What Are USPS Shipping Zones? (How It Works, Meanings + More)

One of the best things about the United States Postal Service is that they cover literally every square mile of the U.S. If you have a residential address, they will get your mail to you.

However, you aren’t necessarily charged the same to ship to the next town over versus the next state over. This is because of USPS shipping zones.

So, what are USPS shipping zones? If you weren’t aware of these before, prepare to have your mind blown below!

What Are USPS Shipping Zones?

The United States Postal Service’s shipping zone system is a highly individualized method of determining the price of some postage and the speed of shipping for residents in an area. Based on customers’ zip codes, the zones number 1 through 9, with 1 being the closest and 9 the furthest possible destination.

You probably have a lot of questions now about how USPS zones work, how they affect your shipping costs, and even how to find out your own zone; well, I have answers if you just keep on reading!

How Do USPS Zones Work?

If you and your friend in a different city looked at a map of the United States postal zones, believe it or not, your maps would look totally different.

This is because while USPS shipping zones are always broken up into nine different regions, those regions are individualized based on the zip code of origin.

(So yes, it is possible that a zone map for two people is within the same metro area but in different zip codes, it could be different.)

ShippingSchool.com does a good breakdown of what the different zones mean:

  • Zone 1: 1-50 miles
  • Zone 2: 51-150 miles
  • Zone 3: 151-300 miles
  • Zone 4: 301-600 miles
  • Zone 5: 601-1000 miles
  • Zone 6: 1001-1400 miles
  • Zone 7: 1401-1800 miles
  • Zone 8: 1801 miles or greater
  • Zone 9: Freely Associated States and U.S. territories, like Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.

The general rule is that the further away from the zone to which you are shipping, the more expensive it will be.

You can see from this how shipping to, say, California would cost less for someone in Arizona than it would for someone in Georgia.

Once you know your zone and the zone in which your mailpiece’s destination resides, you can check USPS.com’s handy price page.

Not all mail relies on shipping zones for postage prices; First-Class, USPS Marketing, Library, and Media mail all ship for the same price, regardless of destination.

(However, First-Class Package Service, for items 13 ounces and lighter, does use zone shipping prices!)

Zoned services include Priority Mail, Priority Express, USPS Retail Ground, and Bound Printed Matter.

Let’s look at the Priority Mail price breakdown for an example.

A parcel that only weighs one pound will ship locally and within Zones 1 and 2 for the starting rate of $7.95.

Say someone lived in Pittsburgh, zip code 15213 (the majority of which is the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland).

They could send a 1-lb. parcel within the 15213 zip code, as well as to part of West Virginia, most of Western PA, and well into Ohio for that $7.95.

These also constitute the fastest shipping times, as well; sent Priority, about half of that area could see delivery in one day.

Recipients in any of the other parts of Zone 1 and 2 would receive the parcel within two days.

None of the Local areas or Zone 1 or 2 would conceivably have to wait three days for Priority Mail (provided there were no outside delays).

I found this really helpful Zone Map from PirateShip.com, which I used in conjunction with the USPS.com Priority Mail Delivery Map.

You can also use the USPS.com Domestic Zone Map as well.

How Are USPS Shipping Zones Calculated?

How Are USPS Shipping Zones Calculated?

I can’t speak to how USPS decided on the distances for each zone, but they are calculated as radiuses from each individual local zip code.

From looking at a map, you can see the zones aren’t drawn as perfect circles but close approximations, adhering to the general distance rules.

You can find the breakdown of zones by distance here.

One thing I find interesting about the shipping zone system is that some zip codes sit in the middle of the country, like 67460 (McPherson County, Kansas).

Because of this central location, they have very few Zone 7 areas – just Maine and a few zip codes in the Pacific Northwest.

For these lucky residents, the vast majority of their zoned shipping costs would fall under Zone 6 or less.

How Do USPS Zones Affect Your Shipping Costs?

A mailpiece traveling from California to Washington, D.C., has to cover a lot more ground than, say, a mailpiece from California to Texas, so USPS charges more for some services.

Zoned services include Priority Mail, Priority Express, USPS Retail Ground, and Bound Printed Matter.

Also included: First-Class Package for parcels 13 ounces and fewer.

Basically, the further a mailpiece has to go, the more it will cost with these zoned services.

But some services see a sharper rise in price than others the further your parcel goes.

For example, a 1-oz. parcel starts at $4.30 for Zones 1 and 2 and only rises to $4.75 for Zone 9.

But a half-pound envelope starts at $23 for Local and Zone 1 and 2 shipping, then climbs all the way to $46.90 for Zone 9.

Check out the pricing for a Priority Mail package at 70 lbs. (the maximum weight). Local + Zone 1 and 2 shipping start at $166.15.

But if you want to get that package to a U.S. Territory (Zone 9), you better have $575.20 to spare!

You might be wondering why the Postal Service charges so much for some services and uses this zoned approach to do it.

If you haven’t heard, USPS does not run on taxpayer funding. Instead, the Postal Service operates solely based on its sales.

Yes, despite being an agency of the U.S. government, it is nonetheless an independent agency with more self-regulatory power than other fully government-funded agencies.

So if they do have to charge more for shipping further, it’s to try and remain functional for as long as possible, which is growing more difficult with each passing quarter.

How Do You Know Your USPS Postal Zone?

You can find your local zone, as well as all the other zones relative to your specific location, by using the USPS.com Domestic Zone Calculator.

For all you visual learners, this PirateShip.com map is even better, giving you a color-coded guide to each zone from whatever zip code you input.

It’s important to remember: There is no one set zone for each zip code, the way there are time zones. These zones are dynamic and calculated based on each specific zip code.

What Are USPS International Zones?

If you want to send mail abroad, you can use USPS international zones to find out how much it will cost you.

USPS actually calls them Price Groups, but you can think of them similarly to domestic zones.

One big difference, though, is that the international price group a country is in can vary based on the shipping service.

For example, Croatia is in Price Group 4 if you are mailing via Global Express Guaranteed and Group 3 if you are mailing Priority Express International.

Then it’s in Group 8 for Priority Flat-Rate International.

Most of the countries of the world are like this, occupying different groups – and therefore different price points – based on the shipping service.

(One nice feature of international shipping with USPS is that for Global Express Guaranteed – the most expensive shipping option – Canada is always Group 1.)

To return to Croatia as an example, if you wanted to ship a 5-lb. package via Global Express Guaranteed, that would run you $243.40.

Using Priority Express International would cost $97.50.

With Priority Flat-Rate International, Croatia is in Group 8. The medium Flat-Rate box is for items 4.1 lbs to 20 lbs. and would cost $85.

Unlike domestic zones, USPS’s International Groups are consistent no matter where you are in the U.S. No matter your zip code, Croatia’s Groups are going to be the same.

To know more about shipping, you can also read our related posts on whether or not USPS ships to Puerto Rico, whether USPS ships to Canada, and whether USPS delivers to the door.

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Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of QuerySprout.com.

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