When you need confirmation that a letter or package you're mailing reaches the recipient, use certified mail. This option offers several options to confirm delivery. Though there is an additional certified mail cost, the extra fee can give you peace of mind. Certified mail provides senders with a receipt and unique article number that they can track electronically to verify a delivery was made or attempted.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You can send certified mail to a Post Office Box or street address.
About Certified Mail
Certified mail from the U.S. Postal Service provides the sender with a dated receipt that includes a unique tracking number. Certified mail is accountable at the point of delivery, which means the recipient must sign for the item. The USPS maintains the delivery record for two years from the date of mailing.
Uses for Certified Mail
Certified mail service can be added to first-class or priority delivery fees. The added cost is extra insurance that your letter or package reaches the recipient. Items commonly sent via certified mail include the following:
- Bank documents
- Compliance documents
- Health care records
- Personal identity records
- Tax returns
- Time-sensitive communications
Certified vs. Registered Mail
Sending certified mail gives the sender proof that it was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made. Registered mail only provides proof that the item was sent, although senders can use their unique tracking number to follow the mailing's progress online, including the date of delivery.
Certified Mail vs. Delivery Confirmation
Certified mail offers proof of delivery because it requires the signature of the addressee. Delivery confirmation only shows that an item was delivered. The USPS is not responsible for mail or packages it delivers that are subsequently stolen from a recipient's mailbox or front porch.
Sending to a P.O. Box
With certified mail, the recipient signs for the item. If you send certified mail to a P.O. Box, the recipient receives a notification that a certified item is waiting for a signature. The United States Postal Service leaves Form PS 3849 in the addressee's box. The form states that the certified item is available for pickup at the post office for 15 days.
Second Notice for Unclaimed Certified Mail
After five days, the USPS sends a second notice to the addressee. The recipient has 10 more days in which to sign for and claim the mailed item. Unretrieved certified mail is returned to the sender after 15 days, marked "Unclaimed."
Tracking Certified Mail
A sender who mails a certified item receives a receipt for the certified mail. It is proof that the item was sent. The sender can confirm the delivery by entering the unique tracking number on the USPS website or into its automated phone system at 1-800-222-1811. The USPS does not automatically notify the sender of the delivery of certified mail. You must purchase a return receipt or signature confirmation at the same time you upgrade your postage to the certified mail rate for that service.
When You're Due a Refund on Certified Mail
If delivery is not verified after 30 days, you can get a refund on the service fees you paid at the time you sent the certified mail. Note that this does not include any compensation for the cost of the items mailed; you're just getting back the extra money you paid to send an item via certified mail.
Certified Mail Cost
A certified mail designation can be added to any first-class or priority mail item for $3.50 as of January 2020. For example, the cost of mailing a standard-sized envelope weighing 1 ounce is 55 cents. If you want certified mail service, the cost for the same envelope is $4.05.
The USPS will mail you a return receipt for an additional $2.80. You can get an electronic return receipt emailed to you for $1.60. Signature confirmation, either paper or electronic, is an additional $3.05, and you receive a copy of the actual signature obtained at delivery.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.