What is an Area Code?
A phone number area code is a short string of numbers mapped to a specific area or location. Codes differ, following different formats in different countries.
Area codes are the same regardless of whether you’re calling a virtual phone number or a regular phone number.
How Are Area Codes Determined?
In the UK, area codes were initially assigned to phone numbers based on the volume of telephone calls made in each area. The most populous areas such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester were assigned area codes that were quick to dial using a rotary dial telephone.
Initially, too, the leading letter of the city’s name was assigned as the second number in the code, based on the traditional three-letters per number on the phone’s dial pad.
For example, ABC was located on the ‘2’ key/rotary location. Therefore, Birmingham was assigned ‘021’, Edinburgh ‘031’ and so on for all the UK’s major cities.
These area codes were first assigned according to the telephone numbering plan designed for the introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling back in the 1950s.
Related: Check out our handy guide for choosing the best phone number for your business.
What is STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) in Telephony?
Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) is an old technology that enabled calls without the aid of switchboard operators. STD requires a telephone numbering plan, which is a system of mapping phone numbers to various locations or telephone exchanges.
Wait, what’s a trunk?!
Trunking is a telecommunications technology that aims to increase telephone line efficiency by grouping together (‘trunking’) common sections of telephone circuits.
From there, the circuits ‘branch’ out as routes get more specific.
Contrast this with the original implementation: a single circuit or channel for each user.
When Was STD Introduced?
In the UK, Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) on 5th December 1958 and made the first official call to a phone number.
The Queen publicised this new way of calling by dialling Edinburgh from Bristol. At the time, this was the farthest distance over which a call could be connected.
The STD system was technically completed in 1979 and allowed telephone ‘subscribers’ on one exchange to dial non-local subscribers. Prior to this a subscriber would need to dial an operator to connect the call for them
An STD code (now referred to as area code) was allocated to each area of the UK and was required to connect calls dialled directly.
London Calling - 020 Phone Numbers
What is the area code for Greater London? "0207"? "0208"? This is a common misconception that seems to be widespread across the UK.
The actual area code for Greater London and some of its surrounding area is "020" followed by the phone number which is 8 digits.
The confusion seems to have been brought about during the Big Number Change in 2000 and has been reported by Ofcom since the publication of a report it commissioned in 2004.
To keep up with demand, Ofcom introduced the 0204 London range in 2019. This took London's phone number allocation up to 40 million, and followed the release of the 0203 number range in 2005.
So, when you are looking for a number for your business, remember, it’s only the first 3 digits that make it a London phone number.
List of Important UK Telephone Area Codes
- 0113 - Leeds
- 0115 - Nottingham
- 0117 - Bristol
- 01202 - Bournemouth
- 0121 - Birmingham
- 01225 - Bath
- 01253 - Blackpool
- 01273 - Brighton
- 01304 - Dover
- 01392 - Exeter
- 01483 - Guildford
- 0151 - Liverpool
- 01524 - Lancaster
- 01582 - Luton
- 01603 - Norwich
- 01604 - Northampton
- 0161 - Manchester
- 01738 - Perth
- 01792 - Swansea
- 01865 - Oxford
- 01904 - York
- 01913 - Durham
- 020 - London
- 0238 - Southampton
- 0239 - Portsmouth
- 02843 - Newcastle
- 02890, 02895-6 - Belfast
- 029 - Cardiff
Other UK Area Codes And What They’re For
Phone numbers with the 03 prefix
These are UK-wide geographic numbers 03 phone numbers. A number of businesses choose to use these numbers instead of the more costly 08 numbers. 0345 phone numbers have largely replaced the use of 0845 numbers for example.
030 phone numbers
Phone numbers in the 030 number ranges are usually reserved for not-for-profit organisations and registered charities, as well as some public bodies such as local councils and government departments.
If you are receiving a call from an 030 number, it's quite likely that it will be from an organisation of one of the above types.
Phone numbers starting with the 07 prefix
Numbers beginning 07 are allocated as mobile phone numbers in the UK.
070 phone numbers are different.
070 phone numbers are not mobile phone numbers and calls to these numbers can be more expensive.
These numbers are often used to divert calls from another phone number. They are sometimes referred to as 'personal' numbers or 'follow me' numbers because of this and are sometimes used by sole traders in cases where they don't want to advertise their private phone number on a website or advert.
08 phone numbers
These phone numbers are business rate numbers and are sometimes used for customer contact centres, helplines and chargeable services. These numbers often have special charge rates, often higher than standard call charges, and are not associated with a geographic area.
Freephone numbers such as 0800 and 0808
0800 and 0808 phone numbers are free to call. These are typically used by helplines, charities and some government services as they are free to call.
084 phone numbers
Phone numbers beginning 084, like 0843, 0844 and 0845 numbers are business rate numbers and carry an access charge and a service charge, which are set up by the organisation you are calling.
The majority of companies have migrated from 0845 to 0345 phone numbers due to the higher caller costs associated with calling 0845 phone numbers.
087 phone numbers
Like 0843, 0844 and 0845 numbers, 087 phone numbers carry higher call charges. These numbers are also subject to both an access charge and a service charge.
Often these charges can be higher than those associated with 0843, 0844 and 0845 numbers.
Phone numbers starting with 09
These types of phone numbers are mainly used for competitions, chat lines, TV voting and professional advice services.
These numbers are regulated by the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) and are premium-rate numbers.
Like 084 numbers, 09 phone numbers are subject to an access charge and a service charge, both set by the organisation that you’re calling.
Alternatively, you can be charged a one-off call cost ranging from anywhere between 5p and £6 when calling 09 numbers.
116 numbers for social value services
Phone numbers starting with the 116 prefix are free of charge phone numbers that are used across Europe for services of social value such as missing persons helplines and crime victim helplines.
The same six digit phone number is used for these services across the European Union.
118 for directory enquiries
Directory enquiry phone numbers will begin with the digits 118. Costs to these numbers can vary significantly, but these numbers typically carry a one-off connection charge and an additional per minute rate. These numbers are regulated by the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) and it is required that providers state their call costs in their advertising.
0500 Freephone phone numbers
0500 freephone numbers were withdrawn from service on June 5th 2017. These numbers were used alongside those with the 08085 prefix to provide services like sales and enquiry helplines.
The Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) mentioned above, was previously known as PhonePayPlus and ICSTIS. It is in charge of regulating services which are paid by phone in the UK.
International Country Codes
In addition to the area codes already mentioned, telephone country codes or country dialling code prefixes are used when calling international destinations. They are only used when calling a country outside of the caller's current location. Country codes were first introduced by the International Telecoms Union (ITU) in the 1960s, with the ITU consisting of representatives of every country's network provider.
Country dialling codes are part of the Telephone Numbering Plan, and were originally allocated by roughly splitting the world into 9 zones. So each world zone received its own number prefix, with some countries recieving three or two digit codes to offset longer domestic numbers.
- Zone 1 (+1) is assigned to North American Numbering Plan (NANP) members: Eg. United States (+1) and Canada (+1).
- Zone 2 (+2) is assigned to Africa and additional neighbouring regions: Eg. Egypt (+20) and Kenya (+254).
- Zone 3 and 4 (+3 and +4) are assigned to Europe: Eg. the Netherlands (+30) and the UK (+44).
- Zone 5 (+5) is assigned to the South and Central Americas: Eg. Mexico (+52) and Uruguay (+598).
- Zone 6 (+6) is assigned to Southeast Asia and Oceania: Eg. Malaysia (+60) and Australia (+61).
- Zone 7 (+7) is assigned to Russia and neighbouring regions: Eg. Russia (+7) and Kazakhstan (+7).
- Zone 8 (+8) is assigned to East Asia: Eg. Japan (+81) and China (+86).
- Zone 9 (+9) is assigned to the Middle East, Central Asia and Southern Asia: Eg. Turkey (+90) and India (+91).
So when calling the UK from another country, you can simply dial the UK code of +44 (or 0044) followed by the number you would like to reach, excluding the leading 0. For example to call Yay.com's UK HQ, you could simply dial 0044 330 122 6000 via your number pad.
If you see any phone numbers on your analogue or VoIP phone that start with any of the digits above, you will now hopefully have a better idea of where the caller is calling from or what type of service they are offering.