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Universal Postal Union

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Universal Postal Union Congress voting device

How does a letter get from here to Timbuktu? Before 1874 the United States would have to negotiate a postal treaty with Mali to send and receive mail. You might also have been required to put foreign stamps on your letter for all of the countries through which the mail might pass. But today it is easy. All you have to do is apply adequate postage using U.S. stamps, and your letter can be posted to any of the 190 member countries of the Universal Postal Union.

The Universal Postal Union (U.P.U.) is an international organization that coordinates the postal policies among countries around the world. The U.P.U. now forms the largest physical distribution network in the world. More than six million postal employees work in over 700,000 postal outlets to ensure that 430 billion mail items are processed and delivered each year (www.upu.int).

Heinrich von Stephan, Prussian Minister for Posts, founded the UPU in 1874 under the name "General Postal Union." Four years later, the name was changed to "Universal Postal Union." The U.P.U. is now a specialized agency of the United Nations and is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland.

By becoming a member in the U.P.U., a country establishes a uniform rate to mail a letter internationally. All member countries deliver mail received from foreign countries with the same equality as their domestic mail. The U.P.U. orchestrates a system of payment, called terminal dues, that establishes fees between countries based on the difference in total weight of mail between the respective countries.

The mission of the Universal Postal Union is to foster the sustainable development of quality universal, efficient accessible postal services in order to facilitate communication among the people of the world by:

  • Guaranteeing the free circulation of postal items through an interconnected single postal territory
  • Promoting the adoption of fair and common standards and the application of technology
  • Cooperation and interaction among stakeholders
  • Facilitating the effective provision of technical cooperation
  • Ensuring that the changing needs of customers are addressed


Universal Postal Union. Accessed January 31, 2006.