How to Track U.S. Postal Mail

american Mail box and freeway sign image by Ashle Whittle from Fotolia.com

Whether your small business has sent mail or expects to receive a package, you can expect most items shipped with USPS First Class or Priority Mail to arrive within one to three days, while Priority Mail Express can arrive as soon as the next morning. While you wait for delivery, you can easily track your package's status on the USPS website, or you can use the USPS phone system to get automated package information and speak to an employee if necessary. You also have the option to get delivery updates sent to your email or phone and have USPS perform a search for mail you suspect has been lost in transit.

How U.S. Mail Tracking Works

When your business buys a USPS shipping label online or at a post office, the mailing service typically includes a tracking number on the label that allows you to monitor the package online or by phone. At different points in transit, such as when your package gets picked up or moves between sorting stations and post offices, a USPS worker scans the label with a barcode reader, which updates the tracking details in the system.

One of the limitations of the USPS mail tracking system is that you must have a tracking number to check your mail's status. This means you can't track a First Class letter to which you just attached some stamps, and some other flat shipments such as magazines also do not permit tracking. In addition, First Class international shipments do not come with tracking by default, so you need to pay an additional fee to be able to track the package.

Check a Tracking Number

The USPS website makes it easy to track up to 35 packages at once as long as you have the tracking numbers. To access the tracking system, click "Track & Manage" on the USPS website. In the "Track Your Package" field, type each tracking number with commas between them for separation, and then click "Track" to pull up the current tracking information.

If you have just shipped the package, you may see a notice that the tracking information is not yet available and there is a note telling you to check back at a later time. Otherwise, you should see an expected delivery estimate and details about the package's acceptance through USPS and its stops at post office and sorting station locations. If the package is on a USPS truck for delivery, the tracking history will indicate this and will later update the status again after the delivery attempt.

USPS also offers an automated phone tracking system that provides information on your package's delivery status. If you prefer using the phone, call 1-800-222-1811. Follow the prompts for an option to track a shipment and then enter your tracking number when requested. You can also ask to speak to a USPS representative if you need help.

Request Delivery Updates

When you track a package on the USPS website, you have additional options to automate the tracking process for convenience. Under "Text & Email Updates" on the tracking results page, you can select from a variety of text and email updates to keep you informed about delivery exceptions, estimated delivery times, delivery attempts and pickup availability.

After you select your desired updates, USPS will request your phone number for text message tracking and your name and email address for email tracking. You will need to agree to the terms and conditions and click "Get Updates" to begin receiving updates to your phone or email account.

Locate a Missing USPS Package

If your package has not arrived by the estimated delivery date or there are no updates on the tracking for a week, you may contact USPS to have them search for your mail. You can do a missing mail search through the USPS website's "Help" menu, and you will need a USPS account to do so. When submitting the request, USPS will ask for:

  • The addresses of the receiver and sender
  • Details of the shipment method, insurance coverage and service type
  • Proof of shipment, such as a tracking number or post office receipt
  • Physical explanation of the package and its contents
  • Photos of your shipping box if available

After entering details about your package, USPS will ask for your personal information and where you want the missing shipment to go if found. After you submit the search request, you can track it on the USPS website and update it if your package shows up. USPS may also contact you if it finds your package or has updates on its location in transit.

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About the Author

Ashley Donohoe started writing professionally about business topics in 2010. Having eight years experience running all aspects of her small business, she is knowledgeable about the daily issues and decisions that business owners face. She also has earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a leadership and strategy concentration from Western Governors University. Some other places featuring her business writing include JobHero, LoveToKnow, PocketSense, Chron and Study.com.

Photo Credits

  • american Mail box and freeway sign image by Ashle Whittle from Fotolia.com