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A postal code (known in various countries as a post code, postcode, or ZIP code) is a series of letters and/or digit appended to a postal address for the purpose of sorting mail. Once postal codes were introduced, other applications became possible.

In February 2005, 117 of the 190 member countries of the Universal Postal Unionmarker had postal code systems. Countries that do not have national systems include Irelandmarker and Panamamarker. Although Hong Kongmarker and Macaumarker are now Special Administrative Region of Chinamarker, it maintained their own long-established postal system, and still does not use any postal codes for domestic mail within Hong Kong. Postal codes of Chinese postal system are assigned to Hong Kong (999077) and Macau (999078).

Although postal codes are usually assigned to geographical areas, special codes are sometimes assigned to individual addresses or to institutions that receive large volumes of mail, such as government agencies and large commercial companies. One example is the French Cedex system.


Many English-speaking countries call the codes, postcode. The term ZIP code is used in the United States and the Philippines. ZIP is a backronym for Zone Improvement Plan. Canada uses "postal code". Postal codes in India are called Postal Index Number.


Postal codes were first introduced in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in December 1932 [8248], but the system was abandoned in 1939. The next country to introduce postal codes was Germany in 1941, followed by Argentina in 1958, United Kingdom in 1959 and United States in 1963.

In February 2005, 117 of the 190 member countries of the Universal Postal Unionmarker had postal code systems.


Character sets

Characters used in postal codes exclusively are The space and the hyphen could be omitted in all systems with all information being retained.

In the UK postcode system, when reading from left to right the space contains some information.

ANN could come from AN N(AA) or ANN (NAA). AANN could come from AAN N(AA), AANN (NAA). AN could come from AN(A NAA) or any source of ANN, and AAN could come from AAN(A NAA) or any source of AANN.

If the space is present, all "ANN " must refer to ANN NAA and "AN " to "AN NAA" etc.

Reserved characters

Postal codes in the Netherlands originally did not use the letters 'F', 'I', 'O', 'Q', 'U' and 'Y' for technical reasons. But as almost all existing combinations are now used these letters were allowed for new locations starting 2005. The letter combinations SS, SD and SA are not used for historical reasons.

Postal codes in Canada do not include the letters D, F, I, O, Q, or U, as the OCR equipment used in automated sorting could easily confuse them with other letters. The letters W and Z are used, but are not currently used as the first letter.

Alphanumeric postal codes

Most postal code systems are numeric, only few are alphanumeric (i.e. use both letters and digits). Alphanumeric systems can, given the same number of digits, encode more locations. They are often more precise, as is the case in the United Kingdom or in the Netherlands, where a postal code corresponds to a street or even a building, meaning the post code and the number of the home/business is all that is needed for accurate delivery. The independent nations using alphanumeric postal code systems are:

Country code prefixes

Usage of ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 codes was recommended to be used starting in 1994, but did not become widely used. The European Committee for Standardization recommends use of ISO Alpha-2 codes for international postcodes and a UPU guide on international addressing states that "administrations may recommend" the use of ISO Alpha-2 codes.

Andorra, Ecuador, Latvia, Moldova, Slovenia use the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 as prefix in their postal codes.

In some countries (such as those of continental Europe, where a postcode format of four or five numeric digits is commonly used) the numeric postal code is sometimes prefixed with a country code to avoid confusion when sending international mail to or from that country. Recommendations by official bodies responsible for postal communications are confusing regarding this practice. For many years, licence plate codes — for instance "D-" for Germany or "F-" for France — were used, although this was not accepted by the Universal Postal Unionmarker (UPU).

Placement of the code

Postal services have their own formats and placement rules for postal codes. In most English-speaking countries, the postal code forms the last item of the address, following the city or town name, whereas in most continental European countries it precedes the name of the city or town.

When it follows the city it may be on the same line or on a new line.

In Japan, China, Korea and the Russian Federation, it is written more to the beginning of an address.

Geographic coverage

Postal codes are usually assigned to geographical areas. Sometimes codes are assigned to individual addresses or to institutions that receive large volumes of mail, e.g. government agencies or large commercial companies. One example is the French Cedex system.

Postal zone numbers

Before postal codes as described here were used, large cities were often divided into postal zones or postal districts, usually numbered from 1 upwards within each city. The newer postal code systems often incorporate the old zone numbers, as with London postal district numbers, for example. Irelandmarker still uses postal district numbers in Dublinmarker. In New Zealandmarker, Aucklandmarker, Wellingtonmarker and Christchurchmarker were divided into postal zones, but these fell into disuse, and have now become redundant as a result of a new postcode system being introduced.

Codes defined along administrative borders

Some postal code system, like the one of Ecuadormarker and Costa Ricamarker show an exact agreement with the hierarchy of the administrative country subdivisions.

Format of 6 digit numeric (8 digit alphanumeric) postal codes in Ecuador, introduced in December 2007: ECAABBCC
EC - ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code
AA - one of the 24 provinces of Ecuador (24 of 100 possible codes used = 20%)
BB - one of the 226 cantons of Ecuador (for AABB 226 of 10000 codes used , i.e. 2.26%. Note to cantons: three are not in any province)
CC - one of the parishes of Ecuador

Format of 5 digit numeric Postal codes in Costa Rica, introduced in 2007: ABBCC
A - one of the 7 provinces of Costa Rica (7 of 10 used, i.e. 70%)
BB - one of the 81 cantons of Costa Rica (81 of 1000 used, i.e. 8.1%)
CC - one of the districts of Costa Rica
In Costa Rica these codes are also used by the National Institute for Statistics and Census (INSEC).

The first two digits of the postal codes in Turkey correspond to the provinces and each province has assigned only one number. They are the same for them as in ISO 3166-2:TR.

The first two digits of the postal codes in Vietnam indicate a province. Some provinces have one, other have several two digit numbers assigned. The numbers differ from the number used in ISO 3166-2:VN.

Codes defined close to administrative borders

In France the numeric code for the departments is used in the first digits of the postal code, except for the two departments in Corsicamarker that have codes 2A and 2B and use 20 as postal code. Furthermore the codes are only the codes for the department in charge of delivery of the post, so it can be that is location in one department has the postal code starting with a number of a neighboring department.

Codes defined distantly to administrative borders

The first digit of the postal codes in the United States defines an area including several states. From the first three digits under exclusion of some exceptions, one can derive the state.

Codes defined independently from administrative borders

The first two digits of the postal codes in Germany define areas independent from administrative regions. The coding space of the first digit is fully used (0-9) that of the first two combined is used to 89%, i.e. there are 89 postal zones defined. The zone 11 is none geographic.

The UK post designed the postal codes in the United Kingdom mostly for efficient distribution. Nevertheless with the time people begun to associate codes with certain areas, leading to certain people wanting to have or to not have a certain code. See: postcode lottery.


Postal codes in the Netherlands are alphanumeric, consisting of four digits followed by a space and two letters (NNNN AA). Adding the house number to the postcode will identify the address, making the street name and town name redundant. For example: 2597 GV 75 will direct a postal delivery to the International School of The Hague.

States and overseas territories sharing a postal code system

Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man are part of the UK postcode system. They use the scheme AAN NAA, in which the first two letters are the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code.

Seven British overseas territories use nine postal codes, three for Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha and one for each of the other. Note, that the former has two ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country codes, and the British Antarctic Territory has none, so the number of ISO codes is seven.

Two other British areas have their own systems, and use the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 prefix:

French overseas territories use five digit French postal code system, each code starting with the three letter department identifier. Monaco uses the French system.

Italy, San Marino and Vatican City use one codes one system. Liechtenstein and Switzerland use one system. Slovakia and the Czech Republic base their systems on the codes of Czechoslovakia, the ranges are not overlapping.

Non-geographic codes

In Finland the special postal code 99999 is for Korvatunturimarker, the place where Santa Claus (or Joulupukki in Finnish) is said to live.

In Canada the amount of mail sent to Santa Claus increased every Christmas, up to the point that Canada Post decided to start an official Santa Claus letter-response program in 1983. Approximately one million letters come in to Santa Claus each Christmas, including from outside of Canada, and all of them are answered, in the same languages in which they are written. Canada Post introduced a special address for mail to Santa Claus, complete with its own postal code:


Formats of postal codes by country and time

See list of postal codes for non tabular information on more countries.

Country Introduced ISO Format Note
Afghanistan AFmarker - no codes -
Åland Islands AXmarker NNNNN With Finland.
Albania ALmarker NNNN
Algeria DZmarker NNNNN First two as in ISO 3166-2:DZ
Andorra 2004 ADmarker CCNNN
Angola AOmarker - no codes -
Argentina 1999 ARmarker ANNNN Codigo Postal Argentino (CPA), where A is the province code as in ISO 3166-2:AR
Armenia 2006-04-01 AMmarker NNNN
Ascension island ACmarker AAAANAA one code: ASCN 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
Australia 1967 AU NNNN
Austria 1966 ATmarker NNNN
Azerbaijan AZmarker CCNNNN
Bangladesh BDmarker NNNN
Belgium BE NNNN First number indicates the province.
Belize BZ - no codes -
Benin BJ - no codes -
Brazil 1972 BR NNNNN Código de Endereçamento Postal (CEP)
British Indian Ocean Territory IOmarker AAAANAA one code: BIQQ 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
British Virgin Islands VG CCNNNN
Brunei BNmarker AANNNN
Bulgaria BGmarker NNNN
Cambodia KHmarker NNNNN
Canada 1971-04-01—1975 CAmarker ANANAN (ANA NAN) The system was gradually introduced starting in April 1971 in Ottawa
Cape Verde CV NNNN The first digit indicates the island.
China CNmarker NNNNNN
Colombia COmarker NNNNNN First NN = 32 departments [8250]
Costa Rica 2007-03 CR NNNNN First codes the provinces, next two the canton, last two the district.
Croatia HR NNNNN
Cyprus 1994-10-01 CY NNNN
Czech Republic 1973 CZ NNNNN (NN NNN)
Denmark 1967-09-20 DK NNNN
Ecuador 2007-12 EC CCNNNNNN
Estonia EE NNNNN
Falkland Islands FKmarker AAAANAA one code: FIQQ 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
Finland 1971 FI NNNNN
France 1972 FR NNNNN First mostly as in ISO 3166-2:FR.
Germany 1941-07-25 -- NN Postleitzahl (PLZ)
Germany 1993 DE NNNNN Postleitzahl (PLZ)
Greece 1983 GR NNNNN
Hong Kong HKmarker - no codes -
Guernsey GYmarker CCNNAA (CCN NAA) UK postcode
Hungary HU NNNN
Iceland IS NNN
India 1972-08-15 IN NNNN Postal Index Number (PIN)
Iraq 2004 IQmarker NNNNN
Ireland IEmarker alphanumeric system planned
Isle of Man IMmarker CCNNAA (CCN NAA) UK postcode
Italy 1967 ITmarker NNNNN Codice di Avviamento Postale (CAP)
Jersey JE CCNNAA (CCN NAA) UK postcode
Kazakhstan KZmarker NNNNNN Reference:
Liechtenstein LI NNNN With Switzerland, ordered from west to east
Lithuania LT NNNNN References:
Luxembourg LU NNNN References:
Macau MO - no codes -
Malaysia MY NNNNN
Montenegro ME NNNNN
Morocco 1997-01-01 MA NNNNN
Netherlands NL NNNNAA (NNNN AA)
New Zealand 2008-06 NZ NNNN Postcode
Norway 1968-03-18 NO NNNN From south to north
Philippines PH NNNN
Pitcairn Islands PNmarker AAAANAA one code: PCRN 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
Poland 1973 PL NNNNN (NN-NNN)
Portugal 1976 NNNN
Portugal 1994 PT NNNNNNN (NNNN NNN)
Puerto Rico PR NNNNN US ZIP codes
Romania 2003-05-01 RO NNNNNN
Russia RUmarker NNNNNN
San Marino SMmarker NNNNN With Italy, uses a five-digit numeric CAP of Emilia Romagna
Serbia 2005-01-01 RSmarker NNNNNN Poshtanski adresni kod (PAK)
Singapore 1950 NN
Singapore 1979 NNNN
Singapore 1995 SGmarker NNNNNN
Slovakia 1973 SK NNNNN (NN NNN) with Czech Republic from west to east, Poštové smerovacie číslo (PSČ) - postal routing number
Slovenia SImarker CCNNNN (CC-NNNN)
South Africa 1975 ZA NNNN
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands GSmarker AAAANAA one code: SIQQ 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
South Korea KRmarker NNNNNN (NNN-NNN)
Spain 1976 ESmarker NNNNN First two indicate the province, range 01-52
Sri Lanka LKmarker NNNNN Reference:
Sweden 1968-05-12 SEmarker NNNNN (NNN NN)
Switzerland CHmarker NNNN With Liechtenstein, ordered from west to east
Taiwan TWmarker NNNNN includes some territories administrated by Japan
Thailand 1982-02-25 TH NNNNN The first two specify the province, numbers as in ISO 3166-2:TH, the third and fourth digits specify a district (amphoe)
Turks and Caicos Islands TC AAAANAA one code: TKCA 1ZZ UK territory, but not UK postcode
Turkey TRmarker NNNNN The first two specify the province as in ISO 3166-2:TR
Ukraine UAmarker NNNNN
United Kingdom 1959—1974 GBmarker A(A)N(A/N)NAA (A[A]N[A/N] NAA) Postcode, letters before the first number identify a town or district. AN NAA, ANN NAA, ANA NAA, AAN NAA, AANN NAA, AANA NAA. Complex as incorporates early non-systematic postal districts.
United States 1963-07-01 USmarker NNNNN ZIP code
Vatican VAmarker NNNNN with Italy, uses a five-digit numeric CAP of Rome
Vietnam VNmarker NNNNNN First two indicate a province

Non-postal uses and economic aspects

While postal codes were introduced to expedite the delivery of mail, they are very useful tools for several other purposes, particularly in countries where codes are very fine-grained and identify just a few addresses. Among uses are:
  • Finding the nearest branch of an organisation to a given address. A computer program uses the postal codes of the target address and the branches to list the closest branches in order of distance as the crow flies (or, if used in conjunction with streetmap software, road distance). This can be used by companies to inform potential customers where to go, by job centres to find jobs for job-seekers, to alert people of town planning applications in their area, and a great many other applications.
  • Fine-grained postal codes can be used with satellite navigation systems to navigate to an address by street number and postcode.


The availability of postal code information has significant economic advantages. In some countries, such as Great Britain, the postal authorities charge for access to the code database.

See also


  3. Kazakhstan's postal codes
  4. Guardian newspaper article on postcodes

External links

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