How international mail works :postcard:

Here in the US it costs $1.20 to send a postcard to international destinations.

Surely, part of that cost funds the USPS to somehow get the card on the ground in the destination country.

But from there, the postal service for the destination country takes control, I assume. Does anyone know how that hand off works? And how it’s decided what we pay other countries to make the final delivery (if in fact that’s how it works)?

Just curious if anyone knows about this. I figure my broad assumptions are mostly right, but interested to learn more.

Thank you!



I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for, but there’s an overview of the Universal Postal Union which governs what the postal rates are. It seems a little complicated.


You know, the minute I made that post, I somehow reminded myself of stamps I’d seen in the past commemorating the Universal Postal Union. Or, I recalled it as the International Postal Union. I guess I was wrong, but on the right track. Interesting. I’ll check it out later. Thanks.

The postal authority of the destination country charges terminal dues to the postal authority of the country of origin. A postal authority can also use a third country to transmit the mails in transit, for instance, the USA can send mail to Norway and Sweden via Copenhagen in Denmark. Denmark can charge the USA for this transit mail. The amount of terminal dues differs from country to country depending on the development of the country, but that will change to terminal dues based on the domestic rate of the receiving country. All dispatches (depêches in French) are labelled and that contains the information from and to countries and the type of mail (priority or economy etc.). The UPU has a standard system for terminal dues, but countries can also have a bilateral agreement and there are regional agreements (for instance in the EU) with different charges and rules for exchanging mail. In Europe postal authorities also use alternative postal companies to deliver mail in another countries and some postal authorities have set up or bought companies in other countries in order to pay less for delivery.


Thank you. That’s interesting and helpful.

I am brand new at this and I didn’t even think about the cost difference in sending a postcard overseas! I sent my first three cards with a 35 cent postcard stamp, and two of them have made from here (Oregon, USA) to Germany and Northern Ireland. I wonder how they got through! I just put two more in the mail today, again with a 35 cent stamp. I wish I had read this first and taken them the post office to get proper stamps. :upside_down_face:


Thank you for the explanation and clarification, michiel071. It sounds vey complicated but interesting!

Excuse me for the interruption, but I need to tell this to KatieinOregon.

Hi @KatieinOregon, welcome to the forum :wave:
You can purchase stamps at post office, but don’t ask them to give you “proper stamps.”
They will just give you Global stamps.

Many Postcrossers overseas are tired of receiving the Global stamps from USA, because there are very few designs (only 1 or 2 kinds issued every year).

Instead, use other stamps. You can mix stamps.
As long as the total equals the amount for the first class international mail (letter or postcard) $1.20 $1.40 $1.45 $1.50 (as of Sep. 2023. Check the latest postal rates ta USPS website), that’s fine.
For example,

  • 2 domestic letter forever stamps (66 cents each) + 10 cent + two 4 cent stamps = $1.50
  • 2 domestic postcard stamps (51 cents each) + 40 cent stamp + two cent stamps = $1.50
  • 1 domestic letter forever stamp (66 cents each) + 1 domestic postcard stamp (51 cents each) + 24 cent stamp + 5 cent stamp + 4 cent stamp = $1.50

or if you don’t mind spending more than $1.50

  • 3 domestic postcard stamps = $ 1.51
  • 2 domestic forever stamps + 24 cent stamp = $1.56

Be creative, and they will enjoy your postcards even more :wink:


Thank you for the tip. It will be fun to see what kind of stamps I can get.

1 Like

Wait until tomorrow (January 24). A postcard stamp will be worth 36 cents then. :wink:


On a related note, the additional ounce stamp which was 15¢ will go up to 20¢. So theoretically, you could also do a $1.00 stamp + and additional ounce stamp to get $1.20. Or just 6 additional ounce stamps if that’s all you have.

1 Like

I love it! I think I’ve unknowingly sent quite a bit of mail with inadequate postage in the past that somehow got graced and sent along anyways.

There’s nothing wrong with using the $1.20 global stamp but it is fun to mix and match stamps that add up to a total of $1.20.

Oh! I just learned that there will be new postcard stamps (they’re really cute, with a barn on them) that are 36 cents. So for domestic postcard mail we’ll get to use a penny stamp with our old 35 cent fish stamps.

1 Like

The fish stamp doesn’t have a value on it, it just says postcard. I think that means they will always be worth whatever a postcard requires in the US.


So I imagine Italy has no agreements at all outside EU, and put every country on the same level… our tariffs make a big step, more than doubling the cost if sending outside EU (from 1,15€ to 2,4€ for 20g), and almost three times if to Oceania (3,1€).
It wasn’t so until few years ago :cry:


I understand nothing about Latvia’s prices! Most of Europe countries are 1.35 and even China and Saudi Arabia are 1.35, but Finland is 1.42 (like America and Russia). There are no stamps for price 1.35, at least, in my town, so I must buy 1.39, where 1.35 is needed.

1 Like

Terminal dues are one component of the costs of sending mail abroad. Transport costs (air freight) are another. It could also that the demand for sending mail outside Europe is pretty low, which means that the costs have to be paid by the few people who are sending mail outside the Europe, further decreasing demand. There is another consideration: if you make one tariff for a large group of countries (in this case: all the countries outside Europe) you can set the tariff so that you don’t lose money for the most expensive country or you can set the tariff a bit lower, so that you might lose some money for the most expensive country, but you make more money for the cheaper countries, because demand doesn’t drop as much.

1 Like

Inside the EU terminal dues are 80% of the domestic tariff. As Finland has a high domestic tariff (€1.75), you have to pay more for a letter to Finland. Saudi Arabia and China are on low UPU terminal dues, so sending letters to those countries is not as expensive.

1 Like

I had the same question and came across this youtube video. Perhaps you’ll find it as interesting as I did!


Thanks for sharing the video

1 Like

Hi @KathrynNash :wave: The fish stamps are forever postcard stamps, so they’re worth whatever the current postcard rate is. Meaning the fish stamp are also worth $0.36 now. So no need to add 1 cent to it, unless you want to. :wink:

1 Like

Oh, really? I’m glad you told me that. (Not that I’m gonna cry over a penny stamp). I just didn’t realize they were forever stamps. I knew that the old shell stamps are.