How Does the Post Office Forward Mail?

Whether you're moving permanently to a new address or you'll be living somewhere else temporarily, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has procedures to make sure your mail is delivered to you. You can file forms online or at any physical post office facility.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The USPS forwards mail by entering the new address you provide into its database.

Complete a Change of Address Form at the Post Office

Look for the Mover's Guide at your local post office. If it's not on display, the postal employee at the counter can help you. Besides helpful tips about moving, the Guide includes PS Form 3575, which is the change of address form. Complete it as directed and either leave it with the counter employee or drop it into the letter mail slot inside the post office.

Complete a Change of Address Form Online

You can also complete a change of address form online at the USPS website. A fee of $1.05 is charged to your credit card to verify your identity.

There are options for individuals, families and businesses:

Individuals: Provide your name (first, middle initial and last) and an email address. You receive a confirmation email that prompts you for the next steps in the process. If you don't respond to the confirmation, you receive one email reminder. If you don't file a change of address with the reminder, the USPS automated system assumes no address change is needed.

Families: You provide contact information for one individual plus the names of all individuals who are moving to the new address. You are prompted to enter any last names that might be different from your own, as happens with couples who live together, with stepchildren, or with other relatives or friends who reside in your home. You are also asked if any people are staying at the old address.

Business: When a business is moving, you must provide the name of the business and tell whether the entire business is moving to a new address or just part of it, such as a division or department. If you receive business mail under more than one business name, such as a "doing business as" (DBA) name, you must file a separate form for each.

Change of address orders are processed if individuals or families use a business address as the "old" address. Employees or former employees cannot use a business address as their "new" address for personal mail.

Temporary and Permanent Forwarding

Whether the forward order is for a temporary or permanent move, the change of address form requires that you enter a starting date. The date entered must not be more than 30 days prior to the day you complete the form or more than three months in advance. Mail should reach your new address 7 to 10 days after the effective date or the filing date, whichever is later.

For you are using temporary forwarding, you must specify an ending date. Temporary forwarding is available when you'll be at a new address for six months or less. If you'll be at a new address for more than six months, fill out a permanent change of address form and then another permanent change of address form when you move back.

The minimum for a temporary change of address is 15 days. You can use USPS hold mail for shorter durations.

Change of Address Confirmation

After completing the online form or PS Form 3575, the USPS sends you up to three forms of confirmation:

  • Change of address validation letter: Sent to the old address to confirm the upcoming change. If you've already moved, this letter is not sent. If you're in transit, it is not forwarded to the new address.

  • Permanent change of address confirmation letter: Sent to the new address.

  • Welcome Kit: Sent to the new address. The kit contains offers and coupons geared to new residents.

Forwarding Timeline

The initial forwarding period is six months, but you can contact the USPS and extend forwarding to 12 months. This applies to First Class Mail, Priority Mail, Express Mail and packages. Periodicals and magazines are only forwarded for 60 days.

If USPS mail forwarding is not working, talk with an employee at your local post office.

References

About the Author

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.