What is an IRC? First of all, it has nothing to do with the other IRC, Internet Relay Chat! For info on that subject click here. For radio amateurs exchanging QSL cards, celebrity autograph collectors, philatelists, and others who have a need to correspond internationally, IRCs are International Reply Coupons. An IRC is a coupon that may be redeemed for airmail postage of a standard 20 gram letter anywhere in the world.

Where can I get IRCs? They are available and may be exchanged for postage at the local post office in any member nation of the Universal Postal Union. The UPU maintains a published listing of postal administrations which sell IRCs (a smaller subset of the member nation list). However, this list conflicts with actual experience. Always check with your local P.O. or PTT to be sure of local policy. U.S. residents may also order them online from the Postal Store.

How do I use them? Normally, if you wanted to send someone a letter and prepay the postage, you would simply enclose a self-addressed envelope with sufficient return postage affixed. However, when corresponding internationally, it can be a bit difficult to obtain foreign stamps. IRCs allow you to circumvent that problem. You purchase a coupon locally, and enclose it in the envelope to your foreign correspondent. They then redeem it for airmail postage at their local post office.

To be valid for air-mail reply, an IRC must have the following characteristics.


IRC Front

International Reply Coupon, front view

^1. ^2. ^3.

The issuing Post Office stamp goes here (mandatory)
The local currency value where issued goes here (optional)
This space must be blank (redeeming Post Office stamp goes here)

The exception to Rule #1 (above) is for U.S. IRCs issued shortly after the international postage rate increased from $.95 to $1.05 USD, in July of 1995. According to the Dec. 18, 1995 issue of Linn's Stamp News (pg. 20), postal historian Terence Hines reported that a message was transmitted to all U.S. post offices July 11, 1995, stating in part, "Old rate international reply coupons (95) will continue to be sold in combination with the 10 Red Cloud [stamp] or its equivalent. The additional postage is to be affixed to the IRCs at the point of sale." In other words, you may see an IRC with a postmarked 10 stamp in position #1. It is unusual to find them now, but if you do (and if position #2 is imprinted as 95), they are valid.

* >

IRC Back

International Reply Coupon, back view
 Be sure it says sent by air. Older IRCs will say sent by surface, and are
 only worth half as much ( if  the redeeming P.O. will even accept them)!

A new style of IRC has been phased in (click HERE to see it). For the first time ever, IRCs now have an expiration date — 31 DEC, 2006. In many jurisdictions, the older style shown above continue to be accepted. However, Section 381.4d of the USPS International Mail Manual states,

"Effective January 1, 2010, the only valid version of the international reply coupons printed by the Universal Postal Union is Item Number 330800, 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. This policy is for international reply coupons issued by the United States as well as for those issued by foreign postal administrations."
Always verify the local policy of your redeeming PO/PTT, as redemption of the older style can now no longer be assumed. Check back here for further updates.

New(er) International Reply Coupons: A new International Reply Coupon by the Universal Postal Union has been issued and available for sale at all post offices as of 1 September 2006. They are exchangeable till 31 December 2009. These newest IRCs also have a new look: two fingers about to touch, framed in a postage stamp, this image inspired by the famous Michelangelo work adorning the Sistine Chapel ceiling symbolizes the notions of communication and exchange that the International Reply Coupon represents. There was also a limited edition "Centenary version" IRC issued, which will likely be highly prized by collectors. It is identical in appearance to the 2006 version, except it has "100 years" overprinted on the stamp image. As with the 2006 version, it was valid through the end of 2009.

As will likely happen every 3–4 years, yet another new IRC design has been available in some jurisdictions since 1 July, 2009 with general availability after the sales deadline of the 2006 Beijing model, 31 August, 2009. This new IRC is known as the "Nairobi model" and is described on the UPU website. They are expected to be valid for exchange through 31 December, 2013.

UPDATE: Many U.S. Amateurs have contacted me because IRCs are "not available at their local Post Offices." This is was incorrect (see below). Previously, the rule was that IRCs could be requisitioned by Post Office facilities in the same manner as postage stamps, and that coupons would (should) be stocked at Post Office facilities that had a demand for them. That all changed as of January 27, 2013. As of that date, the U.S. Postal service no longer sells international reply coupons. However, unexpired coupons can still be redeemed or exchanged, as per the guidelines in Section 381 of the International Mail Manual.

      IRCs are currently $5.50 in Canada and and no longer sold in the U.S.

Orange, CALIFORNIA  92869
 United States of America 
(Page last updated: 5-Mar-2014)

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