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:
[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:
[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.
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!
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