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What is the SMS Character Limit? (How many characters can one text message have?)

The Short Message Service, more commonly referred to as SMS, is a method of communication over the telephone that enables mobile phones, also known as cell phones, to communicate with one another and exchange text messages without the need for an internet connection.

The short message service (SMS) is convenient because it can be used on any mobile device, ranging from basic handsets to advanced smartphones.

To send a text message, all that is required is a mobile phone with some available credit, followed by the composition of the message and then sending the message. On the other hand, the person who is going to receive the message does not need to have any airtime on their phone.

The maximum length of an SMS


The maximum number of characters that can be included in a single text, including the spaces between them, is referred to as the “character limit”, or the text message length.

The maximum length is 160 characters for non-Unicode messages, and 70 characters for messages containing Unicode characters respectively. (What are Unicode messages? see below!) Note that these lengths are fairly universal, but individual phones or telcos can still apply different limits.

But what happens when you need to send a longer message?

What is an SMS with multiple parts?

Have you ever received a lengthy text message that was longer than the above 160 or 70 characters? In this case, what you got was a multi-part SMS even if it appeared like a single message.

Under the hood, longer messages are sent as multiple SMS rather than in a single long message. The text is broken up and sent separately. At the receiving end, the parts are then pieced together to create the appearance of one long SMS.

As soon as your SMS starts to be multiple parts the normal rule of 160 / 70 does not apply anymore. Under the hood, every part needs to also store info such as “I’m part 3 of this long SMS” and that takes precious space. That’s why each part in a multi-part SMS can usually only have 153 and 67 characters for basic and Unicode SMS respectively.

Oh, and usually you can’t have more than 7 parts with both basic or Unicode SMS. Sometimes only 4.

Yes, it becomes messy. (That’s why any decent SMS app will tell you how many characters and parts you have accrued.)

Adding to this: while it is possible to send very long messages, extremely long messages may have a detrimental effect on the deliverability of the message.

Unicode: When you need more than A to Z and numbers

As we mentioned above, single-part text messages that only contain basic characters have a limit of 160, while messages that contain Unicode have a character limit of 70. But what is Unicode?

What is Unicode? And what is Unicode SMS good for?

With Unicode, you can send SMS that go beyond lower and upper-case a-z and digits and a few punctuations. Where the most basic SMS only supports the Latin alphabet, with Unicode you can send messages in virtually every written language that we know of.

Unicode is what makes the internet possible in all its multilingual facets. And SMS got it, too.

(Note that in the early days, before Unicode, folks tried working around the problem with country or language-specific “code pages”. That was pretty messy.)

Let’s dig a tiny bit deeper into Unicode—feel free to skip the following section if you’re familiar with the topic.

A very brief history of text encodings and Unicode

Computers, including phones, store data in the form of zeros and ones (bits). Character encoding is required for humans and computers to communicate with one another because humans do not understand the language used by computers and computers do not understand human language.

When we input a character into a computer using a keyboard, the character is mapped into bytes on the computer that are equivalent to ones and zeros so that the computer can interpret it. After performing its computations, the computer then returns a response, which is then converted back into the characters that we can understand.

The first character set to become a standard was called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). This is a set of 128 characters that are fundamental to western language writing systems.


The fact that ASCII is largely used for converting western characters provides a disadvantage when working with characters from other writing systems, such as Mandarin, Arabic, and so forth.

The Unicode standard was developed with the intention of incorporating all non-western character sets; currently, it has more than 100,000 characters from over 100 different languages. Unicode also includes emojis, accents, etc.

Complete list of Unicode and non-Unicode characters

To help you figure out quickly if your SMS is Unicode or not, here are two related lists:

Non-Unicode characters (without code pages)

@ £ $ ¥ è é ù ì ò Ç Ø ø … å ” _ Φ ” Λ Ω Π Ψ Σ Θ Ξ ESC Æ æ ß É ! ” # ¤ % & ‘ ( ) * + , – . / 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 : ; < = > ? ¡ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Ä Ö Ñ Ü § ¿ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z ä ö ñ ü à

Note also that for messages with non-Unicode characters, these characters—|^{}€[~]\—count as 2 characters, so, for example, a 160 character message containing a { and no Unicode characters would count as 161 characters and thus be charged as 2 SMS.

Examples for Unicode characters

¢ ¦ ¨ © ª « ¬ ® ¯ ° ± ¹ ² ³ ´ µ ¶ · ¸ ¹ º » ¼ ½ ¾ À Á Ã È Ê Ë Ì Í Î Ï Ð Ò Ó Ô Õ × Ù Ú Û Ý Þ á â ã ç ê ë í î ï ð ó ô õ ÷ ú û ý þ ÿ

Because most of the early computing was done in English, it follows that most non-Unicode characters use less storage space than Unicode characters. This explains why the character limit for non-Unicode SMS is 160 while it’s only 70 for Unicode characters. It all boils down to the space needed for storage.

How many SMS parts will my message be?

One non-Unicode SMS is 160 characters including spaces. Should the number of characters exceed 160, for example, if a message has 170 characters, that is effectively a two-part SMS; the first part will have 153 characters and the second part will have 17. Therefore, such a message will be charged as two SMSes. So, if the cost of one SMS is $0.05, then the cost of that message would be $0.10. You get the idea.

In the same way, one SMS containing Unicode has 70 characters; therefore, if the message is longer than 70 characters, it becomes multi-part. The first part of the message will contain 67 characters, and each subsequent part will contain the remaining characters, up to a maximum of 67.

Here is a tabular example of SMS parts in action


How the engageSPARK app tells you that your message will be sent as Unicode

The message in the image below contains Unicode characters, therefore 1-part is 70 characters. The system notifies you when using Unicode at the bottom of the SMS wizard.


Check out what happens if you add one more character to the same message. It becomes a multi-part Unicode SMS because the message is now 71 characters.



Here are some non-Unicode screenshots

The longest SMS can have 7 parts each part with a maximum of 160 characters.


1-part non-Unicode SMS. The bottom of the SMS will clearly show you how many characters have been used, in this case, it’s 160 characters and it is a one-part SMS. The moment we go over 160 we’ll over to part two territory.


A 2-part SMS looks like this:

When a multi-part SMS is sent. The message will be combined, and the recipient’s phone will receive one lengthy message. On a phone, the sample we’ve been using will appear as follows:


How the engageSPARK app handles SMS character limits

We have developed a platform that has the capacity to deliver SMS blasts and SMS surveys to large numbers of people simultaneously in a short time.

The platform was developed with non-techie users in mind; it is simple to operate, and anyone can set up a campaign in a matter of minutes. In order to create campaigns, there are essentially three steps to follow:

  1. Content: Here we compose the text message.
  2. Contacts: Select recipients from your list of contacts.
  3. Launch: Click the button and the SMSes will be on their way.


How many countries can I text via the engageSPARK platform?

Send text messages to any mobile phone in the world. Our clients have used us to send SMS to 175+ countries. If you want to send a text, think engageSPARK. We are here to help you make it happen.

Our platform is intuitive and easy to use, and if in doubt, we have live chat available to help out every step of the way.

engageSPARK has partnered with many big organizations such as Johns Hopkins University, Unilever, Harvard Medical School, Mercy Corps, and UNICEF, to name a few.

Although in this article we’ve discussed SMS, engageSPARK offers a lot more features than just SMS. Check out our features page to learn more here. If you want to survey on a large scale, think engageSPARK.


Why are some text messages limited to 70 characters?

Messages with Unicode (other characters than a-z, 0-9, and a few symbols) use up more space and are therefore limited to 70 characters per part.

How many characters is a text message?

They are usually 160 characters long for basic (non-Unicode) messages or 70 characters for Unicode-containing messages. If you go over that limit and start a multi-part message, then it’s usually 153 and 67 per part.

What is the maximum SMS length?

For a single-part SMS, the maximum length is usually 160 basic characters or 70 Unicode characters.

For multi-part SMS, the maximum is usually 1071 and 469 respectively. (7 parts of 153 or 67 each)

What is a multi-part SMS?

When an SMS length is longer than 160 for non-Unicode or 70 for Unicode characters, it’s broken down into multiple parts. A maximum of 7 parts usually applies. However, on the receiving phone, the parts usually get joined to appear as one message.

Note that each part is sent as an SMS under the hood—and then slightly different maximum lengths apply.

Why does a long SMS sometimes arrive in pieces?

If the phone doesn’t support concatenation (joining) of multiple part messages then the message will arrive in pieces.

Why was my long SMS cut off?

This can happen if the phones or the network doesn’t support multi-part SMS correctly. In this case, parts of the message may be lost.

Also, SMS can be unreliable, and if one part disappears or doesn’t arrive for a long time, then the phone can’t stitch the parts together and show the long message.

How many parts can an SMS have at most?

4-7 parts depending on country.

Have questions or need a little extra help?