The World of Poste Restante - who needs an address?

16/09/2012 16:06

No fixed address? No problem. Here's a flexible worldwide way of receiving your letters at the post office. Poste restante (translating from French as post remaining) means that the post office will hold the item until the named recipient collects it at the post office in its destination. So tell your friends and family where you'll be between certain dates and they can send post for you to collect at a post office anywhere in the world (either free or for a small charge at the collection point. You'll probably need to show your ID).


The poste restante service carries a long literary history and retains an air of mystery. Step back in time and it was used by itinerant French poets and ordinary wanderers the world over. Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine notably exchanged many of their letters using simple poste restante addresses. During the numerous years that Rimbaud spent living in the Middle East, he would sign his letters instructing friends and acquaintances to: write to me, Poste Restante, Aden-Camp, Arabia.


Generally, to send a letter poste restante the sender can simply address it:


Full name of recipient


Place (e.g. Belgrade)

Country (e.g. Serbia)


(Note: the term “Poste restante” should be universally understood, but is also referred to as “General delivery” in the USA and Canada. Also check the preferred terminology/translation before sending an item to the far east)


Senders can use a more specific address for the post office in the destination place if they wish. Using Belgrade again as an example, lists the postcodes of all post offices in the Belgrade area, so if you want a letter to land at one office in particular (and not just the default main central post office) this website shows you how to address it. It's best to check each country's post office guidance online, but sending a post restante letter to a named individual in a named city will generally work if the recipient seeks out the central post office (although postal services in some countries prefer items to be sent to a specific post office address, and following country-specific guidance gives the person collecting more certainty and may save them time).


Another tip is that the sender should also write their name and address on the back of the item, in case the recipient is unable to collect it within the timescale that the receiving post office will hold it for (this varies country to country from 10 to 30+ days. Check specific country timescales online if the recipient is unlikely to collect within one week). An item that isn't collected within the timescale will then be returned to the sender rather than dumped as undeliverable.


Itching to take advantage of this generous postal hospitality? All that's left is to succumb to your wanderlust, do some exploring and find your letters in the fantastic cities, towns, even villages that you land in. This great, little-talked-about service really is made for you if you set off abroad or you wish to live in the woods and still receive personal letters. Learn to love that foreign post office, and you'll become attached to your correspondence in a new way.


Let's celebrate it. Once again, cry POSTE RESTANTE! Use it, and write to each other at the best address in the world.




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