In a software meant to be used internationally, should I use "post code", "postal code" or "zip code"?

As most of countries have some sort of implementation of this code, I'm after the term that would be best suited for international usage.

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    Are you writing this for commercial/end users or the postal authorities themselves? From experience, the authorities in certain countries can be offended if you don't customize things to use their particular terminology. – Dusty Aug 7 '11 at 4:26
  • @Dusty Thanks for the point. It's for the end user, not authorities – andrerpena Aug 7 '11 at 13:08
  • Is it for release in English-speaking countries only or are you aiming at a wider market? – Bjorn Dec 19 '11 at 17:21
  • You could write "Postal/Zip Code" to emphasise that you want the local equivalent, whatever that happens to be, rather than a specific type of code. – Paul Johnson May 16 '16 at 21:03

Most computer systems I've used that are intended to support addresses in many countries use "postal code". This seems to be generally accepted. "Postal" is a pretty generic word, not implying any particular country's mail delivery system

I definitely wouldn't use "zip code" because that is specifically U.S. I think most people could figure out what "postal code" means. Would people in other countries know what a "zip code" is? Even if they did, I can readily imagine someone being unsure whether they should enter their own country's equivalent, or if, as they do not have a "zip code", they should leave this blank, or if there is some special value they should enter, etc. If I was filling out a form and saw a space labeled "Foobar code", even if I knew that this was a Ruritanian term for their national health care service identification, I would be wondering, "As I am not a Ruritanian, should I leave this blank? Should I enter my Blue Cross member number as the nearest equivalent? Do they have some value that means 'non-Ruritanian' that I am somehow expected to know?" etc etc

I suppose if you really wanted to be accommodating you could look up the term used by each country you want to support, and change the headings based on country selected. Some systems will change a heading between "State" and "Province" based on the country, etc. But that seems like a lot of work, and I think most people accept "postal code" as a generic term.

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    I'd say "postal code" is a good way to go if you are trying to be generic. In the UK it is one word, "postcode" and in the US it should really be "ZIP code" with ZIP being an abbreviation of Zone Improvement Plan, a clearly US-specific term. – ukayer Mar 26 '12 at 1:35
  • If you are only accepting addresses from a small number of countries, like only from the US, UK, and Australia, it would make sense to switch between "zip code" for the US, "postcode" for the UK, and ... whatever Aussies call their code. But if you're accepting addresses from anywhere in the world, just looking up what they all call their equivalent would be a daunting task. I suppose once you had the list you could just toss it in a database and read the record for the appropriate country. Do the work once and you can re-use the list for many projects. – Jay Sep 25 '14 at 17:12

I personally put a switch in when the person selects the county. For example on a web form that is designed to be used internationally I default to the Zip Code, as that is where most users are from, but when the country changes I change the label to Postal Code.

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    I think we can assume nearly everyone will understand either. My upvote is for your considerate coding style! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 7 '11 at 0:31
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    +1 As a British end user, I know what to put in the Zip Code field, but I think it's kinda rude of the page not adapt to my country. – slim Dec 19 '11 at 17:00

I guess people don't use "post code" because "postal" exists as an adjective of post and is widely used. Either Zip Code or Postal code is fine. Not all countries use "zip code", they directly use home addresses.

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    -1: too US-centric! In the UK we most certainly have "postcodes" (usually one word), not "postal codes". – AAT Aug 26 '11 at 23:31
  • Many non-US users won't know that Zip Code means the first time they see it (I'm off to find out where the name derives from now) – slim Dec 19 '11 at 17:01
  • @slim - Zone Improvement Plan – Dusty Dec 19 '11 at 17:07
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    @Dusty: Yes, "Zip" often shows up on lists of "acronyms that you didn't know were acronyms". I like to bring it up as a trivia question now and then, or when I want to impress people with how smart I am because I know some obscure and unimportant fact that they don't. – Jay Dec 19 '11 at 21:50

Can you fit "zip/postal code" ?
If you have to choose one I would use 'zip'.
1, The US is a big market
2, English speakers outside the US are used to translating American terms
3, Americans are generally less familiar with foreign terms

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  • I particularly like points 2 and 3. In Australia we use 'post code', but we are used to translating all sorts of local peculiarities such as 'zip code'. – Richard A Aug 7 '11 at 12:59

Are you internationalising it, or interlanguageising it?

You should properly distinguish between, say, en_GB and en_US. I once had problems because a system was spelling out numbers using "proper" French and the Swiss were all up in arms over it. Quatre-vingts vs huitante, and all that.

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