How to Send a Letter Internationally

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November 20, 2023

The number of letters delivered worldwide in 2020 amounted to 263 billion. This figure is 27% less than the volume of mail distributed worldwide in 2011.

Despite this continuous decrease in worldwide post traffic, you can still imagine the substantial demand for international mail based on the figure above.

If you plan to send mail to a loved one outside the United States, what are the steps? How much does postage cost? What restrictions apply to your mail?

This article tackles these questions and guides you on addressing your mail. It also discusses the different mailing services the United States Postal Service (USPS) offers to help you choose the right solution for your shipping needs.

FindPostOffice.org’s online search tool can help you locate the nearest U.S. post office if you need to mail a letter internationally. FindPostOffice.org also provides helpful articles about mailing-related topics.

Send International Mail: Step-by-Step Instructions

Sending mail to an address outside the U.S. can be challenging for many individuals. If you’re one of these people, the following sections can help guide you through the mailing process.

Check if Your Letter Is Eligible for International Mailing

For easy and quick international delivery, ensure that your letter meets the U.S. Postal Service’s standards.

Aside from the USPS standards when sending international mail, you must also follow the mailing rules of the specific country to which you send the mail.

If you own a business, you can use the USPS index of countries and localities. This index contains the postage prices and other mailing conditions for the listed countries and locations.

Ask, “Can I Send This?”

Different countries have varying rules on what shipments are allowed. To ensure you follow that country’s regulations, check your destination country in the USPS index of countries and localities.

Suppose you only send correspondence (excluding bookmarks, stickers, or trading cards) or nonnegotiable documents (excluding cash, checks, or items with cash value). You can send these items through USPS First-Class Mail International without needing a customs form.

Choose Your Envelope or Postcard

Use envelopes to send paper documents like letters, forms, and cards. If you need to send short messages that don’t have to be in an envelope, consider using postcards.

Envelopes can provide privacy and protect whatever information is inside the mailpiece. Recipients often consider letters sent in an envelope to be more professional.

On the other hand, postcards may work well for direct mail marketing campaigns since these cards have pictures and are relatively affordable. However, postcards may not be the best option if your mailpiece contains sensitive information.

Read Country-Specific Restrictions

Before sending anything internationally, understand what you can send domestically in the U.S. and determine the destination country’s restrictions on your item.

USPS considers meat a perishable item you should send at your own risk. Some countries like Japan prohibit meat product deliveries through the mail unless they contain an inspection certificate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

To know more about these restrictions, refer to USPS’ individual country listings (ICLs) database. This list outlines prohibitions, postage prices, and extra services in each country.

Address Your Mail

Different countries have varying address formats. When addressing mail internationally, write the delivery address in English. If you must use a foreign language, include the English translation after each line.

A general guide to addressing your mail is as follows:

  • Addressing envelopes: Write your return address in the top-left corner and put “USA” on the last line. Place the delivery address in the center near the envelope’s bottom. Finally, write the destination country’s name in English on the last line.
  • Addressing postcards: Write the delivery address in the space provided on the same side where you write your message and affix the postage stamp.

Write Sender Address

The sender’s address specifies where and from whom the mail comes. If you’re the sender, the following sections discuss how to write your address:

Option A (English)

When writing your full name, include your first, middle initial (if applicable), and last name. Ensure that your name corresponds to your government-issued identification.

Option B (English + Interline Translation)

Suppose your full name uses a different writing system, such as Russian, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Japanese, or Chinese. In this case, write an interline English translation in uppercase.

If you’re unsure of the English translation, the foreign language words must appear in Roman letters. For example, use romaji for Japanese or pinyin for Chinese.

Do the same thing for the recipient’s name and address.

Write the Sender’s Return Address

When placing your U.S. address in the top-left corner, write the following on separate lines:

  • Your full name or company name
  • Suite or apartment number
  • Street address
  • City, state, and ZIP+4 code
  • Country (in this case, write “USA”)

Write Delivery Address

Write the delivery address in English, although you can use the option B format discussed earlier if the recipient’s address uses a different writing system.

Format the delivery address using the following details on separate lines:

  • Recipient’s full name or company name
  • Street address
  • City, subdivision (e.g., county, province, or state), and postal code
  • Country

Write the Recipient’s City, Administrative Division, and Postal Code

Write the city, administrative division (e.g., province, region, or prefecture), and postal code using uppercase Roman letters and Arabic numerals.

When mailing to Canada, include the province’s abbreviation and postal code. For example, write “CAMBRIDGE ON N3C 4J7” in the address line.

Write the Recipient’s Country

Write the recipient’s country on the last line using uppercase Roman letters. You don’t need to underline the country.

While “USA” is a commonly accepted abbreviation, you must write other country names in full.

Calculate and Apply Postage

Suppose you need to send a one-ounce letter or postcard to another country. Consider using one First-Class Mail International Global Forever stamp. As of July 2023, a Global Forever stamp costs $1.50.

Place the stamp on the envelope’s upper-right corner. For postcards, affix the stamp in the space near the delivery address.

You may need to pay extra for international postage if:

  • You have a heavier or bigger letter
  • Your postcard is large or square
  • You want to add extra services

Additional Postage

If your letter weighs over 1oz, you can purchase additional postage from USPS up to 3.5oz. You can also mail a large envelope (flat) weighing up to 15.994oz by paying the rate for large envelopes.

Furthermore, you can buy 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢ stamps from The Postal Store.

Extra Services

For a fee, you can include extra services like insurance, signature services, delivery proof, and other add-ons to your international mail. However, not all extra services are available for all USPS products.

When sending First-Class Mail International letters at your local post office, some standard extra services you can add include the following:

  • Registered Mail: This service requires the recipient to sign for the mail to confirm delivery.
  • Return receipt: This service allows USPS to send you a signed card as a delivery record when the courier delivers or attempts to deliver the item.
  • Certificate of mailing: This certificate proves that you have mailed an item from a post office.

Choose a USPS Service

USPS offers several international mailing services to give you more options when sending mail outside the United States. The following sections discuss these services.

First-Class Mail International

First-Class Mail International is among the most affordable ways to send letters and large envelopes to more than 180 countries, such as Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.

This service lets you send letters or postcards worldwide using Global Forever stamps, which never expire even if the postage price increases. For large envelopes up to 15.994oz, prices vary by destination and weight.

Priority Mail International

Priority Mail International service offers delivery in 6 to 10 business days and is an economical, reliable way to ship to more than 180 countries.

As of July 2023, mailing options and prices are as follows:

  • Flat Rate: For shipping envelopes and small boxes up to four pounds (lbs) or medium and large boxes up to 20lbs, you can use free Flat Rate envelopes and boxes starting at $30.35.
  • Ship by weight: For packages up to 70lbs, prices start at $42.10 and vary by destination country price group.

Priority Mail Express International

Priority Mail Express International is a fast, affordable, and reliable service that delivers mail in three to five business days to about 180 countries.

Your mailing options and their prices as of July 2023 include the following:

  • Flat Rate: Use free Flat Rate envelopes to ship your mail up to 4lbs starting at $54.75.
  • Ship by weight: Prices for packages up to 70lbs start at $56 and vary by destination country.

Global Express Guaranteed

With a delivery time of one to three business days, Global Express Guaranteed (GXG) is among the fastest USPS international shipping services. Postage prices start at $71.10.

Some of GXG’s features include the following:

  • Ships up to 70lbs to about 180 countries (some countries have lower weight limits) with next-day delivery to many locations in Canada
  • Provides date-specific delivery with a money-back guarantee
  • Works with Federal Express (FedEx) to provide international delivery

First-Class Package International Service

Suppose you need to send packages up to 4lbs which are valued at up to $400. First-Class Package International Service can be an excellent option. This service starts at $15.75 and offers delivery confirmation when you ship to select countries.

Airmail M-bags

USPS defines M-bags as sacks of printed matter sent to an international addressee at a single address. The sack is a canvas bag for mailing printed items like books and advertising material.

Although you can’t have the M-bag registered or insured, it is an inexpensive way to send books. You can also send M-bags to P.O. boxes.

Send Your Mail

After placing the correct address and postage on your envelope or postcard, you have the following ways to send it:

  • Putting the mail in your mailbox 
  • Dropping the mail in a blue collection box
  • Bringing the mail to a post office

What Is the Best Way to Send Mail Internationally?

If you need an affordable international shipping service to send letters and large envelopes to more than 180 countries, consider First-Class Mail International.

First-Class Mail International is USPS’ most affordable international service. While prices vary based on destination and weight, stamps for standard-sized postcards and letters up to 1oz start at $1.50 for all countries.

Who’s in Charge of International Mail?

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) is responsible for streamlining postage between major world countries.

UPU is a specialized agency under the United Nations (U.N.) coordinating postage rates among member countries. This agency decides how much you must pay to mail your international letter.

Weight, Size, and Shape Requirements

As mentioned, you can send mailpieces weighing up to 15.994oz through First-Class Mail International.

All letters, large envelopes, and postcards must be rectangular, or USPS applies an extra charge. Additional size restrictions apply depending on what mailpiece type you send.

Features and Pricing: Stamp Prices for Letters and Postcards

USPS groups various countries into price groups to help determine the postage to send mail to these countries.

For First-Class Mail International, the retail prices for letters weighing 3.5oz or less as of July 2023 are as follows:

Weight not exceedingSending to CanadaSending to MexicoCountries in groups 3 to 5Countries in groups 6 to 9
1oz$1.50$1.50$1.50$1.50
2oz$1.50$2.27$2.80$2.60
3oz$2.15$3.00$4.10$3.69
3.5oz$2.75$3.76$5.40$4.78

For sending postcards through First-Class Mail International, the retail prices based on July 2023 rates are as follows:

  • Canada: $1.50
  • Mexico $1.50
  • Other countries: $1.50

Additional Charges for Larger Mailpieces and Envelopes

Suppose you need to send large envelopes through First-Class International Mail. The table below shows the shipping costs to send these items according to July 2023 rates:

Weight not exceedingSending to CanadaSending to MexicoCountries under groups 3 to 5Countries under groups 6 to 9
1oz$3.00$3.00$3.00$3.00
2oz$3.29$3.90$4.23$4.17
3oz$3.57$4.78$5.45$5.33
4oz$3.82$5.67$6.71$6.49
5oz$4.10$6.56$7.93$7.65
6oz$4.37$7.44$9.16$8.82
7oz$4.65$8.34$10.39$9.97
8oz$4.92$9.22$11.61$11.13
12oz$6.29$11.13$14.08$13.54
15.994oz$7.65$13.05$16.54$15.93

First-Class Package International Service Pricing

The starting prices as of July 2023 for shipping packages through First-Class Package International are as follows:

WeightStarting price
1oz to 8oz$15.75
9oz to 32oz$23.40
33oz to 48oz$34.65
49oz to 64oz$45.40

International Address Format Tips

If you’re writing to a recipient outside the U.S., follow these tips when formatting the address:

  • Print the address neatly using capital letters
  • Use a permanent marker or pen
  • Do not use periods or commas

Tips for Customs Declaration Forms and Shipping Labels

When you need to fill out shipping labels and customs forms for international mail, consider the following tips:

  • Visit a U.S. post office to get a customs form
  • Consider using electronically generated USPS shipping labels and customs form to save time, reduce reading errors, and improve legibility
  • Fill out the customs form by writing the recipient’s address, the package’s total value and weight, and the shipping service
  • Ensure your address on the customs form matches the return address on your mail

If you send mail via USPS Priority Mail International Flat Rate or First-Class Mail International, you don’t need a customs form.

Additional Information

The following sections discuss other essential information you should know when sending mail and packages to locations outside the United States.

Mailing Restrictions and Prohibitions

USPS implements specific standards and regulations for mailing prohibited, hazardous, and restricted materials, including smokeless tobacco and cigarettes.

Letters and flats should contain only documents and no other types of goods.

Shipping to a Military Post Office (APO, DPO, or FPO)

You pay domestic shipping rates when sending mail to military post offices, such as an Army/Air Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO).

Sending a package to an international address with an APO, FPO, or DPO ZIP code requires creating a customs form (P.S. Form 2976-R) online or filling out the form before visiting a retail counter.

For Businesses

USPS offers the following international shipping services to help you achieve your business goals:

  • Global shipping software
  • Lightweight commercial ePackets
  • International bulk and package services
  • Custom forms for international mail
  • Pricing and export agreements
  • Wholesaler program for import support

Service Details: FedEx International MailService

If you have an eCommerce business and need to ship low-weight, low-value goods, FedEx International MailService can be an excellent option for efficient deliveries and cost savings.

This service provides a standard delivery of 7 to 11 business days from pickup to hand-off to the destination country’s postal service. FedEx International MailService also has a premium service that delivers in four to seven business days. Delivery times can differ by country.

FAQs

  1. Where can I buy postage?

You can buy international mail postage at the following locations:

  • The Postal Store: This store is an online shop for all stamps and add-on postage.
  • Post office locations: These locations include self-service kiosks and Approved Postal Providers like drug stores and groceries.
  1. Can I use regular stamps for international mail?

Suppose you want to send a letter weighing 1oz to a foreign destination. You can use a Global Forever stamp or combine regular ones with at least the same value as the Global Forever stamp.

  1. What is USPS First-Class Package International Service?

This service is an excellent way to send packages under 4lbs to over 180 countries. First-Class Package International Service also offers delivery confirmation when shipping to select destinations.

  1. How many stamps do I need to send a letter internationally?

As of July 2023, sending a 1oz-letter to an international address requires one Global Forever stamp worth $1.50.

If your mail weighs more than 1oz, you’ll need more stamps depending on the extra weight.

References

  1. Number of letters distributed worldwide from 2011 to 2020
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1206602/letter-post-traffic-worldwide/
  2. Index of Countries and Localities
    https://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immctry.htm
  3. How to Send a Letter or Postcard: International
    https://www.usps.com/international/letters.htm
  4. First-Class Mail International
    https://www.usps.com/international/first-class-mail-international.htm
  5. Priority Mail International
    https://www.usps.com/international/priority-mail-international.htm
  6. Priority Mail Express International
    https://www.usps.com/international/priority-mail-express-international.htm
  7. Global Express Guaranteed
    https://www.usps.com/international/gxg.htm
  8. First-Class Package International Service
    https://www.usps.com/international/first-class-package-international-service.htm
  9. What is M-bag Service?
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/What-is-M-bag-Service
  10. Notice 123
    https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/Notice123.htm
  11. Military & Diplomatic Mail
    https://www.usps.com/ship/apo-fpo-dpo.htm
  12. International Business Shipping
    https://www.usps.com/business/international-shipping.htm