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When speaking of ISO 3166, most people mean ISO 3166-1 because it is the most commonly used part of ISO 3166. But ISO 3166 "Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions" is a standard which consists of three parts:
  • ISO 3166-1 : Country codes
  • ISO 3166-2 : Country Subdivision Codes
  • ISO 3166-3 : Code for formerly used names of countries


ISO 3166-1 : Country codes

This gives codes for the current names of countries (et al) on the basis of lists of country names obtained from the United Nations. ISO 3166-1 is an updated edition of ISO 3166:1993, and was published on October 1, 1997. It consists of six columns of data :

For Example : The short name with its alpha-2 code are all that's available for free.

If users need code elements to represent country names not included in this part of ISO 3166, the series of alpha-2 code AA, QM to QZ, XA to XZ, and ZZ; the series of alpha-3 codes AAA to AAZ, QMA to QZZ, XAA to XZZ, and ZZA to ZZZ; and the series of numeric codes 900 to 999 are available.

Changes since Richard's write-up include


ISO 3166-2 : Country Subdivision Codes

ISO 3166-2 contains a complete breakdown into a relevant level of administrative subdivisions of all countries listed in ISO 3166-1. The code elements used consist of the alpha-2 code element from ISO 3166-1 followed by a separator and a further string of up to three alphanumeric characters. For example :

It needs to be noted that the characters after the separator are only unique within the subdivision list of one particular country. They can be reused in the list of subdivision names of other countries. For example. ID-RI, the Riau province of Indonesia, and NG-RI, the Rivers province in Nigeria. Only a complete code element guarantees uniqueness.

Here's a sample entry from ISO 3166-2

10 provinces
3 territories
List source: Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), 1997-03-18; IGN 1989; Canadian Postal Guide; E-mail on Nunavut from Standards Council of Canada (SCC), 1999-09-02; update 2001
Code source: Canadian Postal Guide

(en) (fr)
CA-AB Alberta
CA-BC British Columbia Colombie Britannique
CA-MB Manitoba
CA-NB New Brunswick Nouveau Brunswick
CA-NF Newfoundland and Labrador Terre Neuve et Labrador
CA-NS Nova Scotia Nouvelle Écosse
CA-ON Ontario
CA-PE Prince Edward Island Île du Prince Édouard
CA-QC Quebec Québec
CA-SK Saskatchewan

CA-NT Northwest Territories Territoires du Nord-Ouest
CA-NU Nunavut
CA-YT Yukon Territory Territoire du Yukon


ISO 3166-3 : Code for formerly used names of countries

This gives codes that represents non-current country names, i.e. the country names deleted from ISO 3166-1 since its first publication in 1974. ISO 3166-3 was published on March 1, 1999. The code elements for formerly used country names have a length of four alphabetical characters (a.k.a. alpha-4). The first two characters are in all cases the original alpha-2 code element representing the former country name removed from ISO 3166-1. Characters three and four are allocated according to rules established in ISO 3166-3.

There are several different reasons why entries can be removed from ISO 3166-1. For example :

  • a country changes a significant part of its name
  • a country divides into two or more new ones
  • two or more countries merge
These different categories are reflected in different ways in which the code element for the formerly used name is built. See these three examples:

ISO 3166 is maintained by the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency (ISO 3166/MA). The secretariat moved from DIN in Berlin, DE, to the ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva, CH, at the beginning of December 2001.

A related standard, UN/LOCODE, provides code elements for names of ports, airports, terminals and other locations used in trade and transport. All code elements in UN/LOCODE start with the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code element for the country in which the place concerned is located.

http://www.din.de/gremien/nas/nabd/iso3166ma/ http://www.iso.org/iso/en/prods-services/iso3166ma/index.html

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