What Is the Format of a Canadian Postal Code?

The Canadian Postal Code is a six-character code that contains a mixture of alphabet characters and numeric characters. The first, third and fifth characters are alphabet characters, and the second, fourth and sixth are numeric characters. For example, M6L 1L8. The code is divided into two major sortation code segments.

The first segment of three characters in the Canadian Postal Code indicates the "forward sortation area," which is the major area in Canada that the mail is forwarded to for initial sorting. The second segment of three characters indicates the "local delivery unit," which is the specific area in which the mail must travel within the major sortation area indicated by the first segment.

Canadian senders place postal codes after the municipality and province, but on the same line. For convenience, Canada Post provides an online postal code lookup tool.

The Canadian postal code system allows for approximately 7.2 million combinations, making for very precise postal code locations. Many postal codes point to specific city blocks or large buildings. The first letter in a postal code refers to a large area, usually a significant part of a province. The second two characters refer to an urban area or a group of villages. Many cities use multiple first groupings. For instance, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, uses codes S7H through S7W.

Due to the many combinations available, Canadian postal codes point to much more accurate locations than American ZIP codes, which are roughly equivalent in accuracy to the first three characters of Canadian postal codes. Canadian postal codes are similar to British postal codes, which also use an alphanumeric system. Postal code accuracy allows for many other uses, such as finding business locations and electoral ridings.