Formatting International Phone Numbers in Apple’s Address Book

If you’re like many Americans, you may not have thought much about making international phone calls unless you need to travel or call friends or family overseas. Apple’s Address Book offers a lot of flexibility for formatting phone numbers to match international conventions, but little guidance for how to make it all work smoothly.

The first time you see a phone number like (0)6 78 91 23 45, you might wonder why it appears as (067) 891-2345 or how to dial this number correctly from where you are. The key is to understand a little bit about phone number notation.

    In national notation, parentheses are used to indicate digits that are sometimes not dialed.

    In international notation, “+” is used to indicate that a country code follows and may be preceded by the International Direct Dialing prefix (IDD) if needed (011 in the United States).

By storing phone numbers in international format beginning with “+”, they should dial correctly from wherever you are. For example, a US phone number could be stored as follows:

+1 (234) 567-8910 with Address Book format +1 (###) ###-####

While a phone number in France could be stored as

+33 6 78 91 23 45 with Address Book format +33 # ## ## ## ##

By including the country code in the Address Book format, telephone numbers from different countries or regions will display correctly using the corresponding local convention. To customize your Address Book formats, navigate to “Address Book -> Preferences -> Phone” and select “Custom” in the Formats popup menu that appears.

The telephone numbers shown above can be dialed correctly from your cell phone regardless of where you are located. If you are calling from a landline, precede the number above by the International Direct Dialing prefix based on the country you are calling from.

Automatic dialing software such as Phone Amego can be configured to dial these numbers correctly based on your current location using the dialing options shown here:

While it might seem unnecessary to store so many digits, these formats have the advantage of being fully qualified and should work wherever you go. You can always skip dialing the country code and/or area code once you are familiar with local calling conventions. By taking a few moments to save phone numbers in international format, you won’t have to think about how to call home should you someday find yourself traveling in another part of the world.

In the US, dialing “1” followed by the area code and local number is sometimes called 11-digit dialing. Recent regulations require telephone companies to support 11-digit dialing when upgrading their systems. Older 7-digit dialing is being phased out in some areas to accommodate so called “overlay plans” (that overlay one area code on top of another so existing subscribers are not required to change their phone number).

Finally, some people may wonder how to store emergency contact numbers in their cell phone directory. By international convention (ITU-T E.123), the name of the first emergency contact is preceded by arabic numerals “01”, and the second by “02”. In the handset’s directory this might be displayed as “01Spouse” or “02Anna” enabling easy identification by the emergency services.

About psichel

I'm an independent Mac developer specializing in networking and communications
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6 Responses to Formatting International Phone Numbers in Apple’s Address Book

  1. Peter, do you know how Address Book differentiates between phone numbers with the same number of digits? For instance, a mobile phone in Australia has 10 digits i.e. #### ### ###, while a landline including the area code also has 10 i.e. (##) #### ####. Thanks for your help.

    • psichel says:

      >do you know how Address Book differentiates between phone numbers with the same number of digits?

      It doesn’t unless you include the country code or other matching characters to make them unambiguous. As far as I can tell, Address Book just uses the first matching format it finds in the order listed. The underlying assumption is that abbreviated phone numbers will be in your locale, while numbers from outside your locale will use International format. If you travel between countries frequently, using International format is the way to go.

  2. Djassi Fonseca says:

    This functionality was removed when address book got “upgraded” to Contacts. It no longer has this option.

  3. Marlene says:

    Hi, I’ve just purchased a new cellphone and it’s adding a +1 infront of all my saved numbers in the address book – i can see how to format any NEW numbers in Address book format but how do i change the format of all the old existing numbers in there ???… select all….???!!! surely i can’t manually change 925 vcards ??!!!!

  4. follow says:

    Irritatingly, there are different formats in different areas of the UK – in London and other major cites the exchange code is 4 digits and the subscriber number 7, while outside these areas the the exchange code is 5 digits and the subscriber number 6.

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