How many characters fit in an SMS message?

Short answer: 160 characters. But there’s more to it than counting your a-b-c’s. Let’s take a look at why the length of your message matters.

Amanda R - June 8, 2022

One of the best bits about SMS? It’s a super-cheap way to get messages out to the masses. And, to make sure it stays as cost-effective as possible for your business, you need to keep your messages short and sweet – that is, under 160 characters.

Yet not all ‘characters’ are counted in the same way. If you add emojis or more unusual characters (hello, Unicode ) then the character limits change. 

Here, we’ll take a look at the different rules so you can send bulk SMS knowing that you’re not using up extra credits.

Top tip

Technically, a text message can be up to 5,000 characters long. But longer messages cost more to send. A message of 160 standard characters will set you back 1 SMS credit per send, while a message of 5,000 characters would cost 33 SMS credits. Make cents?

What counts as a character?

In the SMS world, there are two types of text message: standard and Unicode. 

A standard message only uses Latin letters of the alphabet, numbers 0 to 9, and characters like !, $, & and more (these characters are called the Global System for Mobile (GSM) character set). A standard message worth 1 SMS credit can be up to 160 characters.

A Unicode message, on the other hand, includes at least one non-GSM character. This could be something like a mathematical symbol, brackets, or letters from the alphabets of other countries. A Unicode message worth 1 SMS credit can be up to 70 characters.

If you use emojis, your message is Unicode. And remember, one emoji counts for at least two characters (depending on its file size).

One more thing. Spaces count as characters, too.

Type of SMSStandard SMSUnicode SMS
IncludesGSM characters (Latin letters A-Z, numbers 0-9), and common symbolsNon-GSM characters, mathematical symbols, emojis, and more
SMS exampleHi Sam, friendly reminder that you’re booked in for a deep tissue massage tomorrow at 2pm. Reply Y to confirm.Hi Sam, reminder of your massage appt tomorrow at 2pm 💆 Reply Y to confirm
Credits example110 chars = 1 SMS credit75 chars = 2 SMS (Emoji is 2 Unicode characters)
1 SMS credit1 – 160 characters1 – 70 characters
2 SMS credits161 – 306 characters71 – 134 characters
3 SMS credits307 – 459 characters153 – 201 characters
4 SMS credits460 – 612 characters202 – 268 characters

In the table above, you might notice above that the numbers don’t quite add up. As soon as your message goes beyond 1 SMS credit, it becomes segmented into multiple parts – and you lose a few characters to invisible headers and footers.

How to keep track of SMS credits infographic

Top tip

Don’t stress too much about counting characters. Our inbox automatically counts the number of characters as you type and lets you know how many credits the text will use.

Keeping your messages short and sweet

Apart from the fact that shorter messages cost less to send, your customers will appreciate your brevity, too. Everyone’s busy – the quicker you can get your message across, the better. 

Here are some tips for trimming excess characters from your texts:

  • Use templates – take the time to set up templates your whole team can use. This way, no-one’s tempted to throw in extra words here and there. 
  • Use short trackable links – if you want to include a link in your text, don’t include the whole URL. Our portal can automatically shorten your links to 22 characters.

Be wary of word processors – some might sneak hidden Unicode characters into your message. Use a plain text editor or write your texts straight into SMS Broadcast instead.

Want more texting inspo?

Check out our handy text messaging examples for ideas on how to write a short-but-helpful SMS.

Ready to go?

Get a free trial