Sending a letter may seem like a simple task. you receive your letter, put it in an envelope, write an address on it, put a stamp on it, and mail it. sure, simple. unless you’ve never done it before. Or maybe you’ve never sent a letter in the UK and wonder if it’s any different. Each country’s mail delivery service has its own unique characteristics, so here’s a handy guide to sending mail in the UK.
an introduction to royal mail
First of all, the UK’s mail delivery system is known as Royal Mail. With origins dating back over 500 years to 1516, the Royal Mail service may be one of the oldest postal systems still in existence. The service was originally set up to operate only for the King and the Court to ensure letters were delivered between London and Edinburgh for King James I to help maintain his control over England and Scotland.
Today, Royal Mail is an international company operating in 44 countries and nation states around the world. The company employs about 162,000 people, and handles and delivers about 13 billion letters and about 1.3 billion packages this year.
Royal Mail service operates six days a week; Don’t flatter yourself that you’ll receive a letter on a Sunday morning.
how to send a letter
For a complete and detailed guide on how to send a letter, check out our guide on how to send a letter. for the cliff notes version, follow this:
prepare your letter
Choose your envelope based on how durable, large, and professional it needs to be, keeping in mind that larger, heavier, and more oddly shaped ones will cost more.
attach your letter and seal the envelope
envelope address – recipient
write the recipient’s address clearly on the front of the envelope (more on this later)
envelope address – sender
write your return address clearly on the back of the envelope
choose the correct postage
decide how much postage you need for your letter, based on how fast it needs to get to its destination, its size and weight, and the actual distance it needs to travel: the faster, the heavier , larger. , and the more you have to go, the more expensive it will be (more on this later)
buy stamps at any post office, online at royalmail.com or at many retail stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies
stick your stamps in the upper right corner of the front of the envelope
send your letter
Stick it in a mailbox or take it to a post office to have your letter delivered.
how to address uk post
Once you’ve carefully prepared your letter and sealed it in an envelope, you’ll need to address it clearly. When filling in the UK recipient’s address, it should be clearly written on the bottom left hand corner of the front of the envelope in this format:
house number and street name
name of local area or town
town (write in capital letters)
full zip code (print in capital letters)
here are two useful images from the royal mail website to help you:
for the sender’s address, so your letter will be returned to you if it doesn’t arrive at its intended destination; write it clearly on the back of the envelope under “return address”, like this:
do not use periods or commas
start each line on the left; do not center the lines
always include a zip code when you can; you can use royal mail postcode finder for help
you can add a line for an organization name
make sure to leave a generous margin of about ½ inch (1.5 cm) around the entire address
handwritten: use a pen or ink that is transparent against the color of the envelope, not pencil or anything that smears easily, and a text size similar to a 10-15 font size
printed: use a font that is easy to read, a color that stands out against the label/envelope, and a font size of 10-15
you don’t need to type the county name if you’ve included the city and postcode (ie for arnold in nottinghamshire, you don’t need to type arnold nottinghamshire ng5 6th, just type arnold ng5 6th) . however, you are more than welcome to include it if you wish.
zip codes explained
in 1959, postcodes were introduced on a trial basis in norwich, then implemented nationally between 1965 and 1974, giving each British address a postcode. there are now approximately 1.8 million zip codes in use and each zip code covers an average of about 15 properties. These codes are made up of two parts: the exit code and the entry code, separated by a space.
according to postcodeaddressfile.co.uk,
the exit code (ng5 6pq) contains the area and district in which the mail will be delivered, allowing mail to be sorted into the correct local area for delivery. delivery. the first two letters are for the county; ng which represents nottingham, and the number is the postcode of the district, which tells the sorting office which delivery office the mail should go to (it is also an indicator of how far it is from the city center ).
internal code (ng5 6pq) is used to classify mail at the local area delivery office, with the number identifying the sector in the postal district (in which area local mail should be sent). goto) and the letter that defines one or more (up to 80) properties in that sector (which postal route will deliver the mail).
Initially, when King Charles made the postal service available to the general public back in 1635, the recipient of the letter had to pay to obtain it. for years, until 1840, the sender had it easy and was able to avoid paying postage. It was in that year that Sir Rowland Hill introduced the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive postage stamp. In its first year, 68 million stamps with the image of Queen Victoria were used.
Previously, postage rates were quite complex, depending on the distance and the number of pages in a letter; hill decided to simplify it by suggesting to tailor the rates to a low uniform cost based on weight, and prepaid by the sender. Centuries later, stamps are still the currency in the postal world. however, it has gotten a bit more complicated since those early days of the stamp.
shipping prices depend on:
the size and weight of your item
when do you want your item to arrive
if you want to track your item or get a delivery confirmation
use royal mail’s price lookup tool to get the price of your letter. If you’re still not sure, simply visit your nearest post office to have the letter weighed and told exactly how much it will cost.
in 2004, more than 160 years after the creation of penny black, royal mail launched the uk’s first digital stamp with an online postage system called smartstamp®, aimed primarily at small businesses. two years later, online postage was launched allowing the general public to pay, download and print their own stamps.
fun fact: the united kingdom is the only country in the world that does not have its name on its stamp, as it is the inventor of the postage stamp. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on more than 180 billion stamp copies since he approved her machin’s design on postage stamps in 1966.
letters include greeting cards, personal letters, postcards, and bills. the maximum weight is 100 g, the maximum length is 24 cm, the maximum width is 16.5 cm and the maximum thickness/depth is 5 mm.
large letters include a4 documents, certificates, magazines, cd or dvd in cases, some large greeting cards. the maximum weight is 750 g, the maximum length is 35.3 cm, the maximum width is 25 cm and the maximum thickness/depth is 2.5 cm.
mail types in the uk
To send a letter in the UK, you can choose between UK Standard, UK Signed or UK Guaranteed options. the royal mail website breaks down your shipping options as follows:
Standard UK Mail includes First and Second Class Royal Mail options; the difference between two is delivery time and shipping cost. Please note that the cheapest way to ship anything over 2kg is via Packageforce’s worldwide service. for exact shipping prices, check the post office’s site here.
send a letter from 70p and a small parcel from £3.55
try to deliver the next business day, including Saturdays
includes compensation cover up to £20
20 kg maximum weight
send a letter from 61 pence and a parcel from £3
try to deliver in 2-3 business days, including Saturdays
includes compensation cover up to £20
20 kg maximum weight
When posting at a post office branch, online delivery confirmation is available for small and medium packages. Although this is not a tracked service, you can check online to confirm when your package was delivered or attempted to be delivered at the post office page here.
UK Signed For Mail includes Royal Mail Signed For (starting at £1.81) and Express48 Worldwide Parcel (starting at £12.12) options. these services are useful when you want to know that your important item arrived safely, as you will get a signature from the recipient when your item is delivered.
real mail signed for:
available with first and second class royal mail services
signature taken at the time of delivery
online delivery confirmation
includes compensation of up to £50
a recognized service eligible for eBay’s Seller Protection Program
prices start at £1.81 for cards up to 100g (find prices for sending different sizes here)
parcelforce worldwide express48:
track the entire journey of your item
know that it will only be delivered with a signature
get Saturday delivery for an extra £9
includes up to £100 compensation
option to purchase additional coverage up to £2500
30kg weight limit
prices start at £12.12 (find prices for sending different size packages here)
uk guaranteed options include royal mail special delivery guaranteed at 9am.
guaranteed royal mail special delivery:
guaranteed delivery by 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
guaranteed delivery on Saturdays for an additional cost
track and amp; track: track your item from when it leaves your hand until you deliver it
signature upon delivery – view online 10 minutes later
Maximum weight limit: 20 kg for delivery by 1 p.m. m., 2 kg for delivery at 9 a.m. m.
coverage for valuable items or late delivery
up to £500 compensation included for delivery before 1 p.m. m., up to £50 for delivery before 9am. m.
optional additional cover up to £2,500
optional consequential loss cover up to £10,000
You will be refunded if your item isn’t there on time as long as you have your proof of posting and claim within 14 days of posting
parcelforce worldwide express24:
fully tracked services from leaving your hand to delivery, from just £16.49
only delivered with a signature
includes up to £100 compensation
optional additional cover up to £2,500
ship items up to 30kg to most destinations
parcelforce worldwide express9, express10 and expressam:
guaranteed delivery before 9 a.m. m., 10 a.m. m. or noon the next business day, from £19.49
ship individual packages up to 30kg (up to 1.5m in length; combined length and girth must not exceed 3m)
no weight limit for your entire parcel shipment
includes cover for loss or damage up to £200
option to purchase additional coverage
get a full refund if your package is not delivered on time
In 1853, postboxes are introduced to the British mainland after being tested on the Channel Islands the year before. In these early days of post boxes, it was up to local surveyors to design, fabricate, and erect the boxes, meaning no standard pattern of boxes was issued. As you can imagine, this led to a wide variety of box styles found on the continent. in basic form, all the boxes were vertical “pillars” with a small slot to receive letters, but that’s about all these boxes had in common. In all, the Post Box Study Group has identified, described, and cataloged over 800 different types of post boxes (according to https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/royal-mail-post-boxes/heritage- agreement-for-real-mail-boxes/).
Later, in 1859, the color of all mailboxes was standardized as green and featured an insignia of the monarch of the time. Unfortunately, there have been many complaints about this over the years, due to the difficulty of finding these inconspicuous green boxes. so in 1874 the standard color was changed to red which has remained the same with a few exceptions i.e. the boxes painted gold in the hometowns of the london 2012 olympic gold medal winners in large Brittany.
more information can be found at https://www.postalmuseum.org.
pillar box avenue at the postal museum store, found at https://www.postalmuseum.org/collections/highlights/letter-boxes/
according to royal mail, there are over 115,000 post office boxes in the uk, with 98.3% of all addresses in the uk within half a mile of one of these post office boxes. This PO Box Finder can help you locate the one closest to you.
The display in the mailbox will tell you if the collection has taken place and when the next one will be. this table from royal mail shows the time period when final charges will be made at post office boxes:
Please note: Some exceptions may apply for some mailboxes.
Each country has its own unique characteristics regarding their mail systems. Royal Mail’s main differences from other countries are its address formats and its many types of mail delivery options. For more information and all things Royal Mail, visit their site at www.royalmail.com.