International Geocoding | What it is and how to do it

international geocodes

Geocoding uses a postal address to identify the GPS lat/long coordinates of that location. 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? 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: Rooftop vs. Interpolated

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.

Geocoding accuracy is largely dependent upon the stability and modernization of the country in which a place is. 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 geocodes has depends on how the geocode was calculated. There are two main ways to calculate geocodes. They are interpolation and "rooftop level". "Rooftop level" geocodes are acquired by someone taking a device and walking right up to the premises in question, then recording the coordinates. Interpolated geocodes are acquired by taking two geocodes already on file and dividing the space between them evenly. The space is then applied to the addresses in between to estimate the geocode.

"Rooftop level" geocodes take more legwork and time to acquire, and are thereby more expensive, a cost that's usually passed on to you when you ask for the geocodes. Interpolated geocodes can be produced at the time of request, and don't take a physical presence at the location, so they're cheaper.

The speed in which these are returned also depend on your geocode provider. If they do the interpolation 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 interpolated geocodes, your response rate can be really fast.

So in short:

  • "Rooftop Level"
    • Most accurate
    • Most expensive
  • Interpolated
    • Approximated based on two previously known geocodes.
    • Least expensive

Geocoding International Addresses

As stated above, both geocoding and validating the address the geocode is tied to are much more complicated when you take things outside places like 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 real. 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—ike an inactive address, or a huge rice field.

Latitude Longitude Finder

There are number of different was 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 find 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? Use a batch geocode API.

A batch geocode 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 an 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 geocoding APIs for free.


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.

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