If you have spent any time recently in Britain and tried to send a letter or locate a destination you may have found yourself earnestly searching zip codes for the United Kingdom to go with your address, especially if your are from the USA.
You may be a bit confused with what you find. Zip codes for United Kingdom do not look the same as the ones found in the USA. They follow a different format altogether, but they do perform largely the same functions.
These codes are handy for navigating your way to a location using a GPS or SatNav system and will bring you to your location with accuracy. Unlike the USA, where you simply punch in the number and street name for the desired destination, people in the UK will routinely ask you to ‘send them a postcode’ so they can find their way to you. Most GPS and SatNav systems function primarily by zip codes in the United Kingdom.
What are Zip Codes?
Normally an American style Zip Code is a 5 digit number that is used to identify a specific location area. To make it more accurate, it can also be a 5 digit code with a hyphen and a further 4 digits to give an even more precise location. Here is what it looks like:
ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan and the codes have been used in America since 1963. The total area that each zip code covers can vary by proximity to populated areas, town, or state, but it’s not uncommon to find that they encompass 10 square miles or more. Generally speaking, the more rural the area, the larger square mileage the zip code will cover.
Why are Zip Codes for United Kingdom different?
Actually, we do. Except they are not Zip Codes like you may be used to seeing. The British version are known as Postal or Post codes and are formatted as letters and numbers. These alphanumeric codes are more specific than their 5 digit American counterparts and will narrow a location down to just a few addresses. The United Kingdom zip codes, or postcodes, rolled out nationally starting in 1959 and have been used ever since.
How are zip codes for United Kingdom structured?
The British postcode format is made up of alphanumeric codes in 2 sections. The first section is 1 or 2 letters followed by 1 or 2 numbers. The second section is 1 letter followed by 2 numbers. It sounds more complicated than it really is. Here are some examples of postcodes:
The United Kingdom version of zip codes usually begin at the center of a city and the number will increase as the distance from the city center increase. For example Birmingham city’s postcode will be B1 whereas the outer suburbs of the city may begin with B7 or B9.
Are zip codes for United Kingdom used on mail?
Just like finding locations with a GPS or SatNav the UK uses the postcode system to accurately sort and deliver mail. Again, USA has zip codes, United Kingdom has postcodes. They is a good way to ensure your post arrives at the correct location but if you don’t know the postcode it is not essential. Addressing your correspondence with house number, street name, and city will be enough to get your mail to the correct destination. Though it may take a bit longer than using a postcode as this helps with the sortation process.
USA zip codes vs United Kingdom postcodes
In terms of land mass the UK may be a small country in relation to the USA but you wouldn’t know it based on postcodes alone. There are over 1.8 million postcodes used in the United Kingdom. Zip codes, however, total around 42000. These are the main 5 digit codes that are used in the USA. Why the disparity? America is without a doubt much larger than the UK so why do they have so my less zip codes? It is down to the area covered. The US can have areas up to 10 miles square or more for each zip code. The United Kingdom’s postcodes by comparison narrow location down to just a handful of addresses.
So in answer to the question: Why doesn’t the United Kingdom have zip codes, you can now see that they do exist but UK postcodes follow a different format to the US style of zip code. However they do come in handy when navigating your way around the cities and streets of the UK and will bring you right to your location. Very useful if you don’t know your way around.