With more than 230 countries and territories, there is a lot of variety in what an address looks like around the world. In international mailings, the proper address of the destination country and the standard practices and regulations of the companies that will handle the piece along the way all affect how the piece is addressed. We know that correct addresses get our mail to the recipient and save us postage. But what is a "correct" address given all the variations in addressing?
Common practice – and official postal address standards – varies from country to country and from each other in some cases. (To complicate matters, countries change their address standards, too.) In some countries, when addressing mail to an individual at a company, the person's name is below the company's name in the address block. In others, the person's name and position are above the company's name. Where there is building delivery, the building number can precede or follow the name of the street depending on the country.
When looking at the address block as a whole, most of the major variations around the world are in whether a postal code and a province designation are used and its placement in the address block. A very basic address is used by about 40 countries with the address, the city and the country name. In some countries, these addresses may be lengthy, describing the location instead of providing a building number and street name.
The shortest and simplest addresses are Post Office addresses, used exclusively in countries without building delivery, mainly in some countries in Africa and the Middle East. These are post office box or other types of post office delivery. They may be combined with a post office designation, a postal code or province designations.
A postal code and province designation can both be used or one may be used without the other. European countries, with the exception of Ireland, all use postal codes. (Ireland is planning to institute a code but details are not yet available.) Most European countries have the world's most common address format, used in more than 70 countries, with the postal code to the left of the city name with no provinces. Italy and Spain require a province abbreviation. The other European exceptions on the placement of the postal code and province information are Albania, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Russia and the U.K.
The U.K.'s preferred format, with the postal code alone on the last line of the address above the country name is becoming more common. Most British territories and Brazil, Costa Rica, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Turks & Caicos, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan request the postal code alone on the line immediately above the country name. The U.K.'s official address standard no longer uses counties in addresses. The others vary in whether they use provinces in addition to postal codes.
The U.S. uses both a postal code and province designation and shares its basic template with Australia, Canada, Colombia, Lebanon, Somalia and Taiwan. In lieu of a province, Taiwan uses an island name but this does not always appear in the address. Postal codes are not always given by residents of Colombia and neither the province nor the postal code is consistently given by residents of Somalia.
Within these formats, most countries will have multiple address templates for different varieties of addresses. For example, a post office box address will differ from a street address. One computer programmer for an organization with extensive overseas mailings estimates that there are more than 100 templates in the countries where that organization sends regular mail, including differences like street addresses and post office box addresses.
All contact databases require on-going maintenance as addresses and address formats change. Staying informed of the details and any changes can make the difference between a successful mailing and an unprofitable one.