If you have ever made an international call or received a spam call from overseas, you will realise that there are unknown extensions (or country codes) in front of the telephone numbers. Here, we will be talking about how these numbers are assigned.
Who is responsible for assigning these?
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the organisation responsible for assigning these country codes. ITU is one of the 15 specialised agencies of the United Nations.
Apart from assigning country codes, ITU also performs various functions to coordinate telecommunications amongst the international community. For instance, ITU helps to promote corporation in assigning satellite orbits and are active in the areas of broadband internet and the next generation of wireless technology.
How are the country codes assigned?
Country codes are not determined randomly and ITU has a system on how these numbers are assigned.
ITU breaks down the world into 9 regions, and each region has its own prefix (meaning the first number of the country code). In addition, to “inform” your phone you are making an international call, there is a certain number you have to dial.
To make an international call to countries under the North American Numbering Planning (NANP) group, you have to dial +011. For the rest of the world, it is usually +00.
But hey, many of the GSM networks do that for you today so you may never ever know about this.
What are the 9 different regions?
The first region is the countries under NANP.
It comprises of 20 countries, and most of these countries are in North America or the Caribbean. However, not all North American countries are under the NANP, because of politics.
For NANP, all countries start with a +1 extension code, followed by a 3-digit area code if you are not from the US are Canada. For instance, Bahamas country and area code are +1 242 whereas Dominica’s is +1 767.
The next region is Africa nations, which follows a 3-digit country code system.
It starts with +2 followed by 2 more number. Nigeria has a country code of +234 and Uganda’s country code is +256. What’s interesting is that Greenland and British Indian Ocean Territory also have a country code that starts with +2.
The 3rd and 4th regions are Europe. For Europe, some countries have a 2-digit country code while others have 3.
Before the 1980s, larger countries like France, Italy and Germany have been assigned a 2-digit code while smaller countries like Iceland where given 3-digit codes. However, after the 1980s, all new assignments are in 3 digits regardless of the population of the countries.
As you would guess by now, these countries have a country code that starts with a +3 or a +4. Cyprus and Spain have a country code of +357 and +34 respectively while the UK has been assigned a +44 country code.
Our next area is America countries that do not belong under the NANP.
These countries consist of Mexico and other South American countries and have been assigned a country code starting with +5. Some countries have a 2-digit country code like Peru (+51) and Columbia (+57) while others like Haiti (+509) and Paraguay (+595) have a 3 digit code.
The 6th region is Oceania and Southeast Asia countries. These countries have a 2 or 3 digit country codes that start with a +6.
Singapore has the country code of +65, Malaysia has the country code of +60, Samoa has the country code +685 and +61 is Australia’s countries’ code.
Region 7 is for Russia, Kazakhstan and Abkhazia, countries that were formerly part of the USSR. Basically, these countries did not switch to the new country code (+3 or +4) after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russia’s country code is simply +7 while Kazakhstan’s country code is +7 6XX or + 7 7XX and Abkhazia’s one is +7 8XX or +7 9XX.
The 8th region is an interesting one. It has a country code that starts with +8 and contains countries in East Asia (e.g. Hong Kong has the +852 country code and Korea has the +82 country code) and also special phone services. Most of these special phone services are satellite phones such as Global Mobile Satellite System (extension is +881) and Inmarsat “SNAC” service (+870).
The International Freephone (UIFN) uses the code +800. Another cool thing is that while Taiwan is not an ITU member, it has been assigned the country code of +886 while China’s country code is +86. Yeah, so they are same but different. If you are wondering, North Korea’s country code is +850, so try calling your friend there to see if you can reach him or her.
Finally, we are in our last region, region 9. Here we Southern Asia (Asia again) and most Middle East countries. Their country code start with +9 so India’s code is +91, Israel’s code is +972. There are also some special codes under the +9 extension.
+991 is an ITU’s proposal for some sort of International Numbering plan, but the most recent approved trial was given to the extension of +878 and no other allocations were reported to the +991 extension, so it’s kind of a fail. Also, +999 is reserved for some sort of global service in the future so we can keep a lookout on what this service will be.
What’s the use of knowing the behind the scenes of the country codes?
For general knowledge, we believe.
If you are expecting an overseas call next time, you can see if the first number tallies with where you think the call is coming from.
Also, it will be useful to determine the nationality of an Instagram Influencer next time you see a +81 or +64 in their bio.
This post is also available in: 简体中文 (Chinese (Simplified))