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Successfully Navigating the Maze of Overseas QSLing
Envelope Size For overseas QSLing, the US #6 personal size (3 5/8 x
6 1/2 inches) is a poor choice. While the ARRL recommended 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch
size QSL does fit (just barely,) many cards are too big for it. The US #10
size (4 1/8 x 9 1/2 inches) works better. Probably the best overall choice is
the European mailer (4 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches/ 120 x 165 mm.) Also available is
the European return size (4 1/2 x 6 1/4 inches/ 115 x 160 mm,) which fits
inside the mailer without folding.|
Envelope Style If you want to attract the least attention, plain envelopes are no doubt better than airmail envelopes with their colorful blue and red stripes. Both plain and airmail styles can be found in the European sizes- through full-line stationery stores or amateur suppliers.
'Cutting Corners' Cutting off the lower, left-hand corner of the mailer envelope about 1/2 inch diagonally creates the impression overseas that the mailing is going at the less expensive printed matter rate. Although no postage cost is saved mailing from the US, it does have that 'look' that says "nothing of value here." The corner cut allows inspection to verify that the contents are printed matter- QSLs do qualify for this rate. Marking the mailer envelope "Printed Matter" with a rubber stamp would probably make it even more convincing. This method is a good alternative for those who prefer the 'openness' mode of mailing but do not want to send with the envelope flap unsealed.
No Return Envelope Some believe in sending only a stick-on, pre-printed return address label instead of a return envelope. This certainly makes for a thinner mailer envelope, and some of the overseas operators do prefer to supply their own envelopes, but how many hams over there can afford to buy a lot of envelopes for a bunch of W's whose cards they don't need or even want?
Addressing As a minimum, print the destination address as neatly and legibly as possible, preferably in block (all capital) letters. Never use script writing. Typed addresses are much better. Computer-printed address labels are good, too. For purposes of disguise, your return address can be a pre-printed business address.
"No Valuables" If you are mailing to Russia (UA) using SASE or IRCs, you can print UEHHOCTEW HET on the front of the mailer envelope. This means "Nothing of value" in Russian. The "U" actually has a descending tail (I am not sure on which side,) and the "W" is actually written as a backwards "N"
Think Like a Thief If you are looking for dollars in the mail and have been on the job for a while, you might start to recognize the names and addresses of local ham operators who get a lot of mail. You might also start to recognize generically the mailer envelopes of overseas hams, who do a lot of direct QSLing, and whose mailings probably look a lot alike. Envelopes that are well-sealed, opaque, or thick would attract more attention. Any ham callsigns on the envelope would be a dead giveaway, of course. This scenario argues strongly for the 'openness' mode of mailing and SASEs, and against the 'concealment' mode and dollars.
Postage Stamps Plain, regular-issue postage stamps attract less attention than commemoratives, which are usually larger and more colorful and might be tempting to stamp collectors. Locally-printed, metered stamps such as Pitney Bowes look very plain. The local US post offices have stopped using them, however, and the USPS metered stamps are now a little too flashy with a very bold eagle logo. The current Rickenbacker airmail stamp is also a little too colorful. Plain, drab colors are best. I use a strip of three 20 cent "Cog Railway" stamps (only available in coils or from vending machines), or a strip of three 20 cent regular issue Truman portrait stamps. Both have gray printing on a white background.
Registered Mail This is a hotly debated topic. Some hams report that sending their QSLs via registered mail as a last resort was the trick that finally worked for them. On the other hand, failures have also been reported. If there is no reply, one never knows whether an item reached its destination or not. There is no doubt that registered items loudly call attention to themselves. The question is, just how brazen are the thieves in the particular postal chain that you are mailing through. Clearly, some of them know no fear. It is a fact that certain overseas hams recommend using registered mail. If that is the operator's over-the-air advice, it would be wise to follow it.
Lost- or ...? It is strongly suspected, and in some cases it is known to a virtual certainty that some mailings are getting 'lost' at their destinations! The problem turns out not to be postal theft but rather dishonest hams who use funds sent for postage to finance their own radio hobby or for other purposes. Fortunately, there are not a large number of these, but the few who exist do a lot of damage and give ham radio a bad name. Reading the DX reflectors and talking with fellow ham DXers will soon give you an idea of who the few offenders are. It is best to avoid them and wait for another operation to show up on the air.
Bribery There are some indications that certain overseas managers may be more responsive to QSL requests sent with funds well in excess of actual return postage costs. There has been some anecdotal evidence, which proves nothing, of course. If this is true, it means that if a ham wants a certain DX card badly enough and is willing to pay, he may get it- but it sets a bad precedent and may effectively bid up the cost of getting that card for others. 'If you feed a monster, it grows' :-)
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