Practical International Data Management - Country name
Defining a country is not as simple a task as one might imagine. Levels of independence, self-government, de facto independence, international recognition, and fitness for purpose all play a rôle in deciding what countries and territories are included in a country name list. Many entities such as Abkhazia, Taiwan, Kosovo, Transdniester, Puntland, Somaliland, South Ossetia and Puerto Rico have statuses which make definition difficult.
Country codes and lists from various sources have may prove unsuitable for your purpose. They may be created with political influences and are not updated fast enough (or at all) as the world changes.
For managing international name and address data, consider the free list created by GRC Data Intelligence. This list is created on a pragmatic (non political) basis. Countries and territories ("entities") are included on the basis of:
Being populated. Unpopulated entities are not included in the list.
Examples: Bouvet Island, Heard & McDonald Islands
Geographical imperative: a territory may be part of another country, but its geographical isolation from that country requires it to be treated separately.
Examples: Guadeloupe, Bonaire
De facto control by an alternative entity (usually resulting in address, postal and telephone number differences)
Address/Postal imperative: a country or territory uses a different address system and/or postal code; and/or mail is routed through a different country.
Examples: Hong Kong, Macao, Åland Islands
Telephone imperative: a different international access code is required to dial in to the country/territory.
Currency imperative: the entity uses a different currency.
Political imperative: in a small number of cases, where control is split or disputed, a country or territory is included
Examples: Western Sahara
Legacy: entities which no longer exist are sometimes included for legacy reasons while changes on the ground are not finalised.
Examples: Netherlands Antilles
This means that the list contains entities which are politically part of another country (e.g. Guadeloupe, Bonaire) and entities which have limited or no international political recognition (e.g. Kosovo, Transdniestria, Puntland) but not some of those with a wider measure of political independence (Scotland, Catalonia). Where useful, the reasons for inclusions have been given within the file. Though the list has been created without a political agenda, your use of it, and the country names in the list, may need to be used with political and cultural sensitivity. The country names are given in English according to common English use. However, these are for identification purposes only. You would not, for example, use "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" in a list shown in that country, nor "Falkland Islands" in Argentina, nor "Taiwan" in China. Lists need to be created with your own needs and customers in mind.
A country name is required on a postal address when mail is being sent across international borders. Its position in the address block is as defined by the postal authorities in the originating country, not as defined by the postal authorities in the receiving country. The country name should be in English, French or another major world language.
Not every part of the world is part of a country or territory.
The names of countries and territories used may be very politically sensitive and have consequences for use.
Example: I heard the following anecdote: Some years ago mail from a newspaper editor in Chile to those islands east of Argentina had to pass through Argentina. When he addressed it to the Falklands the Argentinian postal authorities sent it backed marked "islas desconocidas", but when he switched to addressing it to the Malvinas the destination post office sent it back as "sent to the Falklands by mistake".
It is essential that a country is registered when storing a customer's details, as the other details in an address are usually insufficient to allow a country to be ascertained.
Given that country names can be written in a number of ways, a coding system is advisable.
Territories without political independence often need different treatment for postal addressing than their mother countries, and these need their own country codes.
Choose a coding system that reflects the realities of the world, not internal company structures. For example, lumping The United Kindom and Ireland toegther as a single territory because it is so treated internally will cause immense problems in communications with customers.
Countries come and go so and change names, so any coding system needs to be kept updated; and updates should be provided on or before the date a country comes into existance or disappears, and not after that event.
Have you check your country drop down recently? (Cached version). Graham Rhind looks at the problems of keeping a country list up to date in this article which originally appeared in the Global-Z newsletter, Autumn 2011.
On Website Country Lists – Why So Ignored a Problem? (Cached version). Graham Rhind discusses an example of a website having major issues with their country name drop down. October 2011.