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How To Use USPS General Delivery When Online Retailers Won’t Ship To A PO Box

Posted by Robert Hayes on May 29, 2019

There are times when you simply don’t have a mailing address that will work for receiving a package or a letter. You may be out of town, for example, but staying someplace with unreliable mail, or moving from place to place every day. Or you may be at home, but use a Post Office box for your mailing address; many people use PO Boxes for the convenience and security that they provide. Unfortunately, many online retailers won’t ship some items to a PO Box. In addition, both UPS and Fedex have policies stating that they will not deliver to a PO Box. This can cause a major problem with buying things online. So how can you get your mail delivered, if you don’t have a good local address or if you only have a PO Box?

The answer is an older method of mail delivery, almost forgotten but still valid, called General Delivery. General Delivery is a holdover from the days when lots of people didn’t have mailing addresses, and would instead visit a Post Office periodically to pick up any mail that had arrived for them. The service still exists and you can still use it, although there are a number of caveats. Some of the rules for General Delivery can be found on the USPS website, but most of the real rules are somewhat variable. In this article I’m going to show you how to use General Delivery and also explain the limitations of the service.

How to Use General Delivery

You need to know the main post office in the town or city where you are visiting. There is one main post office in each ZIP code. You can get General Delivery mail at any Post Office but generally speaking you’re going to get the best results at the largest and most important Post Office in the town or city. The easiest way to find out which Post Office is the “main” Post Office is to call the USPS at 1-800-275-8777 and ask; they’ll be happy to tell you. You can also just call the local post offices to inquire, and you’ll probably spend less time on hold.

Then you need to know what your General Delivery address is going to be. Depending on what kind of things you’re going to have sent to you, you may also want the street address of the Post Office. (More on that later.)

The format is:

YOUR NAME
GENERAL DELIVERY
[Optional: POST OFFICE STREET ADDRESS]
TOWN, ST 12345-9999

If I were to use the main post office in Colorado Springs, Colorado, here’s how it would look:

JOHN DOE
GENERAL DELIVERY
[Optional: 201 E. PIKES PEAK AVENUE]
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO 80903-9999

“GENERAL DELIVERY” is the actual address line, and using “9999” as the ZIP+4 also indicates general delivery.

Picking up your mail is easy – just go to the post office, present your identification and ask for any General Delivery mail that you’ve received. (If the postal staff know you personally, they don’t usually need to see identification.)

So This Will Work For All My Mail?

The answer is a definitive maybe.

It will work for any letter or package sent via the United States Postal Service. The Post Office will hold your mail and packages for you for 30 days (no longer than that – they WILL start to throw it out, because they aren’t eager to provide you with this service and it does become a hassle for them if you’re not picking up your mail). However, General Delivery is provided at the discretion of the local postmaster – if you have sixty-three packages delivered via General Delivery, you’d better pick them up the same day because the postmaster is not setting aside half of his or her storage area for you.

Where it gets tricky is the use of UPS and Fedex. Technically, these services do not work and play well with others, specifically with the USPS. People have reported that using General Delivery to get a package via UPS or Fedex has resulted in three possible outcomes:

  • The package arrives and there’s no problem
  • The package arrives but the USPS wants to collect postage for handling it for you
  • The package doesn’t arrive because the carrier refuses to send it

Reports from RVers, who use the General Delivery dodge to get their mail when they are on the road, indicate that the odds of a successful package delivery increase if they include the physical address of the post office in the address. You don’t need that address for USPS letters and packages, but should provide it if you’re trying for a UPS or Fedex delivery.

What About Amazon?

Amazon is of course the 600-pound gorilla in the online retailing world. Reports have indicated that Amazon will generally accept “General Delivery” as an address. However, Amazon uses both USPS and UPS, as well as its own delivery services, and you may run into lost-package-Hell if Amazon accepts the “General Delivery” address but UPS ends up not taking the package. Honestly, it’s a crapshoot.

Communicate

Because an absolutely huge portion of this process is the personal attitude of the human being who happens to be the postmaster where you’re trying to get your mail, the absolute best thing you can do is to go into the Post Office sometime when they aren’t extremely busy and ask to speak with him or her. Tell them your situation, that you’re needing to get some packages or some mail and that you plan to use General Delivery, and ask them how you should handle things like Amazon or UPS or Fedex. They may tell you that you’re out of luck, or they may help you out and cooperate with getting your packages to you.

Have any other tips or tricks for using General Delivery when you’re on the road or just don’t have a street address? Share them with us in the comments below!

We’ve got more resources for folks who are on the road.

If you’re on the road, you may need to print documents – here’s how to print documents when you don’t have a printer.

Apple Pay is a great convenience for travelers – here are the places where you can use Apple Pay at retail.

Want to give Facebook the wrong idea about where you are? Here’s how to fake your location with Facebook checkins.

Keeping your files in the cloud? Here’s our overview of which is better, Dropbox or Google Drive.

Using your phone for everything? Here’s how to upload pictures and video from your smartphone.

12 thoughts on “How To Use USPS General Delivery When Online Retailers Won’t Ship To A PO Box”

Megan Meyers says:
I love how MrZip and Rich has such a positive and polite interaction. Good for you both. Nice ppl.
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Benjamin says:
I almost never reply to articles but I have to commend you, this article is fantastic. Simple, concise, the way an article should be. We have had so many problems with our mail carrier, I am going to try this and see if I can avoid paying for a PO Box.
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scott graham says:
you can pick up ups free at a ups access point, which is often a store or shop.
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GRegg says:
Also be sure to check with your receiving post office.
Mine charges a fee to the recipient when you pick up a General Delivery package from them.
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Gregg says:
BTW – that fee is non-trivial. I think it’s $25.
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Tony says:
For many, $25 is very trivial. I would file complaint. Unless it’s C.O.D., there isn’t a fee.
Trayson Evans says:
I recently moved into an apartment with my wife. We ordered quite a few things on Amazon and had a problem with one of the packages and the address. I wish I had known this simple trick to use “general delivery” and the zip plus four. This would have made what has become a month long struggle much easier.
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John says:
If I normally get mail at my residence but will have something shipped GD because it is cheaper, will the PO notify me when it arrives or do I need to keep checking?
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Othman says:
It is very instructive, especially for the extension of zip code dedicated for “General Delivery” distribution mode with 9999 (four 9). Very helpful for people who want to deliver packages in different locations for many reasons. Thank you.
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Carlton Snyder says:
I will be in Amagon Arkansas. We do not have a home delivery for mail in our town but the post office master won’t to charge us for a PO Box which I think is not right the country customer you get your mail delivered at no charge I think we should to thank you
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John says:
I checked with my local post office. The Postmaster said the correct Zip Code to use ends in 9998, not 9999. She also said to include the street address of the post office in addition to General Delivery in the address.

I called UPS and asked if they would deliver a package marked General Delivery and was told NO. Haven’t called FedEx yet.

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Rich says:
What that postmaster said directly contradicts what the USPS.com web site says. Proof: http://i.imgur.com/VjayE.jpg
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Anonymous says:
If you show your shipping address as the street address of the Post Office Branch that you are using, both FedEx and UPS will deliver there.  In fact, both have a delivery option whereby they deliver packages addressed to a street address to the Post Office.  The Post Office has a form that you can sign authorizing them to accept packages addressed to you at their address.  The USPS doesn’t deliver to our address, but we have a PO Box in a nearby town.  We have had to start using the street address of the Post Office in which we have the PO Box as our shipping address, since both UPS and FedEx sometimes deliver to our street address, sometimes take it to the Post Office.  We signed their form, and it has worked fine.
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Joe says:
You have to be careful with this. FedEx and UPS deliver to SOME post offices, not all of them.
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Summerhathway says:
this post is so nice and interesting to read post…
It is so amazing and good…
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Mrzip says:
Rich, 
 
    I think that you are missing something.  When a shipper claims that they cannot ship to a PO Box, it usually indicates that they exclusively use UPS or FedEx for their shipping.  The Post Office will not accept shipments from UPS or FedEx.  If you want something shipped to a PO Box, you must use USPS as the shipper.  This would apply to “General Delivery” as well.  Sorry to burst your bubble.  It did sound like a great workaround and would definitely work for someone who was traveling.

MrZip

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Rich says:
No bubble burst whatsoever, but thanks for your concern.

Modern retailers like Amazon will auto-reject General Delivery as an invalid address if you try to ship to that type of address using anything but USPS. Many online retailers have a “no PO box” rule for almost anything shipped that’s over 2 pounds, but do list USPS as a shipping option. In that instance, GD is accepted as an alternative to a physical residence address.

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Mrzip says:
Point conceded.  I just checked a site that offers USPS shipping and will not ship to a PO box.  Thank you for that info.
Rich says:
No worries. It was a very valid point you brought up that I should have covered in the article originally so it was good you mentioned it, so equal thanks in your direction.

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