Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Counties, Districts, Estados, Oblasts, Provincias, Qarqe, Rayons, States, Territories, Velayat, Wilayat – Oh, My!

Tags:  states, provinces, address formats, correct address, data quality

Most countries are divided into smaller administrative units.  The next largest unit below a country’s central government is called a “first-level administrative unit”.  In Canada, these are provinces and territories.  In the U.S., they are the 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), and various other territories, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. 

Some countries have a more complex structure of units than others.  The United Kingdom has 241 first-level units with a variety of names – two-tier counties, unitary authorities, municipal districts, among them.  From here on out, I will call them provinces in this blog.

About 100 countries use provinces, or province abbreviations, in their postal addresses.  In a number of countries, provinces are used except for addresses in major cities or the capital city.  In about half of all those countries specifying their use, the province is in the official address format provided by postal authorities but used only rarely or occasionally.

As with postal codes, requiring provinces when designing response forms or designing a database is going to create similar problems.  Abandoned forms.  Incorrect information.  Poor quality or incorrect addresses.  Where the provinces are placed in the address also varies by country, complicating that field’s placement on forms.  When used, the province is most commonly either below or to the right of the town or city.  (What to call that field on a form is another complication.)

And, as with postal codes, you want to capture the province in countries where they are used.  Here are some suggestions to find out where they are used.

1.  Check the designated postal operator’s web site for addressing guidelines or examples.  Be sure to check for addresses outside the capital or major city.

2.  Check the addresses of businesses in that country, looking beyond those in the capital city.

3.  Buy the completely revised 2012 edition of the Guide to Worldwide Postal Code and Address Formats.  We are now accepting pre-publication orders that will be shipped in February.  The online version is continually updated.

As always, I can be reached by email if you have questions or want more information.

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