Feb 28 2013

Outside of the U.S.? I Need Your Help!

I’m currently writing a page for a U.S. company which is targeting business worldwide. At one point, we have a form which asks for a “ZIP code” rather than a “postal code” or “postcode.” As far as I’m aware, only the U.S. and the Philippines use the phrase “ZIP code.” Would the phrase “zip code” be hard to understand and/or annoying for many international readers? It seems like it could be a problem. Then again, I have been pleasantly flummoxed before–while writing a proposal for The Taxman Must Die, I asked ~20 international readers if they knew what the IRS was, and almost all of them did (including several readers too young to have paid income taxes).  Apparently antipathy for taxmen is global. 🙂



I categorized this post as “Questions, Frequently-Asked and Otherwise.” Umm… definitely otherwise, I think.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Outside of the U.S.? I Need Your Help!”

  1. Beccaon 28 Feb 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I’m in Canada, which uses “postal code,” but I’m used to seeing “ZIP code” everywhere because American stuff permeates everything. Although I have seen “ZIP/postal code” before. I think that’s a good way to do it, because there is sometimes a panic when you see “ZIP code” because you think it won’t accept your mixed numbers-and-letters code.

  2. Grace Bridgeson 28 Feb 2013 at 3:39 pm

    We know what a zip code is (from getting most of our movies from the US, I suppose), but it can be annoying. The worst thing is when an online form insists on a 5 digit code when we only have 4 here in New Zealand (the Brits have 6, with both letters and numbers, so be sure that is allowed). Or making it obligatory when some places don’t even have a postcode.

  3. B. McKenzieon 28 Feb 2013 at 5:01 pm

    “We know what a zip code is (from getting most of our movies from the US, I suppose)…” Online commerce may also play a major role here. For example, if a credit card payment page asked you for the CSC or CVC, I think you’d have a pretty good chance of remembering that it’s the security code on the back of your card, even though the CSC/CVC is pretty much unused aside from the Internet. Zip codes may work similarly for non-Americans–it’d probably be a term which was only useful on the Internet, but would probably be useful if you were making purchases on American websites (especially smaller ones which don’t have the manpower to localize everything to overseas markets).

  4. edgukatoron 01 Mar 2013 at 8:51 am

    I’m a New Zealander working in Macau, China. New Zealand has a postal code, but people rarely know what it actually is. Macau is so small that it just doesn’t use them at all. Hong Kong has an international postal code, but does not use it within the country.

    For the most part, people internationally have dealt with Zip Codes because US culture is so ubiquitous, but zip codes can be a nuisance. I have had several problems filling out online order forms which require a zip code, but don’t allow for the fact that postal codes have a different number of digits, or that Macau has no postal code at all.

  5. Elecon 02 Mar 2013 at 4:50 am

    Along the lines of Grace, we here in Australia have a 4 line ‘post code’ which, even with my rubbish general knowledge, is basically the same thing as a zip code (right? :D), so it wouldn’t be a huge problem for me. I’d recommend googling a neutral term that describes the two in equal amounts, and see which one comes up first, if you really want to know. Alternatively, look it up on an online thesaurus (i.e search ‘zip code’) (make sure it’s not an exclusively American version) and see if it comes up with post code or something.

  6. Milanon 02 Mar 2013 at 7:10 am

    Singapore has “postal codes”, 6 digits that can identify buildings in some cases – it is a lot of digits for a place that is much smaller than Australia’s annual bushfire extent. But most people would know what a ZIP code is. So long as that zip is freeform, I don’t see a problem from the places I’ve been. Forms that require a “State” to be selected are more annoying, sometimes you have to be in Wyoming, Singapore and pray it’ll still work.

  7. B. McKenzieon 02 Mar 2013 at 11:05 am

    “sometimes you have to be in Wyoming, Singapore and pray it’ll still work.” Over 5 million Russians live in St. Petersburg, Florida. 🙂

  8. Anonymouson 21 Mar 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I’m British, and personally, zip code would cause no confusion. In fact, until I read this article, it hadn’t really registered in my mind as a term particular to America. Possibly you’d have issue with older people who don’t use the Internet as much, but it strikes me as fairly intuitive.

  9. gurlson 15 Apr 2013 at 5:31 pm

    B. Mac: I’ve sent you an email.

  10. Only Under The Rafterson 09 May 2013 at 8:25 am

    im german but i know a zip code, i am fluent in english though because i used to live in america im not sure everyone would know it idk

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