Thursday, July 26, 2012

Defining a List of Countries and Provinces

tags:  country list, destination countries, international destinations, territories, provinces

WorldVu recently compared the countries and provinces in ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Codes (formerly FIPS PUB 10-4) at the request of a client.  (“Provinces” as used here covers provinces, states, territories, districts, and all the other names for countries’ internal administrative units.)   Our client is in the process of redefining and upgrading their international customer and prospect database.  They want to capture client information, track client locations accurately, and be able to mail to them.  This is certainly not an unusual or esoteric combination of requirements.

But ISO and the U.S. have different lists for both countries and for provinces. 

I have written about the country lists before.  The problem is that both contain geographic entities that are not countries.  These non-countries on both lists range from continents to overseas territories to military bases to uninhabited islands.  It is not difficult to review them, since there is a total of 273 entities listed.  Each company needs to decide the criteria and what is important for choosing among those listed. 

I recommend listing some of those non-countries, since some of the territories are separate mail destinations, such as Aruba or Bermuda.  On the other hand, a few independent countries receive mail using another country’s name, most notably the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Republic of Palau.  All are addressed as through the United States and have 2-character abbreviations like the U.S. states.  Whether these are listed as countries or as units of the U.S. in a database depends on the decisions and requirements of each individual company. 

The province lists present a more complex set of problems.  The “provinces” listed are administrative units in most countries and the ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Code lists do not match.  Reviewing them is more difficult because the quantity is much greater with almost 5,000 listings and reliable and authoritative information is hard to find for some countries.  Again, what is needed and why must be considered.  A company might very reasonably want to track where purchasers, sales prospects or donors are located with more precision than just by country.   

If you do use provinces to better locate your customers, you may also need to add additional districts that are used for mail.  Some countries use mailing designations, such as islands that are not administrative units and not covered by the ISO 3166 and the U.S. Geopolitical Codes lists.  (Most countries don’t use provinces in addresses.) 

Our client needed mail destinations.  It didn’t matter if that international destination was a territory of another country or not.  They also needed an accurate list of provinces when they were used in addresses for in each of those destination “countries”.  Their definition of their requirements, and their willingness to share their requirements, made the comparing and refining the lists much simpler.  And we could give them lists that were tailored to their requirements.