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This question spawned from this previous question. Let us say I am in the UK and am wanting to send a letter to Russia. Given that these two countries use different alphabets and languages, in what language should I write the address on the letter in - does it even matter?

closed as off-topic by Giorgio, David Richerby, gerrit, Ali Awan, Revetahw Jun 22 '17 at 15:04

  • This question does not appear to be about traveling within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I am not convinced that this is a travel question. – gerrit Jun 22 '17 at 12:02
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    @gerrit I think we could do as the people on money.se did: Identity theft is ontopic there, because it often leads to financial problem, AND very few other stacks would have it ontopic. Exchanging mail with another country often leads to travel, and I cannot think of another stack where it would be ontopic. Given the maturity of the tag with 54 questions, I think this question is fine. – Mindwin Jun 22 '17 at 12:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic – Giorgio Jun 22 '17 at 13:34
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about mail, not travel. – David Richerby Jun 22 '17 at 13:40
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    @Dorothy Would you accept a question of the form 'I am traveling to the UK from Russia and need to send a letter home. How should I write the address on the front?' – Quantum spaghettification Jun 22 '17 at 13:49
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The Universal Post Union (UPU, a United Nations agency for coordination of international mail delivery) recommends that the address should be written using Latin letters and Arabic numerals. The domestic part of the destination address should be formatted according to the rules of the destination country. The destination country should be on the last line, written in a language of the dispatching country, preferrably together with the country name in an 'internationally known language'. The last part is important, since mail may often transit other countries during delivery and is not always exchanged directly between the dispatching and the destination country.

If the destination country uses a different writing system than the Latin alphabet, it is recommended in addition, if known, to repeat the address as written in the destination country.

UPU offers a relatively short and easy to understand guide on international addressing.

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    Also remember that the official language of the UPU is French, not English. – gerrit Jun 22 '17 at 12:12
  • @gerrit I know, but they nowhere recommended or expected that international mail should be addressed using their official language. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 22 '17 at 12:50
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I would say that the international bit of the address (i.e. the country that you want to get to) should be in the language of the country you are sending from (so in this case, English), and the domestic bit (the actual street address) in the language of the country you are sending to (so Russian). Or put both.

So a reversed example (from Russia to the UK) would be something like:

Mr J Smith,
1 Travel Street
StackExchangeTown
Internetshire
Великобритания

The Russian postal workers would then see "Великобритания" and know it needed to go to the UK, and on arrival the Royal Mail would see the English street address.

I've done this sending postcards from Poland (with "Wielka Brytania" at the bottom) and they have got through...

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JoErNanO Jun 22 '17 at 16:40
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Traditionally, prepending with country codes was common. From Wikipedia List of postal codes:

The use of country codes in conjunction with postal codes started as a recommendation from CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) in the 1960s. In the original CEPT-recommendation the distinguishing signs of motor vehicles in international traffic ("car codes") were placed before the postal code, and separated from it by a "-" (dash). Codes were only used on international mail and were hardly ever used internally in each country.

Since the late 1980s, however, a number of postal administrations have changed the recommended codes to the two-letter country codes of ISO 3166. This would allow a universal, standardized code set to be used, and bring it in line with country codes used elsewhere in the UPU (Universal Postal Union). Attempts were also made (without success) to make this part of the official address guidelines of the UPU. Recently introduced postal code systems where the UPU has been involved have included the ISO 3166 country code as an integral part of the postal code.

At present there are no universal guidelines as to which code set to use, and recommendations vary from country to country. In some cases, the applied country code will differ according to recommendations of the sender's postal administration. UPU recommends that the country name always be included as the last line of the address.

I usually take a belts and braces solution, but should now reconsider the country code in light of the fact this is no longer universally recommended:

  • Write the domestic part of destination address in the language of the destination. London, not Londres.
  • Prepend ISO 3166 country code to postal code, as recommended by CEPT and others, but others including Deutsche Post recommend against it.
  • Write destination country in several languages: language where I ship it from, in addition to French, which is the language of the International Postal Union. I usually add English as well. So shipping from Finland to The Netherlands, I would prepend the postal code with NL-, then write on the last line Alankomaat / Pays-Bas / The Netherlands.

With those, any competent postal worker should be able to figure out where it goes.

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    @DmitryGrigoryev You don't need to actually speak or understand French to decipher about 200 country names or indeed to make sure everyone is familiar with country names. You merely need a few employees to be trained to sort mail flagged as “international” or “difficult to understand”. In many cases, French names are also quite close to English names. Even though most postal workers probably do not speak English either, I have successfully sent and received many letters with country names in either French or English (i.e. no local language) so the system does work pretty well. – Relaxed Jun 22 '17 at 12:29
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    Many postal administrations recommend to not use any country code prefix before the post code. Especially in countries using letters in the post code, it makes automatic sorting more difficult and may cause delivery delays since the letter must be passed through manual sorting and routing. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 22 '17 at 12:50
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    @gerrit here is the recommendation not to do it from Deutsche Post (via Google Translate): translate.google.com/… According to that, it has been "officially abolished on 1 September 1999." – toni Jun 22 '17 at 13:16
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    @gerrit: "should make the country code preferable over country names" - One possible issue I see is that, basically, the address within the country is a bit of a "black box" that may or may not contain a postal code at a location within the address that can differ depending on the country of destination. – O. R. Mapper Jun 22 '17 at 13:44
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    @gerrit: Well, "keine Länderkürzel" is a shortening of "keine Länderkürzel vor der Postleitzahl", which is made clear by the introductory paragraph. With that said, U.S.A. is indeed an interesting case, in that it is, in German, more of a word that looks like an abbreviation, without being an abbreviation for a term used in German - no-one would say "United States of America" in German, it's either "U.S.A." or "Vereinigte Staaten [von Amerika]". – O. R. Mapper Jun 22 '17 at 20:58
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Back in the days, when you couldn't just post a selfie on a social network, so that sending postcards was way more common (not to say that it was the only option), all postcard we received at my parents home in Italy where addressed in Italian, and no post office ever complained nor anything went ever lost.

In modern times, instead...the same. I still receive (rare) postcards with the address fully written in Italian, and I receive packages (like from HK, Germany, Uk...) where the sender has put the address in full Italian.

So, basically, the answer from my personal experience is use Italian, it never failed me use the destination country language and names. Especially the names.

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    Using the destination country's language for the country name sounds like a very bad idea. In case of Italia, anyone knowing English, German, French or any other of the common world languages would understand it, but many countries have more obscure and not easily understandable native names like Shqipëria, Hrvatska, Suomi, Guåhån, Lëtzebuerg, Crna Gora or Sesel. And if you consider other scripts, an Italian postal worker is very unlikely to get letters addressed to ⴷⵣⴰⵢⴻⵔ, Հայաստան, ኤርትራ, საქართველო, ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ or ශ්‍රී ලංකාව routed correctly. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 22 '17 at 15:28

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