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 allow a person to send someone in another country a letter, along with the cost of postage for a reply. If the addressee is within the same country, there is no need for an IRC because a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or return postcard 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. An IRC is exchangeable in a UPU member country for the minimum postage of a priority or unregistered airmail letter to a foreign country.
The current IRC, which features the theme "Water for Life," designed by Czech artist and graphic designer Michal Sindelar, was issued in 2013 and is valid until 31 December 2017. IRCs are ordered from the UPU headquarters in Bern, 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. In the United States in November 2012, the purchase price was $2.20USD; however, the US Postal Service discontinued sales of IRCs on 27 January 2013 due to declining demand. Britain's Royal Mail also stopped selling IRCs on 18 February 2012, citing minimal sales and claiming that the average post office sold less than one IRC per year. IRCs purchased in foreign countries may be used in the United States toward the purchase of postage stamps and embossed stamped envelopes at the current one-ounce First Class International rate ($1.05 USD as of April 2012) per coupon.
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. If the operator's home country does not sell IRCs, then a foreign IRC may be used.
Previous editions of the IRC, the "Beijing" model and all subsequent versions, bear an expiration date. Consequently, a new IRC will be issued every three years.
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 of a higher 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 large numbers of the very low-value IRCs precluded any profitability.
The selling price and exchange value in stamps in each country have been adjusted to some extent to remove some of the potential for profit, but ongoing fluctuations in cost of living and exchange rates make it impossible to achieve this completely.
U.S. Postal Service description of international reply coupons
International reply coupons (in French, Coupons-Reponse Internationaux) are printed in blue ink on paper that has the letters “UPU” in large characters in the watermark. The front of each coupon is printed in French. The reverse side of the coupon, which has text relating to its use, is printed in German, English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, or Russian. Under Universal Postal Union’s regulations, participating member countries are not required to place a control stamp or postmark on the international reply coupons that they sell. Therefore, some foreign issue reply coupons that are tendered for redemption may bear the name of the issuing country (generally in French) rather than the optional control stamp or postmark.
USPS Item Number 330800 is an international reply coupon printed by the Universal Postal Union which is approximately 3.75 inches by 6 inches, has a barcode on the reverse side, and has an expiration date of December 31, 2013 (in French, A échanger jusqu'au 31 décembre 2013 (31.12.2013)). New coupons are valid until December 31, 2017.
The Nairobi Model was designed by Rob Van Goor, a graphic artist from the Luxembourg Post. It was selected from among 10 designs presented by Universal Postal Union member countries. Van Goor interpreted the theme of the contest – "The Postage Stamp: A Vehicle for Exchange" – by depicting the world being cradled by a hand and the perforated outline of a postage stamp.
- "International reply coupon cost listed on USPS Extra Service Price List" (PDF). United States Postal Service. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- "IMM Revision: Changes to Pricing and Mailing Standards for International Mailing Services". United States Postal Service. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
- "International Reply Coupons". Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service - International Mail Manual (United States Postal Service) (35). 12 May 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2008.
- "International reply coupons". Amateur Radio Station N6HB. 28 July 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
- section 380 Supplemental Services, subsection 381 International Reply Coupons."Summary of Changes, Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, International Mail Manual, Issued July 7, 2014" (PDF).
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