Orientation of letters or postcards in the USA

Recently I tried to send a letter with a handmade envelope, and because of the photo on the envelope, I addressed it vertically instead of horizontally. The letter was returned to me for additional postage. I was told that it costs more if the letter is oriented “portrait” vs “landscape.” Wow. I had no idea.

So now, what I am wondering, is what about my postcards? I purchased a number of them that were designed in Europe, and the writing side of them is oriented vertically (Portrait). Does that mean that the USPS charges extra postage if I write them out that way? Does anyone here know the answer? I hate the thought of turning the card the other way and writing it against the lines, but if I have to do that, I will.

Thanks for any input!

I can’t address your question specifically. Whether the postcard is vertical or horizontal does not matter. What does matter is how you address the recipient. You should ALWAYS use a horizontal format. Some members like to include their address. In THIS CASE, you should write it vertically, or if you have a label, place it vertically.

Since the USPS is 99% automated, in the case of letters, the way you addressed it caused the problem. Moreover, with your saying that you had insufficient, my first thought that you put $0.58 on the envelope when the current rate is $0.60 (soon to go up to $0.63). Not sure what the clerk you is correct since these people are fond for making things up.


Yes, you can address them vertically with no extra charge. I was really worried the first time I sent one formatted this way (to Poland) but it arrived fine and no slower than usual. Since then I’ve sent many more vertical domestically and internationally with no issue
*My experience is only with postcards, I’ve never tried to address an envelope vertically

Portrait is non-machinable, in other words the sorting machine cannot read those. So, yes, they need either extra postage, or if a card it should go in an envelope.

The nonmachinable surcharge is added to First-Class Mail® with any of the following criteria:

For pieces more than 4-1/4 inches high or 6 inches long, the thickness is less than 0.009 inch
The length divided by height is less than 1.3 or more than 2.5 (length is the dimension parallel to the address)

It is poly-bagged, poly-wrapped, enclosed in any plastic material, or has an exterior surface made of a material that is not paper

It has clasps, strings, buttons, or similar closure devices

It is too rigid or contains items such as pens, keys or coins that cause the thickness of the mailpiece to be uneven

It has a delivery address parallel to the shorter dimension of the mailpiece


This is off USPS website. Put stamps and address in the upper half

1 Like

There was a .60 stamp on it. I asked, and they said I needed to pay 24 cents more because it was addressed in a “portrait” mode. I know I’ve mailed like this before and not had an issue. I am getting paranoid because lately I have had many things go missing.

The size of the postcard matters also. If you send a normal size postcard from one US city to another it is the postcard rate which right now is 44 cents. If you send a larger postcard or long postcard is considered a letter and have to use letter rate which right now is 60 cents. To send international no matter the size postcard it is the international rate which right now is $1.40

I have sent lots of larger postcards with the regular postcard rate with no problem.

I just learned this! That is, two different addresses should form a 90degree [right] angle.
Addressee: horizontal.
Sender’s return label: vertical.
Clearly, this is an important distinction for the machines.

How did I learn this?
Several postcards recently came back to me. I had placed my return address label horizontally on them, either on bottom or top left corner.
The machines read my printed label and not the handwritten address.
So, I took them to the post office, and the clerk told me, to “white out your address” and stick the card back in the mailbox.
Thankfully, none of them have boomeranged a second time.

@HookedonPostcards …yes I also learned about that when I was mystified why my card came back to me within a few days LOL.

1 Like

Aaaah! Well now I finally understand the card that was “returned” to me: my return address was horizontal. Mystery solved : )

1 Like

Yup. Fastest mail delivery ever! :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

1 Like

Square and vertical envelopes are non-machinable and are subject to the (currently) 39¢ nonmachinable surcharge. As with large postcards mailed with less than 60¢ however, whether it slips through undetected is another matter.

You can verify this by going through the “calculate a price” function on the USPS website. At some point you’ll come across this:

And if you click on anything other than “none of the following” the rate will be 99¢:


That’s news to me. I had no idea we could send vertically oriented postcards without a non machinable fee.

You can’t. While the address side of a post card may be divided either horizontally or vertically into its message and address halves, it must still have a “landscape” orientation to qualify for the postcard or nonmachinable rate. A post card written with a “portrait” orientation is charged the nonmachinable letter rate of 99¢.

People are erroneously equating division with orientation, but they are not the same.

Per USPS, the maximum postcard height is 4.25 inches and the minimum width is 5 inches. A “portrait” oriented postcard cannot meet these requirements.



The USPS site is rather confusing, witnessed by what @Walden and @johnbradleytlh have shown above. I use the retail calculator all the time but never considered an envelope “odd shaped” just because it was oriented vertically. With those postcards I have that are vertically oriented on the written side (with lines on them) I guess I will just have to use them “correctly” to be sure the recipient gets them. But I won’t be buying any more cards oriented that way. Why is this not an issue in other countries?

1 Like

I have a few vertical cards, which I have always intended to send in envelopes.

So far I’ve just converted my vertical cards to horizontal and plan on continuing :woman_shrugging: Definitely an interesting topic :sweat_smile:


I had a few Postallove cards with a portrait orientation and I wrote them with a landscape orientation. Didn’t look bad either.

As for other countries, I’m guessing they don’t rely on sorting machines as much as the US does.

There’s good and bad to this. On one hand European cards don’t get as beat up as any card that goes through the US. On the other hand some European postal rates can be significantly more than US rates.

You can send portrait oriented cards, it just costs a bit extra because there’s more manual processing involved, and to be fair the US nonmachinable rate is cheaper than the standard rate in some European countries.


Yes, you’re right, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just don’t remember so many of my cards being so destroyed as they have been in the past 6 months. I know the PO is also understaffed.

1 Like