US post sends back postcards to valid addresses as undeliverable

I started to encounter very frequently (3 times for the past 3 months) the return of my postcards sent to USA with a reason ‘Return to sender // Not deliverable as addressed // Unable to forward’. The most frustrating thing in all this is that the returned postcards were sent to forum members, I meet very frequently in tags, and all other postcards addressed to their very same address in my very same handwriting were delivered with no problems within reasonable time.

I am writing this just to make more US postcrossers aware of the existing problem - while you might think someone didn’t send you a postcard, it might be just sent back and away (if the return address is there at all!). And also to advice postcrossers who send postcards to USA to include return address on a card, it seems that nowadays it becomes a dire necessity.

Another similar topic for moderators to merge this one with if necessary (my opinion is to keep my topic name as a warning, not as a topic to collect thoughts about the issue): Return addresses on postcards - #8 by michiel071


A first for me: two weeks ago an envelope from a round round returned back to me. It was mailed by me in late May.
One yellow sticker says “Unable to forward/For review”. The sticker on top of that one says “Return to sender. Not deliverable as addressed. Unable to forward.”
The address is exactly as the recipient provided. Confusing.
I reached out to the recipient to send the envelope again.


I usually send the ‘postal artefact’ of that well-travelled card in the next envelope too. So far they were arriving.

It is still very confusing for me to see phrase ‘Not deliverable as addressed’, when I know for sure the address was correct, hard not to blame myself. I am contemplating to start comparison of the exact writings of the addresses to find what’s wrong (like for Asian addresses: 1 perceived as 7 etc.) :sweat_smile:

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sadly, this does happen as i get at least 1 postcard with a yellow sticker from the USPS addressed to me. please remember that the post office in the USA is computerized and if the sorting machine can not read the written address, it is sent to another machine in hopes of sorting out the problem. what happen to me, i get postcards sent from abroad stating “unable to forward/for review” and it sent to my post office. as i live in a small rural village, it is no problem correct the error and put into my P.O.Box. only suggestion would recommend to print out the address and paste on the postcard as the its up to the sorting machine to decide where that card goes. the USPS has gone downhill since the new postmaster general had taken control - longer time to arrive, removing machines from sorting offices, no more over time for employees (thus mail needed to be sorted by hand just goes into a pile and hopes it is corrected in days instead of weeks), and the list goes on…
sorry this has happen to you. and as the postcrosser @HookedonPostcards said, contact the person explaining the situation and hopefully you will not get charged to resend the postcard.
ps: one sorting machine can do the work of 48 to 52 people - and more of errors happen in reading addresses.


With my daughter we sent from St. Petersburg to the USA in September many surprises envelopes for forum friends , 6 envelopes and a lot of postcards were lost. We did not provide a return address. Only 3 envelopes and about 3 postcards arrived. :expressionless:

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I haven’t had cards returned but I have had more very slow & lost mail to the US in the last few months.

I think the USPS is having some challenges with the cuts from last year & more cuts this year now along with COVID of course.

I’ve mailed a couple of official cards twice & both times the 2nd card did not arrive & these are with active accounts.

I can believe having a card be lost once, but not 2x in a row. I also currently have 2 US cards at 30 & 33 days and that’s very slow for Canada/US mail.


Sorry to hear that the cards have been returned. It is very disappointing.
Our postal service is not as good as it should be.
They seem to be always short-staffed.
Besides the postal service, we have disasters like hurricanes, wild ires, floods, snow storms, and tornados, that would block or slow down deliveries.

I hope the following tips may help your postcards to get to the destinations.

  1. As @samquito mentioned, our mail sorting machine reads and sorts mail. And those machines have preferred format: ALL UPPERCASE (capital) letters. Block print is better than cursive.
    The bottom line says USA only. The second line from the bottom is City name, State abbreviation, and postal code number, but without commas. (see the link above)

  2. The mail sorting machine prints a barcode in the designated barcode zone for local delivery (see the image below). When there is no space, postal workers will set the mail aside and stick the ugly yellow sticker.
    In other words, when something is written or printed in the clear zone (or a stamp or sticker is attached), the machine tries to read it (and gets confused!). So, leaving the space blank might help your card travel faster.

FYI: 4 3/4" = 12cm long, 5/8"=1.6cm high

  1. Use a pen that has a good contrasting color against the postcard surface. Black or dark blue ink on white paper is the best contrast for the machine to scan. I usually use colored pens for text, but always use black permanent ink for addresses.

  2. Stickers, washi tapes, masking tapes and other materials on postcards tend to stuck or jam the machine. It is boring but a smooth flat postcard runs though the machine better.

Hope your future postcards travel safely and quickly :crossed_fingers:


I have posted this problem in another forum related to mails. One person said this

When I briefly worked for the USPS as a carrier, every postal worker absolutely hated postcards. Before I started working for them, I did see a postal carrier drop a postcard going from one house to another. By time I went across the street and picked it up, the postal had taken off in his vehicle. I was in a rush and simply put it in a drop box. Either he never knew he dropped it or didn’t want to go back to look for it. When I found out their hatred for postcards, the one who dropped it may have been on purpose. That postcard was already bleeding ink due to a light rain. I did notice that many postal workers are highly vindictive. What you mentioned could be taking place! The postal workers told me many times, that they went to upper management to do away with postcards and each time were unsuccessful. By continuing to increase postage for postcards, the total amount of postcards going through the postal system continues to decrease each year.


I appreciate the kind advice provided in this discussion. I’ve never included my own address on postcards before, but perhaps I will start. One of my first postcards failed to make it to its U.S. destination, and I know I wrote the address correctly. Mind you, nowadays I always use printed labels for the destination address, so hopefully that has helped!

I also appreciate the information that @Chieusa provided re: addressing postcards to the USA. The practice for cards to Canada is virtually identical: write addresses in ALL UPPER CASE, the final line is for the country name, and keep that Barcode Clear Zone free of washi tape or text. I do keep getting cards with washi tape, stickers, etc., underneath the address. The cards made it to me despite that (that’s how I know they did it!), but for sure, that would have slowed them down dramatically as such cards must be sorted by hand. You really want to leave the address section as undecorated as possible.

P.S. I don’t think our Canadian postal workers mind postcards at all, but then again it is just as expensive to mail a postcard as it is to mail a letter. There is no preferential rates for postcards any more :cry:


I have one at 38 days and I’m not sure it’s gonna make it :confused:

I highly doubt the my aunt’s holiday card will arrive in time :sweat_smile:


Never had any issue filling that space on cards I send in Canada. 99.9% of them arrived & in a timely fashion.

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I’ve chatted with many USPS workers - they all loved sorting & delivering postcards!


I don’t use return addresses on postcards but I’ve had this happen with a few envelopes. It’s frustrating because by the time the envelope returns, it’s been over two months and not everything is in a shape to be resent. One year I had around 3-4 holiday cards returned back from the US and that made me wonder whether the holiday season exacerbated the problem. With one envelope to a friend, there was no NIXIE label but just an ordinary label with a barcode and that was sent back.

Here on Postcrossing, I’ve never had much trouble with sending mail to the US but I don’t send a lot of envelopes these days.

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That is because our Canada Post workers are awesome! :smiley_cat:

Interestingly, the question of keeping that space clear is not mentioned on Canada Post’s site. It is simply something that postal workers have told me.

However, I’ve noticed that when the area is free, it usually bears a series of postal sorting marks that allow the card to be sorted electronically:

If they’re missing, that means the card was sorted manually.

The card will arrive either way, but automatic sorting is supposed to be quicker, and I am sure it is probably less trouble for the posties :wink:


It’s interesting that almost all my mail to Europe never has any postmarks or postal marks whatsoever & again arrives quickly most often.

I’m quite sure it isn’t manually sorted as all mine goes to the super sorting plant in Montreal. I think lots just goes through the system & probably optical character scanning does the trick in reading addresses.

Although I’d love to know more, but Cda Post is pretty opaque sadly.

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Wow! That’s super nice recommendations!

I always add USA and Russian США to get them easier out of the country, to help Russian post.

The washi tapes and stickers… I’ve read about that before, I simply can’t send just a naked card! :joy: I also don’t believe that is a huge problem, since returned cards, which been to machines more than once, have all decorations safely attached, not a corner unglued.

Also the cards returned have barcodes printed on the front side sticker for local delivery. In all, knowing how post works, the cards look like they passed the global US center successfully but were returned back on a local level.

@Tutubi I literally have a success story, how US recepient got my card after finding it in a ditch near her house after snow melted, probably fell from postal worker accidentally too :joy: I think though most postmen and postwomen are nice people, I heard more stories of them being interested in all nice cards

About Russian post: it’s sorted mostly manually still locally, it seems, I get additional marks by pen on cards very often (like zip code or apartment number), and my local post office workers don’t seem to be annoyed with the amount of postcards :sweat_smile: And within Europe: so many crazy handmades arrive with barely distinguishable address, I really wonder how their sorting machines work!


It’s so frustrating when there are issues with delivery of cards, especially when many of us put so much time, thought, and resources into them. I would be careful about making any general statements about USPS workers’ attitudes or behavior though. Many forget just how stinking large the US is. I have lived all over the country, and can tell you the postal experience is completely different even from town to town. My dad is a carrier, and works hard to deliver everything the way he would want to receive it. He gets very frustrated with the things outside his control which create issues for the customer. Also, he thinks postcards are fascinating, and wants to join Postcrossing :grin:

That said… as others have pointed out, there are several issues with staffing, etc. I actually wondered if it was a bad idea to put the return address on. I pictured maybe they can just instantly send it back if it fails an automated round and then they don’t have to deal with it. But if it doesn’t have it, they have to follow a protocol and try to get it delivered?? Not really basing that on anything :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: I should ask dad.


Haha, I had my fear about that too. But the return address is also in very small hand writing in a odd place on the card usually, not printed, much less clear than the main address :woman_shrugging:

What a great job your dad has! I feel very deep respect for all postal workers, as most postcrossers, the amount of work the local post men and women do!


Often we can’t leave it blank, because there’s already something printed, like here:

so I might glue paper over it, or put tape.


First off, I apologize for such a long comment! I agree with those who said that we sometimes forget how BIG the USA is! I know we’re not the largest country but, I just did a very quick Google search and the US post office delivers approximately 175 million pieces of 1st class mail PER DAY over 3.8 mil sq miles (9.8 sq km)! That doesn’t count the other classes of mail and packages! With that much mail, there’s no way it could be sorted without the machines. I also saw that there are approximately 335,000 mail carriers to do that delivery. Our post office is run by our federal government and controlled by a very powerful union, so that tells you it’s a huge mess of a bureaucracy. Some people blame the current Postmaster General, but we were having serious issues long before he took over.
I’m sure you can imagine that, with so many carriers delivering that much mail, some people will have bad experiences. I was a mail carrier from 2015 to 2020 and, overall, I loved my job! I can tell you of all the people I worked with, I never remember hearing complaints about postcards. Most carriers really enjoy delivering mail and get a kick out of delivering things like Postcrossing’s international postcards. I know I did!
One last thing, the bar code system we use can be confusing. The code is normally printed in black ink on the front (address) side. Any stickers the post office uses can be peeled off without damaging the mail. But, sometimes the code will also be printed on reverse side in fluorescent orange ink that is nearly invisible. If you get a postcard returned and think the address is correct, you should black or white out the bar code under the address and flip it over and look closely for an orange bar code - block that out, too, or the machines will read it.
One very last thing! I use all sorts of stickers and washi tape! Pretty much as long as that strip at the bottom has space for the bar code and it has the correct amount of postage - it’s going! Of course, there’s always a risk of one post card out of 175 million pieces per day being damaged or lost! And, yes, it’ll get better after the holidays!