International reply coupons

I’ve read about IRC a few times on user’s profiles, but most seem to only collect, not use them. I think they’re very unknown here in Germany, as our postage is rather cheap compared to some other countries.
I’ve wondered if anybody here has experience with actually using them, e.g. for Postcrossing purposes. Like, I can buy them here for €2 and could use them in Denmark to send a postcard for DKK 33 (€4.44). I just wonder, do postal workers recognize and accept them or is it a relict of the past they don’t know what to do with? Is there a limit of how many you can use at once? Would it be possible to send, say, 40 cards from a meetup?
I’d love to hear about your experiences! :slight_smile:

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I have bought IRC once 9 years ago, because I needed to get one original, signed document from Germany. At the end I never got the document because the guy who was supposed to send it ghosted on me, so I still have the IRC and never got to experience how it would have worked. I was supposed to send it to him in envelope so he can use it.

What I remember from getting it, you can only use it to send something to the land that issued it so it is pretty useless for Postcrossing purposes as a German issued IRC can be only used to send mail to Germany (although, in that example it might work as you are for sure going to get a German address… Anyway.). It is also very rare thing to use nowadays so it can be a bother to find somebody who knows what to do with it.

I believe there is a limit how many you can buy so you don’t end up crashing the whole postal economy with them. When I bought mine, they were only willing to sell me one. It is also valid only for very short time (at least mine was valid only for couple of weeks or so, might be different with other postal systems.) 40 IRCs is probably way too much.

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i had worked at a youth hostel in the 1980’s and we received a IRC from a person living in germany (along with the double postcard reservation card - remember those were the days of no internet). i did not know anything about this IRC and went to the post office to find what this was. the clerk did not know either and had to make a phone call. after a few calls and about 45 minutes, found out how to process and was inform that it took 2 IRC to equal international postage rate. one would equal surface mail (when the USA still did surface mail). there was not much difference in price and i paid the extra to get the airmail stamp.
it is a good question as in denmark, a IRC would be accepted as family living in denmark has told me that most post offices were closed. wonder as in the situation i had experienced, would denmark would request 2 or 3 coupons to equal danish international postage rate.

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The original Ponzi scheme was based on the international reply coupon:

The IRC can be exchanged for a unregistered priority/airmal letter in the lowest weight band. They can be exchanged in every country, not just the country that sold them. The minimum price is set by the UPU.

In France the IRC is even cheaper (€1.50), it can be a method to circumvent the high postal charges in Denmark, but perhaps there are not post offices to exchange them :wink:

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Thank you for clarification!

Maybe I should start a test. I just need someone there who’s willed to deal with the postal clerks for me. :sweat_smile:

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I’ve tried once to use one to send mail to Australia and the PO clerk had no idea of what was that light blue paper I was giving him!
It required me to do an official complaint to receive a phone call from PO’s director and finally have my envelope sent.
Clerks of philatelic counters generally know about IRCs, but it’s very unusual to see someone asking them to use one.

The maximum I’ve used at the same time is 12, in Buenos Aires, some years ago.

A german postcrossing friend used an IRC I sent him to send me a postcard from Denmark: he had to explain a bit to PO’s personnel, but at the end I received the postcard.

No, you can use every IRC (except one from the country your are sending from) to send to any other UPU member country :wink:
For example:

  • I can use a french IRC here in Italy to send an envelope to Malaysia.
  • I can not use an italian IRC to send from Italy mail to anywhere.

IRCs have generally a validity limit: for example current model is “Istanbul” and will expire at end of 2021.
Name derive from the city hosting UPU’s conference.

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The Swiss post website only sells them in batches of 10 for CHF25 (so more expensive than any international standard postage).

There is no suggestion that they can only be used outside Switzerland, indeed in the international sending brochure they quote the Switzerland to Europe and Switzerland to Other Countries rates as the exchange values.

It is possible that I recall wrong, been 9 years after all, or I was told wrong as it seems like literally nobody knows how these work.

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I think this sums it up very well. :smiley:

Exactly… So have fun testing out how it works :joy:

I tried to search for my old coupon to see if there is any information on it, but it is who knows where. However UPU’s site literally said you can buy IRC from neighboring country if your own doesn’t sell them so I believe I stand corrected here. But then again for example the post office in Norway states on their site that coupon can be used to send letter back to Norway, which hints that there might be a whole new problem of post office refusing the coupon if the mail is not going to be sent to the issued country… I feel like IRC is a dying concept and will soon just disappear completely.

All 192 members of the Universal Postal Union must accept IRCs, but the exact way how to do it (e.g. accept their own, accept only to mail back to the issuing country, only accept one IRC per piece of mail) is up to the individual members. The aim is to allow a sender to pre-pay for a response to him, so any rules are allowed that allow just that. It must be exchanged for up to the postage for the lowest weight category priority/airmail letter (this was for surface in earlier years but has changed now), but you must present the item you want to mail when redeeming the IRC. That means if you mail something cheaper than a standard priority letter (e.g. printed matter or a postcard if that is cheaper than a letter), you only get that postage, the remaining value is profit of the post. You also are not entitled to get the stamps, but to have your letter mailed (so it could be getting postal meter instead of stamps). When redeeming, the IRC is kept by the post office for internal revenue. As IRCs are so rarely used nowadays, it can be difficult to redeem them if the post officer (or supermarket employee, as it is for me now since the post office was closed) has never seen one since initial training…

No UPU member is required to sell IRCs (but all are required to redeem them). Currently 88 countries sell the Istanbul design, 23 the special design commemorating 110 years of IRCs and 28 the special design commemorating 145 years of the UPU. Full list of countries - for example the UK and USA do not sell IRCs at all.

If anyone is interested in swapping IRCs (against German IRCs or other items), please send me a private message.

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I have used IRCs when I want to send mail to Antarctica, and I do not have the stamps needed for the station manager to reply to me. This one here came from Princess Elisabeth Station and since I did not have Belgian stamps, I used an IRC. Note that philatelists have considered this to be a unique cover and I have kept it since.

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A creative use of an IRC :smile: very interesting!