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Sending and receiving letters or parcels in the UK
Post (c)
  General information
  Sending letters within the UK
  Sending letters abroad from the UK
  Sending parcels within the UK
  Sending parcels abroad from the UK
  Receiving letters or parcels
  Excess baggage


This page explains how to send or receive letters or parcels using the British postal service.

Key points:
- Be careful to avoid excess baggage charges when travelling - check the limits with your airline (see: below).
- If you send a parcel of second-hand belongings to the UK, make sure that the parcel is labelled clearly or you may be charged import tax (see: below).
- Find out your postcode when you find an address in the UK - it is useful, for finding local services as well as for receiving post (see: below).
- If you are ordering parcels to be delivered to your house in the UK, plan what you will do if you are not there when it is delivered (see: below).
- Sell heavy or large items before returning to your country - it may be cheaper to do this and buy them again than to send them.
- When returning home, use the Royal Mail to send books, Parcelforce to send small packages, and shipping companies to send large packages (see: below).
- You can find some shipping companies for your country by checking newsletters for your nationality in the UK.
- Sometimes people have problems with shipping companies - ask for recommendations from people from your country who have been to the UK.
- Buy a small weighing machine (eg: bathroom scales): it may save you more than it costs, because it will help you to send parcels more efficiently
- Note that delivery times will be slower than usual in December. If you want a card or present to arrive before Christmas Day, make sure that you send it before the published last posting dates

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A post office is a shop providing a range of postal and financial services. A sub post office provides more limited services. You can find your nearest post office from: (choose "Essentials" > "Find a Post Office branch", select "Post Office branch", enter your postcode, and click on "Search"). As well as postal services, main post offices may be able to provide you with packing materials, TV licence and other official application forms,and may offer some banking services (for example: bill payment, foreign exchange, money transfer, travel insurance).

The Royal Mail is the UK's main delivery service for smaller items (letters, large letters and packets). You can find full details about the Royal Mail's services at

Royal Mail delivery van


A parcel is a larger item (usually packed in a box) which is sent by post. Parcelforce is the main parcel delivery service. You can find full details at, or ask at a post office for a brochure. A package sent abroad which contains only printed papers which weigh up to 5 kilograms can be sent at the cheaper letter postage rates, but any other package weighing over 2 kilograms will be considered to be a parcel. Use a strong box when you send a parcel. You can buy boxes from a post office, or you may be able to get used cardboard boxes free from a supermarket. Seal the top and bottom, using 3.8cm or 5cm wide plastic or re-inforced carbon sealing tape. If you send a suitcase instead, make sure that it is strapped well so that it cannot open accidentally while it is being transported. Use protective wrapping inside the parcel (for example, plastic bubble wrap or shredded paper) to prevent damage. You can buy packaging materials from post offices, stationery shops or from some newsagents. There are rules about the largest size of parcel which is allowed. To check your parcel, measure the longest side (its "length"), and the distance around the middle (its "girth"). Usually the maximum length is 1.5 meters, and the maximum sum of the length plus the girth of the parcel is 3 meters. Do not send anything that could be dangerous or which is not allowed (such as aerosol sprays, or batteries).

The cost of sending a letter or parcel depends on the size, the type of service chosen (there are different levels of speed, security and insurance), the destination (the world is divided into zones), and the weight (there may be a maximum weight limit). If you know the correct postage and have attached enough stamps, you can put your letter directly in your nearest postbox at any time. If you are unsure about the cost of sending a letter or parcel, you should take it to your post office and weigh it (otherwise it may be delayed, or the person receiving it may have to pay extra). Write your address on the back, so that it can be returned to you if it cannot be delivered.

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A postcode (for example: CB12 3BT) identifies the exact location of an address in the UK (similar to a "zip code" in the US). If you know an address but you do not know its postcode, you can find it by going to: and choosing "Postcode finder".

For more information about some of the uses of postcodes, see: Prepare/Arrival.

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Sending a letter / large letter / packet to another address in the UK

First and second class

Items weighing under 1kg can be sent either by first class or second class post.
First class post should usually be delivered on the next day (there are no deliveries on Sundays or public holidays).
Second class post is a slower service normally delivered within 3 working days. It is up to a third cheaper than the first class service.
You can buy books of first class or second class stamps from many newsagents or shops.


An item of post must be all of these things to be classed as a letter:
- The width (longest side) must be less than 24.0cm
- The height (shortest side) must be less than 16.5cm
- The thickness must be less than 0.5cm
- The weight must be less than 100g

Note: Unfolded A4 paper (29.7cm wide, 21.0 cm high) is too large to be sent as a letter.
However, if this paper is folded in half it becomes A5 size (21.0cm wide, 14.8cm high) and can be sent as a letter

You do not need to add a stamp if you are posting an envelope which already has a large "1" or "2" printed on the top right-hand side, or if the address contains the word freepost: in these cases, the postage has already been paid by the company.

In 2011 the prices were as follows (books of first or second class stamps for letters can be bought from newsagents or other shops):

First class
Second class

Large letters

From August 21 2006 an item of post must be all of these things to be classed as a large letter:
- The width (longest side) must be less than 35.3cm
- The height (shortest side) must be less than 25.0cm
- The thickness must be less than 2.5cm
- The weight must be less than 750g

Note: A3 paper (42.0cm wide, 29.7cm high) is too large to be sent as a large letter.
However, if this paper is folded in half it becomes A4 size (29.7cm wide, 21.0 cm high) and can be sent as a large letter

In 2011 the prices were as follows (books of first or second class stamps for large letters weighing under 100g can be bought from newsagents or other shops; for heavier items you should go to a post office to make sure that you are paying the correct amount):

First class
Second class


An item of post is classed as a packet if it is any one or more of these things:
- The width (longest side) is more than 35.3cm
- The height (shortest side) is more than 25.0cm
- The thickness is more than 2.5cm
- The weight is more than 750g (if it is over 2kg it is usually considered to be a parcel: see below)

In 2011 the prices were as follows:

First class
Second class
each extra 2kg (or part of this)

A signed for (recorded delivery) service can be used for important letters. You will be given a receipt to prove that the item has been posted, and a signature is required when your letter arrives. Keep the receipt, and make a careful note of the reference number you are given.

A special delivery service can be used for urgent and valuable letters.

You can send your item by taking it to a post office or by putting it in a postbox (in busy locations there may be different boxes for first class or international post). The days and times of collections are shown on the postbox.

The letters on the postbox show which king or queen was ruling at the time it was made. The initial letter of the king or queen is followed by the letter R (the first letter of the Latin word for king or queen: rex or regina). Roman numbers are sometimes used when there have been more than one king or queen with the same name. For example, a postbox with "ER II" was made during the reign of Elizabeth the Second (the current queen).

Rectangualr postbox

Round postbox

ER II: Queen Elizabeth the Second (1952-present)

VR: Queen Victoria

ER VII: Edward the Seventh

GR: George (the Fifth)

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Sending a letter / large letter / packet to another country

There are two main ways to send a letter outside the UK (to any country except England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). Airmail (post which is transported by aeroplane) is more expensive than surface mail (post which is transported by land or by sea). If you want the faster service, you should write AIRMAIL in the top left hand corner (or attach an airmail sticker).

There are several types of letter which can be sent abroad more cheaply than standard letters:

- Cheaper rates apply to aerogrammes (an air letter made from a single folded sheet of paper) and postcards (a card sent without an envelope).
- A small packet is a package containing small items (such as a gift, a tape or photographs) weighing up to 2 kilograms (Saudi Arabia: up to 1 kilogram), You can include a short letter, invoice or other document which relates to the contents of the packet, but not a personal letter (if you want to write one, send it separately).
- Printed papers are printed items (such as books, magazines, newspapers or photocopies) weighing up to 5 kilograms. You cannot include a personal letter, but you can include a greeting card with up to 5 words written on it.

Small packets and printed papers are sent at a rate that is sometimes about 40% cheaper than the standard letter rate. The package must be easy to open and inspect, so that a postal worker or customs officer can check the type of contents. You can buy suitable envelopes from a post office, and should use string rather than masking tape to seal it. In a post office, state which type of package it is and whether you wish to send it by airmail or by surface mail, and weigh it. Write SMALL PACKET or PRINTED PAPERS in the top left hand corner, and write AIRMAIL (or attach an airmail sticker) if you are sending it this way. Attach the stamps in the top right hand corner. If you are sending the package outside the European Union, you will also have to attach a customs declaration, describing the contents and their approximate value.

To find the cost of sending a letter abroad from the UK, see:

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Sending a parcel to an address in the UK

One of the cheapest ways of sending a parcel within the UK is to use the Parcelforce Standard service.
Any parcel weighing over 10 kilograms costs the same (about 10 pounds); the maximum weight is 20 kilograms.
The parcel should arrive at its UK destination after about 3 working days.

To find the price of sending a parcel within the UK, go to:, choose"Postal calculator", and select "I'm sending a parcel within the UK". Enter the first part of your postcode and of the destination postcode (if you are sending a parcel within zone 1, which covers the whole of England and Wales and the Scottish lowlands, you can simply enter "E2" for both) and click on the Go button. Select a service (for example, Parcelforce Standard). Enter the weight of the parcel (in kilograms) and click on the Go button. The price should appear.

If you are sending a parcel outside the European Union, you may have to attach a customs label, describing the contents and their approximate value.

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Sending a parcel to an address outside the UK

You can use Parcelforce's International Economy service to send things abroad which you will not need soon. If you need to receive the parcel more quickly, use the International Standard service. The maximum weight for these services depends on the country; for most countries the limit is 20 or 30 kilograms. To find the price of sending a parcel outside the UK, go to:, choose "Postal calculator", and select "I'm sending a parcel overseas". Select the destination country. Select a service (for example, Economy or Standard). Enter the weight of the parcel (in kilograms) and click on the Go button. The price should appear. Click on the Info tag and the Country Info button to find out more details about services to this country, including the expected number of days before the parcel is delivered. If you cannot easily carry your parcel to the post office, you can arrange for Parcelforce to collect your parcel from you (there is an extra charge for this).

A customs declaration label needs to be attached to most parcels which are sent outside the European Union, and can be obtained from any post office. It describes what is in the parcel and its value. Note that the value of used clothes or other items is much less than their value when they are new. An import tax (duty) may have to be paid by the person who receives the parcel, depending on the rules in your country. Some (if in doubt, ask your country's embassy in the UK; contact details can be found by selecting Links at the top of the page and then choosing your country).

As an alternative to Parcelforce, you may want to use a shipping agent or international freight company. You can send your things by ship (this is cheapest, but may take about 2 months) by air (this may take about 2 weeks) or by road (within Europe). Usually, a shipping agent will deliver cartons (boxes of a standard size) and packing material to you. You fill the cartons and arrange for the company to come back and pick these up. Pack carefully, and make sure that you have insurance which will pay you if your things are lost or damaged. Always ask for identification before letting someone into your accommodation. If the company is a member of BAR Overseas (BAR is the British Association of Removers), then if the company goes bankrupt you should receive back the money you have paid to the company and the shipping order will be completed by another company.
- You can find a removal company using UpMyStreet: Select Find My Nearest … , enter a postcode or town name, and choose the category Removals - Overseas.
- Alternatively, you can use Electronic Yellow Pages at (look for "overseas removals" or "shipping & forwarding agents").
- You may also find advertisements from shipping companies at your school or in newsletters.
To choose a reliable company, you may want to ask your student adviser or friends about past experiences.

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If you are expecting a parcel to be delivered but believe that there maybe nobody at your address to receive it when the delivery person comes, you may want to attach a note to the front door explaining where you would like the parcel to be left (it can only be left with someone if your signature is not required). For example, if your neighbour will be there and is happy to receive your parcel, you can write: "In the case of a missed delivery to [your name], please leave the parcel with neighbour [give neighbour's name and address]". The delivery person will not usually leave a parcel outside your house in case it is stolen or damaged by the weather.

Missed delivery

Missed letter delivery

Missed parcel delivery

If you are not at your accommodation at the time when the postal service try to delivery a letter or parcel, a card will be left telling you what to do. If no signature or payment is required, the parcel may have been left with someone else living in the same house or with a neighbour (the card will explain where it has been left). Signatures are required for special or recorded deliveries, which are often used for items which are important, such as credit cards, passports or valuable parcels.

Parcels: Parcelforce will try to deliver it a second time to the same address, usually on the next weekday. If it cannot make a delivery for the second time, you will need to contact the company. You should do this soon, within a week. If the parcel hasn't been collected after about 3 weeks, it will be returned to the sender. The easiest way to arrange another delivery is to contact Parcelforce:

Letters / large letters / packets: The Royal Mail will keep your post at one of their Delivery Offices. You will need to contact this office soon. They will keep a recorded delivery item for one week, or another item for 3 weeks, after which time it will be returned to the sender.

You will have to choose one of these methods to receive your parcel or letter:

- Arrange another delivery to the same address
You can ask the Royal Mail or Parcelforce to deliver the parcel again. However, you will not know the time of delivery, so you may have to stay at home until it has been delivered.

- Arrange a delivery to another local address.
You can arrange for a delivery to a different local address. You will need to know the postcode and the full address. For more information about finding a postcode, see: above.

- Arrange a delivery to your local post office
Telephone the Royal Mail or Parcelforce to arrange for your letter or parcel to be sent to a local post office. There is a small charge made by the post office when you collect your parcel from them.

- Collect the parcel yourself from the depot or delivery office
You can visit the place where your letter or parcel is being stored (the Parcelforce postal depot or Royal Mail Delivery Office): an address and map will be shown on the card. Wait at least a day after receiving the card before you visit the depot, to make sure that it will be there. Check the opening times before you leave: note that Royal Mail delivery offices often open early in the morning but close early in the afternoon. Take your passport with you so that you can prove who you are. Give your card to the receptionist, and your parcel will be located and given to you. The postal depot or delivery office will often be quite far from your accommodation, perhaps in the middle of an industrial estate. Note also that it may be difficult for you to carry a large parcel back if you don't have a car. The other choices may be easier for you.

Import taxes

You may want to send some of your belongings to the UK before you arrive in this country, or you may want to ask your family or friends in your home country to send you a parcel containing things which you forgot or which you did not need when you arrived (for example: winter clothes). Be careful when completing the customs declaration. If you are sending your own clothes, make sure that the description says "old", "second-hand" or "used" clothes, and write this in English (so that British customs officers can read it). The value shown should be the approximate second-hand value of the clothes, not the price when you bought them.

If customs officers in the UK believe that you may be importing new goods into the UK (for example: because the value on the customs declaration form is high or because the description does not make it clear that the goods are not new), you may be asked to pay import tax. You have to pay this by cash or cheque, not by debit or credit card. Do not argue with the postal worker, because the decision about the tax is not made by the postal service. If you think that the decision is unfair you will have to telephone the customs office (HM Customs) and try to obtain a refund of your money. If they agree to give you a refund, you will receive a UK cheque several weeks later.

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Note that if you are going to fly back to your country from the UK, it may be sensible to send some of your luggage by post. As well as making travelling easier, it may save you money if the weight of your luggage exceeds the baggage allowance (check your ticket for the limit on your flight). Excess baggage charges by airlines can be expensive, although they are not always charged if you are only slightly over the allowance. If the plane is full your excess luggage may have to be sent separately as unaccompanied baggage. Excess baggage companies at major airports (for example: may offer cheaper rates than the airlines for larger items, but their minimum charges can make them more expensive for smaller excess weights.

One of the cheapest way to reduce the weight of the luggage which you carry with you is to send books separately as printed papers (in separate packages each weighing up to 5 kilograms), as long as you are happy to send them by surface mail.

If you have other heavy or large items which take you above your baggage limit (for example, televisions), it may be cheaper to sell them before you leave the UK and then buy the same things again once you have returned to your home country. For ideas about how to sell your things, see: Prepare/Return.

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Preparing to return to your home country: Prepare/Return
Communication by computer (e-mail, Messenger): Life/Computer

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