Monday, August 1, 2011

A postal tip on foreign addresses

I recently chatted with a very friendly postal clerk at my favorite post office, and she gave me some great advice about addressing international mail.

I have long known that it's best to put the name of the country LAST, but haven't understood why. Sometimes I'll get an address on Postcrossing where there are numbers listed after the country. I usually figure that the person who lists their address most likely knows best the conventions of addressing mail in their own country, but that is not necessarily the case if sending from the USA.

I recently got a postcrossing card to Russia, and I've altered the info, but let's say the person listed their address as

15 Petroskaya circle

or something like that. My friendly postal clerk pointed out that you always want to list the country last, because American postal scanners will scan mail from the bottom up. If they see a country name first, it's headed for that country. If they see numbers first, they will read it as a zip code. I don't know if I'm explaining this as well as I could, but I think I understand some routing difficulties with international postcards I've sent in the past.

So - if you're in the USA, and you're sending to mail outside the USA - always put the destination country's name last, and on its own line!

And there's your friendly postal tip of the day. I love to learn new postal facts and tips!

UPDATE 8/4/2011: Thanks to blog reader David Harrison for some really excellent tips. Please read the comments for the full dialogue, but at the heart of the matter he recommended FRANK'S COMPULSIVE GUIDE TO POSTAL ADDRESSES, which is really spectacular. Do have a look.


  1. This is the same with sending international mail from Australia: The country should appear last, not a postal code. A good tip!

  2. God tip, though it isn't foolproof.

    I always put the country last. But occasionally my letters to Germany would take way too long. The mystery was solved when a letter to Germany was returned as undeliverable -- from a post office in a little town in Texas!

  3. That is good to know. I was wondering about that recently. Thanks!

  4. Mike - nothing is foolproof. The world has no shortage of fools. I've still had plenty mis-routed, too... but I do try to do everything I can on my end to prevent that. (Sometimes it's just plain unpreventable.)

  5. Great tip one i have been following for a bit good to see it confirmed.

  6. Thank you! I've been printing and taping them as the are posted on postcrossing. Now, I'll double check each one to make sure the country is listed last. Didn't know that little tidbit before now. Makes sense though.


  7. If I get an address like that I will write:


    It looks rather silly with the country name twice but at least the country is at the bottom as it should be.

    Another tip I picked up from a post office clerk: in the Netherlands, it's best to write the country name and also the destination city in CAPITALS. It apparently helps with the sorting. It's discouraged to underline the country name or enhance it in any other way since this apparently makes automatically sorting the letter harder. I don't know if this is also true in the USA?

  8. Maaike - I always write the country name in capitals, though I have no idea why. I've seen others do it. Hmm. I also underline the country name for the same reason. I have no info on this either way, though my interactions with postal workers have made me believe our USA systems are case insensitive. It does make me wonder, though!

  9. I'll always put the country last so that letters at least reach escape velocity. From Greece I'll write the name of the destination in the Greek alphabet -- helps to ask a local!

    There are several ways to skin the Country/Postcode cat even within Europe -- it's common enough to send a letter from Germany to France with 'F75100', with 'F' denoting the country. But from here in the UK I'd write '75100 Paris, FRANCE' or somesuch.

    I guess the thing to remember is that having the country name last, in clear caps, determines how easily the letter gets through your domestic system. Everything else is for the guys at the other end, and should conform to their rules.

    Here's a great site for the address-obsessed, by the way:

  10. David, your resource is phenomenal. It is so great that I'm going to hyperlink it properly for ease of click: What a wealth of information!

    Your third paragraph contains wisdom that I forgot to mention, though I knew - numerous postal clerks in the USA have confirmed that all they do is send it to the country specified - the rest is the other country's business. This is why it is perfectly acceptable to address a letter in cyrillic, the greek alphabet, or Mandarin Chinese characters, as long as the country name is spelled out in English on the very last line. "The rest is their business," as one of my favorite postal clerks has said.

    Back to your link: the section alone entitled "Britain and Ireland" is quite a hoot! Nice little pearl of wisdom that "USPS treats ENGLAND, GREAT BRITAIN, and UNITED KINGDOM as synonyms." I had wondered.

    Again, thank you for your comment and resource!