Postal code: understanding what a postcode is

Zip/Postal code


- How do I find my postal code

Have you ever tried filling a form and getting stuck on the Zip or Postcode section? Postal codes or Zip codes are easy ways to determine your exact geographical location. This article will address the definitions, terms, and peculiarities of relevant postal/zip codes and how it relates to Nigeria.

What is a postal code?

A postal code according to Wikipedia is a series of letters or digits of a combination used to sort mail and delivery systems. Postal codes are also called, postcode, postcode, PIN, or ZIP Code.

That definition has expanded to include sorting delivery parcels and identifying an entity's geographical region. Generally, postal codes ensure your parcel or mail gets to the right destination

Postal code takes on these variations because there are country-specific names for the postal code. In the United States, postal codes are called the Zip code. India calls the postal code the PIN Code, whereas, in Germany, it is referred to as the PLZ (Postleitzahl).

Postal codes are essential means for determining one's exact geographical location. In most cases, you are asked to provide your postal code or zip code in online forms for carrying reasons.

Postal codes are standardized within a country, and there is always a governing body responsible for maintaining a database of assigned postcodes for various regions. Their format differs from country to country, but most times, they all have a standard feature.

For instance, in the United States, the United States Postal Service is the governing body responsible for providing and maintaining the postal codes used in the country. In contrast, in Nigeria, it is the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST).

It is important to understand the relevance and format of a postcode.

The relevance of postal code

Apart from numbers or digits on the postal code, there are viable reasons why it is important.

Postal codes give demographic information about individuals in every region. Companies, organizations use this data of people's location to generate structures and analytics of their audience. This helps and supports marketing efforts for businesses.

The unique numbers generated for each region, state, and province can help to differentiate rural and urban areas. Most times, the bodies that ask for postal codes need them for various reasons-companies request postal codes for diverse and important use cases, such as fraud prevention and information coordination, or job applications through eCommerce technology stacks.

Majorly, every country has its unique postal code that is specific and relevant to its region. 

History of Postal code

Postal codes have impacted the activities of postal service delivery around the globe.

Historically, a postal code is a series of digits or letters or both used in a postal address to sort mail.

For other countries or locations, postal codes may carry or contain numerals, alphabets, and punctuations for sorting out mailing addresses.

For example, the postal code in the United States of America can be 12345-1234, but in Nigeria, it can be 112005, depending on the region.

Initially, the mails were sorted manually and delivery was based on local knowledge of the intended destination but as the volume of mails increased the ZIP(Zone Improvement Plan), code system was introduced in 1963 in the United States to create a regulated system.

It was a part of the larger Postal Service Nationwide Improved Mail Service (NIMS) plan to improve the speed of mail delivery. Implementation was disorganized at first before the US got it right.

On the other hand, Germany established a functioning postal service system as far back as 1941. Germans were at war at the time but maintained an effective postal delivery across the country. Later Singapore introduced theirs in 1950. Argentina followed suit in 1958. One year after the U.S, Switzerland adopted the postal service delivery in 1964. The United Kingdom adopted the system in 1974.

Courier sorting parcels

Postal code formats

Generally, there are formalities with postal codes, but there are variations that need to be understood. Keep in mind that there are different considerations for countries around the world. Thus not all countries will adopt the same characters or digits.

For example, there are three kinds of symbols present in postal codes, which are 0-9 or the Arabic decimal system. The second symbols are the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, and finally and the third are hyphens and spaces.

Major countries of the world only use digits in their postal codes. Take note that hyphens and spaces are used sometimes on different levels. Other countries use the alphanumeric system, which is a combination of letters and numbers.

In Canada postal codes are represented using 6 alphanumeric character codes in the format X1X 1X1 where X represents a Letter, and 1 represents a digit.

In Brazil, it can be 1002-678, and in Germany can be 24015. These countries also have various free tools to check the postal code of any state.

How are postal codes used in different regions?

Most countries heavily rely on postal codes due to the high population density and the need for organized management of mail and parcels.

Although we established that postal codes are called different names in certain countries, they perform the same purpose: to sort delivery of items. Like, the variations in British and English languages, the specifications for each country vary.

See below the different names of postal codes in some countries worldwide, their origins, the issuing bodies, and the year they were adopted.


Did you know that various countries call postal codes different names. While some are common others aren't so popular.

International postal code names in different regions

United States of America

ZIP CODE/Zonal Improvement Plan

The basic formats consist of 5 digits and was introduced in 1963


CAP/Codice di avviamento postale

It consists of 5 digits and was adopted in 1967


PIN code/ Postal Index Number

It consists of six digits and was adopted in 1995



It consists of five digits and was the first country to adopt the postal code system in 1941


CEP/Codigo de Enderecamento

It was introduced in 1972 consisting of five digits and later increased to 8 digits in 1992



The postal code was introduced in 2015


All postal code variations mentioned in the above table represent the same thing and serve the same purpose irrespective of the name. However, postal codes are also format-specific, and it's essential to comprehend the various formats.

Postal code vs. Zip codes, what's the difference?

While postal codes carry different names in various regions and continents worldwide, they all perform the same duties and sort the same shipment and delivery problems.

Thus, postal codes and Zip codes practically mean the same things and carry out the same functions. They are both numeric codes that represent a geographical region.

Please note:

Postal codes in countries where English is the lingua franca are also referred to as ZIP codes, PIN codes, postcodes, etc., depending on the country or region.

Most individuals don't know how to process or determine their postal code number. And there have been lots of postal and zip code mix-ups with filling relevant postal codes.

How to know your postal/ZIP code

Several locations around the world have peculiar postal codes. And for each state, every local government, town, province, and sometimes the area has its relevant postal/zip codes.

So whenever it is required you enter your postal/zip code for any online/offline form, make sure to use the relevant postal code for the exact location instead.

However, if you want to check out your postal code for other countries, there are different methods; one way to get the code for your region is to first know the issuing bodies for the postal service code and then visit their website.

Now that we know who the issuing bodies are, these are a few steps to set you on the right path to finding a specific postal for any location of choice.

  • Visit the homepage of the postal service provider in your country
  • Click on your state, province, the town of residence
  • If your address doesn't pop up, try to input it manually and wait a few minutes
  • There are also free tools to check if you surf the internet, e.g., World postal code service, etc

Method 2

1. Visit the google map page

2. Click on your location or destination

3. In the sidebar pop up images of your destination or location will show on your screen

4. At the lower left, the postal code will appear.

At least the next time you need to send a package via a postal system, you are armed with information on how to get your postal code.