When sending mail to another country, you need to consider both the international mailing requirements of the U.S. Postal Service and the other country’s postal service, which in the case of Canada is Canada Post. Although addressing U.S. mail and mail going to Canada is similar, understanding the differences in the Canadian address format can help ensure that your mail gets to its proper recipient, which may be the difference between making a sale or not.
Verify Customer Information First
USPS is not able to verify international addresses the way it often does for domestic mail. For example, neither USPS.com nor a clerk at the counter has access to Canadian postal codes the way they do for U.S. ZIP Codes. This means that you must verify in advance that the addresses you have for Canadian customers or prospects are correct so the mail isn't returned to you or, even worse, discarded.
You can verify Canadian postal codes online at Canada Post's website. You'll need to enter a complete street address, PO Box, rural route or general delivery to get a postal code, or you can search by postal code to find a complete address.
Understand Canadian Postal Code Format
USPS only requires international mail to have the name of the country to which it’s going because USPS is only delivering the mail to the country, not to its final destination. Once it gets to the country, like Canada — unless you’re writing to the prime minister or another famous resident — it requires more information before it can be delivered.
Specifically, in addition to the exact street address or post office box number, mail going to Canada needs the abbreviation for the province and its postal code, which is similar to a ZIP Code. It must also be written in the proper Canadian postal code format. This not only ensures that it will be delivered to its intended recipient but it also makes you look professional, like a company with which someone would feel comfortable doing business.
The postal code line takes the place of the city, state and ZIP Code line used in the U.S. If mail is going to Ottawa, for example, it should be written as OTTAWA ON because Ottawa is in the province of Ontario, which is abbreviated as "ON". Skip two spaces after the province and add the postal code, which is written as an alternating letter, number, letter, number, letter, number in two blocks of three characters each, such as K0K 4T0. The first three characters send the mail to a specific postal district for sorting, and the last three characters designate the local delivery unit.
Canadian Address Example
The entire address must be written in all capital letters with no punctuation, in ink or typewritten. USPS often requires that mail going to countries where the people speak another language must include a translation line in between the address lines; however, Canadian addresses may be written in either English or French and do not require the translation lines. Like other international addresses, a Canadian address may have a maximum of five lines, with the last line consisting of just the country: CANADA. The other three or four lines should follow this Canadian address example:
JAMES BRINDLEY – full legal name as written on government ID
COMPANY NAME – if writing to a company
1012 POMME LANE – complete street address or post office box
OTTAWA ON K0K 4T5 – note the two spaces between "ON" and the postal code
In addition, the address on the letter or parcel must leave ample room for postage and the shipping label, which measures 5.5 inches by 9.5 inches. The entire mail piece may not be larger than 46 inches by 35 inches by 46 inches. If you're mailing a parcel, the address should also be enclosed inside the package.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.