5 Commonly Used Terms and Definitions in International Address Validation Systems

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When dividing the countries of the world into regions and sub-regions for the purpose of Address Validation, it is important to find a common ground and to use a set of widely adopted terms and definitions.

In the United States of America, (US), we commonly use the terms city, state and zip code when referring to addresses. While that may mostly work for a country like Mexico (MX), it is not appropriate for other countries like Japan (JP) where the country is divided into prefectures instead of states. Not all countries call their sub-region divisions the same thing and many countries have several levels of sub-divisions. To further complicate the matter, not all sub-division levels are necessarily interchangeable from one country to another. For example, a first level sub-region in the US is a state, such as California (US-CA), but a first level sub-region for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (GB) is a country, such as England (GB-ENG).

Every country can have its own particular set of terms and definitions; to try to go over them all would be too complicated and inefficient. Instead, let’s go over some commonly used terms that are helpful when talking about international addresses.

Country Code

An alphabetic or numeric code used to represent a country. Various types of country codes exist for different particular uses, but the most commonly used codes come from the ISO 3166 standard. Part one of this standard, ISO 3166-1, consists of the following code formats:

  • ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 – a two-letter country code.
  • ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 – a three-letter country code.
  • ISO 3166-1 numeric – three-digit country code.

Postal Code

An alphabetic, numeric or alphanumeric code that may sometimes include spaces or punctuation that is commonly used for the purpose of sorting mail. Commonly referred to as the Postcode. Some country-specific terms include ZIP code (US), PLZ (DE, AU, and CH), PIN code (IN) and CAP (IT).

Administrative Areas

The regions in which a country is divided into. Each region typically has a defined boundary with an administration that performs some level of government functions. These areas are commonly expected to manage themselves with a certain level of autonomy. Various administrative levels exist that can range from “first-level” administrative to “fifth-level” administrative. The higher the level number is the lower its rank will be on the administrative level hierarchy. For example, the US is made up of states (first-level), which are divided into counties (second-level) that consist of municipalities (third-level). For comparison, the United Kingdom (GB) is comprised of the four countries England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (first-level). These countries are made up of counties, districts and shires (second-level), which in turn are made up of cities and towns (third-level) and small villages and parishes (fourth-level). Other common terms for an administrative area are administrative division, administrative region, administrative unit, administrative entity and subdivision.

Locality

In general, a locality is a particular place or location. More specifically, a locality should be defined as a distinct population cluster. Localities are commonly recognized as cities, towns, and villages; but they may also include other areas such as fishing hamlets, mining camps, ranches, farms and market towns. Localities are often lower-level administrative areas and they may consist of sub-localities, which are segments of a single locality. Sub-localities should not be confused for being the lowest level administrative area of a country, nor should they be confused as being separate localities.

Thoroughfare

In general, a thoroughfare is a transportation route between one location and another. On land, it is more commonly referred to as a type of road or route that is typically used by motorized vehicles, such as a street, avenue or highway.