How to Address an Envelope

Sending stuff by snail mail is easy and fun, but it does have some basic rules. The easiest way to figure out how to address an envelope is to take a quick look at a bill coming to you: boom, they know how to do it. Here are the details just in case.

Here’s a video, in case you’d rather watch than read. It’s much more entertaining:

These are the three critical areas of a properly addressed envelope.

Add Your Return Address

Put your return address(1), where you live, here. If something goes wrong in the delivery of the envelope, the USPS will send it back to the address you put up here. Of course your recipient can see it, so don’t be clever and write something snarky. Although it’s not preferred by the USPS, you can put your return address on the back flap of the envelope instead.

Add the Mailing Address

This (2) is where you want the mail to go. Here are some things to remember:

  • The USPS reserves the top two lines to determine to whom the mail should go. If you’re writing to Bob Washington at the Union for International Peace, you could do it this way: Union for International Peace, attn: Bob Washington, or Union for International Peace on the top line, and Attn: Bob Washington on the line below.
  • In most cases, the second line is reserved for the street address of the recipient.
  • The third line is where you put the apartment number, suite number – what you might think of as the secondary address. It used to be acceptable to include the apartment number on the street address line, but the USPS now prefers that the apartment number shows up down here.
  • Always use the two letter code for the state, AK, CA, HI, WA, etc.
  • If you know the Plus 4 zip code, use it (65432-1234). If you don’t know it, or aren’t sure, don’t use it.
  • Don’t write anything below the City/State/Zip line – no stickers, no pictures, no nothing. This space is reserved for the USPS delivery barcode.

Add the Stamp to the Envelope

Finally, don’t forget to put the stamp (3) up here. Here are some things to know:

  • The minimum postage required is one Forever Stamp. It will get your letter anywhere in the world at the basic delivery level.
  • If the envelope is smaller than 5 inches by 3.5 inches, or is square in shape, it will require another stamp. This is because it won’t fit into the automated sorting equipment at the Post Office, so it costs them more to handle it.
  • If it seems heavy, add another stamp.
  • If it’s lumpy, add another stamp.
  • If you’re concerned about how much postage to put on, take a look at this page at the USPS:

With a stamp on the envelope, you can put it in your mailbox. Your letter carrier will pick it up the next business day, and off it will go to your lucky recipient.

You may have seen old movies where people write “Air Mail” or “Urgent” or “Par Avion” on the envelope. That’s very old school, and no longer applies. All mail is air mail now, and will get delivered on the next business day if the address is in your state, or the day after if it’s in your region. has great website that tells you when to expect delivery.

Please Note: Do not use this procedure if you are not certain that you can complete it safely, or if it does not seem accurate. Skippity Whistles provides this information as advice, and cannot accept any liability from your usage of it.


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Published by John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as

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