How do international postal orders work?

Sending postal orders overseas may not be your best option when sending money internationally.

An international postal order can be used for making payments overseas without relying on digital services. However, it’s not the safest or quickest way to send money abroad, and you’re restricted to what country you can send postal orders to, so you should consider your other money transfer options first.

What is an international postal order?

A postal order is a paper document that’s used as a method of payment, similar to a cheque. An international postal order operates exactly the same way as a domestic postal order, by letting you prepay an amount that will be used as a secure form of payment. The main difference is that international postal orders are accepted by other countries, instead of being limited to the UK.

Pros

  • Safer than mailing cash
  • A bank account typically isn’t required
  • Can’t bounce as it’s paid for in advance
  • Can be tracked internationally

Cons

  • Fees for both the sender and receiver
  • If you cash it in a foreign currency, you probably won’t get a good exchange rate
  • Not globally accepted – double check the country you’re sending to
  • Low sending limits – typically £250 or less per postal order
  • Has to be physically delivered before it can be cashed
  • Cancellation and refunds can be expensive and take upwards of 30 days
  • May require multiple forms of ID to cash

Is using an international postal order my best option?

No, an international postal order is almost never the cheapest way to send money internationally. You’ll need to pay fees, as might your recipient, who is also likely to get poor exchange rates when cashing it at a bank or local post office.

Let’s crunch the numbers: Sending £250 to Canada

Let’s say you need to send £250 to family in Canada and want to know if sending an international postal order is your best choice. Here’s what you might face as far as fees, exchange rates and sending speeds are concerned.

Digital money transfer serviceCash transferInternational postal order
Fee£0£3.99£12.50 + additional fees to cash
Exchange rate1 GBP = 1.705 CAD1 GBP = 1.637 CAD1 GBP = 1.582 CAD
Transfer speed1-2 daysMinutes7-10 days
Amount receivedCAD 426CAD 409CAD 395
Verdict
  • Best value
  • Fastest
  • Slowest and most expensive

The international postal order is both the slowest and most expensive option. You can only send up to the value of £250 per postal order – meaning if you want to send more you’ll have to buy additional orders, which means more fees.

The recipient may also be charged additional fees when they cash the postal order(s). Plus, the exchange rate they get when cashing the postal order may be weaker than the rate featured in our table, which is based on bank rates.

A cash transfer service could almost always have the money there faster and available for cash pickup at hundreds of locations, while a digital service could deliver the money directly to your recipient’s bank account if desired.

How to fill out an international postal order

Because an international postal order is physically sent to your recipient, make sure that everything is filled out correctly to avoid any delays. Because the recipient may have to pay fees to cash the postal order, consider sending more than needed to help cover fees and exchange rates.

Steps to fill out your international postal order

  1. Check availability. International postal orders are not accepted everywhere. Before you buy one, make sure your recipient will be able to cash it at a local bank or post office.
  2. Fill in the recipient’s name. Because your recipient may need to show ID when cashing the postal order, write their name exactly as it shows on their ID to avoid any complications. Some international postal orders require you to fill in the recipient’s address in addition to their name.
  3. Use the memo section. If you’re paying an international bill, include the account number and purpose of payment under the memo section. If you’re sending money to family, consider putting your name and address in the memo section and label yourself as the purchaser.
  4. Sign the postal order. International postal orders without a signature may be rejected.

After filling out the postal order you’ll want to:

  • Keep your receipt.
  • Ask about expected delivery dates.
  • Get the post office clerk to check that you’ve filled it out correctly.

How do I cash an international postal order?

Postal orders can be cashed in the same way as a cheque, but international postal order cashing locations may be restricted depending on where you live. Follow these steps to cash an international postal order:

  1. Find a location. Before you have an international postal order sent to you, verify that a local bank, post office or other store will be able to cash it.
  2. Endorse the postal order. You must sign the back of the postal order before it can be cashed, but wait to sign it until you’re about to hand it over to the cashier.
  3. Provide identification. Your ID will need to match the name on the international postal order and be government-issued, such as a passport or driver’s licence.
  4. Pay associated fees. Unfortunately, you may have to pay fees and agree to poor exchange rates to cash your international postal order. You may be able to have these charges deducted from the postal order total – ask the cashier if this is an option.
  5. Count your cash. Check that the amount of money you receive is correct before you leave the counter. Any missing money is not the responsibility of the cashier if you notice the mistake after finalising the transaction.

Bottom line

International postal orders are outdated and unnecessarily risky. There are much cheaper, faster and safer ways to send money internationally that can be done entirely online from the comfort of your home. To learn how to get started with these types of transfers, head over to our guide on transferring money and send your first transfer today.

Frequently asked questions

Do international postal orders have a maximum limit?

Yes. International postal orders are limited to £250 per order.

Can you track an international postal order?

Yes. Use your receipt to track your order on the Royal Mail’s website or visiting the branch from which you sent the postal order.

Can you cancel an international postal order?

It depends. If the postal order has been cashed you may not be able to cancel it. If it’s still in transit you might be able to cancel it for a refund, but chances are pretty low.

My international postal order was stolen. Now what?

You’ll need to get a P58 (lost post form) from a Post Office branch and send it off to Royal Mail (its address is on the form) along with a photocopy of your proof of purchase. Remember to hold on to your original postal order receipt, as this includes the unique ID number that you’ll need to claim for the loss.

I received an international postal order from a stranger. Should I cash it?

No. Never cash an international postal order that you weren’t expecting. It’s a scam.

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