How Does Certified Mail Work?

by Nicole LaMarco ; Updated October 25, 2018

You’ve probably heard about certified mail and wondered what it’s all about. Is it used to send only a particular kind of mail, or is it used to send mail only to a particular kind of recipient? Certified mail is a very special kind of delivery service for mail that is offered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Tips

  • Certified mail allows senders to gain confirmation that the item they sent through the mail was delivered to and accepted by the intended recipient.

Certified Letters and Mail

Any letter that qualifies as a certified letter is delivered to the recipient along with the regular mail-delivery service. There are some stark differences in how a certified letter works, however, as opposed to a regular letter. The letter will come with a green card known as the confirmation of delivery card. It is usually simply referred to as the "green card."

Certified Mail Delivery Time

The recipient should sign this green card upon receipt of the letter as a sign that he has received the letter and accepted delivery. This transaction is then recorded, and it is considered legally binding. As long as you signed the green card, you are legally considered to have received and accepted a given letter on a given date at a given time, known as the certified mail delivery time. The record is admissible in a court of law. The record of the transaction is maintained by the post office and includes a number of details, including the fact that the delivery occurred on a certain date at a certain time, the name and signature of the person who received delivery of the letter and whether or not the delivery was accepted. Note that if you refuse to sign the green card, then you are considered to have refused the delivery.

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Why Do People Send Certified Mail?

Certified mail is especially sent by people who would like confirmation of receipt by their recipients. They don’t want to leave any loose ends for legal reasons. For example, legal documents and letters such as notices of divorce are commonly sent via certified mail. For a little extra fee, the sender gets to know for sure that the recipient received the mail and accepted it or rejected it, which makes it much easier to take further action.

What Is the Process for Sending Certified Mail?

It all starts with form 3800. That is the special form one has to complete in order to prepare mail for the certified mail service. The form itself is actually the green card that is eventually attached to the certified mail. It can be found at any U.S. post office. The certified mail’s cost is equivalent to the cost of sending a regular letter plus a small premium that covers the special certification and administration services. If the sender would like to receive a signed copy confirming that the green card was signed, then they will pay a small extra fee.

The sender can also request something known as restricted delivery, where it is ensured that the certified mail is received only by a certain individual. The letter carrier will be provided with instructions that only the person for whom the certified mail is intended can accept delivery.

Certified Mail Tracking

The sender of the certified mail will receive a receipt from the post office once she has paid for the service. Included on the receipt will be a numerical identifier that can be used for certified mail tracking to confirm delivery online. Certified mail is a way to legally confirm delivery and acceptance of a piece of mail on a given date at a given time. If the sender would like to receive the confirmation in physical form, she will be mailed a confirmation letter as well as a copy of the signed letter via regular mail.

About the Author

Nicole is a business writer with nearly two decades of hands-on and publishing experience. She's been published in several business publications, including The Employment Times, Web Hosting Sun and WOW! Women on Writing. She also studied business in college.

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