San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Zip codes creep into Costa Rican mail

The Costa Rican Post Office assigned zip codes as part of its plan to reform the country’s address system. San José was the first to receive zip codes when the project began in 2007.

Costa Rican addresses include a four-digit code that indicates which post office branch processes the mail. The new five digit zip codes are intended to further break down the address.

The first of the five digits is a number between one and seven depending on the province. The second two numbers indicate which canton and the last two numbers indicate which district.

Manuel Chavarría, who works at the post office located inside the Supreme Court building in San José, says he has doubts.

“From an organizational viewpoint it’s great,” Chavarría said. “But I think it will be a very long time before we see a change.”

The common practice of using landmarks and estimated distances to locate homes means post office workers must complete a psuedo-treasure hunt to complete deliveries. When these directions are unclear or inaccurate, letters are returned to owners. Chavarría explained that the new codes may help post office employees eliminate the number of lost letters by providing them with more concrete information.

“The only way to make this work is to start teaching kids from a young age, but whether or not they learn it really depends on the teachers and what they think about it,” Chavarría said. “What can I say? We’re accustomed to the way we’ve always done things.”

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