USPS: Return to Sender

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May 26, 2023

The United States Postal Service, or USPS, is a primary U.S. institution responsible for delivering mail and packages to various addresses in the country.

However, despite the organization’s best efforts, there can be times when the U.S. Postal Service cannot ship a piece of mail or a package to its intended recipient. When these events happen, USPS gives the item back to the sender with the endorsement “Return to Sender.”

But what does it mean when USPS says it will return a mail or package to the sender? Why is USPS returning your mail to the sender? Also, when and how should you return mail to the sender?

If you’ve received mail or a package that needs to be returned to the sender, you don’t have to find the correct address.

Instead, you can use FindPostOffice.org‘s search tool to quickly and easily locate the nearest post office. Just enter your zip code, state, or city in the search bar, and let our tool help you locate local post offices near you.

This article discusses the meaning and implications when USPS marks a package with “return to sender”. It also tackles the reasons USPS is returning mail to the sender. 

Read on to learn when and how to return mail to the sender whether you are from major cities such Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma or less populated ones like Blakely Island, Overton, and Stewarts Point.

What Does “Return to Sender” Mean at USPS?

A “return to sender” endorsement means that the USPS will have to hold the mail or package and deliver it to the original addressee. 

Why Is USPS Returning the Package to the Sender?

The USPS service may return the package to the sender for the following reasons:

  • The designated address was incorrect, or the address label was unreadable
  • There’s missing information
  • The receiver refused the package
  • The delivery attempts were unsuccessful

You can see the USPS notification “return to sender” using the USPS tracking feature or when a postal worker puts a yellow sticker on the package. 

General Returns

Aside from the reasons above, USPS generally sends an item back to the sender because the recipient no longer resides at the address listed on the package.

Check the Address

Therefore, when shipping mail or packages, ensure that you list the correct and updated address. Even a minor mistake, like an incorrect apartment number in the address, could send a shipment back to the sender.  

If you observe any such problems, you can contact USPS or visit a nearby post office to ask them to resolve the issue.

What Happens if You Received a Package That Isn’t Yours?

When you receive a package that isn’t yours, you should inform USPS about the mistake. 

If possible, attempt to return the package to the sender by writing “return to sender” on the envelope or box and placing it into the USPS postal mailbox.

Usually, you don’t have to buy new postage for returned packages. Just place them in the mailbox, and authorized postal workers will handle the rest.

What to Do if Mail Was Returned to the Sender

If you’re the sender, you may want to confirm if the delivery address you wrote was correct. If so, you can contact the intended recipient to see if they’ve moved to another postal address or if there are other issues with the delivery. 

Suppose you’re unsure why your mail was returned. In that case, you can ask the courier or contact your local post office to ensure that they have the updated, correct information. That way, when you send mail again, it’ll arrive at the designated delivery address.

How To Return Mail to Sender

Below are several ways to return mail to the sender:

Returning Unopened Mail to Sender

If you have received a package or envelope that isn’t yours, you can put a “return to sender” label on the shipment and let the postal service take care of it. 

If you got a package intended for someone who no longer works at your business location or has moved, you could write “not at this address” on the packaging. 

That will allow the postal service to redirect the mail to the correct location. Note that it is crucial not to alter or tamper with the mail in any way.

Returning Opened Mail to Sender

Under the U.S. legal code, you’re guilty of a federal crime if you open mail that isn’t yours. 

However, the intent is a crucial factor the prosecution must prove to establish its case. 

Suppose you’ve opened the mail accidentally because you reasonably thought it was yours. In that case, there’s a good chance that you would not be guilty of committing fraud or stealing.

If you opened mail sent to you and didn’t know it was for another recipient, you should contact your post office and ask them for guidance on how to proceed.

Return Mail to Sender: Someone Who Does Not Live at Your Address

If you’ve just moved to a new address, you’ll likely receive mail intended for the previous residents. Here’s how to deal with this scenario:

Step One: Write a “Not at This Address” Note on the Box or Envelope

For mail or parcels, you can write “not at this address” instead of “return to sender” on the packaging.

Also, check if the barcodes are defaced and if the address is readable for the mail carrier.

In addition, if you keep getting mail addressed to the previous tenants, inform your mail carrier. At the same time, you can ask your local post office to resolve the problem.

Step Two: Give the Mail or Package Item Back to Your Mail Carrier

If you’re at home when your mail carrier delivers a parcel that isn’t yours, you must hand the box or envelope back to them. Explain that the addressee no longer resides at your location. Note that you should write the proper label on the mail before you hand it to the delivery person.

Sometimes the mail carrier delivers the letter when you’re away from home. In this case, place the mail back into your mailbox. Ensure that you erect the red flag on the mailbox to signify that the mail carrier has an item to collect.

Step Three: Use the United States Postal Service Mail Collection Box

You can use the USPS mail collection boxes if you don’t have a mail carrier to give the item back to or a mailbox.

A postal worker will collect the item. Then, they usually return the package or letter to the sender or forward it to the correct address.

If you’re looking for mail collection boxes, you can visit FindPostOffice.org and use the page’s search tool. 

Return Mail to Sender: Mail Delivered by Carrier to the Wrong Address

Suppose you receive a mail item displaying an unfamiliar address. In that case, there’s a good chance your mail carrier delivered that item by mistake.  

Here’s what to do when such incidents happen:

Step One: Put the Mail Back in Your Mailbox

When you see an incorrect address, place the mail piece back in your mailbox and erect the box’s red flag. The red flag indicates that there’s outgoing mail for the carrier to pick up.

Note that if the misdelivered mail was a Priority Mail Express item, you should call the USPS at 1-800-275-8777 and ask for help from the Priority Mail Express reporting unit. 

Step Two: Alternatively, Hand the Mail to Your Mail Carrier

If you’re at home when the postal worker delivers your items, you must give the box or envelope back to them. Also, explain that the addressee has since moved to a different place. 

On the other hand, if you’re not at home when your mail carrier delivers the item, you can place the pieces back into your mailbox. Like in the above scenarios, erect the mailbox’s red flag to inform the mail carrier that there’s mail inside due for pick up. 

Step Three: Do Not Write on the Parcel or Envelope

In this case, you don’t have to write any tag on the packaging. Writing on the box or mail can prevent your mail carrier from delivering it to the correct location.

Local post offices can help you with items that must be returned to the sender. You do not need to put a “return to sender” message on the packaging.

Note that you should not cross out or cover the address. At the same time, you can put a sticky note in your mailbox indicating the items you’ve left inside and the intended recipient’s name.

Return Mail to Sender: Mail That You Don’t Want

Lastly, if you want to avoid a mail item addressed to you despite being sent to the correct place, you can return it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you resolve this issue:

Step One: Write the Word “Refused” on the Packaging

You can refuse almost all types of mail and ask the carrier to return them to the sender. If you want to refuse an item, you can write the word “refused” on the box or envelope and give it back to the mail carrier.

It’s crucial to note that you’ll only be able to choose this option by opening the mail. 

Step Two: If It’s Accountable Mail, Mark the “Refused” Box

Accountable mail consists of items the intended recipient must receive with a signature. You may be able to refuse the accountable mail, depending on its content.

If you don’t want the mail, you can usually just put a checkmark into the “refused” box to inform the mail carrier.

The types of accountable mail you’re likely to get can include the following:

It’s crucial to remember that you typically can’t refuse mail that you’ve already received with a signature. If you want to refuse mail, you may need to put it into new packaging and buy postage to return it.

Step Three: Repackage if You’ve Opened the Item

Suppose you have already opened the parcel, package, or letter. In that case, you will need to place the returned item in a new envelope or mailer.

You’ll have to pay for fresh postage. However, if you’re returning unwanted or damaged stuff, you can return the item for free. These sellers usually provide you with a prepaid shipping label or reimburse you for the postage.

What Happens When USPS Returns Mail to Sender?

A postal worker will first separate your mail from the rest and stamp it or stick a large, yellow label that says “return to sender” when your mail is to be returned to the sender.

The Postal Service will hold the return package for a few days while they search for the rightful owner. They can also send it back to the return address immediately, depending on the reason for the return.

Mailpiece Was Returned To You Twice

A postal employee or machine is given a short time only to read an envelope, record its information, and process it. 

Generally, mail carriers reject or return items to the sender if they have inadequate information or insufficient postage. These people endorse this mail with the words “return to sender.” 

Consequently, you can request that any returned mail be placed in another envelope with new postage to ensure processing. This step also helps avoid mail being returned to the sender twice.

How Long Will It Take for Your Mailpiece That Was Returned to Sender To Arrive Back?

The answer to this question usually depends on the original services purchased for the mail item. The item will take a long time to arrive at the sender’s address if the intended recipient is away from home when it is delivered.  

If this occurs, the mailperson will leave a note at the post office. They will keep the envelope or parcel at the post office for 15 days so the recipient can pick it up.

Addressee Returned the Package for Various Reasons

Addressees may return a package because they refuse to accept it. If the addressee doesn’t want to receive the parcel from USPS, the post office will usually collect the box and return it to the sender.

The carrier may not bring the package to the post office if it gets sent to a residential address, so the sender must pick it up.

 The sender may request a post office to hold the package if they do not know the address. The recipient may also request USPS to hold a package via online transaction.

Do You Get a Refund if Your USPS Package Is Returned?

USPS does not refund mail that is returned to the sender. But if you received a package that was supposed to be delivered to you but was returned to the sender, the merchant you ordered it from may refund you.

In that case, you can repackage the parcel and send it again with the correct information.

Note that there may be times when you do not need to repackage your mail if you can effectively remove the “return to sender” sticker.

Reasons for “Return to Sender” May Vary

Returning the package for any reason may result in a refund. You may need to wait until the recipient takes action if your package is delivered to the wrong address.

In that case, you should request a refund from the delivery company if you did not get the package. 

You can also contact USPS Support to report the error. Send USPS Support your package tracking number and your name and address.

Can You Track a Package Returned to the Sender?

Unfortunately, USPS doesn’t usually track a “returned to sender” package.

USPS Return to Sender Tracking

The USPS website has a tracking form on its home page, so if your returned item has a tracking number, you can enter it there. When USPS receives the package, you’ll be able to track the parcel’s progress and see whether the agency’s mailed it back to the sender. 

USPS notes that returned shipments will take as long as expected, depending on the mailing class. But address changes can cause mail to be delayed.

Similarly, you can track your package’s progress when returning a solicited item to the retailer. Also, the seller should provide you with a refund acknowledgment and a receipt for the return.

How Long Does USPS Hold Undeliverable Packages?

A postal worker separates the returned letter from the rest and either stamps it or places a big, yellow label that reads “return to sender” on the package.

Either way, the post office will keep the package for several days to determine if the rightful owner has claimed it, or they’ll send it back to the return address.

15 to 30 Days Time

For returned mail, the USPS usually holds it for 15 days at the post office so the receiver can collect it.

A truck will pick up the unclaimed mail, deliver it, and return it to the sender after two to five days, depending on the mail service used.

A return attempt is usually free, but USPS may charge more if it is repeated. The mail recovery center holds the mail for this time for the intended recipient.

Can You Resend a Returned USPS Package?

If your mail was returned to you, it is more likely that you typed in your address incorrectly rather than there is something wrong with it. So, check the written address twice or three times before sending mail.

Returning USPS Package: Here’s How To Do It

Here’s how you can return a USPS package:

  • Send the return package to your nearest post office.
  • Resend the package with the help of the postal workers.  
  • Send them an email informing them that it was a “return to sender” mail or an undeliverable package.
  • Inspect the package for insufficient postage. Ask your mail carrier to assist you in ensuring its redelivery.

FAQ: Your Frequently Asked Questions, Answered

  1. Does USPS charge for return to sender?

You can return pieces of mail with no additional charge if they’re from insured First-Class Mail and First-Class Package services. 

  1. How much will it cost to return a parcel,  package, or letter?

It’s usually free to return mail, depending on its mail class. However, note that if you’ve already opened the mail, you may have to pay for postage to return it to the sender.

  1. How do you report the change of address to someone else?

You can write a note to a local post office telling them that the addressee no longer resides in your location.

  1. What if the return-to-sender message doesn’t work?

If your return-to-sender petition doesn’t work, you can just repeat your request with USPS. If you want your post office to stop sending unnecessary parcels, packages, or letters, write them a clear and candid letter. 

  1. Will you be notified if your item is returned to the sender?

No. USPS cannot notify you if a mailpiece you sent is returned to the sender.

  1. Can I return unwanted mail to the sender? 

Return unopened junk mail to the sender by writing “refused” or “return to sender” on the packaging. 

  1. Can you write return to sender on a package?

You can write a “return to sender” label on the package.