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An international reply coupon is a voucher that can be redeemed for postage in any of the member countries of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). It is customarily included with correspondence which has been sent by an individual from one UPU member country to a recipient in another member country and which requires a response. The purpose of the international reply coupon is to allow the sender to pay the postage charges for the recipient’s response without the difficulties of obtaining foreign stamps or sending currency through the mail.
When an individual sends correspondence which requires a response to a recipient in the same country, it is customary to include a self-addressed stamped envelope. This system allows the sender to cover the postage charges for the recipient’s reply. If the correspondence should be sent to a recipient in a foreign country, however, self-addressed stamped envelopes are not useful, because postage stamps cannot be used to send mail from outside the country that has issued them. Obtaining stamps which are valid in the recipient’s country can be difficult, and currency sent through the mail can be lost or stolen. Thus another method of paying for international response postage is necessary.
The international reply coupon system was devised by the UPU in 1906 as a solution to this problem. Under this system, an individual in one of the 188 UPU member nations can purchase an international reply coupon from his country’s postal service. The coupon is then enclosed with a piece of mail sent to a recipient in another UPU member country. This coupon can subsequently be exchanged at the recipient’s post office for stamps with which he can send his reply.
All UPU member nations are obligated to issue postage in exchange for valid international reply coupons. It should be noted, however, that member nations are not required to sell coupons, and some opt not to. Even within coupon-selling countries such as the US, the coupons may be available only at major post offices or those offices at which the coupons are in regular demand. Information about international reply coupon availability can usually be found on UPU member nations’ postal services websites.
New international reply coupons are issued at three-year intervals. The coupons expire at the conclusion of each three-year period. Thus coupon holders should take care to note the expiration date printed on their coupons, and should either use the coupons or exchange them for new ones in advance of their expiration.