The international reply coupon (IRC) allows someone sending a letter to another country to pay for the postage for the reply in advance. When the sender writes a letter to a foreign addressee that requires a response, they can purchase an IRC and enclose it with their letter.
The IRC will entitle the addressee to one or more return postage stamps representing the minimum postage for an unregistered priority item or airmail letter to a foreign country. In short, stamps obtained in exchange for IRCs can be used to reply to the sender.
IRCs cannot be bought directly from the UPU. They are available from local post offices and certain operators. If a national Post does not sell IRCs, customers can buy them from the post office of a neighbouring country.
IRCs can be used for a variety of purposes:
- Requests for information or documents from abroad
- School and university enrolment
- Foreign invitations requiring a reply
- The postage stamp is invented
- The first stamp ever issued, "The Penny Black", is created by Rowland HILL
- From this point on, letter postage is paid by the sender
- German economist Johann VON HERRFELDT references a "Universal Postal Union" in his articles
- An international conference is held in Paris, France, bringing together 15 European and American countries to establish common operational models and standardized postage rates that are easier to calculate
15 September 1874
- Heinrich VON STEPHAN, Director of the North German Confederation postal service, organizes the International Postal Conference, with the goal of creating an "International Postal Union"
9 October 1874
- The conference takes place in Berne (SWITZERLAND)
- The "General Postal Union" is founded by 22 countries
- The first Congress takes place in Paris (FRANCE)
- The General Postal Union officially becomes the "Universal Postal Union", and the issue of prepaid reply letters within international postal relations is raised
- The universal postage stamp is the proposed solution, but varying exchange rates pose a problem
- Thirteen postal administrations (AGENTINA, BELGIUM, FRANCE, GERMANY, ITALY, LUXEMBOURG, NETHERLANDS, NORWAY, PORTUGAL, ROMANIA, SPAIN, SWITZERLAND and TUNISIA) arrange to use prepaid reply postal cards
1 July 1879
- This system is put in place and gradually spreads
26 May 1906
- The IRC is created during the Rome Congress
- Article 11.2 of the UPU Rome Convention states, "reply coupons can be exchanged between the countries of which the Administrations have agreed to participate in such an exchange"
1 October 1907
- The service becomes officially available to customers - Since then, the appearance of the IRC has changed several times, with nine different models, 21 different iterations (changes to the basic model) and three special anniversary coupons (for the 100th and 110th anniversaries of the IRC and the 140th anniversary of the UPU)
- The UPU International Bureau is responsible for IRC production and delivery to participating postal operators