How do countries compensate each other for international mail?
July 22, 2011 1:56 PM   Subscribe

How do countries compensate each other for international mail?

Another question that should be easy to find out the answer to but, seemingly, defeats my searching.

When you mail a letter from, say, the UK to the USA, you put British stamps on the envelope and put it in the mailbox. Obviously the British postal company has made a pretty penny from all the stamps on the envelope. But there is a subsequent USA leg of the item of mail's journey which presumably they are compensated for.

How do these compensation agreements work? Especially-

- Does every country have an individual agreement with every other country about what the compensations will be?
- Or is there a "worldwide standard" of some kind and everyone abides by the same agreement?
- How much money goes to each respective government?
- Are there govenments that aren't in on whatever deal?
- what about privatised mail companies?

It's kind of mind blowing when you think about it that you can drop a letter in a random mailbox in the world with local postage, and the mail finds it's way all the way to the door of someone half way around the world.

Thanks for your knowledge! :-)

posted by cdenman to Law & Government (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by brainmouse at 2:00 PM on July 22, 2011

Best answer: The Universal Postal Union (part of the UN, but predating it) coordinates all this. There used to be a bunch of treaties between pairs of countries but this got unwiedly. For a while no payments were made between countries - it was just assumed that the amount of mail from X to Y would be the same as from Y to X, so if the country the mail was being sent from kept all the postage everything would work out. This is not the case any more, though.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2011

As an interesting aside, one of these international postage treaties was the core of the original Ponzi scheme.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Fascinating! Interesting to see it's come up before too - clearly I was looking with the wrong keywords.

Most interesting is that the compensations seem to be done in rather broad brush strokes based on the difference in quantity. I imagined that is how it might be but it is interesting to see it confirmed.

It's amazing just how many countries are part of the UPU, and to read about the ways you had to go about stamping mail before it. What enlightened times we live in ( some ways!)
posted by cdenman at 2:27 PM on July 22, 2011

Answered by the snarky Cecil Adams.
posted by CodeMonkey at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2011

You did not ask how the equivalent system works for telephone calls - but if you had

Since many telcos grew out as departments of postal operators originally I assume that they may have adopted a similar settlement scheme.
posted by rongorongo at 3:23 PM on July 22, 2011

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