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International Geocoding | What it is and how to use it

international geocodes

Geocoding is the process of converting a postal address into the GPS lat/long coordinates of that address. International geocoding is when you match a mailing address to the GPS lat/long coordinates of a location anywhere in the world.

Looking for the geocodes of an international address? Use our free address verification demo. Make sure to select the 'international' option.

Too easy? Well that's one of the charms of international geocoding: it's a really simple idea. But it's sometimes really hard to execute.

In this article we'll discuss:

  1. Geocoding Accuracy
  2. Geocoding International Addresses
  3. Latitude Longitude Finder
  4. Batch Geocode API
  5. Conclusion

Geocoding Accuracy

First let's talk about what geocodes are. The simplest explanation is that geocodes are the GPS latitude/longitude coordinates of a specific postal mailing address. So if the address in question can accurately tell the postage where to go, the corresponding geocodes will successfully tell the GPS in your car where to go.

International geocoding accuracy is largely dependent upon the stability and modernization of the country in which a place is located. First-world countries enjoy geocodes that are often accurate enough to get you right to the doorstep. Other countries aren't always so lucky. A good rule of thumb: the less reliable the postal system is, the less accurate the geocodes are going to be.

The level of accuracy a geocode has depends on how the geocode was calculated. There are three main types of international geocodes. They are:

  1. Interpolated
  2. Parcel Centroid
  3. Rooftop

Interpolated geocodes are acquired by taking two geocodes already on file - typically the beginning and ending point of a street segment - and dividing the space between them evenly to find the approximate location. The space is then applied to the addresses in between to estimate the geocode.

Parcel Centroid geocodes are acquired by taking the center point of a specific piece of property or a lot, called a parcel. The parcel centroid is the geographic center point of that piece of land.

Rooftop geocodes are acquired by matching a specific address to the rooftop of a building, sometimes by using GPS-Collected data, and sometimes by refining the locations of parcel centroid data and refining these locations by using additional data points and calculations to align with the residential structure or primary building on the parcel.

"Rooftop level" geocodes are more accurate and useful. Rooftop geocodes also take more work and time to acquire and tend to be more expensive.

The speed in which these are returned also depends on your geocoder service provider. If they do their calculations when you ask for the geocodes, it may take longer to get your answer. If the geocode provider already has a vast database of previously calculated rooftop geocodes, your response rate can be really fast.

So in short:

  • "Rooftop Level"
    • Most accurate
    • Most useful
    • Most difficult to calculate
  • “Parcel Centroid”
    • Based on the center-point of a piece of property
    • Pretty Accurate
  • “Interpolated Geocode”
    • Based on estimating the location between two known points, such as the ends of street segments
    • Accurate to a street segment level

Geocoding International Addresses

As stated above, when performing a geocode lookup and validate, the geocode the address is tied to becomes more complicated outside the US and Western Europe. The less established a country's postal system is, the less accurate the geocodes are bound to be, because the geocodes are tied to the addresses. Unreliable addresses lead to unreliable geocodes.

The good news is the bulk of international communications (and similarly the need for geocodes) happens in more developed nations. So as long as you find a real stand-up provider you're in business.

Validating International Addresses First

The best way to ensure that you're getting a reliable international geocode is to make sure the address it's attached to is a real address. That's done with address validation. Using an address validation service to compare your address against a database ensures that it's a real place. Even in countries with less reliable records, the "valid" result from an address validation service gives you an extra level of reassurance. And if they took the time to mark the address down on the record, it's more likely they did the same with the geocode.

Moreover, it makes sure that the geocode you pick up doesn't lead you to somewhere that doesn't exist—like an inactive address, or a huge rice field.

Latitude Longitude Finder

There are a number of different ways that you can find the lat/long of an address. Using software as a latitude longitude finder is probably the easiest. And now that you know you need to use a valid address to find the geocodes of a postal address, you probably realize that address validation software provides geocodes for the addresses it validates.

So, where do you go to get a lat/long finder? You simply use an address validation service. It will provide you with a standardized, validated address AND the geocodes for that address as well.

Batch Geocode API

For most people, getting the geocodes of a single address is pretty easy.

But what if you need to get the geocodes for a lot of postal addresses at the same time? Entering them one by one into an address validation system would be time-consuming and tedious. What's the solution? Upload a spreadsheet for batch geocode processing or use a geocoding API.

Batch geocoding allows you to upload a list of addresses from an Excel spreadsheet, or CSV, and then copy / paste or Command Line Interface to process geocodes in large quantities.

A Geocoding API is an automated programmatic interface that allows two computer systems to speak with each other at super-fast speeds. And, it allows the address validation computer to rapidly provide the lat/long data (geocodes) for multiple addresses at a time. Depending on the speed of the system you're using, you can get the geocodes to 100,000 addresses in a few seconds.

To use this kind of address validation service to process a batch of geocodes requires some programming skills. But, if you've read this far, you've probably got those skills. Fortunately, you can take a test drive of the SmartyStreets international geocoding API for free.

Conclusion

In the end, international geocodes are just like the ones you have back home. It's the same method, with the same kinds of results. Be sure you pick a solid international data provider that can help you get what you want, with the high levels of accuracy that you're looking for. Call us, and we can help you get started. Either we'll find a way to fill your needs, or we'll help you find someone else who can. In any case, we'll help you be the globetrotter you want to be.

If you already have geocodes that you need to turn into addresses, then you should learn about reverse geocoding too.

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