How to Address an Envelope? A Complete Guide

How to Address an Envelope

How to address an envelope might sound like a rather laughable question. After all, we’ve been sending mail over the years.

Though email, SMS and instant messengers such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the most popular way of sending messages- short or long- nowadays, the importance of the good old postal system remains virtually unaffected.

Therefore, if ever you need to send a letter or package to someone, it’s very important to know how to address a package or an envelope.

Cost of Envelopes with Wrong Address

Actually, there’re several other reasons why it’s very important to know how to address an envelope correctly.

1. High Cost of Undeliverable Mail

United States Postal Service (USPS) estimates, that mail ‘Undeliverable as Addressed (UAA) costs them about $1.5 billion every year. And a whopping $20 billion to the mailing industry as a whole in America itself.

2. Higher Cost to Businesses

Various sources indicate, a business can lose up to $25 for every undeliverable mail, due to wrong addresses on the envelope or packaging material.

Additionally, there’re costs on tracking mail where possible as well as losses on stationery and wrapping.

Undeliverable mail due to incorrect address on an envelope also has legal implications. A legal notice or contract that’s undeliverable because of wrong address can turn tables during a case.

Or companies can face breach of contract litigations because important papers weren’t available on time.

Overall, a wrong address or using the wrong system to write an address an envelope isn’t free of consequences. It costs money, delays work and cause several other problems too.

Understanding the Envelope

The above figures clearly highlight the importance of addressing an envelope correctly. And to do so, we first need to understand the envelope. An envelope isn’t merely a humble contraption made by cutting and pasting paper.

In fact, envelopes are mail delivery devices. You’ve to write the names of the recipient and sender as well as affix stamps, franks or mailing labels on the envelope to send a letter or documents.

Envelope Size

Envelopes that we use for mailing come in four different sizes. That’s because of different needs, sizes of different documents and other material that people and businesses mail.

These sizes are decided also on basis of International Standards Organization (ISO) dimensions for envelopes.

1.  International Standard Size

International Standard Size envelopes of these sizes comply with mailing standards and, postal systems worldwide. Geneva-based Universal Postal Union (UPU) regulates these sizes.

Automatic mail sorting machines that postal systems worldwide use can easily sort out envelopes of these sizes.

2. Japanese Size

Japanese Size envelopes are different because they have various purposes other than mail. Some Japanese Size envelopes aren’t available elsewhere in the world. 

That’s because such sizes are mainly made to suit mailing of certain larger paper documents or comply with Japanese traditions and cultures.

3. North American Size

The North American Size envelopes generally comply with International Size. However, certain sizes don’t comply with ISO standards due to the need to mail odd-sized material such as magazines and newsletters, among others.

For common mail though, North American Size is widely used in the US and elsewhere.

4. Royal Mail Size

You’ll find these sizes of envelopes in the UK and other parts of the world, where Royal Mail played a key role in establishing postal systems of different countries.

Royal Mail Size envelopes comply with ISO standards and have a few other sizes too. Sizes of this type of envelopes were born out of necessity, while the postal systems were developing to keep mail prices low.

5. Chinese Size

The widest range of envelope sizes is available in China. In this Asian country too, envelopes serve various purposes other than mail.

They have envelopes for ceremonial use, which are also sent by post as well as regular, ISO sizes for international and domestic mail. Chinese envelopes are made of different material too, in some cases.

Additionally, there’re different types of envelopes.

  • Cloth Lined Envelope: These have a fine cloth net inside which provides added protection against wear and tear during transit from the mailer to the recipient.
  • Padded Envelope: Has inner lining of rubber or plastic sheet. Padded envelopes are useful to send pictures, CDs and DVDs. They’re also useful for protection against rainfall and water damage.
  • Window Envelope: As the word signifies, these envelopes come with a small, transparent window to display the address. These are commonly used to send documents by companies, including bills.

These envelopes also comply with ISO and UPU sizes since they’re widely used for domestic and international mail.

Alse read: How To Start A Cover Letter – Tips & Examples With Opening Lines

How to Address an Envelope?

You might be wondering why I’m mentioning envelope sizes above. That’s for two strong reasons.

Firstly, it’s important to address an envelope according to its size and type. This makes it easier for a postal system or courier company to deliver on time.

Secondly, automatic mail sorting machines cannot handle odd-size envelopes. Hence, sending one of the right size with the proper address helps faster delivery and prevents loss of mail.

Also, odd-sized envelopes are processed manually and hence, you need to address them properly.

Now let’s see how to address an envelope (Each types).

1. The UPU Format

The Universal Postal Union, an apex body that operates under United Nations and has over 180 members across the world has something known as the S-42 International Addressing Standard.

This is the best way to address an envelope, regardless whether you’re mailing it for domestic or foreign delivery or even hand delivery through a personal messenger.

The first name comes is smaller letters while the family name is always in capital letter, under the S-41 International Addressing Standard. This is followed by the name of the premises and the street or road number of the address.

Then comes the name of the village, town or city followed by the state or province if any and the postal code.

In the US for example, the post code is commonly known as Zone Improvement Plan or ZIP code. In India for instance, it’s known as Postal Index Number or PIN code.

2. Russian & East European Format

Though Russia is a member state of the UPU and permanent member of the UN Security Council, it follows own as well as international letter envelope format to address an envelope.

This might sound strange but the Russian system and international system prevail alongside in the country and several breakaway republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The Russian envelope format is the reverse of the UPU S-42 standard. Here, the name of the country or the state and the postal code come first and on top of the address.

This is followed by the name of the village, town or city. Next are details such as street name and building if any.

The last thing that comes on the Russian format is the name of the recipient.

This system is meant to help the Russian postal system to quickly dispatch mail to various parts of the country from its colossal sorting centers. The sheer size of the country makes this necessary.

At the same time, you can also use the UPU S-42 International Addressing Standard to send mail from foreign countries to Russia.

But if you’re mailing within Russia or former Soviet republics, use their indigenous system to address an envelope.

3. GCC Format

If you’re sending a letter or documents by post or courier to any of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), there’s another way to address an envelope correctly.

Use this envelope format if you’re sending mail to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Addresses in these six GCC states are very simple. There’s no need to mention the name of the premises, street or road and the number, postal code such as ZIP and the state.

Because postal systems here don’t deliver mail at home or office under any circumstances. Instead, all mail deliveries at a post office boxes only.

All you require is the name of the recipient which comes first. You can follow this up by mentioning the name of the organization, if necessary or to be sure it reaches the right person working at that place.

The next and most important element to know how to address an envelope with a PO Box is the Post Office Box or PO Box number, followed by the city where the recipient works or lives.

If you’re sending mail from abroad, mention the country. For domestic mail, only the name, PO Box number and name of the city is enough.

4. India & Indian Subcontinent Format

India also follows the UPU S-42 International Addressing Standard, albeit India Post has its own specifications on how to address an envelope.

Due to complex nature of the country and its demographics, addressing a letter to recipients in India and the Indian subcontinent including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka among other countries can be slightly complex.

India consists of 28 states and nine Union Territories. Each state and Union Territory is divided into Districts (Zilla) and Sub-districts (Taluka).

Indian addresses tend to be long and very elaborate. They contain the name of the premises, number and name of street or road, nearest landmark, suburb for urban addresses or village name.

This is followed by the name of the sub district, district, state and PIN code.

Sometimes, you might have to write the mobile phone number of the recipient to ensure the postwoman or postman calls up the person to inform they have mail and to collect from the post office.

Though India Post has close to 200,000 post offices across the country, it’s not possible to cater to every village. In such cases you’ll have to mention the nearest post office name by using the words ‘At Post:’

5.  Japan, South Korea & China Format

To address an envelope in Japan and China can also prove quite a messy affair. You first need to mention the postal code.

This is a complex, seven digit number that precisely helps postwomen and postwomen or courier delivery agents to actually pinpoint the location f the recipient.

Therefore, you have to start addressing an envelope for Japan and China with this seven digit postal code. The first two digits of the code refer to the prefecture where an individual or business is located.

The next three digits signify the nearest city or town, followed by two digits for the neighborhood and last two digits for the street.

Japan Post Co also processes mail with the UPU S-42 International Addressing Standard, as a member state.

However, using the Japanese and Chinese envelope formats will help your mail to undergo the necessary processes quickly to ensure faster delivery.

6.  Format for Envelope to Military Personnel

So far, we’ve seen how to address an envelope to civilian individuals and organizations. This change when we’re addressing an envelope to military personnel or a military unit.

How to address an envelope to someone working for the military, to know this use this simple letter envelope format.

First write the name of the person. This is followed by the military post office name. The US has four military addresses.

  • APO: Army Post Office, for sending mail to army (land forces) and US Air Force locations.
  • MPO: Military Post Office, covers all military personnel if they don’t have a specific Army, Navy or Air Force post offices to get mail.
  • FPO: Fleet Post Office that you can use to address an envelope to persons working on US Navy ships and installations.
  • DPO: Diplomatic Post Office, which is used for sending mail to US military personnel posted abroad or at American diplomatic missions.

Additionally, we have three more codes to address an envelope correctly, if you’re sending outside the US.

  • AA: for sending mail to armed forces personnel serving in America (except Canada)
  • AE: to address envelopes for personnel serving in Africa and the Middle East, Europe and Canada.
  • AP: For armed forces serving in the Pacific Ocean area.

The USPS has an elaborate guide on how to address an envelope and other mail to American service personnel located across the US and on posting at various installations abroad.

7. Post Restante Format

How to get a letter, document, debit or credit card or even money across to a person that has no known delivery address? The answer to that lies in the Post Restante system, the UPU implements with several of its member countries.  The service is for avid travelers.

This system is particularly useful to send money or credit cards, debit cards and documents to someone, if they’re lost or stolen while traveling in a remote place. And Post Restante is also popular among backpackers who travel from one location to another.

To avail Post Restante, a person has to register at a post office from where they can collect mail conveniently. The post office issues them an identity card and a Post Restante address.

Usually, a Post Restante address is very simple. It consists of the name of the person, the name of the post office, its location such as the city and the country. There’s no need to mention the postal code while addressing an envelope in the Post Restante envelope format.

8. Diplomatic, Official, Clergy & Business Format

The ways to address an envelope to send to an ambassador and members of diplomatic corps, officials including heads of state and various departments or ministries, clergypersons and senior officials at a business are slightly different.

If you’re writing to an ambassador of a foreign country, the commonest way to address an envelope is by writing: Her/ His Excellency the Ambassador of AAAAAAA. You can also use the abbreviation, HE for Her/ His Excellency.

It’s not necessary to use prefix of HE or His Excellency while addressing an envelope to the ambassador of own country.

To address an envelope to other members of the diplomatic corps, mention only their designation below the name.

For addressing an envelope to heads of state, use the correct title. For example The President of the USA, followed by the name and address.

In case of clergypersons, the standard prefix is His/ Her Holiness for all religions. You can also use HH as an abbreviation followed by the full name and designation, while addressing an envelope.

The same holds true for business communications. Write the name of the recipient followed by the designation, company name and address.

The above eight ways to address an envelope should give a clear idea on envelope formats that’re currently in use around the world.

More Ways on How to Write and Fill out an Envelope Correctly

Additionally, there’re some more ways on how to address an envelope to ensure it reaches the person on time. Following these simple steps could help.

9. Mentioning the Country

For domestic mailing, it’s not necessary to mention the country, for example USA.

While sending mail abroad, it’s compulsory to state the country of the recipient.

The country is important because several places have the same names but are located in different countries. For example, there’s a city known as Birmingham in the UK, which is located about 160km away from capital London.

At the same time, there’s also a city known as Birmingham in Alabama, USA.

This might come as a surprise but there’re more than 42 cities and hundreds of localities worldwide that have the common name: Santa Cruz. Majority of these- a whopping 14 cities- are located in Mexico itself.

Others are in various countries of South America with one eponymous city each in the Philippines, US, Portugal, Spain and Jamaica. A locality in Mumbai, India also goes by the name Santa Cruz.

In such cases, it’s best to mention the district, state and country while addressing an envelope. And don’t forget to use the postal code, since these will also be different, though the name of the city is the same.

10. Using Prefix & Suffix

The use of a prefix and suffix on envelopes lend it a more formal look. If you use prefixes such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Messrs., the address is more formal. To address official letter or mail, use prefixes since it signifies good business etiquette.

However, a rule, always use the prefix Dr., when addressing an envelope to a doctor in medicine or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) holder. That’s a respectful way to address an envelope.

Suffixes were used in ancient times in the UK and other parts of the world. These would include the educational qualifications of the person.

However, this is now an archaic system that nobody follows anymore. In some cases, you can include the suffix MD., if you’re addressing a letter to a doctor that holds the qualifications.

One more ancient suffix is Esq., which stands for Esquire. This system isn’t used anywhere in the world, except very rarely to address envelopes with communications from the British government.

11. Telephone Number on Envelope

As a rule, courier companies will ask you to include the telephone or contact number of the recipient while addressing an envelope.

This helps them contact the person if their delivery agent at destination finds it difficult to reach the address.

Providing a telephone number on the envelope also helps courier companies to send alerts and tracking information of the letter or documents.

If necessary, the recipient can choose to pick up the envelope from the nearest delivery point of the courier company.

In such cases, always provide a mobile number. That enables the courier company to contact the recipient of your envelope anytime and send them updates by SMS.

Mention the telephone number giving the country prefix followed by the area code or carrier code in case of a mobile, where applicable.

For example in the US, carrier code 101 stand for US Mobile and 102 for Verizon, among others.

And while addressing an envelope in the right envelope format using proper etiquette and other details, it’s also important to follow specifications to actually address an envelope.

Specifications to Address an Envelope

The UPU and postal departments around the world have standard specifications on how to address an envelope or other postal items. The same are also used by courier companies worldwide.

1. Use Proper Font

Using simple fonts is the best way to address an envelope. You can use Calibri or New Times Roman for the purpose. Never use decorative or condensed fonts. Generally, font size 10 or 12 is ideal.

Remember, the font size doesn’t make any difference regardless whether the envelope is small or large. The accuracy of the address on the envelope matters.

Using larger font size has one hazard:  some details of the address can get blanked out by error due to stamps and labels that a courier company or postal department attaches.

2. Proper Alignment of the Address

As a rule, always align the recipient’s address to the left side of the envelope. This leaves ample space for the postal department and courier companies to paste postage stamps, franks or labels to the envelope.

The human eye also reads from left to right. Hence, the left alignment of the address makes your envelope more delivery friendly.

However, take care to start the address only below the first fold of the envelope. By using size 10 to 12 font, this is possible.

3. Using Letter ‘To’ or ‘From’

Whether or not to use the letter ‘To’ or ‘From’ is your personal and individual choice. Countless people around the world use these two letters to clearly indicate the addressee and the sender.

There’s nothing wrong in using or, for that matter, not using ‘To’ and ‘From’. Provided you take care to write the sender and recipient’s addresses far away from one another and use different fonts, as I will describe now.

4.  The Sender’s Address

Generally, the sender’s address comes on the upper, left side of the envelope, above the first fold. To write a sender’s address, use a smaller font- eight to 10.

The sender’s address font size has to be always smaller than the one you’ll use for the addressee or the recipient.

A sender’s address can ensure that any undeliverable mail comes back to you. It is also compulsory for sending envelopes by courier, Express Mail and letters requiring record of delivery or acknowledgement.

Some people prefer writing the sender’s address on the reverse side of an envelope.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can provide some more space for the postal workers to put stamps and labels, when necessary.

If you’ll mention the sender’s address on reverse side of the envelope, use the words ‘To’ and ‘From’. That will help the postal department or courier companies in knowing clearly the origin and destination of the envelope.

5. Transparent Window Envelopes

Transparent window envelopes are common. They find a lot of use among businesses. That’s because a document such as a utilities bill or bank statement would bear the address already.

Hence, there’s no need to actually address an envelope: the one on the document serves the purpose.

In such cases, all you need to do is fold the document in a manner that the address would be clearly visible through the transparent window of the envelope.

Nowadays, a lot of these processes are automated and don’t actually require much manpower.

6. Special Instructions on Envelope

While addressing an envelope, it’s sometimes necessary to include special instructions. For example, write ‘Strictly Confidential’ or ‘Private’ on the envelope, just above the address of the recipient.

This signifies that the letter or document shouldn’t be seen or read by others.

If you’re sending legal or other documents, some courier companies make it mandatory to mention the contents on the envelope.

This is for handling and insurance purposes. And such special instructions ensure the envelope reaches the right person.

7. Mentioning Contents on Envelope

While you address an envelope, it might also be necessary to mention its contents. This is mainly for getting cheaper postage or request proper handling in transit.

For example, you can use the letters ‘Pictures Inside’ to ensure that postal staff handle the envelope carefully.

Sending greeting cards and printed material is cheaper than regular or express mail.

Mentioning ‘Card only’ or ‘Printed Material’ on the envelope gives you an option to choose the cheaper second class mail or third class mail facility and save some money.

Such words also have to be written on top of the address. This ensures the recipient sees the nature of contents before opening. It can help prevent damage to an expensive card or printed material or even family pictures.

8. Addressing Padded & Cloth Lined Envelopes

Always address padded and cloth lined envelopes using a blunt-tipped marker pen or indelible ink pen.

That’s because sharp tip pens can tear across the lining and render the contents of these envelopes prone to weather and other damage.

The best way to address such envelopes is by creating labels and sticking them with a very strong adhesive. Applying tape over these labels ensures they do not come off in transit and would reach the destination intact.

9. Average Length of Address

As I mention earlier, addressing an envelope depends upon several factors such as the location of the recipient. Generally, most addresses in the world aren’t more than six lines.

These include the name, company or business name, identification of the premises with street number, location, city and postal code.

Never exceed this rule. If the address is too long, look for places where you can combine two lines.

If necessary to have more lines, use a computer or typewriter to write the address using the right font and right size as I mention earlier. A very long address can prove confusing for delivery agents.

10. Using Care Of on Addresses

The system of using Care Of or C/O is useful to address an envelope to a minor or person with disabilities.

Always include the name of the parent or guardian of the person after the C/O. This ensures it reaches the right, responsible person.

In some countries, this is a legal requirement while sending anything such as gifts or money to persons below the age of 12 years. This is an acceptable form to address an envelope to a person and their legal guardian.

In Conclusion

The above information should help you to know how to address an envelope correctly. As you can see, it’s not at all complicated to address an envelope, if you acquaint yourself with the correct systems that prevail around the world.

Also, you save a lot of money for yourself and the postal department when you address an envelope correctly.

Maybe you’re unaware, but an envelope bearing name and address of a person with postage stamps is also used as proof of address in some countries.

Hence, the envelope also has a legal value for people. A well addressed envelope speaks richly about you as a person.

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