Quick guide to country and currency codes

TL;DR: Use ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 for countries, use ISO 4217 for currencies and currency codes start usually with a country code.

I often come across the situation where people start to abbreviate countries and currencies in an ambiguous way. So I want to help to improve that by recommending to use the ISO standards. It’s important to not invent your own standard.

For countries there’s ISO 3166-1 alpha-2. It’s just two letters which are unfortunately not chosen intuitively, but are internationally recognized.

Sometimes those two letters are easy to remember. For example:

  • US stands for the United States of America.
  • CO stands for Colombia.
  • BE stands for Belgium.

However, sometimes the abbreviation is not close to the long form. For example:

  • CH stands for Switzerland.
  • WS stands for Samoa.
  • GB stands for UK, because it’s referring to Great Britain.

Once you know your commonly used countries, you’ll notice them in different places. Such as in:

  • ccTLDs. Not all Country Code Top Level Domains equal the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes, but a lot do. Examples: .de, .be, .ws…
  • IBAN. Your international bank account number starts with a country code.
  • Currency codes like EUR, USD, GBP.

For currencies there’s ISO 4217. Often you’ll see abbreviations like USD, EUR, RMB or BTC. Some of them are correct according to the ISO standard, some are not. It’s easy to remember the correct country code:

Your ISO 4217 currency code consists of three letters:

  • In most cases the first two letters are using the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 standard denoting the country where the currency comes from. If it’s not belonging to a distinct country, the letter X is used.
  • The third letter is usually the initial letter of the name of currency. USD is a concatenation of US and Dollar. SEK consists of SE for Sweden and Krona.
  • Some exceptions to these rules are: EUR (Euro in Europe) and RUB (Russian Rubles).

These currency codes are also often used, but there are not ISO compliant:

  • RMB is often used for the Chinese Yuan, but the ISO currency code is actually CNY.
  • BTC stands for Bitcoin, but it’s conflicting with Bhutan (BT). So XBT is often used otherwise, but also not standardized yet.
  • SFr. is often used for Swiss Francs, but the ISO currency code is CHF.

That’s it for my 101 in standardized abbreviations for countries and currencies. Thanks for reading! Feel free to follow me to get more random reads from time to time.

This article was first released on 11th April 2020 on LinkedIn.