The exchange of QSL cards by radio amateurs is a practice that is almost as old as radio itself. It began as postcard reports of distant reception at a time when two-way contacts over significant distances were relatively rare and the reports were valued as the best evidence of a transmitting station’s range. It developed into a social gesture – “A QSL is the final courtesy of a QSO” – as well as a means of documenting achievements.
IARU QSL bureaus – national-level clearinghouses for cards sent in bulk from one country to another – came about initially because the addresses of individual stations were not widely available (in part because amateurs in some countries operated without the benefit of a license) and international postage for individual cards was relatively expensive.
After World War 2 it was very difficult to obtain personal addresses for amateurs in the Soviet Union and most other Warsaw Pact countries; “QSL via bureau” was the only reasonably available option. Callbook listings were incomplete for many countries. For many years the QSL bureau system was reliable, inexpensive, and almost universal for countries with more than a handful of amateurs.
In recent years several developments have impacted the QSL bureau system:
- Computer-generated QSLs have flooded the system with cards that are not desired by the intended recipients.
- Amateurs have become more environmentally conscious and regret the large volume of undeliverable and unwanted cards.
- Electronic confirmation systems, including but by no means limited to the ARRL’s Logbook of The World (LoTW), have reduced the necessity of collecting cards to earn awards.
- Newer, younger amateur licensees are not as wedded to the tradition of QSL card exchange as their older counterparts.
- Despite the removal of government monopolies from mail and package delivery services in many countries, the cost of sending packages of QSL cards internationally has increased dramatically.
- Holiday-style “DXpeditions” and contest operations by visitors have burdened smaller bureaus with cards that cannot be delivered locally, causing some to cease operation entirely.
- Budgetary pressures are forcing member-societies to reassess their priorities, especially in countries with declining amateur populations.
- Some member-societies find it increasingly difficult to recruit volunteers or to pay staff or contractors to operate their QSL bureaus.
Recognizing these trends, in September 2018 the IARU Administrative Council adopted the following resolution to replace its earlier policy on QSL bureaus. Resolution 18 – 1 (concerning methods of confirming (QSLing) radio contacts (QSOs)) took effect on 1 January 2019.
Resolution 18 – 1
The IARU Administrative Council, Seoul, September 2018,
- recognising that many radio amateurs wish to receive confirmations of the radio contacts (QSOs) they make with other amateurs, either in the form of physical QSL cards or by electronic means,
- recognising that the cost of exchanging QSL cards between individual amateur stations in different countries can be prohibitive unless an efficient means of international bulk exchange is in operation, as has been the case for decades thanks to the IARU QSL bureau system,
- recognising that systems for exchanging electronic confirmations now exist that are much faster and less expensive than exchanging QSL cards, and therefore are growing in popularity as additional or alternative methods of confirmation,
- recognising that an amateur who wishes to send a card via the IARU QSL bureau system usually has no way of knowing whether the amateur to whom it is addressed is a member of his national IARU member-society and often does not know whether the other amateur wishes to receive cards via the bureau,
- recognising that most IARU member-societies operate incoming bureau systems that are available to members and non-members alike, but that some are unable, for good and sufficient reason, to provide service to non-members even if the expenses of doing so are fully reimbursed,
- recognising that many QSL cards that enter the bureau system are not desired by the intended recipients and may not be deliverable, either for this or some other reason, and
- sensitive to the importance of avoiding the unnecessary environmental impact of QSL cards being printed, transported, and ultimately discarded without being delivered,
- resolves that member societies are encouraged to continue to offer QSL bureau service in their countries, exchanging cards with the bureaus of other member-societies, for as long as doing so is economically justifiable, and
- further resolves that amateurs are encouraged to adopt confirmation practices, including but not limited to using electronic confirmation systems, that reduce the volume of unwanted and undeliverable QSL cards being introduced into the bureau system.
The current list of QSL bureaus is available here.