What Is a Virtual Phone Number & How Does It Work?

November 6, 2023 11 min read

Julie Bai

Julie Bai

What Are Virtual Phone Numbers? Plus: How to Get One Free

Tired of reaching someone’s voicemail? It might not be you – it could be your business phone number. Thankfully, you can get a new number thanks to the power of virtual phone numbers.

We’ll explain all the ins and outs of virtual phone numbers for your company and what you should know about how they work. And, of course, we’ll also walk you through how to get a virtual number.

What Is a Virtual Phone Number?

Virtual numbers at a glance:

A virtual phone number is not tied to a physical location. It allows you to use a local phone number with any area code you want.

When someone calls a virtual number, they dial a phone number managed by virtual phone system. From there, the call is instantly routed through the internet to the intended recipient. Unlike forwarding, the caller only knows your virtual phone number. Users can also send the caller to voicemail or block unwanted calls entirely.

Claim your virtual phone number. And it's free.

Get your business phone, messages, video meetings, contact management and notes–integrated in ONE powerful app. FREE.

Why use a virtual phone number?

  • More privacy – Your real number stays hidden
  • Flexibility – Route calls to any phone, even when traveling
  • Local presence – Get a local number in another city or country
  • Only internet access (or Wi-Fi) is needed – The phone company directs incoming calls to whichever device you choose over the internet.

You can select which devices receive calls from the virtual phone number and change them when needed. Such devices include VoIP desk phones, cell phones, or softphones. Virtual phone numbers also provide increased anonymity over your landlines, which people can find in online directories.

The call quality is the same or better as any ordinary phone call. Since the call routing occurs through the internet connection, it has much more bandwidth.

Related: What Is VoIP? The Newbie’s Guide to Voice over IP

Types of Virtual Phone Numbers: 

  1. Local phone numbers – These telephone numbers are based in certain geographic areas, also known as rate centers or local area codes.
  2. Toll-free numbers – These are special numbers that start with 800, 888, 866 and others that allow people to call it without any tolls or fees.
  3. International numbers – For organizations with a global presence, this business phone number lets you place and accept international calls with a local presence in the country.
  4. Vanity numbers – These numbers are catchy, memorable numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS. You would want to purchase these and port them in.

💡 Remember: You can keep your current phone number and take it with you to a virtual phone system. As your company expands, you can pick out new numbers or swap out others whenever you want.

Benefits of Using Virtual Phone Numbers

Now that you have a better idea about these types of phone numbers, it’s time to decide if your business needs one.

There are advantages to using virtual phone numbers, but here are the ones that matter most to business owners.

1) Take phone calls from anywhere

A traditional telephone number connects to one desk phone. What happens when the person at that desk is out of the office? You have no choice but to send them to voicemail. Some research suggests that customers won’t call you back if they reach your voicemail.

Virtual phone numbers solve that problem.

You can turn their desk phone connection off and have another employee answer calls on their mobile phones or forward calls to another department. When you’re traveling, your business phone number remains the same.

2) Separate business from their personal phone

It’s not just incoming calls a virtual phone number comes in handy. Use the same number for outgoing calls for your customers or coworkers. Plus, it conceals your caller ID when you do so.

This advanced feature makes virtual phone numbers ideal for remote workers. More than 38% of companies have team members who work remotely.

Remote work statistics

3) Cut expensive add-ons with local phone numbers

You probably know that people can call you through your virtual phone system from anywhere in the world. But unless you have a local phone number in their area, prospective customers will be hesitant to call due to international calling charges.

Toll-free numbers encourage callers to dial you regardless of their calling plan. Establishing a virtual phone number in the countries where you operate helps make calling more accessible and encouraged. 

Pro Tip: Nextiva includes unlimited calling between the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Be sure to check out these affordable international calling rates — they’re cheaper than you think!

4) Modernize your voicemail

When inbound callers reach your voicemail, you have several ways to respond. The last thing you want is to send callers to your personal phone line. Checking voicemails with a traditional landline is clunky, and no one remembers their PIN; virtual phone services are the antidote.

Virtual phone services email you a voicemail transcription to you within seconds. Is that a robocaller or your child’s school calling? With voicemail to email, you’ll know. You can also get updates via SMS text messages so you never miss a call.

5) Improve caller satisfaction with auto attendants

Traditional phone systems lack call routing functionality. Alternatively, asking an IT manager to configure your PBX to forward calls separately is a lot of unnecessary work.

VoIP phone service providers like Nextiva include auto attendants.

Auto Attendant script

An auto attendant greets callers and provides a straightforward menu to reach the right person. When paired with a virtual number, auto attendants give callers a choice to reach you personally or speak with a customer support representative.

When in doubt, a cloud PBX is the way to go. Simply reserve a bloc of virtual phone numbers and assign them to your team.

6) Track your marketing and advertising campaigns

Where did that customer hear about you? Now you’ll know with a virtual phone number. Include your virtual number on billboard, magazine, or TV/radio ads. Virtual phone numbers let you track the impact of your campaigns down to the actual phone numbers that called it.

By tracking the calls received on these phone numbers, businesses can measure the performance of their campaigns and conduct market tests to evaluate their effectiveness. This allows for data-driven decision making and optimization of marketing strategies.

How to Get a Virtual Phone Number

There’s no doubt that virtual phone numbers are more beneficial than traditional landline numbers. They work for small businesses with remote staff and larger companies that need to manage communication in their call centers.

Claim your virtual phone number. And it's free.

Get your business phone, messages, video meetings, contact management and notes–integrated in ONE powerful app. FREE.

Step 1: Pick the local area code for the phone number you want. Here are some of the most popular virtual phone numbers sold by Nextiva:

Metro AreaArea Codes
New York, NY212, 315, 332, 347, 363, 516, 518, 585, 607, 631, 646, 680, 716, 718, 838, 845, 914, 917, 929, 934
Los Angeles, CA213, 323, 738
Chicago, IL312, 773, 872
Dallas, TX214, 469, 945, 972
Houston, TX281, 346, 713, 832
Washington, DC202
Philadelphia, PA215, 267, 445
Atlanta, GA404, 470, 678, 770, 943
Miami, FL305, 645, 786
Phoenix, AZ480, 602, 623, 928

Step 2: Compare pricing and purchase the plan that fits your needs.

Step 3: Purchase your virtual phone number from a VoIP provider, like Nextiva.

How Does a Virtual Phone Number Work?

Virtual phone numbers do not require a SIM card or a physical address. Instead, phone calls are connected using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP telephony is the same technology used to make phone calls and text messages through iMessage, WhatsApp, or Google Voice.

Virtual numbers work using any internet connection, including Wi-Fi or cellular (LTE or 5G). Typically, the phone service provider uses a mobile app that works on iOS and Android for voice and text messaging.

If you want to transfer your existing number to your virtual phone number provider, follow the number porting process to ensure your business phone number works regardless of your VoIP provider.

Call routing flexibility

You have the freedom to direct calls however you want. Say you only want to permit calls during daytime hours — you can. Maybe you like to screen incoming calls? You can direct all callers to leave a voicemail first and you’ll get it in your email.

But for most people, a virtual number serves two functions:

  1. Operate as a dedicated phone line.
  2. Act as a proxy to forward calls to another private line.
  3. Provide a menu of options (auto attendant) that lets callers choose where to go.

Either way, a virtual phone number gives you plenty of choices for routing calls.

Differences Between Virtual & Regular Phone Numbers

Traditional Phone Numbers

Traditional phone numbers usually are installed and provided by the local telephone company. Most people don’t know they own the number, not the telephone company. Telephone companies typically assign phone lines to the street address where it’s installed.

Traditional phone lines require phone lines to run throughout the building to each desk phone. Installing telecom lines isn’t always easy or feasible in every office.

Virtual Phone Numbers

Virtual phone numbers are location-independent and are not assigned to a specific location. It works for employees in and out of the office because they share the same cloud PBX.

That means your in-house or virtual team can pick up calls from the virtual number in the office, at home, or on their cell phone. And you can choose who receives incoming calls from the virtual phone number depending on your staff availability.

Remote employees don’t need to install a desk phone in their home office, nor use their cell phone to take business calls. The virtual phone number protects their caller ID, which gives them greater control and peace of mind when calling contacts.

Claim your virtual phone number. And it's free.

Get your business phone, messages, video meetings, contact management and notes–integrated in ONE powerful app. FREE.

They don’t need to be concerned that customers know your private number. With a professional VoIP provider, you can select business hours for the virtual phone number to accept inbound calls or divert them to a voicemail.

That means your in-house or virtual team can pick up calls from the virtual number in the office, at home, or on their cell phone. And you can choose who receives incoming calls from the virtual phone number depending on your staff availability.

Virtual Phone Number Limitations

Here are some disadvantages to know regarding free virtual phone number providers like TextNow and TextFree. In short, they have less functionality, but they can work fine for a startup.


  • Number reassignments: Virtual phone numbers often get reassigned to paying subscribers. Likewise, you have limited telephone numbers available in specific local area codes.
  • Lack of advanced features: Free phone apps only offer basic functions like voice phone calls and text messages. Even at that, they are limited by minutes or messages.
  • Not desktop/laptop friendly: You’re fine if you enjoy taking calls on your mobile device. But if you want to move the call to your desktop or laptop, most virtual phone apps won’t work.
  • Premium features cost extra: Features like business call recording, interactive voice response (IVRs), auto attendants, and call transfers aren’t included for free. You’ll also deal with intrusive, unskippable ads when you want to make a call.
  • Less trusted: Some services that provide two-factor authentication (2FA) generally don’t trust most virtual numbers. Unfortunately, bad actors made it more challenging to use for texting. But with Nextiva, you get a secure, authenticated virtual number used for text messaging.

With a cloud-based VoIP provider like Nextiva, you get all the unlimited calling and advanced features you want for a predictable, flat rate. Plus, you can add additional virtual phone lines anytime you need.

Tracing virtual phone number ownership

Despite a virtual phone number’s benefits, it has also been used by fraudsters. Newer countermeasures like 10DLC registration aim to prevent abuse, but it’s not foolproof.

Here are a few ways to find the owner of a virtual phone number:

  1. Reverse Phone Number Lookup: Utilize online tools that offer reverse phone number lookup services. These sites allow you to enter the phone number to view directory or user-provided information.
  2. Caller ID Name (CNAM) Lookup: In addition to the actual phone number, many providers also include the subscriber name in the CNAM database. This is important as caller ID alone can be easily manipulated or falsified. Check CallerIDTest for free (up to five searches) to view the caller ID name associated with the calling number. (You can also check your business phone number, too!)
  3. IP Address Lookup: You can attempt an IP address lookup as a last resort. If you have a fraudulent phone number submitted along with a web form, you probably have access to the IP address. This method provides general location information down the city and state and the internet service provider.

By using these methods, you can find out who a phone number belongs to. However, please note that not all phone numbers may yield accurate or available information, as some users may take steps to keep their identity private. In the event of a crime, contact law enforcement for assistance.

Virtual Phone Number FAQs

How does a virtual phone number work?

When someone dials your virtual number, the call is routed through the internet to your chosen device, allowing you to answer business calls from anywhere. They wouldn’t be able to know your personal phone number.

Business phone provider Nextiva provides users with a full-featured app to answer and place calls from their virtual phone number.

How do virtual phone numbers provide remote work capabilities?

Virtual phone numbers, provided through a virtual phone service, enable remote work functionality by allowing employees to access to the office phone system and call management tools from anywhere.

This means that employees can answer business calls and use the company phone system even if they are outside the office. Since many people who work remotely often reside outside the local calling area, a virtual phone number helps them establish a local presence while still connected to your team.

A virtual phone service can unite a distributed workforce by using virtual phone numbers. These numbers allow businesses with multiple locations to operate under one phone system. Regardless of their location, employees can receive calls through the virtual phone number, ensuring that calls reach the right destination.

You can also get a virtual phone number for areas where you want to make it easy for callers to reach you without paying international long-distance charges, such as in the UK.

Lastly, virtual phone numbers are less likely to be screened or filtered to voicemail since you can make calls from any local area code. This can help sales teams connect with prospects.

How long are phone numbers?

Phone numbers typically consist of a specific number of digits used for communication purposes. In the United States, a standard telephone landline number is composed of 10 digits. These numbers are divided into various sections in order to convey specific information.

The first three digits of a phone number in the US are known as the area code. The area code indicates the geographical region associated with the phone number and helps route calls to the appropriate location within the country. It is allocated to a particular locality, allowing callers to identify the general area where the called party is located.

Traditionally, landline numbers strictly adhere to this format, with the first three digits representing the area code. However, virtual phone numbers offer more flexibility in their usage. Virtual phone services enable individuals or businesses to establish a presence in a specific area without having a physical address there. By acquiring a virtual phone number with a local area code, one can create the illusion of being located in that particular region.

Apart from being assigned to a specific area, the first three digits of a phone number can also indicate a toll-free number. Toll-free numbers are commonly used for businesses or organizations that want to offer free-of-charge communication to their customers. The most well-known toll-free prefix is 800, but there are other options available, such as 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844. Acquiring a toll-free number can be advantageous for businesses seeking to establish a national presence.

Are virtual phone numbers safe?

Yes, virtual phone numbers are safe and secure if you choose a reputable phone service provider, set strong passwords, and follow best practices for online security. With Nextiva, users get a free smartphone and desktop app to place and receive calls. They can also use their web browser.

How do I get a free virtual number?

For free personal use, consider using Google Voice or TextNow. These providers may require a more detailed account verification and display ads on your device when you place or accept phone calls. Note that advanced call forwarding or other call management features are restricted or cost extra.

For business purposes, you can choose any virtual phone number for free when you start your Nextiva virtual phone service. Plans start at $18.95 monthly for service, but there’s no additional change for a virtual phone number AND a toll-free number.

Julie Bai


Julie Bai

Julie Bai was a product manager at Nextiva, UCaaS evangelist, no-bull communicator, and translator for people, dog lover, and mother to an adorably active boy.

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