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Is there a way to determine whether a station or operator still sends physical QSL cards, rather than only uploading some data online? (or doing nothing at all.)

If so, what is the current procedure for successfully requesting a QSL card? Do I mail something? A QSL card of my own, a polite letter, or something else? An envelope? How does one discover the proper mailing address for the contact station?

For International contacts, do I need to include cash for return postage; and if so, how do I reduce the chances it will be stolen en-route? How about PayPal or bitcoin (et.al.)? Do operators ever use DHL or other commercial/non-postal carriers to send or obtain physical QSL cards?

And lastly, under what circumstances should I mail my own QSL card? Only in response to a request? Or otherwise?

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There are several ways to find out whether a station/operator sends QSL cards:

  • ask during your QSO
  • check the callsign profile on qrz.com for the station's preferred way of exchanging QSO confirmation
  • in case it is a station in a "rare" country, check a QSL manager database, such as the IK3QAR QSL manager database (that is just an example, there are more), to find out if someone else manages the exchange of QSL cards for this station.

Likewise, procedures for requesting a card can vary.

  • In some cases it may be sufficient to send a card through your IARU member society's QSL bureau and hope for a card in return.
  • In case a station manages QSL traffic through a QSL manager, you'd send a card to the manager, either via the bureau or "direct", i.e. snail mail. In that case, it is usually expected to include an envelope addressed to yourself and some funds to cover the return postage, either in the form of stamps that are valid in the QSL manager's country, some money, or with an IRC - International Reply Coupon, although these seem to have gone out of fashion pretty fast during the last few years.
  • Finally, many QSL managers and "rare" stations nowadays put their log online at e.g. Club Log, which includes an Online QSL Request Service, where a request for a card sent to you via the QSL bureau or via mail can be placed. In the latter case, payment for the postage is handled through paypal.

As I wrote above, if you decide to mail your card to confirm an international contact, some form of covering the return postage is usually expected. Reduce the chances of theft by making your envelope as inconspicuous as possible, don't put fancy stamps on it, don't write callsigns on it. Non-postal services are fine in theory, but remember that not all countries are serviced as perfectly as the first world. Operators or managers in remote places may well get annoyed having to travel, be present in person, or otherwise make sure to receive a delivery by a non-postal carrier.

Depending on how "rare" or desirable a confirmation of a contact with you may appear to your QSO partner, waiting for requests can become a very boring waiting game. If you are interested in exchanging QSL cards don't expect your QSO partner to make the first step.

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