North American Numbering Plan

The North American Numbering Plan (NANP) is a system for three-digit area codes that direct telephone calls to particular regions on a public switched telephone network (PSTN), where they are further routed by the local network. It is applied to the United States and its territories; Canada; Bermuda; and many Caribbean nations. It was established in 1947, at first embracing the U.S. and Canada.

Despite the "North American" name, Mexico and the Central American countries are not part of the system, although direct dialing from the NANP to some parts of Mexico continued until 1991. The NANP is administered by the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA).

Some common special numbers in the North American system:

  0 - Telephone Operator Assistance.
 00 - Long Distance Operator Assistance.
011 - International Access Code. (For all destinations outside the NANP)
10x xxxx - Used to select use of an alternative long distance provider.
211 - Community Information or Social services. (In some cities)
311 - City Hall or Non-emergency police matters. (In some cities).
411 - Local telephone directory service. (Some telephone companies provide national directory assistance).
511 - Traffic, road, and tourist information. (In some cities and states).
611 - Telephone line repair service.  (Some telephone companies use this instead of 4104 or 811).
711 - Relay service for hearing-impaired or mute customers,
811 - Telephone company services (customer service rep/business office for some carriers)
911 - Emergency dispatcher for fire, ambulance, police etc.
(Area Code) + 555-1212 - Non-local directory service.

There are also special codes, such as:

*70 Cancel call waiting
*67 Caller ID Block
*69 Call Return caller may press '1' to return call after hearing number
*82 Releases Caller ID on a call-by-call basis

Not all NANPA countries use the same codes. For example, the emergency telephone number is not always 911: Trinidad and Tobago uses 999, as in the United Kingdom.

Despite its importance as a share of the worldwide telephone system, few of the NANP's codes, such as 911, have been adopted outside the system. Most countries outside the U.S. have chosen 00 as their international access number; 112 is the standard emergency number in Europe alongside existing emergency numbers. Only the toll-free prefix 800 has been widely adopted elsewhere, including as the international toll-free number.



Calls between different countries and territories that use the NANP are not charged as domestic. Calls between the US and Canada are generally treated as international, although charged at much lower rates than calls to other countries. Calls to other destinations in the NANP area can be high; for example, it costs more to call Bermuda from the US than it does to call the UK or Japan, even though the dialing format is the same. Similarly, calls from Bermuda to US numbers, (including toll-free 1-800), incur high international rates.


In order to facilitate direct dialing calls, the NANP was created and instituted by AT&T, then the U.S. telephone monopoly, in 1947. However, the first customer-dialed calls using area codes did not occur until late 1951. Originally there were 86 codes, with the biggest population areas getting the numbers that took the shortest time to dial on rotary phones. That is why New York City was given 212 (a total of 5 clicks, 2+1+2), Los Angeles given 213, and Chicago 312, while Vermont received 802 (a total of 20 clicks, 8+10+2). Four areas received the then-maximum number of 21 clicks: South Dakota (605), North Carolina (704), South Carolina (803), and the Canadian Maritimes (902). Additionally, in the original plan a middle digit of zero indicated the number was for an entire state or province, while a middle digit of one indicated that it was for a smaller region.

At first, area codes were in the form N-Y-X, where N is any number 2~9, Y is 0 or 1, and X is any number 1~9. The restriction on N saves 0 for calling the operator, and 1 for signaling a long-distance call. The restriction on the second digit, limiting it to 0 or 1, was designed to help telephone equipment recognize the difference between a three-digit area code and a three-digit prefix to the telephone number. For example, when a caller dialed "1-202-555-1212", the switching equipment would recognize that "202" was an area code because of the middle 0, and route the call appropriately. If a caller were to dial 1-345-6789, the 4 would be recognized as a long-distance call within the area code and routed as such, without waiting to see or guessing at how many digits the caller meant to enter.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NANPA (then still part of Bellcore) began to urge and later require all long-distance calls within each area to include the code, so that badly-needed prefixes with 0 or 1 in the middle could be assigned to local telephone exchanges.

Calls to Mexico (until 1991)

Until 1991, calls to some areas of Mexico from the United States and Canada were made using the North American Numbering Plan area codes. For example, to call a numbers in northwest Mexico and Mexico City before 1991:

 1 905 xxx xxxx (Mexico City)
 1 706 xxx xxxx (northwest Mexico) 

From that year, this was discontinued in favour of the international format:

 011 52 5 xxx xxxx (Mexico City; now 011 52 55 xxxx xxxx)
 011 52 6 xxx xxxx (northwest Mexico; now 011 52 6xx xxx xxxx)

Expansion of Area Codes

Due to a combination of increasing demand for telephone services (particularly due to widescale adoption of fax and cell phone communications), and the practice of allocating phone numbers in large blocks to companies for issuing, many area codes began to exhaust their supply of available numbers, and additional area codes were needed. In general, area codes were added either as "splits" (in which an area code was divided into two or more regions, one retaining the older area code and the other areas receiving a new code), or "overlays", in which multiple area codes were assigned to the same geographical area. Subtle variations of these techniques have been used as well, such as "dedicated overlays" (in which the new overlaid area code was reserved for a particular type of service, such as cell phone and fax machine) and "concentrated overlays" (in which some of the area retained a single area code, while the rest of the region received an overlay code).

After the remaining valid area codes were used up in expansion, in 1995 the rapid increase in the need for more area codes (both splits and overlays) forced NANPA to allow the digits 2~8 to be used in new area code assignments, with 9 being reserved as a "last resort" for potential future expansion. Area codes, or "number planning areas" ending in double digits, such as toll-free 800, 888, 877, and 866, personal 700 numbers, and high-toll 900 numbers, are reserved as Easily-recognizable codes (ERCs) and are not issued to actual areas. (Nevada was declined lucky 777 for this reason, however the Florida Space Coast area did get the 321 "countdown" area code as requested by Richard Cheshire [1] (

Splits and Overlays

As of 1995, many cities in the US and Canada now had more than one area code, either through splitting the city into different areas ('splits'), or more than one code for the same geographical area 'overlays'. For example in Manhattan, New York, subscribers' numbers had the NPA code 212, but two additional codes--first 917, then 646-- were also introduced. This means that the area code must be dialed, even for local calls. In other areas, 10-digit or 11-digit dialing is now required for all local calls.

7-digit dialing: xxx xxxx (NPA code not required)
10-digit dialing: NPA xxx xxxx
11-digit dialing: 1 NPA xxx xxxx

The overlap between area codes and exchanges prefixes has occasionally produced some confusion, because the three digits can be the same for both. Nashua, New Hampshire, for example, has a local exchange that begins 888, which is also an area code for toll-free calls. If somebody in Nashua means to call 1-888-555-1212 but forgets the initial "1" they will actually dial the local number 888-5551. This however is generally not a problem in major metropolitan areas with overlapping area codes, which were mandated to dial all ten digits for all locals calls by the FCC so as not to give new numbers a "disadvantage".

Expansion Issues

Depending on the techniques used for area code expansion, the effect on telephone users varies. In areas in which overlays were used, this generally avoids the need for converting telephone numbers, so existing directories, business records, letterheads, and advertising can retain the same numbers, which the overlay is used for new number allocation. The primary impact on telephone users is the necessity of remembering and dialing 10- or 11-digit numbers when only 7-digit dialing was previously permissible.

The use of a split instead of an overlay generally avoids the requirement for mandatory area-code dialing, but at the expense of having to convert some of the numbers to the new area code. In addition to the requirements of updating records and directories to accommodate the new numbers, for efficient conversion this requires a period of "permissive dialing" in which both the new and old area codes of the split are allowed to work. Also, in many splits there were significant technical issues involved, especially when the area code splits occurred over different boundaries than the phone network divisions.

As an extreme example of a split, in 1998 the Twin Cities, which until that point used the 612 area code, split into the 612 and 651 codes, with St. Paul and the eastern metropolitan area receiving the new 651 code. However, the state Public Utility Commission mandated that the split boundary exactly follow town boundaries (which were distinctly different from telephone exchange boundaries), and that all subscribers keep their 7-digit numbers. These two goals were directly at odds with one another, and there were more than 40 exchanges whose prefix territory straddled town boundaries along the zone split. The result was prefixes duplicated in both area codes, which counteracted much of the benefit of the split, with only 200 of 700 prefixes in 612 moving entirely to 651. As a result, in less than two years the 612 area code again exhausted its number space, and underwent a 3-way split in 2000, creating the 763 and 952 prefixes. Again, the split followed political boundaries rather than rate center boundaries, resulting in additional split prefixes, and in a few cases resulted in numbers initially moved to area 651 being moved again to the 763 code in less than two years.

Cellular Services and the NANP Numbering Scheme

A perceived weakness of the NANP system is that no separate, non-geographical area codes have been created for cellular phones, as is the case in most European and Asian countries. This means that mobile phones are assigned the same locality-specific codes as landlines, and calls to them are billed at the same rate. Consequently, the pricing model adopted in other countries, in which calls to cell phones are charged at a higher rate, but receiving calls is free, could not be used. Instead, North American cellphone users are also generally charged to receive calls as well, discouraging them from using the phones or giving out the number. Some industry observers have blamed this as one of the main factors in the relatively low penetration rate of mobile telephony in the United States compared to that of Europe.

Another related issue for services like mobile telephony is the scarcity of telephone numbers. In contrast to other countries, where mobile and other special-number operators enjoy wide leeway to generate large numbers of telephone numbers, this is not an option in the NANP, with its geographical area codes with a fixed number of digits. Because of the scarcity of telephone numbers, the market value of each is consequently higher. This has been cited by mobile operators as another factor putting pressure on the development of cellular services, and of pay as you go in particular.

New Area Codes

Prior to 1995, all other countries and territories outside the US and Canada, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands shared the NPA code 809, but were now able to have separate codes. Code 809 is now only used by the Dominican Republic. In 1997 the US Pacific Territories of the Northern Marianas and Guam became part of the NANP, as did American Samoa in October 2004.

  • Bermuda
Until 1995: +1 809 29x xxxx 
After 1995: +1 441 xxx xxxx 
  • Puerto Rico
Until 1996: +1 809 xxx xxxx
1996-2001: +1 787 xxx xxxx 
After 2001: +1 787 xxx xxxx or +1 939 xxx xxxx (overlay for entire island)
  • US Virgin Islands
Until 1997: +1 809 xxx xxxx
After 1997: +1 340 xxx xxxx 
  • Northern Marianas
Until 1997: +670 xxx xxxx
After 1997: +1 670 xxx xxxx
  • Guam
Until 1997: +671 xxx xxxx
After 1997: +1 671 xxx xxxx
  • American Samoa
Until October 1, 2004: +684 xxx xxxx
After October 2, 2004: +1 684 xxx xxxx

Fictional Telephone Numbers

In American television shows and films, 555 (or, very rarely, KLondike 5 or KLamath 5) is used as the first three digits of fictional telephone numbers, so if anyone is tempted to telephone a number seen on screen, it does not cause a nuisance to any actual person. (A classic example of such a nuisance is the 1982 song 867-5309/Jenny by Tommy Tutone, which is still the cause of a large number of nuisance calls.) However, not all numbers beginning with "555" are fictional—for example, 555-1212 is the number for directory assistance in many places. In fact, only 555-0100 through 555-0199 are now specifically reserved for fictional use, with the other numbers having been released for actual assignment. Some movies have started to use fictional telephone numbers starting with "1", giving someone a "telephone number" of 167-1402 in the film, for example.

Future Expansion of NANP

The North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) is now overseen by the private company NeuStar Inc., who will face the task of adding at least one or two digits to the system within the next 25 years, likely before 2030. During that time, all public and private phone systems on the continent will have to be upgraded and reprogrammed (or even replaced) to recognize the new dialing rules.

The plans being considered now add a 1 or 0 to the end of the area code or the beginning of the local 7-digit number (or both), which will require mandatory 10-digit dialing (even for local calls) be in place everywhere, well before the transition period. In another proposal, existing codes may be changed to "a9bc" (e.g. San Francisco 415 would become 4915); once that conversion is complete, the new second digit would be opened for a new range. Other proposals include reallocating blocks of numbers assigned to smaller long distance carriers or unused reserved services.

Other vertical service codes, such as *69 (callback) and *70 (suspend call-waiting), are also getting an extra digit, as have long-distance service provider codes such as 10-321 (now 10-10-321), all requiring the coordination of NANPA.

List of NANPA Countries and Territories

See also

External links


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools