Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

What’s the bottom line on ISO?

ISO’s work makes a positive difference to the world we live in. ISO standards add value to all types of business operations. They contribute to making the development, manufacturing and supply of products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner. They make trade between countries easier and fairer. ISO standards also serve to safeguard consumers and users of products and services in general – as well as making their lives simpler.

Just what is ISO?

Not “what”, but “who”! Our standards are often highly technical – and they need to be – but they’re developed for people by people. So who we are is a network of the national standards institutes of some 164 countries, with a central office in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system and publishes the finished standards.

Who runs ISO?

All strategic decisions are referred to the ISO members, who meet for an annual General Assembly. The proposals put to the members are developed by the ISO Council, drawn from the membership as a whole, which resembles the board of directors of a business organization. Council meets twice a year and its membership is rotated to ensure that it is representative of ISO’s membership. Operations are managed by a Secretary-General, which is a permanent appointment. The Secretary-General reports to a President who is a prominent figure in standardization or in business, elected for two years.

What does “international standardization” mean?

When the large majority of products or services in a particular business or industry sector conform to International Standards, a state of industry-wide standardization can be said to exist. This is achieved through consensus agreements between national delegations representing all the economic stakeholders concerned – suppliers, users and, often, governments. They agree on specifications and criteria to be applied consistently in the classification of materials, the manufacture of products and the provision of services. In this way, International Standards provide a reference framework, or a common technological language, between suppliers and their customers – which facilitates trade and the transfer of technology.

What benefits does international standardization bring to businesses?

For businesses, the widespread adoption of International Standards means that suppliers can base the development of their products and services, on reference documents which have broad market relevance. This, in turn, means that they are increasingly free to compete on many more markets around the world. Also see: “Benefits of International Standards“.

What benefits does international standardization bring to customers?

For customers, the worldwide compatibility of technology which is achieved when products and services are based on International Standards brings them an increasingly wide choice of offers, and they also benefit from the effects of competition among suppliers. Also see: “Benefits of International Standards“.

Where can I find facts and figures on ISO?

ISO in figures and the ISO Annual Report can both be accessed on this site. They include facts and figures on ISO’s membership, standards’ production, etc.

How can I keep up to date on ISO and its activities?

Check out this site regularly and read the monthly ISO Focus+ which provides an overview of ISO’s activities in international standardization. To subscribe, contact the ISO member for your country or use the online subscription form.

Who pays for ISO?

ISO’s national members pay subscriptions that meet the operational cost of ISO’s Central Secretariat. The dues paid by each member are in proportion to the country’s GNP and trade figures. Another source of revenue is the sale of standards, which covers 30% of the budget. However, the operations of the central office represent only about one fifth of the cost of the system’s operation. The main costs are borne by the organizations which manage the specific projects or loan experts to participate in the technical work. These organizations are, in effect, subsidizing the technical work by paying the travel costs of the experts and allowing them time to work on their ISO assignments.

Can anyone join ISO?

Not as individuals or as enterprises – although both have a range of opportunities for taking part in ISO’s work, or in contributing to the development of standards through the ISO member in their country. Membership of ISO is open to national standards institutes or similar organizations most representative of standardization in their country (one member in each country). Full members each have one vote, whatever the size or strength of the economy of the country concerned. This means that they can all make their voices heard in the development of standards which are important to their country’s industry. ISO also has two categories of membership for countries with fewer resources. Although such members do not have a vote, they can remain up to date on standardization developments. Lists of the three categories of ISO members are available on this site.

Where can I find out what standards ISO has to offer?

The ISO Catalogue can be accessed on this site. This electronic version lists the titles and numerical designations of all of ISO’s published standards. It includes a search function that will help you quickly locate individual standards when you know exactly what you are looking for, or will generate specific lists of standards based on a search by one or more keywords, by committee, or by other criteria. Alternatively, you can simply browse the catalogue to get an overview of what is available in a particular area of technology.

What is ISO’s relation to governments?

ISO is a non-governmental organization (NGO). Therefore, unlike the United Nations, the national members of ISO are not delegations of the governments of those countries. As far as those national members are concerned, some are wholly private sector in origin, others are private sector organizations but have a special mandate from their governments on matters related to standardization, while still others are part of the governmental framework of their countries. In addition, government experts often participate in ISO’s standards’ development work. So, while ISO is an NGO, it receives input from the public sector as it does from the private sector.



I’ve heard the word `standard’, but how would I know an ISO standard if I saw one?

An ISO standard can be anything from a four-page document to one several hundred pages’ long. It is usually also available in electronic form. It carries the ISO logo and the designation International Standard. In most cases, the paper version is published in A4 format – which is itself one of the ISO standard paper sizes. The standardization of paper sizes is a typical example of ISO’s work: agreement on a sufficient number of variations of a product to meet most current applications allows economies of scale with cost benefits to both producers and consumers.

Why aren’t ISO standards free?

ISO standards cost money to develop, publish and distribute. Someone has to pay. The current system whereby users are requested to pay for the standards they use, not only sustains the development process but also, very importantly, ensures that the balance of independent vs. government, private vs. public interests can be maintained.

Are ISO standards mandatory?

ISO standards are voluntary. ISO is a non-governmental organization and it has no power to enforce the implementation of the standards it develops. A number of ISO standards – mainly those concerned with health, safety or the environment – have been adopted in some countries as part of their regulatory framework, or are referred to in legislation for which they serve as the technical basis. However, such adoptions are sovereign decisions by the regulatory authorities or governments of the countries concerned. ISO itself does not regulate or legislate. Although voluntary, ISO standards may become a market requirement, as has happened in the case of ISO 9000 quality management systems, or ISO freight container dimensions.

How can I find out which standards are equivalent to ISO standards?

ISO itself does not have data on equivalent standards (such as national or regional standards). However, a number of ISO members are able to provide this information.

Can I access ISO standards on or some other electronic database?

You can find out what standards exist in ISO’s portfolio by accessing the ISO Catalogue and you can download electronic versions of the ISO standards you need via the ISO Store. There is no electronic access to the content of the whole collection of ISO standards or its parts.

Are any ISO standards available electronically?

All ISO standards are available online as electronic files, most of them in PDF format. Those which are not in PDF format are available in HTML. Some standards which contain electronic inserts in various file formats are also available on CD or DVD.You can order these through the ISO Store.

Where can I obtain technical assistance on standards?

Contact the ISO member in your country. A list of members can be accessed on this site. The ISO Central Secretariat does not provide technical assistance, but the enquiry service ( may be able to help you save time by directing you to appropriate sources of information.

Can I order ISO standards and publications via

Yes, you can order ISO standards and publications via the ISO Store.

Can I reproduce material from ISO standards?

All ISO publications, including ISO standards, are protected by copyright. See the ISO copyright guide page for further information. Formal permission is always required to reproduce material (

What can I expect to find in an ISO standard?

An ISO standard is a documented agreement containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. It is a living agreement that can have a profound influence on things that deserve to be taken seriously – such as the safety, reliability and efficiency of machinery and tools, means of transport, toys, medical devices, and so on.

Could you give me a few practical examples of ISO standards?

Take a look at the graphical symbols on the dashboard of your car or at the pictorial symbol on a package marked with handling instructions such as “This way up”. Various ISO technical committees have developed or adopted hundreds of carefully researched signs and symbols that convey clear-cut messages which cross language boundaries.

On the inside cover of nearly every book, there is something called an ISBN number. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Publishers and booksellers are very familiar with ISBN numbers, since they are the keyway that books are ordered and bought. Try buying a book on the Internet, and you will soon learn the value of the ISBN number – there is a unique number for the book you want! And, it is based on an ISO standard.

Almost everything you need and use for work and home comes from somewhere else. Whether departure and destination points are as close as A to B, or as far apart as Antwerp and Bangkok, freight containers ensure a smooth passage for your goods and materials. From truck to train, from boat to plane, there are more than five million freight containers transiting across the globe. This has become possible principally through international standardization.

Yet another example: the chair that you’re probably sitting on, or the desk your computer is perched on, are held together by bolts and screws. Humble bolts and screws also hold together our children’s bicycles – and also the aircraft we trust our lives to during business trips or holiday travel. The diversity of screw threads used to represent big problems for industry, particularly in maintenance, as lost or damaged nuts and bolts could not easily be replaced. A global solution is supplied in the ISO standards for metric screw threads.

Also, the credit card you may have used to buy your computer can be used worldwide because all its basic features are based on ISO standards. We are so familiar with many objects, like credit or telephone cards, that we tend to assume they just “fell out of the sky”. In fact, the ease with which we can use them can be traced back to an ISO standard.

Technology moves on – what about ISO standards?

ISO standards represent, by an international consensus among experts in the technology concerned, the state of the art. To ensure that ISO standards retain this lead, they are reviewed at least every five years after their publication. The technical experts then decide whether the standard is still valid, or whether it should be withdrawn or updated. In some fields, the pace of development is such that when an ISO standard is published, the experts who developed it are already thinking about the next version!

Does ISO have standards for everything?

Not quite! Scroll through the list of our technical committees on this site to get an idea of the huge range of technologies, industries and business sectors for which ISO develops standards.

ISO’s work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering to the newest information and communications technology (ICT) developments, such as the digital coding of audio-visual signals for multimedia applications. We collaborate on ICT with our partners, IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which are specialized in the domains indicated by their names.

What are ISO’s `new deliverables’?

ISO standards are developed according to strict rules to ensure that they are transparent and fair. The reverse side of the coin is that it can take time to develop consensus among the interested parties, and for the resulting agreement to go through the public review process in the ISO member countries. For some users of standards, particularly those working in fast-changing technology sectors, it may be more important to agree and publish a technical specification quickly, before going through the various checks and balances needed to win the status of a full International Standard. Therefore, to meet such needs, ISO has developed a new range of “deliverables”, or different categories of specifications, allowing publication at an intermediate stage of development before full consensus.

What other products does ISO offer?

In addition to International Standards and the “new deliverables” (see previous question), ISO develops guideline documents, manuals for developing countries, standards compendia and handbooks and a whole range of standards-related publications. Listings of these can be found in the ISO Store. We also publish a magazine: ISO Focus+.

How does ISO decide what standards to develop?

Working through the ISO community, it is the people who need the standards that decide. What happens is that the need for a standard is felt by an industry or business sector, which communicates the requirement to one of ISO’s national members. The latter then proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. If accepted, the work item is assigned to an existing technical committee. Proposals may also be made to set up technical committees to cover new scopes of technological activity. In order to use resources most efficiently, ISO only launches the development of new standards for which there is clearly a market requirement.

Who actually develops ISO standards?

ISO standards are developed by technical committees comprising experts on loan from the industrial, technical and business sectors which have asked for the standards, and which subsequently put them to use. These experts may be joined by others with relevant knowledge, such as representatives of government agencies, testing laboratories, consumer associations, environmentalists, and so on. It is estimated that, every year, some 30 000 such experts participate in the development of ISO standards. The experts participate as national delegations, chosen by the ISO member for the country concerned to represent not just the views of the organizations in which the experts work, but a full national consensus on the issues involved.

How are ISO standards developed?

The national delegations of experts of a technical committee meet to discuss, debate and argue until they reach consensus on a draft agreement. This is then circulated to ISO’s membership as a whole for comment and balloting. Many members have public review procedures for making draft standards known and available to interested parties and to the general public. The ISO members then take account of any feedback they receive in formulating their position on the draft standard. Finally, if the voting is in favour, the document is published as an International Standard. Every working day of the year, some 15 ISO meetings are taking place somewhere in the world. In between meetings, the experts continue the standards’ development work by correspondence. Increasingly, their contacts are made by electronic means and some ISO technical bodies have already gone over entirely to electronic working, which speeds up the development of standards and reduces travel costs.

What should I do if I want to take part in the development of a standard?

The business sectors most interested in implementing the eventual standards are the ones who provide experts to develop the standards. Your own interest may be such that you would like to provide input, or even participate in the work. In fact, there are channels and opportunities for you to have a say in the development of future ISO standards through the ISO members for your country.

Who chooses the experts that participate in the standards’ developing committees?

The national delegations that make up ISO technical committees are chosen by the national standards institute of that country, which is an ISO member. According to ISO rules, the standards institute is expected to take account of the views of the range of parties interested in the standard under development and to present a consolidated, national consensus position to the technical committee’s work.