codes, you can send 500 messages per second.

That’s one reason short codes tend to be more costly. So if you’re looking to start using SMS for business communication, you can do it with toll-free texting at a lower cost, until you work out the kinks and get your subscribers engaged and familiar with receiving texts from you. When you believe you’ve got a handle on it, you might then decide to increase your investment and start using short codes too.

Want to learn more? Check out this resource to understand the differences between short codes, long codes, toll-free messaging, and 10DLC.


How much does a toll-free SMS number cost?

Determining the cost for setting up toll-free texting – or any type of text message marketing – isn’t straightforward because many of the fees vary by carrier.

But what types of fees come into play?

First, there are standard message fees and number lease fees. So, for each toll-free number you want to use, you’ll pay a small additional amount. This is one reason it’s smart to use the same toll-free number for text and phone. If you’re already paying for the phone number, reconfiguring it to also use text messaging makes sense.

Then, there are carrier pass-through fees. At Sinch, we pass these to you with zero markup. Please note that these are subject to change by the carriers.

Learn more about pricing for Sinch toll-free numbers and text-enabled SMS and MMS.

Get started with toll-free text messaging

Toll-free texting is a great way to get into SMS marketing without having to buy a whole new number if you already have a toll-free phone number. You can send most of the same types of messages and in both SMS and MMS formats, and you can send across the U.S. and Canada with just a single number.

You’ll be able to engage customers who prefer texting, stop missing texts they may already be sending you, and build trust and brand authority.

If you want to start using toll-free texting, your first step is to set up an SMS API. This enables you to integrate your customer databases with your text messaging platform, such as Sinch. 

You’ll also want to review our SMS compliance guide to make sure you’ll be following all the legal requirements of using text message marketing. There are more unique regulations associated with SMS marketing than with most other channels.