International Address Validation & Foreign Address Formats
International Address Validation is the process of comparing a non-US address against an authoritative address database for the country in which the address is located. Much like validating addresses in the United States, an international address is validated when a match is found in that country's official address database.
The address fails to validate when there is no match for that address in the official database. The quality of address data varies broadly from country to country.
Foreign Address Formats are the accepted mailing address formats of countries outside of the US. There is no overarching authority that determines all foreign address formats. Instead, each country's postal authority determines their own standard address format. For example, the Canadian address format is determined by Canada Post.
There are 240+ countries and territories and by extension, there are 240+ foreign address formats. Providers like Smartystreets allow you to verify international addresses and to match the accepted address format for each county. These services are available via single address input, bulk upload and API. Try one now:
|Single Address -
Verify international addresses one at a time.
|Bulk Address -
Validate a list of international addresses all at once.
|International API -
Programatically validate and standardize global addresses.
International address verification has its challenges. It is expensive to acquire the data, whether first-hand or second-hand. It is costly to check against the database in the first place, and it can be difficult to write the code that teaches the program how to differentiate and sort through all the different address standards involved in standardizing an international address.
But we validate international addresses, and that's because we like a challenge, we like making difficult things easier, and because the world isn't going to validate itself.
In this article we will discuss:
- Foreign Address Formats
- International Addresses Lookup by Country
- International Address Components
- Accuracy Problems in International Addresses
Foreign Address Formats
You probably came to this section looking for a picture of an envelope with a foreign address. Sorry to disappoint. First of all, there isn't a universal 'foreign address format'. Instead, each country has their own format. This means there are 240+ possible address formats. You first need to search for the address format by country.
Even after selecting a country, seeing an example address simply can't cover all the possible edge cases in foreign address formatting. Abbreviation, casing, apartments, post office boxes and more wreak havoc on your ability to get the address right. What's worse, is the problem compounds the more shipping you do.
For example, the United States Postal Service has a document called Publication 28 which is 228 pages of mind-numbing address formatting standards that cover everything from how to correctly abbreviate spanish words, B2B mailing list maintenance and how to properly handle rural route addresses. Canada's standards are a more digestible 14, New Zealand's clock in at 40 and the UK's at 48. Once you add up all the standards for 240+ countries, you are looking at thousands of pages of foreign address formats.
The first step is not to search for foreign address formats. Instead you let someone else take the thousands of pages of international address formats and distill them into an easy-to-use tool that does the heavy lifting. In addition to reformatting the address, the best tools will also tell you if there are any problems with the address entered. You provide the address, they provide the validation (they make sure the address is a real shipping address where possible.) and then format it to the standards for the desired country. Read the next section to see how to get international address formats for 240+ countries and territories.
International Addresses Lookup by Country
Looking up, validating and standardizing international addresses can be simple for a user with the right tools. SmartyStreets features a freeform address verification tool that allows users to select a country and paste in the entire address at once. That way, you aren't stuck trying to figure out if 'Домодедово' is the 'Locality' or an 'Administrative area'. You just throw the entire address into the box and we take it from there.Follow these steps for the international addresses lookup process.
- Copy the international address you want to lookup, verify and standardize.
- Select the country or territory whose formatting you desire from the list below.
- Enter or paste in the address to the freeform address box.
- The validated address in the correct format for the desired country will appear.
- Scroll down past the map, and you will see the international address broken up into its component parts.
- That's it! You've just looked up, validated and standardized an international address.
International Address Validation Components
First, some basics. Those of you who have dealt with domestic address validation (or at least US validation, for those of you living outside the US) will notice some differences in the international process.
For instance, there's not always clear, cut-and-dried division lines between segments of a country. What we call "states" in the US (it's where the "S" part comes from), and what are sometimes called "provinces" elsewhere, are often termed "administrative areas" in places that use neither term. Why is that important? Because even if there are no clearly-defined "states" in a country, the postal service still needs to know which section of the nation it's going to.
Then there's the issue of language. A lot of the world uses Latin characters, like the ones you're reading now. A lot of the world doesn't. That can cause some problems, so providers like us usually try to simplify the interface to make things easier on you. Here's how we handle it: if you don't specify output characters, the data will be returned in the same ones you used to enter the addresses. If you specify "native," it will return the characters native to that country's language. And if you specify "Latin," it will return Latin characters. (And if non fueris locutus Latin, don't worry—it's only the characters, not the language.)
Another detail is including the country of destination in the input. In order to properly validate, a value designating the destination country must be included in the input. This can either by the country's full name, or an ISO Classification There are three formats currently accepted: ISO-2 (a two-letter abbreviation similar to state abbreviations in the US), ISO-3 (a three-letter abbreviation), and ISO-N (a numeric code assigned to the country). One of these options must be included with the address, or it will fail to validate, regardless of its existence—or lack thereof—in the system.
Accuracy Problems in International Addresses
Knowing what international address validation is isn't as important as knowing what you expect from international address verification. Do you want to know that the full address is valid and deliverable? Or are you only interested in knowing whether the city or street portion of the address is valid?
The United States has an incredibly organized postal system. Think about it; there's over 150 million delivery points for the USPS nationwide, and the USPS delivers mail daily. That means if everyone got a letter on the same day, the guys and gals in blue shorts would be making 150 million stops on that day alone.
Not every country is that organized.
For most countries there is no such thing as Delivery Point Verification (DPV). Many local postal services just don't have the data at that level. In fact, out of 241 mailing entities (which is "technically" more than there are official countries in the world, mind you), there are only 12 that even have delivery point data available: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.
- (5%) 12 have data down to the delivery point (meaning a house or apartment)
- (28%) 68 have data down to the property level (meaning a building or a group of buildings on the same property)
- (25%) 37 have data down to the street level (meaning that the street does exist)
- (52%) 126 have data down to the neighborhood or community level
52% of the world can't even tell you if the street in the address is real; another 25% can, but that's the best they can do. If you're curious how mail gets to people in places like that, it's simple: the postal employee personally knows where to take it, but that information isn't recorded at the local post office.
This can be caused by a number of different factors, but one of the big ones is political upheaval. Postal services are usually a function of the government, and when the government is in flux, so is the organization that runs the post. If the postal employee has more than barking dogs to worry about, sometimes that means no delivery service—at least, no reliable service.
Here's the good news: the accuracy thresholds vary by country. Why is that good news? The majority of addresses that are processed for address verification are ones from countries with established postal systems.
Here's more good news: we at SmartyStreets offer international address validation. So whether at home or abroad, we can help you get the validation you need.