There are two components to a barcode graphic. The barcode graphic and the number beneath the bars.
EAN = 0012345678905
UPC = (0)012345678905 or 012345678905
The GS1, the original source for barcodes, has created the confusion between UPC (Universal Product Codes) and EAN (European Article Numbers also called International Article Numbers). The UPC-A barcode was the original format for product barcodes. As demand in Europe, Asia and Australia started growing, country codes were added. (We have a list of country codes on this site). US and Canada have a a country code of zero which is not printed under the barcode nor is it entered in US and Canadian Inventory and Point of Sale Databases.
If you look at the graphics above, you will see they are exactly the same. The width of the bars and the width of the spaces between the bars are exactly the same. The only major difference is the placement of the numbers below (human readable numbers) which are there only as a back-up in case the barcode doesn’t scan properly and the information has to be manually entered into the point of sale system
Taking this a step further, we have overlaid the UPC and the EAN graphics (symbologies) so you can see that the graphic is identical. The country code doesn’t appear beneath the barcode in a UPC since the GS1 didn’t grasp the importance of US and Canada indicating country codes. They felt that since the majority of products sold in both countries originate from importers, distributors or manufacturers in the US or Canada, they could forego the leading zero in the human readable numbers.
We still believe that if you are currently doing business in the United States and Canada exclusively, it is safer to order UPC barcodes for your products. Many retailers, especially smaller retailers may be using older accounting and inventory systems that only allow them to enter in 12 digit UPC numbers and not a 13 digit string. If this changes in the future, you can convert your 12 digit UPC to a 13 digit EAN by adding in the country code 0. There is nothing on the horizon indicating that the US and Canada will ever switch over to EAN 13 barcodes.
Other countries are able to scan and read UPC barcodes.