How to Address an Envelope Properly

the proper way to address an envelope

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Sending snail mail requires learning how to address an envelope. In some cases, it's fine to send an email, but there are occasions when you'll want to use an old-fashioned method of communication. Whether you're mailing an invitation, thank you note, letter, holiday card, or business correspondence, you'll need to include some basic information on the envelope to ensure that it reaches its destination promptly.

To properly address an envelope, it's important to put the intended recipient's name and address and the sender's name and address in the correct spots. Always double-check these elements to make sure you have the full name and correct address.

Tip

Write or print names and addresses clearly or you will run the risk of having the mail go to the wrong address. Make sure you do the following:

  • Use blue or black ink on white or light paper.
  • Avoid cursive or fancy fonts.
  • Avoid reverse printing on black paper.


How to Address an Envelope: The Basics

Most of the time you can fall back on the general recommended rules of addressing your envelope, whether you are sending a thank you note or letter. Here are the simple steps for addressing an envelope:

  1. Your name and address: Your name and address go in the upper left-hand corner. The top line is your full name, the second line is your street address or post office box number, and the third line is your city, state, and zip code. The state can be written in full or abbreviated.
  2. Recipient's name and address: The recipient's name and address are placed in the center of the envelope. The top line is the recipient's full name, the second line is the recipient's street address, and the third line is the recipient's city, state, and zip code. The state can be written in full or abbreviated.
  3. The stamp: The stamp for a standard 1-ounce letter or card goes on the upper right-hand corner of an envelope. If you have an irregular-shaped, heavy envelope, or an international letter, check with the post office about the type and number of stamps you will need on your correspondence.
  4. For married couples: There are several ways to address a piece of mail to a couple⁠ but it's acceptable to write the first and last name of each individual on one line (or first names alphabetically and then the last name if they share a surname).
  5. For families: If you're sending a piece of mail, such as an invitation, for the entire family that lives in one household, you can address it using a shared surname, for example, The Smith Family. If you are sending an invitation to anyone over 18 who lives in the household, that person should get their own separate invitation as a courtesy.

Tip

Though it's not always required on casual or non-business pieces of mail, you can add a title to the recipient's full name as an additional sign of respect. Typical titles are Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, or Dr. An example of a title would be Mrs. Emma Smith. If sending an invitation to a doctor, it's proper etiquette to spell out the word rather than abbreviating it.

Sample Address

Ms. Emma Smith
456 NW Silver Street

Apt. 3N
Seattle, WA 98126

The Proper Way to Address an Envelope

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Addressing a Business Letter

When sending a business letter to a person at a company, you'll need to maintain professional etiquette throughout the entire process. Follow the basic guidelines outlined above and then add a couple more pieces of information.

  1. Place your name and address in the upper left corner of the envelope.
  2. Put the recipient's information in the center of the envelope.
  3. After the recipient's full name and on the same line if possible, add their position, such as "Director of Marketing." If the title does not fit on the same line, place it directly on the line underneath the name.
  4. Underneath the person's name and title, add the full name of the company.
  5. Add the company's street address on the line below the company's name.
  6. Add the company's town, state, and zip code on the line below the street address.
  7. The stamp goes on the upper right corner of the envelope.

Tip

If you're unsure of the recipient's name, you may write "Attn: Director of Marketing," for example, on the first line.

Sample Address

Sydney Johnson, Creative Director
Smith & Co.
800 Ocean Avenue
10th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90021

or

Attn: Creative Director
Smith & Co.
800 Ocean Avenue
10th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90021

How to Address a Business Envelope

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Addressing Mail to Overseas Military Installations

When you send a letter to a person in the military stationed overseas, use the same general guidelines outlined above with a few additions to the recipient's name and address:

  1. Add the recipient's rank and full name on the first line.
  2. The unit or squadron number should go on the second line.
  3. The third line has three parts to it: The first part includes the designation where the person is stationed, such as APO (Air/Army Post Office), FPO (Fleet Post Office), or DPO (Diplomatic Post Office), according to where the person is stationed,
  4. The second part of the third line includes the name or abbreviation of the country in caps of where the duty station is located, such as AA (Armed Forces America), AE (Armed Forces Europe), or AP (Armed Forces Pacific).
  5. The third part of the third line includes the full postal zip code, which may or may not include four extra numbers.

Sample Address

SGT Marcus Rosa
Unit 345 Box 21
APO AA 92136

How to Address Overseas Military Mail

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Mailing to Other Countries

The general rules for addressing an envelope for European or other overseas destinations are similar:

  1. Place your name and address on the upper left corner of the envelope and beneath your return address, include "U.S.A." A full name and return address are required on international mail.
  2. In the center of the envelope, add the first line with the recipient's name and title.
  3. Add the second line with the recipient's street address.
  4. Add the third line with the recipient's city, province, and state with the postal code. (Some countries, such as Spain, require the postal code to be placed first.)
  5. The last line includes the name of the recipient's country in English and in all caps.

Sample Address

Andrea Jimenez
Carrer de la Pau 15

46001 Valencia (Alicante)
SPAIN 

How to Address International Mail

The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Addressing Mail to PO Boxes

You may need to address an envelope to a post office (PO) box if it's a bill you're paying or taxes you're paper filing. Many companies send out paper bills with their PO box address printed on the part of the invoice you need to detach and send back to the company with your payment. You can copy the address onto your own envelope if you don't have the return envelope that's often provided. Here are the general rules of how to address an envelope to a PO box:

  1. Place your name and address in the upper left corner of the envelope.
  2. Put the recipient's full name and title (if there is one available) on the first address line in the center of the envelope. There is not always a name available for a PO box.
  3. Add the name of the company or organization right below the recipient's name.
  4. Below the company name, add in the department if there is one available.
  5. Now write in the PO box number, which should be multiple digits. Omit any punctuation; the USPS (United States Postal Service) does not like to scan excess markings.
  6. The last line of the address should be the city, state, and zip code (it's rare to have a street address on a PO box address).
  7. The stamp goes on the upper right corner of the envelope.

Sample Address

Sydney Johnson, Director of Accounting
Smith & Co.
Billing Department
PO Box 12345
Los Angeles, CA 90021

or

Smith & Co.
PO Box 12345
Los Angeles, CA 90021

Tip

Federal taxes: To learn how to address an envelope to mail taxes to the Internal Revenue Service it's best to refer to the IRS website. That's because the PO box addresses for federal returns differ—and sometimes change—depending on the state in which you live. Here is one sample address from the federal IRS site:

Internal Revenue Service
PO Box 931000
Louisville, KY 40293-1000

State taxes: Do not send your federal and state tax returns together to the IRS. You must send your state taxes to your state's tax department. Every state has a unique state tax agency address.

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