Whether you’re busy with mail art or with personal correspondence, it’s important to understand the rules for using the postal service, which are often different than those for email. Here are some tips that may or may not be obvious to everyone. And no jeering people – as long as we take the time to learn, it’s always okay to admit that you didn’t know something in the first place!
Take the time before you get into line, whether at home or at the little table provided at the post office, to address your letter correctly. It’s fine to have an artsy envelope, but make sure that the people who work at the Post Office are able to do their job to get your mail to the correct place. The return address belongs in the upper left-hand corner (not on the back of the envelope, which can be confusing to someone dealing with multiple thousands of items on a daily basis.) The outgoing address belongs in the center of the envelope. You’ll want to make sure you have the address correct and complete – many full addresses, even to people in the same country, may look different then yours, so be extra careful when you letter this onto the envelope.
Consider the dimensions of your letter. Not every greeting card is postage size; the United States Post Office considers normal letters to be rectangular and between two sizes: larger than 3-1/2 by 5 inches and smaller than 6-1/8 by 11-1/2. Anything smaller will not be accepted, and anything larger will not be considered a letter but rather a package. These regulations may be different in other countries, so if you’re on vacation you’re probably going to ask someone about this before you drop that letter in the mail.
While this seems nit-picky, remember that part of the mail service is mechanized – if you veer from these dimensions, your letter will need to be hand cancelled, which costs extra money. Think this through – yes, a square letter that’s five inches by five inches will cost extra, even if it fits the size guidelines, because it’s not rectangular and doesn’t fit the machine.
If you’re writing on a standard 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, you don’t need an envelope – you can fold the letter closed and address the back of it. If you do this, you need to attach a closure to the opening, or you will be charged extra. It’s also a good idea to close up the sides as well.
Know that the line between a letter and a package can be very thin. Are you adding gifts to your letter? Beyond very small things like cardboard bookmarks and single pages of stickers, you’re adding weight, which requires extra postage. Books and bigger items turn your letter into a package, which is fine as long as you’re cool with paying more.
Keep abreast of the cost of postage and make sure that you’ve used enough stamps for your letter. If in doubt, stand in line and have the postal worker weigh your letter or add extra postage and hope for the best. And that old prank where you reverse the addresses and ‘forget’ to put postage on (which means that the letter will be ‘returned’ to your recipient?) Tacky. Don’t do it. You’re better than that, and cheaters never prosper.