The United States Postal Service works hard every single day to deliver millions of mailpieces to every conceivable address in the U.S.
But sometimes carriers have to take packages back to the Post Office because they were undeliverable, due to weather or perhaps lack of signature.
If you can’t get down to the Post Office right away, you might wonder: How long does USPS hold packages? I’ve got the answer you seek just below.
How Long Does USPS Hold Packages?
For the vast majority of their mailing services, the United States Postal Service holds packages up to 15 days after the date of attempted delivery. In each case, USPS also issues a second and final notice a few days later. After 15 days, packages are returned to the sender.
To find out how you can know if USPS is holding a package for you, how to find out where it’s being held if someone else can pick it up for you, and what happens to packages that can’t be returned to sender, keep reading!
How Do You Know If USPS Holds Your Package?
When your U.S. Postal Service carrier attempts to deliver a package but, for whatever reason, finds they cannot, they will leave a peach-colored PS Form 3849.
The PS Form 3849 is the Delivery Notice/Reminder/Receipt, and it’s the note that there is an item waiting for you in your local Post Office.
In my experience, the postal carrier will try and leave the note right at the top of the pile so that it’s visible and not hidden among envelopes (and potentially tossed).
But what if you do accidentally miss it? Or you see it, and you forget to go retrieve your parcel?
Not to worry, because the Post Office will also issue a Second and Final Notice, generally three to five days after the first attempted delivery.
It’s the same PS Form 3849, but there is a box at the bottom left corner that reads “Final Notice”; if checked, that means that the time to pick up the parcel is nearing.
There is also a space where the postal carrier can enter the date that the holding period is over, and the parcel will be sent back to the return address.
There is one huge exception to the 15-day holding rule: items that are sent Priority Mail Express are only held for five days, and the Second/Final notice is given after three days.
You have a lot less time to go get that parcel, so if you see that it was sent Priority Mail Express, hustle on down to the Post Office, stat!
How Do You Know Where Your USPS Package Is Being Held?
If you live in a smaller town or city where there is only one Post Office location, then you likely know exactly where to go to get your pick-up mail.
But if you’ve moved somewhere nearby, and that location has multiple Post Offices, you might be wondering how you find the one that is holding your package.
According to USPS.com, you can learn this information in one of two ways.
First, the USPS Tracking page for your parcel will tell you where to go once the tracking info has been updated to reflect that the Post Office is holding your item.
If you don’t want to wait for that, you can also call 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) and speak to a customer service representative.
How Do You Pick Up a USPS Package?
Picking up your USPS package that is being held is simple.
Just make sure you bring along your PS Form 3849 and your valid photo ID (for some people, a driver’s license; for others, a passport or ID card).
If your Form isn’t signed yet, they’ll have you do it at the counter; then they’ll check your ID to make sure the names, signatures, and faces are a match.
Can Someone Else Pick Up Your Package From the Post Office?
You can authorize someone else to pick up your package that is being held at the Post Office.
However, you will have to either write on the PS Form 3829 or on a white sheet of paper something along the lines of:
(Name of retriever) has my permission to pick up mail for (Your Name).
This little note should then be followed by your signature.
How Long Does USPS Hold Packages For a PO Box?
When you have an item that doesn’t fit in your PO Box, the Post Office leaves you a notification in your box that you have a parcel to pick up at the front counter.
In most cases, they will hold that package for the requisite 15 days. It depends on what service was used to send the item, just like a regular package hold.
What Happens If You Don’t Pick Up a Package From the Post Office?
After the holding period is up and no one has come to claim the package, USPS attempts to mail it back to the sender.
Sometimes, however, there is no return address, or the information is illegible, making it impossible to return.
In these cases, mail may get put in the Dead Mail area, where some postal workers seek to find missing/illegible addresses so that the package can eventually get sent back.
The good news: If you miss your holding period, there is still a chance your package can make its way to you.
It’s not a sure thing (it could be en route back to the sender), and it’s a bit of a process, but it can be done.
If the package cannot be returned to the sender, it may be in a Mail Recovery Center (one is in GA, and one is in MN).
The packages are scanned, and if found to be worth more than $25, they are held for an additional 60 days. It is during this period that you can act.
(If your item is found to be worth less than $25, unfortunately, it is probably the end of the road for your search.)
You will have to fill out a Mail Recovery Center Search Request and include as much information about your parcel as you can.
This especially includes barcode/Tracking info and the packaging size, as well as the contents of the package (in as much detail as you can manage).
Then – you wait! USPS will do its best to locate your package and get it back to you.
Ultimately, though, the lesson to be learned is not to miss your initial 15-day window for picking up a package at your Post Office.