Why Didn’t My QSL Arrive?

Getting your QSL cards to your destination can be a challenge, in fact there are many reasons why letters may not arrive. It is easy to assume that the letter has been stolen by an unscrupulous thief at the Post Office, but as a postal worker myself and being an account holder of our own International Online Business Account with the Royal Mail, I have seen numerous times how things can go wrong, no matter how hard we try, and sometimes people will just believe that either the letter was stolen or simply the QSL manager kept the dollars and didn’t send the QSL card.

So what really can go wrong? Over the past five years we have seen many global incidents, flooding, snow storms, hurricanes, war are just a few of the examples. In 2014, Venezuela suspended International Mail deliveries in a currency row, this led to a period of time where QSL cards in and out of Venezuela just seemed to disappear, it was easier for everyone to blame the DXpedition teams for stealing dollars, and bad QSL management than actually look at the real reason why the mail did not get through.

Also in 2014 the world’s postal administrations were advised that they should no longer dispatch international mail addressed to the Crimea region via Ukrainian Post. The Universal Postal Union passed on a message from the national postal service of the Ukraine confirming that it had difficulties delivering postal items to locations in the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol following the annexation of the area by the Russian Federation. Many QSL cards in and out of that area were returned unable to find a route until Russia took over control of the post for that region. An extra digit “2” was put in front of the post code and the country name changed to Russian Federation, now hopefully that situation is resolved.

It is not only war and financial crisis that can cripple the post getting through, not many would realise but few letters are actually handled by postal workers these days, most are machine sorted and this can create a whole new set of complications. For some years letters to the U.S.A. have been endorsed “Unable to forward, Return to sender” I have personally tried numerous times to get to the bottom of this one, sadly USPS is an organisation that is not public facing and it is simply impossible to get someone internally to help. But it appears that if the address on the letter is not formatted correctly, even if the address is exactly correct then the sorting machine automatically puts a yellow sticker on the letter and returns it to sender, simply because the machine cannot see the route in the format it was programmed to see. The correct way the USPS should be working is to forward these letters for hand sorting, but in many cases the letters are just returned.

On a similar theme, sorting machines in the Japanese postal service quite often reject international mail that has the address only written in Japanese characters. On our own OQRS we now only accept all addresses in English characters to avoid this problem of mail to Japan being returned. But this then can be an issue to those of you using keyboards with foreign characters.

If the address is only in Japanese, WE can’t identify any errors that need correcting before the letter is posted.

Stamps – Another reason for mail not getting through will of course be those of you who insist on sticking stamps on the return envelope instead of sending $2. Quite often and in most cases the value of the stamps does not meet the actual cost of the postage and in some cases the letter will not get to you.
Also we receive letters where the sender has put USED stamps on both the letter and the SAE, this is fraud! If the stamp is used or has no gum then it cannot be used. Don’t be surprised if you never get a reply!

Return Address – Placing the return address in the top left hand corner of the letter is the international recognised way of posting, with the recipients address in the bottom middle third of the envelope. Many Brazilian hams scrawl their address over the whole of the envelope making this ineligible to sorting machines and quite often there is no room for the postage stamp / postage paid imprint (PPI) on the top right of the envelope obscuring the recipients address, so if you are reading this in Brazil please take note.

Standard Envelope Size – Many of the large long envelopes that are sent by U.S.A. hams fall outside the UK’s letter postal size of 240mm wide meaning that the postage cost falls into the next tariff up for postage (LARGE LETTER). We recommend that you include a Self-Addressed Envelope 114mm x 162mm, no bigger, no smaller. Please do not use those large yellow envelopes with a star clip as these also fall outside the UK letter rate size.

Coins cannot be used as legal tender in another country so it is quite pointless enclosing coins, in fact if you do, the envelope itself would probably get damaged by the sorting machine and the letter will probably never arrive anyway. I have a whole drawer full of coins here, one day I will donate them all to a charity that may be able to use them.

If the QSL manager is using OQRSThen USE IT, for both Direct and Bureau requests, this makes the request, faster and easier for everyone and gives you some protection in knowing that the QSL manager received your money and that you know that the QSL will be on its way. If it doesn’t arrive after a reasonable length of time say 4 months, drop the QSL manager an email, please do not wait over 1 or 2 years to report a loss and expect a replacement.

Always make sure that an envelope is sealed securely. We often receive open letters where there has been no gum on the flap, if you are sending from an area that is prone to mail theft then use clear packing tape to secure the envelope completely.

Of course there are pockets of areas where mail theft is a problem but this is quite rare these days.
You know what? Letters can actually just get lost, stuck in a mail bag not emptied, or routed wrongly and not sent back, address obscured by damage unable to be forwarded or returned.

I hope this gives you some insight as to why some letters may not arrive at the destination. If your letter does not arrive contact the QSL manager as soon as possible to inquire what could have gone wrong and please don’t assume that the QSL manager has kept the dollars or that a thief has stolen it, WHAT would a thief want with your QSL? there is usually some other explanation. Happy QSL’ing!

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Tim Beaumont