International address validation & foreign address formats

International Address Validation Countries Globe

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 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 250 countries and territories and by extension, there are 250 foreign address formats. Providers like Smarty 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 -
Programmatically 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

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 250 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 250 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 250 countries and territories, or download our 5 Ways Companies Use Address Verification to Improve Business Results ebook.

Read our 5 address validation use cases ebook now

Video: International addresses lookup by country

Looking up, validating and standardizing international addresses can be simple for a user with the right tools. Smarty 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.

Watch the video, or follow these steps for the international addresses lookup process.

  1. Copy the international address you want to look up, verify and standardize.
  2. Select the country or territory whose formatting you desire from the list below.
  3. Enter or paste in the address to the freeform address box.
  4. The validated address in the correct format for the desired country will appear.
  5. Scroll down past the map, and you will see the international address broken up into its component parts.
  6. That's it! You've just looked up, validated and standardized an international address.
Country address format Alpha 3-Code
Afghanistan AFG
Åland Islands ALA
Albania ALB
Alderaan - No longer supported ALD
Algeria DZA
American Samoa ASM
Andorra AND
Angola AGO
Anguilla AIA
Antarctica ATA
Antigua Barbuda ATG
Argentina ARG
Armenia ARM
Aruba ABW
Australia AUS
Austria AUT
Azerbaijan AZE
Bahamas BHS
Bahrain BHR
Bangladesh BGD
Barbados BRB
Belarus BLR
Belgium BEL
Belize BLZ
Benin BEN
Bermuda BMU
Bhutan BTN
Bolivia BOL
Bonaire BES
Bosnia Herzegovina BIH
Botswana BWA
Brazil BRA
British Indian Ocean Territory IOT
British Virgin Islands VGB
Brunei Darussalam BRN
Bulgaria BGR
Burkina Faso BFA
Burundi BDI
Cambodia KHM
Cameroon CMR
Canada CAN
Cape Verde Islands CPV
Cayman Islands CYM
Central African Republic CAF
Chad TCD
Chile CHL
China CHN
Christmas Island CXR
Cocos (Keeling) Islands CCK
Colombia COL
Comoros COM
Congo COD
Cook Islands COK
Costa Rica CRI
Croatia HRV
Cuba CUB
Curacao CUW
Cyprus CYP
Czech Republic CZE
Denmark DNK
Djibouti DGI
Dominica DMA
Dominican Republic DOM
Ecuador ECU
Egypt EGY
El Salvador SLV
Equatorial Guinea GNQ
Eritrea ERI
Estonia EST
Ethiopia ETH
Falkland Islands FLK
Faroe Islands FRO
Fiji FJI
Finland FIN
France FRA
French Guiana GUF
French Polynesia PYF
French Southern Territories ATF
Gabon GAB
Gambia GMB
Georgia GEO
Germany DEU
Ghana GHA
Gibraltar GIB
Greece GRC
Greenland GRL
Grenada GRD
Guadeloupe GLP
Guam GUM
Guatemala GTM
Guernsey GGY
Guinea GIN
Guinea-Bissau GNB
Guyana GUY
Haiti HTI
Holy See VAT
Honduras HND
Hong Kong HKG
Hungary HUN
Iceland ISL
India IND
Indonesia IDN
Iran IRN
Iraq IRQ
Ireland IRL
Isle of Man IMN
Israel ISR
Italy ITA
Ivory Coast CIV
Jamaica JAM
Japan JPN
Jersey JEY
Jordan JOR
Kazakhstan KAZ
Kenya KEN
Kiribati KIR
Korea, Republic of KOR
Kuwait KWT
Kyrgyzstan KGZ
Laos LAO
Latvia LVA
Lebanon LBN
Lesotho LSO
Liberia LBR
Libya LBY
Liechtenstein LIE
Lithuania LTU
Luxembourg LUX
Macao MAC
Macedonia MKD
Madagascar MDG
Malawi MWI
Malaysia MYS
Maldives MDV
Mali MLI
Malta MLT
Marshall Islands MHL
Martinique MTQ
Mauritania MRT
Mauritius MUS
Mayotte MYT
Mexico MEX
Micronesia FSM
Moldova MDA
Monaco MCO
Mongolia MNG
Montenegro MNE
Montserrat MSR
Morocco MAR
Mozambique MOZ
Myanmar MMR
Namibia NAM
Nauru NRU
Nepal NPL
Netherlands NLD
New Caledonia NCL
New Zealand NZL
Nicaragua NIC
Niger NER
Nigeria NGA
Niue NIU
Norfolk Island NFK
North Korea PRK
Northern Mariana Islands NMP
Norway NOR
Oman OMN
Pakistan PAK
Palau PLW
Palestinian Territory PSE
Panama PAN
Papua New Guinea PNG
Paraguay PRY
Peru PER
Philippines PHL
Pitcairn Island PCN
Poland POL
Portugal PRT
Puerto Rico PRI
Qatar QAT
Réunion REU
Romania ROU
Russia RUS
Rwanda RWA
Saint Barthélemy BLM
Saint Helena SHN
Saint Kitts and Nevis KNA
Saint Lucia LCA
Saint Martin MAF
Saint Pierre and Miquelon SPM
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines VCT
Samoa WSM
San Marino SMR
Sao Tome and Principe STP
Saudi Arabia SAU
Senegal SEN
Serbia SRB
Seychelles SYC
Sierra Leone SLE
Singapore SGP
Sint Maarten (Dutch) SXM
Slovakia SVK
Slovenia SVN
Solomon Islands SLB
Somalia SOM
South Africa ZAF
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands SGS
South Sudan SSD
Spain ESP
Sri Lanka LKA
Sudan SDN
Suriname SUR
Svalbard and Jan Mayen Islands SJM
Swaziland SWZ
Sweden SWE
Switzerland CHE
Syria SYR
Taiwan TWN
Tajikistan TJK
Tanzania TZA
Thailand THA
Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) TLP
Togo TGO
Tokelau TKL
Tonga TON
Trinidad and Tobago TTO
Tunisia TUN
Turkey TUR
Turkmenistan TKM
Turks and Caicos Islands TCA
Tuvalu TUV
Uganda UGA
Ukraine UKR
United Arab Emirates ARE
United Kingdom GBR
United States Minor Outlying Islands UMI
United States Virgin Islands VIR
Uruguay URY
Uzbekistan UZB
Vanuatu VUT
Venezuela VEN
Vietnam VNM
Wallis and Futuna Islands WLF
Western Sahara ESH
Yemen YEM
Zambia ZMB
Zimbabwe ZWE

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, we'd return the data in the same characters 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," transliteration 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 be 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.

International address validation is complex, but it's worth the effort because clean address data can improve business results across organizations. Check out our ebook to learn how, or continue on to the next section below:

Read our 5 address validation use cases ebook now

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 countries (which is "technically" more than there are official countries in the world, mind you), there are only 12 that even have delivery point validation 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 Smarty offer international address validation. So whether at home or abroad, we can help you get the validation you need.

Now that you know a bit about what international address validation is, now you need all the benefits of validating your dirty international address data. Fortunately, our awesome ebook will teach you how to improve business results with clean address data and give you all the reasons you'll need:

Read our 5 address validation use cases ebook now