How to Send a Letter to the USA
In the age of email and instant messaging, the average person rarely needs to send snail mail. But what if you need to send an official document or a bill? Or even a handwritten letter or thoughtful gift to a family member? Would you know how to get your package posted correctly? More importantly, would you know how to mail it internationally?
For those living outside the United States, trying to figure out how to get mail to friends, family, and associates in the USA may seem complicated. How do you address it? Are the rates the same as in your home country? How does the letter get overseas? Who’s in charge of getting it where it’s supposed to go?
Here, we’ll explore the answers to those questions and go into a little of the history of international mail.
Who’s in Charge of International Mail?
The Universal Postal Union (UPU) was established in 1874 to streamline postage between the major countries of the world. It’s a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that coordinates postage rates between member countries, as well as the global postage system. They’re the ones who decide how much you have to pay to mail that international letter.
Before the UPU, postage rates and methods between countries were decided by a network of bilateral international treaties with no standardization. Postal services operated on the assumption that the volume of mail sent between two countries was roughly equal and decided rates accordingly.
Since 1969, however, the UPU introduced the concept of terminal dues: countries sending international mail would pay a certain amount to the destination country to cover the costs of delivering postage there. Those dues are settled every quarter and based on the weight and volume of packages shipped between countries.
The UPU can penalize member nations for late mail, docking their terminal dues if more than a certain percentage of their mail arrives late. In European countries, a package is considered late if it isn’t delivered overnight after arriving in the country. In the US, when a package is considered late depends on the type of shipping selected.
How to Send a Letter to the USA
There are two ways to send a letter to the US:
Visit the local post office and send it from there
Prepare and mail the letter or package yourself
Depending on the size, weight, and contents of the package, you may want to mail it from the post office instead of preparing it yourself, especially if you need services like mail tracking.
Mailing from the Post Office
The employees at your local post office can tell you whether you’ve got the right postage for the country you’re sending your letter or package to—in this case, the US. They can also calculate your shipping rate and sign you up for services like package tracking and certified receipt.
Postal workers will also be able to let you know if there are any customs restrictions in the country where you’re mailing that package and tell you how you can comply with them. That way, your package won’t get held up on the way to its destination. The USPS, for example, prohibits the shipping of alcohol. If you try to mail something in a box with an alcohol label on it to the United States, even if no alcohol is present, the box will be rejected.
Once your rate is settled, you can choose which mailing service you’d like to use to send your letter out. Prices will vary according to the size and weight of the package, but in general, you’ll have to pay more if you want it to arrive sooner. Typical rates for mailing a letter to the US are around $2 for basic shipping. You’ll usually be able to choose shipping speeds of:
6 to 10 business days
3 to 5 business days
1 to 3 business days
The second two options would be expedited and thus more expensive.
If a tracking number is included, you’ll be able to use that to keep tabs on your shipment until it reaches its destination. If a tracking number isn’t part of standard shipping, you may have the option to add it for an additional fee. The Canada Post, for example, offers registered mail service, which lets you confirm receipt of mail with a stamp and signature once it arrives.
Mailing from Home
Most postal services will let you buy postage online and print it at home, so you can simply get your letter ready and drop it in the mailbox. No trip to the post office required! If you choose this route, make sure you thoroughly read the restrictions on international mailing. Know what you can and can’t mail, what sizes are prohibited, and how much you’ll be paying.
Whether you mail your letter from the post office or your home, you’ll have to fill out the proper customs form before you can mail the package. These are also available online. If you’re sending your letter by first-class international mail, the customs form isn’t required. But you will need one if:
You’re using Global Express Guaranteed service in the US. You’ll need the GXG International Air Waybill form and the PS Form 6182 for certain destinations. You can check country requirements at the USPS Global Express page
You’re using Priority Mail Express International Service in the US (PS Form 2976-B)
You’re using any other international mailing services, including mail going to an army, fleet, or diplomatic post office (PS Form 2976 or PS Form 2976-A)
You should also consider purchasing insurance for your package, especially if it’s valuable. If you’re using the Global Express Guaranteed service, you can buy up to $2,500 in insurance. Prices will vary depending on what you’re choosing to insure.
When mailing your letter from home, you’ll need to weigh it to determine the proper postage rate. If you don’t have a scale you can use, consider mailing from the post office instead. When weighing, round up to the next pound or ounce and calculate the shipping cost for that weight.
Preparing Your Mail to Ship
Once you’ve bought the proper postage, chosen your shipping service, and made sure your package is compliant with international mailing restrictions, it’s time for the finishing touches. Remember to include the destination and return addresses in all caps, in English, easily legible.
Other top tips for sending international mail include:
Avoid posting coins; opt for a check or money order instead if you’re sending money to someone internationally
Make sure the package you’re using suits your item. Make sure it can protect your shipment reasonably well from damage and the elements
Make sure you check the list of prohibited and restricted items for the country you’re shipping to
Always double and triple-check that all the correct forms, postage, and addresses are in place before you mail to avoid any delays. Typical size and weight restrictions for letters sent internationally are as follows:
3.5 inches (8.9 cm) minimum and 6.125 inches (15.558 cm) maximum for height
5 inches (12.7 cm) minimum and 11.5 inches (29.21) maximum for length
.0007 inches (.0018 cm) minimum and .25 inches (.635 cm) maximum for thickness
A maximum weight of 3.5 oz
As long as your letter adheres to these requirements, it should get through customs just fine. For more information on just what happens to your mail on its way through the United States customs system, they give a detailed breakdown on their website.
Alternatives to Conventional Postage Services
There are also services like Mailform that contract with postal providers to ship your letters and packages. If you’re shipping postage in bulk, or simply looking for a better deal than you might be getting through the postal service, Mailform might be the right choice for you.
For example, Mailform offers a cheaper rate for a single-page, standard-sized letter than the Canada Post—$2.99 for a single page standard letter on Mailform versus $7.32 via Canada Post. Postage costs to the USA can add up, so shopping around for the best deal is essential. We’re also a competitive price when compared to £2.30 or £3.45 for a small or flat envelope respectively via RoyalMail with the added benefit that you get to upload and send instantaneously without the concern of customs!
Mailform contracts with third party senders that work with postal services in the United States, like the USPS and FedEx, and allows you to send letters and bulk mail without the need for a printer or a visit to the post office.
All you need to do is upload the document or documents you’d like to send, upload the recipient address(es), and choose what shipping service you’d like to use. Prices start at $2.99 for the first page of bulk mail and $0.49 per additional page. With Mailform, you can essentially send a letter online without the hassle of measuring and weighing and travelling to the post office.
Mailform also supports certified mail, so you can be sure your letter gets delivered to the right place. You can even get same-day delivery for certain shipping services like FedEx Standard Overnight or USPS Priority Express Mail. Customers who choose certified mail get a digital tracking number, to make sure your letter is making its way to its destination on time.
Mailing a letter to the United States doesn’t have to be a challenge. Streamline your snail mail no matter where you’re sending it with a little help from Mailform.