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How do BFPO addresses work and why are they different from regular addresses?

Does your business cater to MOD personnel or their family? Had any queries about delivering to BFPO addresses? We have a number of clients such as Cadet Direct, whose business largely focuses on the MOD, as well many others that might not specialize but still occasionally receive orders from a member of the armed forces. So it is important that we can help these businesses capture accurate address information for their customers, wherever in the world they may be. 

First of all, what is BFPO? The British Forces Post Office (BFPO) is exactly as the name suggests – a postal service, separate from the Royal Mail, which specifically services the British armed forces all over the world. Courier or postal delivery services dedicated to the armed forces can be traced back through history to ancient times. The BFPO as we know it today is the direct descendant, or more accurately, an evolution, of the First Army Post Office established in the early 1800s for the Peninsular War and then the First Chinese War. 

During WWI and WWII, reorganised as the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) – RE (PS) – the service achieved incredible feats of mail delivery using imaginative range of transportation to get the mail through to the British troops. These included a number of innovations such as setting up the world’s first scheduled air mail service via modified planes to Berlin. The heroic endeavours of the RE (PS), and the continued service of the BFPO today, provides an all-important boost to the morale to deployed troops around the world. During WW2, General Montgomery said his troops could march for 3-4 days with no food on the strength of a single letter from home. 

Let’s fast forward today and the really important question for ecommerce businesses, membership organisations and anyone else who needs to accurate capture customer address data – Why are BFPO addresses different from normal PAF (Royal Mail Postcode Address File) addresses? Well, they have developed in a different way and to serve a different purpose. Where a PAF address is designed to pinpoint a permanent brick and mortar location, a BFPO address is designed to pinpoint a potentially movable, potentially classified, base location. A BFPO number is a secure and reliable way of reaching the person you want to contact (or delivering the goods that person has ordered) even if you don’t currently know their exact geographic location. 

For those outside of military circles, or for databases designed for the standard PAF system, the BFPO format caused a considerable amount of confusion. So, in 2012, Royal Mail and BFPO collaborated to redesign the BFPO address format to work within the same framework as standard UK addresses. Every BFPO number now has an allocated BF postcode, with the original BFPO number filling the space of the street and “BFPO” in place of a town name. The primary benefit of this has been to make BFPO addresses compatible with ecommerce checkout forms, as well as allowing for seamless integration with address management systems. 

PAF format compatible BFPO Layout: 

Standard UK PAF Address Field
BFPO Address Field
Number (BPFO use only)
Name or separate first and surname fields
Sub Building or Flat
Sub Unit
Building Number or House Name
BFPO Number
Just “BFPO”
BFPO Postcode
PRO TIP: If your business deals with a lot of BFPO addresses, use address auto-complete rather than postcode lookup in your checkout or registration form as this tool will be able to search from both the BF postcode and the BFPO number!

BFPO is part of the MOD and entirely separate from Royal Mail, with its own sorting offices and delivery services. BFPO addressed packages and letters posted via the Royal Mail are rerouted to the BFPO head office at RAF Northolt. As a result, BFPO addresses are not an automatic part of the PAF database provided by Royal Mail but an optional additional set of data. Fetchify include the full BFPO dataset as standard in our service, updated monthly in line with MOD updates. So you can be certain of reaching the right person, in the right place, every time. 

About Fetchify

We are a pioneer in SaaS address lookup and data validation solutions. We process millions of data transactions each day for thousands of clients ranging from small e-commerce startups to large household brands such as Heinz and RBS. Our flagship products Address Auto-Complete and Postcode Lookup reduce friction on checkouts, leading to increases in conversion rate of up to 40%, and helps reduce failed deliveries by as much as 75%. Since launching in 2008, we have differentiated by our ease of integration and exceptional support.