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Getting QSL's- Tips
by John Shannon, K3WWP

Once you work that DX station, you've won the battle, but the war may just be beginning. I'm talking about getting the QSL card. There are several ways to go about this.

While you are trying to work, and eventually working the DX station, listen to him carefully. Many times he will give his QSL info by saying QSL via (another ham's call), QSL via buro, QSL via CBA, QSL via HC, etc.

Let's look at each of these in turn. We'll assume a fictional DX call of X2XXX. If X2XXX says QSL via K3WWP, that means that K3WWP handles all of his QSLing chores, and you would send your QSL for X2XXX to K3WWP. K3WWP is referred to as the QSL Manager for X2XXX.

QSL via buro means you send your QSL for X2XXX via his country's QSL bureau. We'll discuss bureaus a little later.

QSL via CBA means that X2XXX wants his cards sent to him direct using the address listed for him in the Callbook (Buckmaster, QRZ, etc.)

QSL via HC means if X2XXX is operating portable, say VP5/X2XXX, he wants his cards sent to his home station, either via buro or direct.

If a station says QSLL, that means he'll send his card when he receives yours.

Those new to DXing may be wondering what a QSL bureau is. It's a clearinghouse for QSL cards. For example, if you work 43 Spanish stations, and you want cards from each one of them, you now have a considerable expense facing you if you were to mail each card individually. This is where the bureau comes in. You merely bundle those 43 cards in one package and send them off to the Spanish QSL bureau. At the Spanish bureau, the cards are forwarded to the individual stations.

That's all well and good, but how about getting my QSL cards back from the Spanish stations? It works the same way in reverse. The Spanish station bundles all his cards coming to the USA and sends them to the USA bureau. To get your cards from the bureau, you must have an SASE on file with the bureau, or some bureaus offer other plans whereby you send them money, and they prepare envelopes for you. Check with your local bureau to find out how your bureau handles these details.

If you've worked 78 different countries in a contest, but only a couple of stations in each country, using the bureaus as described above could still be very costly. This is where, in the USA for example, the ARRL outgoing QSL bureau comes in handy. You bundle all your outgoing cards together as before, and send them off to the ARRL outgoing bureau, where they are distributed to the various world bureaus. This service charges a small fee, and is available only to ARRL members. Personally I find my membership in ARRL is easily paid for by the money I save in my DX QSLing.

The big disadvantage to the bureau system is that it is SLOW, taking up to a few years to send your card and get the DX station's card back.

If you are anxious, and want that card as soon as possible, the best thing to do is to QSL direct using a GS (Green Stamp = 1 US$), IRC (International Reply Coupon), or mint postage stamps of the country you are sending the card to. An IRC is a slip of paper that is purchased at your local post office that can be used in another country to buy return postage for your QSL card.

Franco, 3A2MW elaborates on the above info in an eMail I received on Apr 27, 2002. Here's what he has to say:

1. The best way is using green stamps, not IRCs, because IRCs cost more than one US$, but they have a final value, for the DX stn, of only around 60 cents(please ask your post office how much you get for a foreign IRC: you will have the confirmation); IRCs are also stolen by post clerks, so are not surer; IRCs are NOT changed into stamps in the ex-USSR republics, so, despite the name, they are not international.

2. About national stamps, I can tell you that I have received lots of useless stamps, of France, Andorra, Italy, USA, Great Britain and also a few stamps of my country the Principality of Monaco, but NEVER the right value, always less, because the fares go up, and they have old mail price lists. Please note that, from January 1st 2002, the whole Europe has changed currency, switching from the national currencies to the EURO (see note below); so most of the stamps (without double value in National currency and EURO) cannot be used any more. Every country has still national stamps, but the value is always expressed in Euro; it does NOT mean that you can use german stamps in France, for exemple; every national mail service has his stamps, and only these have to be used inside the country. I suggest not to use this system, if you really want an answer.

NOTE: Geoff G3NAQ/AE4PI writes on 5/8/2007, "This is certainly NOT true. Most (but not all) of the EEC countries have changed to the EURO; the UK has not (and is unlikely to do so in the forseeable future), and non-EEC countries (such as Switzerland) also retain their own currencies."

So if you do use IRC's (and some countries do not accept US$, so that may be your only alternative in those cases), keep in mind what Franco says. If you must use mint stamps, please check very carefully to ensure you are doing it correctly, and not cheating the DX station. With the current world wide postal and economic situations changing daily, it is very hard to be correct, and even if you are correct when you send the stamps, the situation may change again by the time the DX station receives your QSL and stamps.

Admittedly it's becoming more and more difficult to know just what to do. For a little additional info about certain countries' policies, check here, keeping in mind that the info is very volatile. Do as much research as possible before sending your card direct.

A brief caution about IRC's. If you live in a small town, your post office probably doesn't handle many IRC's. This means you must be careful when buying them to make sure the postal clerk stamps them in the right place - the lower left corner. Otherwise they are no good when the DX station tries to redeem them at his post office.

When using the IRC, GS, or stamps method, you enclose your QSL, the IRC, GS, or stamps, and a self addressed envelope in your mailing to the DX station. You can't send this via a bureau. It must be mailed directly to the DX station.

Remember, not all postal employees are honest everywhere. Those few dishonest ones are quite adept at sniffing out ham radio mail and stealing those IRC's and GS's. Don't use your call letters or those of the station you worked on the envelope. Make the envelope as opaque as possible so it can't be examined by holding it up to a bright light to see what it contains. Also it's a good idea not to use attractive stamps on the envelope, as it is possible for them to be very desirable objects which are stolen along with the envelope and its contents before it reaches the DX station. As much as possible make it look just like a simple pen-pal letter you are writing to a friend in a foreign country. That way, it has the best chance of reaching its destination.

Again Franco elaborates on what I say:

3.On my experience, I think you should explain to the DXers that: - writing the SAE, they should leave enough place to put a stamp (incredible, but very usual problem); - writing the SAE, they should remember that the envelope will be mailed from overseas, so the State and ZIP code are not enough, the Country (example: U.S.A.) is necessary also; - when sealing an envelope, please think that someone will have to open it, so: put inside the SAE in a way, it will not be damaged opening the letter; remember that the green stamp makes everything green, so its best place is inside the SAE; do not put scotch or glue or "PostIt" to fix the IRC or the GS at your QSL: remember that you are EXCHANGING your QSL card against the QSL card of the DX station, so your card should arrive in "mint conditions", because your card will go in a collection, not in the waste paper basket, exactly as the DX QSL card goes in your collection, and we all like beautiful cards, in perfect conditions; - a self-adhesive sealing SAE is very much appreciated (try to seal ten or twenty conventional envelopes, and you will understand!!!); - please do not kill the DX station, if you receive very ugly stamps: like that, all the letters arrive; but if I put our beautiful and collectible stamps, only 85 to 90% arrive. Are we hams or stamp collectors?

Last of all, if the DX station has a manager in your own country, you enclose your card and a self addressed stamped envelope, and send it to the manager's home address. If the manager is in another country, then you can use either the bureau (send just your card), or mail it directly using the info above for sending cards direct.

How do you get an address for a foreign station? It's simple. Use my Find a QSL Route feature where you'll find several on-line callbooks, manager listings, and more.