International reply coupon

International reply coupon

An international reply coupon (IRC) is a coupon that can be exchanged for one or more postage stamps representing the minimum postage for an unregistered priority airmail letter of up to twenty grams sent to another Universal Postal Union (UPU) member country. IRCs are accepted by all UPU member countries.

UPU member postal services are obliged to exchange an IRC for postage, but are not obliged to sell them.

The purpose of the IRC is to be able to send someone in another country a letter, along with the cost of postage for them to reply. If the addressee is within the same country, there is no need for an IRC because a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) will suffice; but if the addressee is in another country an IRC removes the necessity of acquiring foreign postage or sending appropriate currency.


The IRC was introduced in 1906 at a Universal Postal Union congress in Rome. At the time an IRC could be exchanged for a single-rate, ordinary postage stamp for surface delivery to a foreign country, as this was before the introduction of airmail services. As of 2006 an IRC is exchangeable in a UPU member country for the minimum postage of a priority or unregistered airmail letter to a foreign country.

As of February 2007, the current IRC is called "Beijing Model No. 2" and is available from post offices in more than 70 countries. They have an expiry date of 31 December 2009. IRCs are ordered from the UPU headquarters in Berne, Switzerland, by postal authorities. They are generally available at large post offices; in the U.S., they are requisitioned along with regular domestic stamps by any post office that has sufficient demand for them.

Prices for IRCs vary by country; as of August 2007, the price was $2.00 USD within the United States. In the United States, the IRCs issued in any foreign country can be exchanged toward the purchase of postage stamps and embossed stamped envelopes at the rate of $0.90 USD per coupon. [cite journal |url= |journal=Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service - International Mail Manual|publisher=United States Postal Service |title=International Reply Coupons |issue=34 |date=19 July, 2007 |accessdate=2007-08-07]

IRCs are often used by amateur radio operators sending QSL cards to each other; it has traditionally been considered good practice and common courtesy to include an IRC when writing to a foreign operator and expecting a reply by mail. [cite web |url= |title=International reply coupons |publisher=Amateur Radio Station N6HB |date=2007-07-28 |accessdate=2007-08-07]

The Ponzi scheme

The profit that could be made by taking advantage of the differing postal rates in different countries to buy IRCs cheaply in one country and exchange them for stamps to a larger value in another country was the intended profit generator for a scheme operated by Charles Ponzi, which became the fraudulent Ponzi scheme; in practice the overhead on buying and selling the very low-value IRCs precluded profitability.

The selling price and exchange value in stamps in each country were since adjusted to remove the potential for profit.


External links

* [ UPU IRC main webpage]
* [ IRC info]
* [ Amateur Radio Hams IRC info]
* [ Some IRC illustrations and exchange guidelines]

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