My wife and I are going to Rome in October and we wanted to get tickets in advance for a general audience with the Pope.

I printed the forms found here, and sent them to the address listed on the same page:

Prefecture of the Papal Household

00120 Vatican City State

The USPS just returned them to me (sent from the US) as "IA"

Insufficient address (return to sender)

What am I missing?

(I've tried to find an answer on the usps.com site but found nothing)


UPDATE, 9/13/18 15 Days after I sent the letter using the address recommended in @Nate Eldredge's answer i got word from the Prefecture of the Papal Household that they received our request and how to go about picking up our tickets so that was the correct address format.

  • 1
    As if those guys at the post office couldnt figure it out...seriously...just to cause more issues and have people pay more time and money. I cannot understand it. – JonH Aug 21 at 14:15
up vote 33 down vote accepted

According to https://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immc1_008.htm (emphasis mine):

All lines of the delivery address should appear in all capital letters. The city destination must appear in capital letters together with the correct post code number or delivery zone number, if any. The last line of the address must show only the country name, written in full (no abbreviations) and in capital letters. If possible, the address should have no more than five lines.

According to https://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immctry.htm, it looks like "Vatican City" is the USPS's preferred name. Since that wasn't on the last line by itself, the USPS probably didn't correctly understand what country the letter was supposed to go to. (If they had, they would have delivered to the Vatican postal service and let them take it from there, which presumably would have worked. Or if it didn't, the failure message would have been from the Vatican postal service, not the USPS, and I guess they'd be in Italian (or Latin?))

So I would try

PREFECTURE OF THE PAPAL HOUSEHOLD
00120 VATICAN CITY STATE
VATICAN CITY

And make sure to affix an appropriate amount of postage for an international letter.

  • 44
    A clear case of the USPS being 'more catholic than the pope'... – Aganju Aug 21 at 1:17
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    @Aganju I can picture them going through the US map looking for that Vatican City State. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 21 at 11:24
  • Just dropped a newly addressed letter in the mail today so we'll see if this works but it does seem to make sense. As for correct postage, I wonder how foreign countries like the forever stamp. – Jason Reljac Aug 21 at 12:51
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    @JasonReljac: USPS is the only one who cares about the stamps (since, after all, they are the ones who got the money when you bought them). They'll pay the foreign postal service directly, if needed; there are complicated treaties on this. Hopefully you didn't just use one Forever stamp, though, because that's not enough postage for an international letter. – Nate Eldredge Aug 21 at 13:34
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    Note that Frank's Compulsive Guide to Postal Addresses (an incredibly useful document that has been around since Internet 1.0) backs you up here; see its section on Singapore, another city-state. – Michael Seifert Aug 21 at 20:53

It would probably be faster to send your request by fax or email to the U.S. Bishops’ Office for Visitors to the Vatican at visitorsoffice@pnac.org (details on schedule and how to make a request here). If you're staying in a hotel with concierge services, this may be something they can arrange for you.

If you do want to send a letter by mail, I suspect USPS just screwed this one up. While it's not correct, putting "Rome, Italy" on the end of the address may be enough to clue them into routing it in the general direction of Europe. "Vatican City, Europe" on a new line at the end of the address may work too.

But I suspect that fax or email will be easier and faster.

  • 1
    If that is really the case, then it seems like the USPS routing center needs to hold some training. The Vatican has been autonomous for quite some time, now. – can-ned_food Aug 21 at 1:00
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    It hasn't even been a hundred years yet. Patience, my friend, patience. Currently they are processing the incredible news that Great Tartary is not, in fact, a country, and never was. Give them time and space. – chx Aug 21 at 6:12
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    I imagine that whoever saw it saw a five digit number (which looks like a US zipcode, except that's an invalid one) and thought it was an invalid domestic address. Really though, fax or email is going to be a lot better. – Zach Lipton Aug 21 at 6:43
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    Probably just "Vatican City" rather than "Vatican City, Europe." The last line is supposed to be the name of the country. Continent isn't needed and adding it is probably more likely to cause problems than to solve them. – reirab Aug 21 at 20:05
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    Also, "City State" looks like a mail merge template that failed to get substituted. – Dennis Williamson Aug 21 at 21:36

An interesting fact: The primary official language for international postal services is French. Anything properly addressed in French cannot be refused. English was also added as an official language but only as late as in 1994. These days there are systems that are capable to recognize many different languages but they might not be working everywhere so limiting yourself to writing (at least) country name in French or English is a good idea.

Also the last line should be just the name of a country, capitalised. Some of the countries require to capitalise all letters, not just the country.

On the UPU page you can find examples of addressing in accordance to a specific country's format. Note, the addresses are stripped off of the country, that should be, as already mentioned, placed in the last line.

Finally it's always a good idea to go to your local postal office and ask how to properly address your mail. Let me tell an anecdote here. My father, located in Lodz, the third largest city in Poland, had to send some business mail to the British Virgin Islands about 10 years ago. So he wrote the address and went to the post office to send it. The lady at the counter deck looked at the address and said:

There is no such country as British Virgin Islands. There are Easter Islands, Islands of Cape Verde, but no British Virgin Islands (in Polish all those names contain the word "Islands").

So my father went back to the office, and discovered that French is the main language. So he went once again to the post office with a mail readdressed in French, but he got refused again. He asked for a manager, explained everything and the manager eventually accepted the postage claiming she will make sure it will leave the post office with no further obstruction.

After a few days, the mail was returned with a Warsaw postal stamp (Polish capital city) and annotation "There is no such country". My father's conclusion was "the British Virgin Islands might be a tax paradise, because it is not possible to send any debt reminders there".

  • 2
    Technically, they're not a country, they are a British overseas territory. Or at least, "it's complicated". – Federico Poloni Aug 21 at 13:12
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    That UPU page is a good reference to double-check. I have had issues in the past when putting "UK" for "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Apparently USPS postal workers will route that to Ukraine instead. According to the UPU page given it should be "Great Britain", although "England" usually works too in my experience. – Dragonel Aug 21 at 18:08
  • @FedericoPoloni yes, you're right. But I'm not sure if it is really that much distinguished when it comes to sending a post. It might be true though that the country was (properly) not listed in some computer system and that could be a reason of the lady's claim. – Ister Aug 22 at 8:29

If you don't mind another answer, what I think is happening is that your address is confusing the automated systems.

Instead of reading the line as "00120 Vatican City State" and correctly routing it to Vatican City in Rome, the software is reading as:

Street address: "00120 Vatican"

City and state: "City State" (missing zip code)

And since there's no such city called "City" and no such US state as "State", the letter was returned. So the previously answer of adding "Vatican City" on a separate line as a separate country is correct.

I would also recommend taking your letter to an office (US Post Office, UPS Store, and so on) so someone can type the address into their computer to get the correct postage amount and to route the letter so it arrives correctly.

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