How to address an envelope

Envelope with tulips on a table

Image credit: LightField Studios/

Having been writing and posting letters since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I assumed I had writing an address on an envelope all figured out. Well, how wrong I was! Having looked it up recently, out of pure curiosity, it turns out I’ve been doing it incorrectly all this time. Not drastically so, but enough for me to now make an effort to change my ways and give my mail a better chance of arriving in a timely manner (or arriving at all!) In fact, it has been estimated that 500,000 letters go missing per week in the UK alone – a figure which has been blamed mainly on illegible handwriting and incomplete addresses.

According to the official Royal Mail guidelines, this is how you should be addressing your UK-bound envelopes:

Addressed envelope for UK post

Addressing an envelope

Follow the below tips to help the Royal Mail staff and machines process your post as quickly and easily as possible:

  • Write the address clearly (or select an easy-to-read font, if printing)
  • Write the name and address of the recipient in the bottom left corner of the envelope
  • The town and postcode should be written in capital letters
  • There is no need to add the county
  • Don’t use any commas or full stops
  • Left-align the name and address
  • Leave a generous margin around the name and address
  • Ensure the pen or ink used for the name and address contrasts clearly against the colour of the envelope. A white address label and black ink is the best combination (but there are plenty of other, more fun options too!)
  • Add the correct postage to the top right of your envelope. Use the Royal Mail price finder to check your postage, or pop into a branch.
  • Don’t forget to add a return address on the back of the envelope: just write ‘Return address’ followed by your address.

Sending mail abroad

If you are sending a letter abroad, the address on the envelope should look like this:

Addressed envelope for abroad

  • The destination country needs to be written in capitals on the last line of the address.
  • If your letter is heading to Europe, the postcode should be written to the left of the town, for example: 13437 BERLIN.
  • Add an Air Mail sticker to the top left of your envelope, unless you’re using the International Economy service (which doesn’t travel by air).
  • If it’s a parcel you are sending and it’s going outside the EU, you will need a customs label from the Post Office.

Puzzles for Postpeople

Of course, you could get creative with your mail; as long as the destination name and address is on the front of the envelope and legible, it should arrive.

Artist James Addison is fascinated by the UK mail service, and how a letter can be sent from one side of the country to the other for such a small price.  This interest has led to an art project whereby Addison sends letters through the Royal Mail service featuring cryptic addresses – be that a drawing featuring the address, a wordsearch, or a written dialogue with the address hidden within. I love this idea, and also love the fact that many postmen and women have really entered into the spirit of the challenge!

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *