How to Email Legally: Country by Country

Email is one of the most cost-effective methods of communication for life science marketers with every $1 spent generating a $38 ROI on average across all industries. As effective as email is, it can become “spray and pray,” pretty quickly. Not only is “spray and pray” less effective (personalized email messages having a 6x higher response rate than general emails), mass emailing can even get you into legal trouble. I’ve suffered through enough government FAQs, so I thought I would pull regulations together and make your life a little easier. Here’s to email marketing! (legally)

United States

        The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 governs all commercial messaging in the United States. Currently the United States does not require that the individual opts-in to receiving email, as many other countries do. I expect this to change within the next few years as privacy concerns in the United States increase and we move towards the laws in other countries. The current law requires all commercial messages to follow these guidelines:

  • Information must be accurate, including the original domain name and email address
  • Subject lines must represent the contents of the email
  • The message must be identified as an advertisement, but the law does not specify how it needs to be identified.
  • An accurate physical business address must be included.
  • There must be a clear way for people to opt-out of receiving emails
  • All opt-out requests must be honored promptly

Violation of any of these guidelines can result in a fine of $16,000/email and companies are responsible for all emails they, or anyone they hire, send out on their behalf.

European Union

The European Union’s standards as dictated by the EU Opt-In Directive are stricter than those of the United States.

  • All B2C emails require consumers to opt-in.  
  • Individual member countries can set B2B regulations but the ability to opt-out is the minimum requirement. This policy is more similar to that of the United States, however many of the individual member countries have taken a stronger stance.
    • Some of the countries require opt-ins for all email messaging from businesses, others require opt-ins unless the product or service advertised is in direct relation to the recipient’s job title,” and others require opt-ins if it is a direct marketing email or if the email is sent to more than 50 people.
  • Business messages must always include
    • The full name of the company and its legal form
    • The place of registration of the company
    • The registration number
    • The address of the registered office
    • The VAT number
  • Punishment varies from fines to even imprisonment in the different countries.


Canada’s anti-spam legislation is known as CASL and similar to the EU’s policies. I predict many of these regulations will spread to the United States soon.

  • Opt-in with implied or explicit consent is required
  • Implied consent from an existing business relationship or a non-business relationship only lasts for 3 years
  • A valid postal address or the link to a page containing a valid postal address must be clearly included in the email


China’s anti-spam legislation covers any and all promotional material, making it much more general than the US definition of spam.

  • Verifiable opt-in permission is required for an email to be included in a mass email list
    • This permission must be stored indefinitely
    • Opt-out options also needs to be included
  • “Ad” must be in the subject line
  • Punishment can range from 10,000 to 30,000 yuan/email


There is currently no strong or clear legislation regarding email marketing in India, but multiple blogs are hoping for similar anti-spam legislation to that of Canada, the EU or the US.

Common Ground Across These Markets

  • Each law requires every message to include a free, easy way to opt-out quickly
  • The sender must be clearly identified and cannot be mislabeled
  • The messages must be identified as promotional material in some way

Email marketing is a valuable, powerful tool – but accessing individuals is only going to get more difficult. It is becoming critical for companies to figure out a way to get an “opt-in” from potential customers. If you don’t have an opt-in be careful of emailing people in mass emails or even doing peer to peer emailing outside of the United States. Always be clear about who is sending the message and make sure to identify the email as an ad and you’ll be meeting most of the regulations for any customer’s country. Regulations are tedious, but with this guide you should be able to email with less fear.

Collette King

Collette King a life science marketing professional who began her career at Magellan Diagnostics and S2N Health and transitioned onto the founding team of Acenna.

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