How Does Certified Mail Work?

by Deb Katula - Updated September 26, 2017
How Does Certified Mail Work?

Certified mail is a specialized mail delivery service offered through the U.S. Postal Service. Letters classified as certified will be delivered and signed for along with the recipient's usual mail delivery service. A certified letter will include a green confirmation of delivery card as an attachment to front of the letter. Upon delivery, the recipient must sign this green card to accept delivery. A record of this transaction is legally binding and maintained by the post office. This record includes the date of delivery, the name and signature of the person receiving the delivery and if the delivery was accepted or refused.

Senders of certified mail will receive a receipt from the post office after paying for this specialized service. The receipt will include a numerical identifier that can be used by the sender to confirm delivery on line through the U.S. Postal Service website. Sending documents through certified mail provides a method of legally confirming the intended mail recipient actually took possession of the information on a specific date at a specific time. Important documentation or legal requests needing delivery verification are often sent via certified mail. For very small fee, the U.S. Postal Service will mail the sender a confirmation of delivery and a copy of the signature card. This confirmation can be transmitted to the letter sender by regular mail or email.

To prepare a mailing for certified mailing, obtain and complete Form 3800. This form is available at any U.S. Post Office. Form 3800 is the green card that is attached to certified mail. The cost to send certified mail is the regular cost of sending a letter through standard mail plus an additional cost for specialized certification services. If confirmation and copy of the returned signature card is necessary, an additional small fee is required. Restricted delivery can be requested by the sender if she needs to ensure the certified mailing is received by a particular individual. These instructions will provide instructions to the letter carrier that delivery can only be accepted by the person to whom the item is addressed.

About the Author

Deb Katula has written and researched for Societe Generale, FIMAT, Nikko Securities, Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Arthur Anderson. She holds an MBA in economics and finance from the University of Chicago; a Japanese language fellowship from Harvard; and a Bachelor of Arts in business/psychology/Asian studies from Augustana College.

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