When was the last time you asked your audience for permission before sending a mass email? As email spam continues to become a major issue, governments around the world have put specific regulations in place to protect their citizens from unsolicited emails. If you’re not aware of the CAN-SPAM Act and able to break down international email spam laws, you could be entering dangerous territory.

To help protect international citizens from receiving email they don’t want, many laws require marketers to get permission from the owner of an email address prior to any communication. You can easily do this with an opt-in to receive email messages. Create something as simple as a newsletter or free webinar sign-ups, or use a lead generation tool like Opt-in Monster to acquire voluntary email opt-ins. However, the need for opt-ins doesn’t apply to everybody. Thanks to the US CAN-SPAM Act, you don’t need actual consent prior to sending an email to US citizens. Instead, you must provide people with the visible opportunity to unsubscribe from your email at any time.

Here’s a quick explanation of each relevant law by country or continent, highlighting what email marketers need to know to comply with them:

United States:

As we’ve already mentioned, for email marketers targeting audiences in the United States, it’s important to have full understanding of the CAN-SPAM Act. In short, this law covers all commercial messages, i.e. any email with the goal of advertising or promoting a product or service.

While you are not required to have opt-in consent before sending these emails in the US, the FTC still has requirements you must follow:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  3. Identify the message as an ad
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf


Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is one of the world’s most stringent anti-spam laws. It not only encompasses all requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act, but also adds the following:

  1. Sending of commercial electronic messages without the recipient’s consent, including messages to email addresses, social networking accounts and text messages
  2. Proof of opt-in is required
  3. Collecting and using email addresses without permission is prohibited
  4. Collection of personal information in violation of the federal law (e.g. the Criminal Code of Canada) is also prohibited


There is no catch-all anti-spam law or legislation to cover all of Europe. However, there are anti-spam laws in place for a number of countries. Although there are several commonalities in the laws among all European countries (i.e. express opt-in permission is required before sending emails, visible and functioning opt-out process is required, and withdrawing all opt-outs from any future email lists), using geographic segmentation and creating per-country anti-spam law checklists is the best way to protect yourself from legality issues and major fines.

Africa / Asia / South America

These three continents in particular, have looser spam-law requirements and no comprehensive email legislation that covers each continent and the countries within them. However, they all require an opt-out notice. It’s also still important to have full understanding of which countries have measures in place and how to follow them.


The Spam Act of 2003 covers emails to Australian recipients. This act prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages (aka spam) with an Australian link. According to the legislation, a message has an Australian link if it originates or was commissioned in Australia, or originates overseas but was sent to an address accessed in Australia. It’s important to review the Spam Act of 2003 website to define a commercial electronic message.

Certain messages however, can be sent without consent to Australian recipients. These messages from the following type of organizations include:

  1. Government bodies
  2. Registered charities
  3. Registered political parties
  4. Educational institutions (for messages sent to current and former students)

How to Comply with International Email Marketing Laws

  1. Only add email addresses to your mailing list after having obtained a record of permission of the owner of each email address. – As noted above, not all countries require this but if you’re sending emails globally, it’s best to keep records of each consent up-to-date at all times.
  2. Make sure subscribers can easily identify you as the sender. – Be sure you are including your brand’s name within the mailing, choosing a distinct from-name, and including a valid postal address and contact email address in each mailing.
  3. Never repurpose an email address without the user’s permission. – This means don’t take an email address and move it from one list to another. The United States (and most other Spam laws) prohibits you from repurposing an email address if the user has otherwise opted out prior. The CAN-SPAM law says it is unlawful “for the sender or any other person who knows that the recipient has made such a [opt-out] request, to sell, lease, exchange or otherwise transfer or release the electronic mail address of the recipient for any purpose other than compliance with this Act or other provision of the law.”
  4. Always include a working and visible opt-out option in all non-transactional email. – It is also imperative that opt-outs are processed immediately. Different countries have different regulations for how long it should take an opt-out to be processed. However, if your reader chooses to opt-out, chances are they won’t be very happy if they receive further communication.
  5. Be honest. – It’s too easy to come off as spam when sending mass emails as it is, so why give more reason for your readers not to trust you? Don’t hide the commercial character of your email and stay away from false or misleading subject lines and content.

Simply put, it’s true governments from around the world have enforced laws and regulations to protect their citizens from privacy and data breaches. And yes, you should comply with anti-spam laws when sending commercial emails and have proper guidelines and checklists in place. It’s not only about avoiding costly fines, but also about mutual respect between a company and its customers. For more tips on how to keep your email marketing legal, check out this blog post: 8 Steps to Make Sure your Email Marketing is Legal. Sometimes looking at the law from another perspective can help you understand that these rules can also show you how to add value to your email marketing.