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Though the connection may not be immediately apparent, ‘ZA’ is the officially recognized ISO abbreviation for South Africa.

ZA is commonly used as an abbreviation for South Africa all over the world and is derived from the country’s former Dutch name.

ZA meaning South Africa

South Africans take great pride in their country and its incredibly rich history. However, this rich and complex history is still playing out in several unexpected ways to this day.

If you have found yourself recently looking at an international flight manifest, the international trade markets, international vehicle registration codes, website domain names, or really any other instance where ‘ZA’ is used, you may be curious about how this abbreviation became  synonymous with South Africa.


If you have travelled internationally or monitored the international news over the years, you will likely know that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed special two-letter country codes to help distinguish between different countries, dependent territories, and other special geographical areas.

These codes are commonly referred to as ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes. The accepted abbreviation for South Africa can be found on this list under ‘ZA’. And while this abbreviation might not seem like the most logical option, it has now found its way into other official abbreviations, like the international vehicle code for South Africa (which has been ZA since 1936), and the ISO 4217 currency code for the South African Rand (which you may have seen listed as ZAR).


As a country with 12 official languages, South Africa has many official names. This includes short forms such as the Zulu ‘iNingizimu Afrika’, the Xhosa ‘uMzantsi Afrika’, the Venda Afurika Tshipembe’, the Afrikaans ‘Suid-Afrika’ and many, many more. However, the ZA abbreviation comes from the former Dutch name for South Africa between 1961 and 1983, “Zuid-Afrika”.

Many South Africans may be inclined to argue that the good-old “SA” abbreviation (which many locals like to use to refer to their home country) makes much more sense in the modern sense of things. But the reality is that using the SA abbreviation is likely to cause confusion with other countries, such as Saudi Arabia (which uses SA).

Everyday Usage Cases/Examples

There are a variety of places that you may see the ZA abbreviation for South Africa pop up on a daily basis. This includes everyday examples, such as:

  • International flight manifests, where South Africa is often listed as ZAR and South African aircraft registrations are required to start with Z
  • In the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) lists, where South African websites (and even most local email addresses include ‘.za’ in their domain names
  • As well as many, many other instances both locally and internationally.