Proper Way to Address an Envelope

Woman writing on stationery
Properly addressing an envelope will help ensure that your mail will reach the intended destination. Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Have you gotten out of the habit of sending snail mail and stress out about the simple act of addressing an envelope? That's what happens when you haven't done it in a while, but don't let it stop you from putting a pen to paper and mailing something that requires a stamp. 

In some cases, it's fine to send email, but there are occasions when you'll want to use an old fashioned method of correspondence.

Whether you're mailing an invitation, thank you note, or a letter, you'll need to include some basic information on the envelope to ensure that it reaches its destination in a timely manner.

The purpose of having guidelines for addressing the envelope is to make the postal workers' jobs easier in delivering the mail. If you get too creative, you'll slow the carrier down and may even risk having your letter go to the wrong address. Please save your creativity to what is inside for the sake of the USPS.

General Guidelines for U.S. Mail

Most of the time you can fall back on the general rules of addressing your envelope, whether you are sending a business letter or a thank you note. In the upper left-hand corner, you'll need the sender's name on the top line, the street address or post office box on the second line, and the city, state and zip on the third line.

In the center of the envelope, you put the name of the intended recipient on the top line, his or her street address on the next line, and the city, state and zip on the third line – exactly how you would write the sender's information.

However, you may need an additional line for the name of the company or unit of the address such as an apartment or suite number.

You'll want to add any titles such as "Dr." or "Ms." if you know that the recipient prefers to be addressed as such. You should also do this when sending to an elderly person or someone in a position of authority to show respect.

In some cases, such as when a woman lives alone, people prefer not to have their full first names on the outside of an envelope. You may use an initial, such as "M. Peabody." This makes the name less gender specific and may give the person a more secure feeling of anonymity.

If the recipient is temporarily staying in someone else's home or you are concerned that the USPS may not deliver the mail with an unfamiliar name, you may add a note beneath the recipient's name that this is in care of someone who lives at this address. For example, you may use "C/O John Smith" on the line beneath "Mildred Thomas."

Business Letter Rules

When sending a business letter, you'll need to maintain professional etiquette throughout the entire process. Start with the general guidelines and add a couple more pieces of information. After the recipient's name, add his or her position, such as "Director of Marketing." Try to do this on the same line as the name, but if there isn't enough room, you may move the title down to the next line. Beneath that, add the name of the company, followed by the address as directed in the general guidelines above. If you're unsure of the recipient's name, you may write "Attn: Director of Marketing."

Mail to Overseas Military Installations

When you send a letter to a person in the military stationed overseas, use the same general guidelines with a few additions. You'll want to add the recipient's rank and full name. The unit or squadron number should go on the second line. The next line should include APO or FPO, according to where the person is stationed, followed by the abbreviation of the region. The last line should include the name or abbreviation of the country in caps. Always add the full postal code to make sure it reaches the intended destination.

Address Rules for Mailing to Other Countries

The general rules for addressing an envelope for European or other overseas destinations are similar. Start with the recipient's name and title on the first line, followed by the street address on the second, the city, province, and state with the postal code on the next line.

The last line should have the name of the country in all caps. Beneath your return address, you should include "U.S.A."