Much of the communication in today's world is done electronically, but there are still occasions when you might want to send letters and documents by post. When mailing an international letter, be sure to format the address properly and use sufficient postage. Formatting and postal rates vary by country of destination, and a mistake with either of these could result in lost or undeliverable mail.
Confirm the Destination Address
Confirm the address with the recipient to be certain you've gotten all the information correct. This is especially important if you've taken the address over the phone. Street names and towns may be spelled much differently than they sound. For example, the French city that sounds like "mar-SAY" is spelled "Marseille".
Address the Envelope
Using all capital letters, print or type the address using no more than five lines. Include the addressee's name, street address or post office box number, city or town, and principal subdivision such as province, state or county, then the postal code. The destination country should be by itself on the last line. Here is an example:
MS. ELEANOR RIGBY
123 PENNY LANE
LONDON NW1 6XE
Different countries may have different conventions. For example, an address in France may have a postal code that precedes the city name, such as in this address:
M. PIERRE LA DOUX
44 RUE CHARLES DE GAULLE
34091 MONTPELIER CEDEX 6
Use the English Form of Country's Name
The United States Postal Service (USPS) asks that you use the English form for the country of destination. For example, use GERMANY instead of the Germans' name for their country, which is Deutschland. It's acceptable to use the language of the destination country for the street address. In the above example, for instance, the word RUE means "street".
Include Your Return Address
Print or type your return address in the upper left-hand corner of the envelope, just as you would for a letter sent within the United States. Underneath the line with your city, state and zip code, write USA.
First-Class Mail International
At one time, all international mail was sorted manually and transported by sea. With the advent of automation and commercial air travel, distinctive airmail envelopes were introduced. The red and white striped border made machine identification possible, and special airmail rates gave postal customers an option to pay a little more for expedited service. Although you can still purchase airmail envelopes, it is not necessary to use them. Letters sent overseas are now classified as First-Class Mail International and always travel by air.
Verify Postal Rate
Affix the correct amount of postage yourself, using stamps or a postal meter, if you have an accurate postal scale to correctly determine the weight of the letter. Then look up the cost with the USPS international shipping calculator, a table on the USPS website that lists countries alphabetically and costs for mailing by weight.
As of January 2020, a letter weighing less than one ounce can be mailed to any international destination, including Canada and Mexico, for $1.15. After that, postal rates increase according to weight and country price group.
For example, a letter weighing less than 2 ounces can still be mailed to Canada for $1.15, but the price increases to $1.72 if mailing to Mexico, to $2.13 if mailing to a country in price groups 3 to 5, and $1.98 if mailing to a country in price groups 6 to 9. Don't guess at the price group. The USPS allows you to look up any of 190 countries on its website to determine the price group and applicable postage costs. International stamps, including international forever stamps, can be purchased but are not required.
First-class mail international can be used for standard-sized rectangular envelopes weighing less than 3.5 ounces. Extra charges apply to envelopes under 3.5 ounces that contain rigid inserts, are of uneven thickness or of a thickness that exceeds the allowable measurement. Such envelopes are not machine-readable, so you're paying for the extra manual processing that's required. If you're unsure of the weight or postal charges, visit a local branch of the U.S. Postal Service for assistance.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.