Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Defining a Correct Address

Tags:  correct addressing, address formats, international addresses

The goal of anyone sending letters or packages is safe, reasonably prompt delivery to the addressee.  For most countries, several different address styles might be considered “correct.”  In some countries, more than one address style is used.  This is particularly true in multi-lingual, multi-cultural countries, where the same address can be written in two (or more) completely different ways. 

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.  Marian Nelson, who was the editor of the Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats until 2000, developed the following definition of a correct address.  This definition remains valid for most mail with two exceptions noted below Marian’s definition.
·   All the address elements necessary for delivery are present.
·   All these address elements are written so that they can be easily read.
·   Capitalization and punctuation follow generally accepted practices used in the language and country.
·   As nearly as possible, all elements are positioned as requested by the postal authorities.
·   The individual receiving the letter or package does not find the address insulting or confusing.

The first exception is when mail must meet the criteria for special processing, including pre-sorted or bulk discounts that are offered by some postal operators.  In this case, the address may need to meet very strict criteria set by the postal operator offering the special processing and the final point in the list above becomes much less relevant.

The second exception is for very “high value” items.  These may not have a high monetary value but may be of great value to the sender or recipient, such as formal invitations, contracts or awards.  In this case, the final point in the list above is elevated in importance over the address conventions set by the postal authorities as long as deliverability is maintained.

Each time a country changes its postal address requirements, businesses hear from some of those they write regarding address corrections.  Some of these corrections are changes back to the previous format from the new format specified by the postal authorities when the recipients of the mail do not find the change agreeable and resist it as a correct address.  A balancing of the postal requirements and the perceived correct address may be needed to resolve these and it is useful to set rules for any staff who may need to sort out how the addresses should be written.

“Correct” addressing for you in particular will depend on three factors: the volume of your international shipments and correspondence, why and how they are being sent, and the destinations.  You will need to consider both the requirements of the postal authorities or delivery company in the originating country, in any countries that the letter or package may transit, and in the country of destination.