USA vs. UK Email Marketing

The world of marketing is a very competitive one, and if you’re just starting out in email marketing, it can be a bit overwhelming. If you ‘email marketing’ into Google, you’ll be shown 1.7 billion results. So how do you know which company or service to use?

We are no longer restricted to using companies in our local town or city, we can go further afield, potentially overseas to find the perfect company. Especially with a service like email marketing, it can be sold from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world.

The main differences between using an email marketing service from the UK or USA, is the law surrounding the use of data. Here we will look at the different laws that apply, the battle is on: USA vs. UK email marketing.

Type of Email Messages

USA: The CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003) will cover commercial email messages that are used for advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.

UK: UK email marketing is covered by the EU Directive 2003/58/EC and covers all direct email marketing messages including charitable and political messages.

Permission/Opt-in requirement

USA: The CAN-SPAM Act states that commercial email can be sent to anyone, even without permission, as long as they’re given the chance to opt-out.

Other types of email cannot be sent without permission. Your recipient needs to agree to receive the email before you send it. The breaking of this law may result in a hefty fine (up to $300 per email is some cases) or even imprisonment. However, if you buy data to be used on a B2B basis, this will be prohibited – you cannot send emails to a cold list in this scenario.

UK: Here in the UK, you can only send emails to certain people following a set criterion. The individual’s details must have been obtained through a sale or negotiation, the message must relate to similar products offered by the sender, and the individual must have been given the opportunity to refuse marketing messages in future. However, when sending B2B emails, the sender just needs to include the ability to opt-out, no previous consent is required.

On a B2B basis, you can send to a bought list – sending to a cold list is acceptable in the UK.


USA: Every message must include opt-out instructions. The sender must honour the opt-out request within 10 days.

UK: Every message must include opt-out instructions. When an email address has been gathered as part of a transaction, further emails can be sent to the recipient, but must contain the option to opt-out.

Sender Identity

USA: The CAN-SPAM Act bans false or misleading header information. The ‘From’, ‘To’ and routing information must be accurate and must clearly identify the person who sent the email. The Act also prohibits deceptive subject headers and other ways of fraudulently sending spam.

UK: Disguising or concealing the identity of the sender is prohibited.

Subject lines/labelling

USA: Deceptive subject lines are prohibited. The content of the email must be explained in the subject line. If the email is an advertisement, this must be mentioned.

UK: Again, deceptive subject lines are prohibited.

Contact information/postal information

USA: A valid physical postal address is required to be sent within the email.

UK: Again, a valid physical postal address is required. Companies registered or operating within the EU need to state their company details on every electronic business communication sent from their organisation. Business email addresses must include: the full name of the company, place of registration, the registration number, the address of the registered office and the VAT number.

eu law

Checklist of legal requirements

There isn’t a great deal of difference between the USA and UK’s email marketing legalities, but it is important to know the difference and how to avoid the pitfalls. Here is a handy checklist to avoid a potential fine:

- Do I have prior explicit permissions from the recipient?

- Does the message have:

        - A clear and accurate sender identity?

        - An accurate subject line?

        - Clear and easy opt out instructions?

        - A physical postal address and company details?

        - A valid return address?

- Have I tested that the subscription and un-subscription works?

- Have I tested the email before sending?

- Can I process replies and subscriber requests promptly?

NB, this information is intended to provide guidance only, and does not constitute professional advice.


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