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QSL cards have been exchanged by radio amateurs since the beginning of the hobby to confirm 2-way contacts, but the practice of QSLing is thought to predate amateur radio itself, as a means of verifying listener reports of some of the earliest experimental broadcast signals, especially when heard over long distances. QSL cards are often said to be the final courtesy of a contact, and indeed millions are exchanged each year. 

While QSL cards can provide proof for operating awards of a contact with a particular entity or area, they are also interesting to collect as they all have their own unique style, often reflecting a particular ham’s interests or location, and sometimes come from distant countries or remote islands. 

Above: Traditional QSL card, which includes details such as Operator Call Sign, QTH, Call sign of station worked, Signal report in RST, Date, Time, Antenna, Transmitter, Power output, and Receiver info. 

What is a QSL card?

The term QSL comes from the radio "Q" code meaning "I confirm reception", and the purpose of a QSL card is to confirm a contact. The cards themselves are normally post card sized, many being very attractive. They often show photographs of the ham radio station, the operator, or the area in which he or she lives, and this makes them very interesting.

Originally, ham radio operators exchanged letters to confirm contacts, but eventually the idea of a pre-printed card arose. One reason is that they were cheaper to send through the mail. Another is that it saved time from having to write the same information, such as location and station details, over and over.

Today, ham radio operators send QSL cards for a variety of reasons. Often colorful, they are fun to collect, and it’s nice to have a card that reminds one of a special contact, whether it was with a rare country or a memorable person.

QSLs are also required when applying for ham radio awards. One of the most famous awards is DXCC (DX Century Club), issued by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), for submitting proof of making contacts with a hundred countries. Further endorsements can be added for making contacts with additional countries, or on multiple bands or modes.

Above: The QSL card for the K1S lighthouse activation from Spring Point Ledge Light, in August 2018. Note that since this is for a portable operation for International Lighthouse & Lightship Weekend (ILLW), it includes the name of the lighthouse and ILLW number.

QSL Card Content

As a bare minimum, a QSL card should contain enough information to confirm a ham radio contact. Normally the card is pre-printed with the call sign of the originating ham radio station placed prominently on the front. In addition to this, ham radio QSL cards should include a number of other details, such as: 

  • Operator's name and address:   This is obviously very important as it states where the station is located and who is operating the station. Some additional items associated with the location may be required for certain awards, such as: 
    • Maidenhead Grid Square locator:   This is important for people operating on the VHF and UHF bands. 
    • Islands on the Air (IOTA Number):   For people located on an island, this can also be important for operators working towards their Islands on the Air (IOTA) award. 
    • Summits on the Air (SOTA Number): For people operating from mountaintops, this can be important for operators working towards their SOTA awards. 
    • Others: If you’re operating from any number of special locations, such as lighthouses, World Wide Floral and Fauna sites, Parks on the Air (POTA), etc., be sure to include the designators for these locations, as they are important for operators seeking these awards. Some hams that do a lot of portable operating leave a space to write this information in.
  • Callsign of station being contacted:  Necessary to confirm any 2-way contact.
  • Date:   This is an obvious requirement for any QSL card, but be sure to fill it in correctly, using the UTC date - not your local date.
  • Time:   The time included on a QSL card is normally given in UTC - Universal Time Coordinated. By using one global standard there is no need for time zone conversions. Sometimes the letter 'z' may be used to denote UTC.
  • Signal Report:   The signal report given is useful because it confirms the signal strength, readability and other factors related to the conditions at the time.
  • Frequency / Band:   At the very least, the band should be specified, but preferably the frequency of the contact should be included.
  • Mode of Operation:   The mode of operation is important. Some DX stations may run several stations at the same time, and therefore the mode of operation is important. It is also important when claiming awards as it may be necessary to detail the mode for a certain endorsement.
  • Equipment Used:   It’s always interesting to see what equipment other hams are using.
  • PSE / TNX QSL:   It is helpful to have space to say whether a card has been received, or whether one is wanted from the other station. Something like "PSE/TNX QSL" (please / thanks QSL) is often used.

Who uses QSL cards?

Many individuals and organizations send QSL cards, including:

  • Ham Radio Operators:   Many ham radio operators, especially those using the HF bands, send them regularly. The practice is less common for contacts above 50 MHz, although for DX contacts many stations still need to collect QSL cards for awards.
  • Short Wave Listeners:   Listeners often send QSL cards as well. They may send a card to a transmitting station to give a listener report in the hope of receiving a card back. The more common practice is to send a Reception Report, which includes many of the same details as you would put on a QSL card, but adds information such as propagation conditions, details of what was heard, and information about other stations heard in that area.
  • Broadcast stations:   Occasionally, broadcast stations may send QSL cards. To qualify for a QSL card, broadcast stations often require that the listener has listened to the station over a period of time (usually 30 minutes). Besides the technical details, they also like to receive comments about their programming.

Collecting QSL Cards

Collecting QSL cards has become an interesting hobby in itself. Cards from distant corners of the earth can be attractive and displayed in the shack. Some hams and shortwave listeners alike, collect vintage QSLs, which turn up in places like antique shops and estate sales.

QSL Cards

Electronic QSLs

With the rise in the use of electronic forms of sending and saving data, electronic QSLs or eQSLs are now widely used, providing lower cost of cards and delivery, increased speed and automation as well as greater functionality.

There are two prominent electronic QSL systems that are in use:

One of the first electronic QSL services was eQSL, which enables the electronic exchange of QSL card images. These electronic QSLs can then be printed on the recipient's local printer.


eQSL also offers their own award program, but since 2009, CQ Amateur Radio magazine also began accepting electronic QSLs from eQSL, for its award programs, and the Deutscher Amateur Radio Club (DARC) began accepting eQSLs for their award programs around the same time. Many logging programs also have the ability to directly interface with the eQSL database to transmit contact details in real-time.

Click here to visit eQSL’s website.

The ARRL's Logbook of the World (LoTW) program was introduced in 2004. This electronic QSL method enables confirmations to be submitted electronically. The electronic QSL confirmations are in the form of database records which are electronically signed with the private key of the sender.


These confirmations are accepted for ARRL award programs, including DXCC and Worked All States (WAS), and this makes applying for these awards very easy, once the system has been set up. It enables DXCC or WAS status to be automatically updated as new logs come in.

The downside for LoTW is that the system simply matches database records and does not have the ability to create QSL card images that can be printed out for collecting.

The ARRL Logbook of The World LOTW can be reached here.

What is a QSL Bureau?

A QSL bureau or buro, is a well-established system for sending amateur radio QSL cards in bulk via the post.

The traditional way of sending QSL cards is through the mail, but sending cards directly is costly as many of them need to be sent overseas.

In order to overcome this, the QSL bureau concept enables cards to be sent in bulk. Although it takes more time, the QSL bureau provides a very much more cost effective way of sending cards.

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.


How to use a QSL bureau

Where a QSL bureau exists and operates reliably, it is usually 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 way.

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 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. Collect these in a large envelope and send it to the required address of your national society for outgoing QSL cards. Hams in the United States may use the ARRL Outgoing QSL Service. Click here for more info.

Incoming QSL cards:   To claim any incoming QSL cards, it is typically necessary to either send pre-paid envelopes or postage to the bureau. 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 bureau. Hams in Maine will use the W1 QSL bureau, which is sponsored by the Yankee Clipper Contest Club:


QSL Managers

Many DXpeditions, contest operators, and stations located in countries with unreliable postal service, rely on QSL managers to send their cards for them. Most of these operators will post details about the QSL Manager on their QRZ page. They will also specify whether QSL cards should be sent either directly to the QSL manager, or via the bureau.

  • Direct:   When sending cards to a QSL manager, it is normally expected that the return postage will be sent along. This is common courtesy for any direct QSL request, but it is usually required by managers. Often QSL managers will request International Reply Coupons (or IRCs) to pay for airmail and other expenses, but IRCs are difficult to obtain in the U.S. An accepted alternative is to include two or more US Dollar bills in with the card.
  • Via the bureau:   When sending cards to a QSL manager via the bureau, the QSL manager's call should be clearly indicated on the card, saying station1 via station2. In this way, the card can be routed to the the QSL manager instead of the actual station that was contacted.


Since you're here, you may also be interested in: Writing a Reception Report

Click here to download a logo that you may use on your QSL card, or QRZ page.


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Wireless Society of Southern Maine, P.O. Box 6833, Scarborough, ME 04074