Image of square bracketsThere may be some confusion as to how to use square brackets for place names. This short article will hopefully clarify our standard practice, which has, as you may have realised, evolved over the years (hence the confusion). Our overarching principle is to be helpful by giving useful information, and careful by avoiding unnecessary risks. Place names are often stated with no mention of their corresponding countries. Does that mean that you should insert the countries in square brackets? Not necessarily.

While the name of the country isn’t stated, it might be obvious that the city is located in a specific country. There might be an emblem, the look and feel of the document may point to specific national practices etc. Only use square brackets if there is room for error or confusion.

For example, a German police clearance certificate might state that the holder was born in Berlin. The document was obviously issued by a German authority, as it bears the national eagle, and it was issued in Bonn. Plus, why would the German Ministry of Justice feel the need to specify that Berlin is in Germany?

Another example is a police clearance issued in Dubai. The holder is born in Paris, but no country is stated. There’s no place with such name in the United Arab Emirates. The holder may be French – her surname sounds French – but we have no certainty of that. There are quite a few places named Paris, the most famous one likely to be Paris, Texas. In this case, square brackets are needed.