Mailing and Shipping

You’re happy in school, but you miss your family and your mom’s birthday is coming up. Send her a card and gift! There are several types of mail delivery and shipping options, and we’ve laid them all out below.

U.S. Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS), by definition, does everything related to mail. Not surprisingly, it primarily delivers letters and packages and sells stamps and postal money orders.

Most post offices are open six days a week and closed on Sundays and holidays. But if you’re just mailing out a letter, there are blue collection boxes located in public areas that are open 24 hours a day and emptied on days the post office is open. And depending on your accommodation, you may be able to simply leave outgoing letters in your personal mailbox for your letter carrier to pick up. 

Addressing mail
Every town and city in the USA has a zip code, and many bigger areas often have several. Zip codes help post office staff know where exactly the delivery address is located, and it’s vital to include when sending both regular mail and packages. Zip codes are technically nine digits, though the first five are the most important; the last four digits of a zip code are used less often but are helpful in narrowing down the delivery area

There’s a special template used to write the delivery address for anything mailed or shipped to the USA: The recipient’s name is written on the first line, and, if relevant, his or her company or other institution is written on the second line. The next line includes the street address and, if necessary, the specific unit, such as “127 State Street, Apartment 4B.” The final line contains the city or town, the state it’s located in, and the zip code.   

Types of mail delivery
U.S. postal rates vary per item type and weight, delivery speed, delivery location, and additional services such as proof of delivery or insurance. If you want to know details without getting out of bed, check out the USPS’s postal calculator.

There are also numerous ways to mail letters and packages, though most mail items are likely to be sent First-Class Mail. This option is for single-piece envelopes that weigh a maximum of 3.5 ounces – essentially most letters – and for large envelopes and small packages that weigh a maximum of 13 ounces. In general, First-Class mail is delivered within three business days.

If you plan on being out of town, you can ask USPS to hold your mail until you get back. If you’ll be away for more than 30 days, however, you can forward your mail to a different address.

Other shipping services
Because modern living is about having choices, you can also ship packages using one of the main shipping companies such as FedEx, UPS, and DHL. Only the USPS can deliver packages to a PO Box, but otherwise all four services are relatively comparable in terms of pricing and delivery time, and all enable you to track your package online.

In general, you can request free package pickups, though USPS requires you to take your package to a post office to ship if it weighs more than 13 ounces and you’re using stamps. Keep in mind, though, that all international packages must include customs forms, and those are available both in post offices or shipping company stores as well as online.

If you’re reusing a box to send a package, make sure to remove or cover any old shipping labels. You don’t want anyone to be confused! If you need boxes for the item that’s being shipped, you may be able to get free ones from local stores that get rid of the boxes sent to them with items to sell. But if no one is feeling generous, you can buy boxes as well as all other packing materials such as tape and bubble wrap from office supplies stores such as Office Depot and Staples.

But before you get too excited about sending your best friend some fireworks, be forewarned that all four services have the same restrictions about what can’t be shipped.