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The QSL bureau or QSL buro is a well-established system for sending amateur radio QSL cards in bulk.
The most obvious way of sending QSL cards is through the mail. Sending QSL cards directly is costly as many of them will need to be sent abroad.
In order to overcome this the QSL bureau concept enables cards to be sent in bulk. Although it does take more time, the QSL bureau provides a very much more cost effective way of sending cards.
What is a QSL bureau
The concept of the QSL bureau enables cards to be sent in bulk at all stages of the journey from sender to recipient.
The sender sends a bundle of QSL cards to the national bureau. Here they are sorted along with cards from many other stations in that country. Again they are sent in bulk to the destination country and again sorted by the recipient station. When sufficient cards have accumulated to be sent to the recipient, they are mailed to him / her.
Typically any station who is able to receive cards via the QSL bureau will lodge envelopes with the bureau so that they can be sent when enough cards accumulate.
Naturally as cards have to wait until sufficient cards have accumulated for them to be sent at each stage of their journey, it can take many months for them to arrive. It is not unusual for replies to take a year or more, and so patience is definitely needed when sending cards via the QSL buro.
QSL bureau or QSL buro
The terms QSL bureau and QSL buro are often interchangeable.
The term QSL bureau is the full spelling, but the word 'buro' is often used during a Morse / CW contact as it requires fewer letters to be sent.
Also 'buro' is often seen on QSL cards because it takes up less space.
Countries with QSL Buros
Most the countries with large amateur radio populations have a QSL bureau. However there are many countries where there is no bureau because the number of ham radio stations is small and there may be no national society, or if there is one, the national society is not able to provide a QSL bureau service.
This means that there are occasions when it is not always possible to send cards via the bureau. The very fact that countries with small amateur radio populations are less likely to have a bureau means that it is often the more sought after QSLs that cannot go via the bureau. Often it is necessary to send these cards directly via the mail.
Whilst the sending cards directly costs very much more, at least it is only needed for the more prized QSL cards.
It is also necessary to be aware that, particularly with countries where the amateur radio population is less, that even if a QSL bureau is run, funds and other limitations may mean it becomes unreliable.
Eligibility for receiving cards from the bureau
In many countries it is possible for members to send and receive cards via the bureau run by their national society - the national society may also allow non-members to collect cards but not send them.
Some national amateur radio societies will not allow non-members to collect cards. This can mean that even though cards are sent, they will not reach their destination.
How to use a QSL bureau
Where a QSL bureau does exist and operates reliably it is normally very simple to use. There are incoming and outgoing routes, each of which operates in a slightly different manner.
Although each QSL bureau will have slightly different rules, they all operate in basically the same manner.
- Outgoing QSL cards: When sending cards out through the QSL bureau, they can be assembled at home. It normally helps to sort them into countries and also where applicable, into call areas. All the cards should be clearly marked with the callsign of the recipient. If the back of the card is clear - mark it here as well, and if there is a QSL manager mark this clearly as well.
The cards should be sent in a sufficiently strong envelope to ensure safe transit. It is also necessary to ensure that the required postage is paid. With a number of cards in a given envelope it is necessary to make sure the weight or size limit is not exceeded. The envelope should then be sent to the required address of your national society for outgoing QSL cards.
- Incoming QSL cards: To claim any incoming QSL cards it is typically necessary to lodge several envelopes with pre-paid stamps attached (to the required value). Your callsign should be printed on the envelope, typically in the upper left hand corner. These envelopes should be sent to the required address for your particular call - often societies have several people looking after different call areas, callsign numbers, etc. Check the required address with your national society.
Envelopes should typically be 5" x 7-1/2" or 6" x 9" in size or thereabout. Sufficiently large to take the expected incoming QSL cards.
These are general concepts for using a QSL bureau. It is always best to check the exact requirements with your own national society. Normally all the operation is done by volunteers, so it is only fair to make it as easy as possible for them.