Skip to main content

What is ISO 14443?

ISO 14443 is an international standard that describes how contactless cards and terminals should work to ensure industry-wide compatibility.

ISO 14443 is all about contactless and security.

For example, it plays a key role in:

  • identity (contactless ID cards, electronic passports),
  • payment (contactless credit cards),
  • mass transit (MIFARE, CIPURSE, or Calypso schemes),
  • access control applications (contactless ID badges).
ISO 14443 is a standard designed for proximity or contactless smart card communication. It typically uses a 13.56MHz radio frequency that only transmits digital data within a short range - about 4 centimeters or less - beyond, the signal is too weak. It can never exceed 10 centimeters.
iso 14443
Do you see the contactless symbol at the right of the chip? This wave-like logo means your card is contactless.


The ISO, the International Organization for Standardization have developed this contactless standard.

Technical committees comprised of experts from the industrial, technological, and business sectors developed the standards to increase quality, reliability, and interoperability levels on an international scale.


ISO 14443 and its four layers

The ISO 14443 is divided into four separate parts outlining:

  • physical characteristics,
  • radio frequency,
  • signal interface,
  • initialization and anti-collision and transmission protocol.

Thales has always had a strong involvement in the ISO definition of the chip card standards and has participated in the development of this international standard in particular.

Is my US passport contactless?
​​contactless passport
Yes, the golden symbol at the bottom of the front page indicates that the US passport integrates a contactless electronic chip. They were first issued in 2006. 


What is the difference between NFC and ISO 14443?

In wireless communication, NFC (Near Field Communication) and ISO/IEC 14443 are often mentioned in the same breath, but they aren't identical twins. 


Think of NFC as the Swiss Army knife of short-range wireless tech. It's a protocol suite enabling devices to chat it up when they're cosy-close — about 4 cm apart. 

NFC powers tap-and-go payments, boots up electronic ticket gates, and lets you beam photos between smartphones. Operating at 13.56 MHz, NFC is versatile, interacting with various standards, including the more niche ISO/IEC 14443.

Its modes are pretty nifty, too: peer-to-peer (like two smartphones sharing a playlist), read/write (imagine scanning an NFC tag at a museum exhibit), and card emulation (where your phone pretends to be a contactless card).


ISO/IEC 14443

Now, ISO/IEC 14443 is like the specialist in this communication universe.

The standard governs proximity cards (those contactless smart cards in your wallet) and their readers, also buzzing at 13.56 MHz. Its playground is the realm of contactless transactions — think tapping your card to breeze through subway turnstiles or for a quick coffee purchase. ISO/IEC 14443 is pretty detailed, split into four parts covering everything from physical card specs to how the card and reader should chat securely. It's like the rulebook for ensuring your card talks smoothly and safely to its reader but within a pretty snug range of 10 cm.

While NFC is the versatile communicator, ready to adapt to various scenarios, ISO/IEC 14443 is more like the specialist, focused squarely on ensuring your contactless card interactions are seamless and secure.

More resources on ISO 14443 and contactless