What Does Certified Mail Mean?


November 17, 2023

Despite the advancement of communication and the rise of emails, text messaging, and social media, it’s still common to get the reply, “Sorry I didn’t receive your message” from your recipient. This situation can cause frustration from both the sender and receiver, especially if the letter sent is particularly important.

Fortunately, The United States Postal Service, or USPS, has a solution to ensure that intended recipients don’t miss essential mail or correspondence. This USPS service is called Certified Mail. 

So, what kind of mailing option is Certified Mail? How can it help people get the response they need for their messages?

This article explains Certified Mail and the service it provides to USPS customers. It also discusses the services’ features and the other additional services customers can use to address their needs. 

Furthermore, this write-up tackles the different ways to track and monitor Certified Mail, what to do when your mail goes missing, and whether a recipient can refuse to accept a letter sent through the Certified Mail service. 

If you need access to contact information for over 31,330 post offices in the country, visit FindPostOffice.org. Our website can help you get the address of your local post office and help you manage your Certified Mail deliveries. 

Your Guide to Certified Mail

USPS provides several mailing options for specific customer needs. The Postal Service ensures that every package is delivered to the right person. 

USPS Certified Mail is one of the available mailing options that provides services catering to customers’ needs for delivery confirmation.

What Is Certified Mail?

USPS Certified Mail is a mailing option that allows customers to get a delivery confirmation in the form of mailing receipts that serve as proof of mailing. 

You can combine this USPS service with Return Receipt services to get proof that the recipient received the package. 

Getting Extra Information and Security When Mailing

When you use Certified Mail, you get added security and information. USPS Certified Mail is a numbered service that:

  • Provides the sender with mailing receipts
  • Issues electronic verification after delivery or after a delivery attempt
  • Gives a copy of the recipient’s signature and a record of delivery

Note that the post office stores your delivery record for up to two years from the mailing date. 

Certified Mail Service Is Also Available Combined With Three Other Services

USPS allows its Certified Mail service to be combined with other mailing options to cater to the specific security needs of a customer. These services are the following:

  • Certified Mail Restricted Delivery: This service delivers mail directly to an addressee or an authorized agent. 

The Restricted Delivery service ensures that only the specific recipient receives your mail. This mailing option combination is also used for sensitive or confidential mailpieces.

  • Certified Mail Adult Signature Restricted Delivery: This service requires the addressee or an authorized person to be an adult (21 years of age or older) to receive the mail delivered through this mailing option. 
  • Certified Mail Adult Signature Required: Similar to Certified Mail Adult Signature Restricted Delivery, this service requires that any person receiving the parcel be an adult (21 years old or older). 

Using the Bulk Electronic File Transfer Service

USPS provides BPOD (Bulk Proof of Delivery) for customers who need delivery records for applicable multiple mailpieces without requesting them individually. 

When using this service, you must provide an electronic manifest, which you can submit to USPS via the following methods. 

By Telephone

You can call the following number for any concerns regarding Certified Mail, including bulk electronic transfer services. Ensure that you have your tracking number when you call this USPS hotline. 

USPS Text Tracking hotline: 1-800-222-1811

Using the Internet

You can also track the status of your packages via the USPS tracking system provided by USPS.com. Ensure you’re the only one with access to the unique tracking number given to you when you shipped your mail. 

What’s the Difference Between Registered Mail vs. Certified Mail Service?

Registered Mail and Certified Mail provide similar services but for different purposes. 

Certified Mail provides the sender with proof of mailing and proof of delivery. It also ensures that important documents reach the intended recipient, especially if added with Restricted Delivery and Signature Confirmation services. 

Registered Mail, on the other hand, provides additional security and protection for your valuable items shipped via USPS. 

However, unlike Certified Mail, Registered Mail doesn’t provide updated scans and can’t be tracked through the mailstream. You can get information about when it was mailed and when it was delivered, but updates as your package during delivery.

Allow Extra Time

Both Certified Mail and Registered Mail focus more on security than speed. For this reason, customers need to allot extra time for deliveries to arrive. 

These two USPS services take extra care of your mailpieces and ensure your requirements, like Signature Confirmation and mailing and delivery receipts, are provided.

Furthermore, Registered Mail may take 10 to 14 business days to arrive at a specific address. Meanwhile, Certified Mail with First-Class Mail delivery may take 3 to 10 business days for deliveries to arrive. 

The delivery time for Certified Mail with Priority Mail may also take one to three business days. 

When to Use Certified Mail

You use Certified Mail when you need proof of receipt showing that the posted confidential or important documents, such as bank documents, tax returns, and crucial correspondence with debtors and creditors, have arrived at their intended destination and been accepted by the recipient. 

Who Sends Certified Mail and Why Do People Use It?

Certified Mail is a secure and safe way to send sensitive documents with delivery reports. The people and institutions who usually use this USPS mail service are the following:

  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Attorneys
  • Debtors
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 

People use Certified Mail primarily for its added security. At the same time, Certified Mail provides more delivery information than other mailing options. 

For example, you can use Certified Mail for legal proof that you’ve sent something important via USPS. 

With Certified Mail, you get confirmation that the intended recipient received the parcel, making this service secure. 

Certified Mail requires the named recipient or an authorized person to sign for the parcel, whether at the intended delivery address or a postage facility. 

How Does Certified Mail Work?

When you use Certified Mail, your mail or package is scanned in a USPS facility and is tracked or monitored by the USPS tracking system. 

You will get a USPS tracking number that’s unique to your parcel. You can use this number to monitor the progress of your delivery. You can monitor your package by visiting the USPS website and the tracking system page. 

You’ll need to enter the tracking number into the search bar to get updates about the delivery status of your parcel. 

Once the USPS carrier reaches your address, they will require you to sign a form as proof of delivery. You will receive a copy of this form if you’re the sender.

How Long Does Certified Mail Take?

USPS doesn’t guarantee the delivery time of each mailing service, although they provide estimates. Still, the estimated delivery time for Certified Mail depends on the additional service.

As mentioned, Certified Mail with First-Class delivery takes 3 to 10 business days. Meanwhile, for the service with Priority Mail add–on, the delivery time is one to three days. 

How Much Does Certified Mail Cost?

The standard price for the USPS Certified Mail service is $4.35. However, other extra services can be added to Certified Mail with separate costs. 

  • Electronic Delivery Confirmation Receipt: $0.90
  • Return Receipt Green Card: $3.55
  • Return Receipt Electronic Signature (replaces the Green Card): $2.20

Certified Mail Delivery Options

USPS Certified Mail has different delivery options to cater to the different needs of people who use this mailing option. 

Certified Mail

Once you get a unique tracking number, you can use it to check whether your package is still en route or has arrived at its destination. 

However, the mail carrier’s actions with your package depend on the additional services you’ve purchased as an add-on to your Certified Mail delivery. 

Certified Mail With Return Receipt

Certified Mail users, especially those who have experienced mailing before the proliferation of the internet, will be familiar with the “Green Card.” 

The PS Form 3811 or the “Green Card” is the “old” Return Receipt a sender receives as proof of delivery. The price for this “old-fashioned Return Receipt” is $3.55. 

The recipient signs this green card, which is returned to the sender via mail. 

Certified Mail With Electronic Return Receipt

Another alternative for the physical “green card” Return Receipt is an electronic version, which comes as a PDF (portable document format). This PDF receipt has the image of the recipient’s signature or an approved hand stamp. The additional fee for this service is $2.20. 

Certified Mail With Return Receipt and Restricted Delivery

Certified Mail is all about security and proof of mailing and delivery. So, if you need strict delivery instructions concerning your package, combine Certified Mail with the Return Receipt and the Restricted Delivery add-ons. 

This mailing service combination instructs the postal worker to deliver the package directly to the recipient or an authorized agent and no one else. The price for Restricted Delivery service is $7.10.

Return Receipt After Mailing Service

USPS provides another service for Certified Mail users. Say you didn’t purchase a Return Receipt service for the Certified Mail. In that case, you can still do so after the delivery up to two years after sending the parcel. 

An Easier Way to Use Certified Mail: How to Send Certified Mail

There are many methods to speed up sending Certified Mail online today. Here is a step-by-step guide on sending a letter using this type of mail service the easier way. 

Prep Your Document

You must prepare your document or any item you plan to send via Certified Mail. You can prepare it the usual way, using a word processor, format the letter correctly, and have it ready for printing. 

Scan Your Document

Once printed, you must scan your document and convert your hard copy into a soft copy, which you can upload to a third-party company that offers Certified Mail online delivery services. 

Upload Your Document

Once the file is converted into a soft copy or an electronic version (PDF or image), upload it to the third-party website. They will then print your document and do the next steps to send your parcel via USPS Certified Mail. 

How to Track Certified Mail

You can track your Certified Mail using the tracking number you get once you ship one at the post office. If you create a Certified Mail label online, you will get a tracking number and its barcode representation. 

Once you get this tracking number, visit the USPS Tracking System page and enter this code into the search bar. The system will locate your package and notify you of its status and delivery progress. 

A Few Things to Remember About Receiving Certified Mail

You may be bombarded already with the sheer number of information about Certified Mail. However, you should also remember these few things about this mail service. 

Do You Have to Sign for Certified Mail?

Recipient signature is one of the main purposes of Certified Mail. So, suppose you’re a recipient of a Certified Mail package. In that case, you must provide your signature or authorize someone to provide their signature on your behalf. 

What Happens if the Recipient Doesn’t Sign for a Certified Package? Can Certified Mail Be Delivered Without Signature?

Once a piece of mail delivered via Certified Mail reaches its destination and no one is there to receive it, it’s regarded as a failed delivery attempt. 

The courier can’t leave the parcel in a mailbox because Certified Mail requires the recipient’s signature. Instead, the postal worker will leave a delivery reminder slip or notice and return the undelivered parcel to the post office.

What Happens if You Don’t Pick Up Your Certified Mail?

If the letter isn’t received at the recipient’s address, the courier returns the parcel to the post office, where it will stay for 15 days max. 

If the parcel remains unclaimed, the post office returns the item to the sender. If you’re the sender, you can expect your letter to return to you after ten days.

Who Can Pick Up Certified Mail at the Post Office?

Typically, the recipient must go to the post office to pick up the Certified Mail package. 

If you’re the recipient and unavailable, you can fill out the notice left by the postal worker and have someone bring it to the post office to claim the package. 

However, say the Certified Mail includes a Restricted Delivery service. In that case, you’re the only one who can claim the package. You must personally visit the post office and provide identification before the post office releases the parcel to you. 

Can You Pick Up Certified Mail Without the Slip?

The delivery reminder slip is needed when claiming a Certified Mail delivery held in the post office. You can’t pick up your package if you don’t have this slip. 

What Happens to a Certified Mail That’s Not Delivered?

If it was the other way around, and USPS has seemingly failed to deliver your Certified Mail on time, here is what you can do. 


You can check the USPS Tracking service to know the status of your delivery. Just enter the tracking number, and you’ll get information about your package. 

Phone Call Time

You can call USPS customer service if the tracking system doesn’t give you updates. You can contact USPS via the following methods:

  • Email: USPS Customer Service
  • Call: 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777)

Submit a Mail Search Request

Once seven days have passed after the missed delivery date, and you have deemed it a possibility that your parcel is lost, you can submit a mail search request. 

This request informs USPS to look for your package, which has not arrived at its destination. The Postal Service will inform you of the result of the mail search request. 

Ask Your Neighbours

While you’re waiting for the outcome of your mail search request, you can ask your neighbors if they have noticed a USPS delivery at your address. 

However, note that for Certified Mail, the postal worker can’t just leave a parcel anywhere because of the strict instructions this mail service requires. 

Talk to the Police

If you suspect you’re a mail theft victim, it’s best to head to your local police station and report the incident. You can bring evidence like surveillance videos or witnesses to solidify further the need for the police to start an investigation. 

How to Refuse Mail

USPS informs their customers that mail can be delivered to their residences, but it doesn’t have to be accepted. However, returning mail depends on whether it’s opened or unopened.

When the mail is unopened, you can mark the envelope with the word “refused” and return it to the post office. However, you must return it within a reasonable time. 

If the mail is opened, you can’t return it using the opened envelope. You may use another envelope and send it back to the post office. However, if you’re the recipient, you may have to pay postage for returning an already opened mail. 

However, there are two conditions where mail can’t be returned. 

  • If the mail is one of the following:
    • Priority Mail
    • Insured Mail
    • Certified Mail
    • Collect-on-Delivery Mail

If you want to return this mail, you’ll have to pay for the postage needed to have it returned.

  • If you have accepted any sales promotion, announcement, solicitation, or advertisement material upon receipt, you can’t return them. So, if you don’t want these advertisements, don’t accept them. 

Other USPS Special Services

Aside from Certified Mail, here are some special services the U.S. Postal Service provides. 

Insured Mail

USPS customers can secure the safety of valuable deliveries by insuring them using the Insured Mail service. 

USPS insurance offers coverage of up to $5,000 for lost, damaged merchandise, including cases of missing contents. 

Express Mail

The USPS’ express mail service is its Priority Mail Express. It’s a fast shipping service with a delivery time of 6:00 PM the next day after mailing. This service also has a $100 insurance and a money-back guarantee. 

If you need a helpful website with a vast database of post offices in the country, visit FindPostOffice.org. Our website provides access to updated contact information of over 31,330 post offices and USPS retail facilities in the United States. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. What can you do if Certified Mail is missing?

If you believe your mail is missing, you can do the following:

  • Track your mail and see if the tracking system has a status update.
  • Call USPS customer service to report your missing mail.
  • Submit a search mail request, especially if seven days have passed since the missed delivery date.
  • Talk to your neighbors for any possible information about your lost package.
  • Talk to the police if you believe you’re a victim of mail theft. 
  1. What happens if a Certified letter is refused?

You may refuse a Certified letter. However, some possible repercussions for refusing a Certified Mail may involve reimbursement for the sender’s expenses. 

For instance, if a Certified Mail’s contents pertain to a lawsuit or any legal document that requires your attention, the sender may file a lawsuit against you to reimburse the cost of returning the refused letter.

  1. What can you do if a Certified letter is refused? Can you send a noncertified version?

You can send a noncertified mail when the recipient refuses a Certified Mail. Sending noncertified mail is much easier and may not be refused in some cases. This technique works with eviction notices and summons. 

  1. How long will the post office hold certified mail?

Your local post office will hold an unclaimed Certified Mail for up to 15 days. If the letter remains unclaimed, the post office will return the letter to the sender. 

  1. What is Registered Mail?

Registered Mail provides security and protection for valuable items shipped via USPS.

However, this service doesn’t provide updated scans, as Registered Mail can’t be tracked through the mailstream. Still, you can get information on the delivery status or attempted delivery. 

  1. What happens when you send Certified Mail?

When you send Certified Mail, the package goes through the usual scanning and delivery process similar to other mailing services. However, when it reaches its destination, the postal worker will require a signature from the person to whom the package is addressed. 

  1. Why would I be sent Certified Mail?

You may receive Certified Mail because of something urgent that requires your attention. This mail service usually delivers documents about a lawsuit, evictions, notices, summons, and other crucial and sensitive documents. 

  1. Is Certified Mail serious?

Certified Mail is a service that ensures the sender that the recipient will receive the package. So, if a person receives a Certified Mail, then it’s most likely that its content is essential. 

  1. Which carriers have Certified Mail delivery options?

USPS provides official Certified Mail deliveries. Other third-party shipping companies may have similar services like Signature Confirmation and other services that require the recipient’s direct response. 

  1. Can you send Certified Mail to a P.O. box?

You can send Certified Mail to a P.O. (post office) box. However, a notification card is left in the mailbox instead of having someone sign it. 

Once the recipient arrives to pick up the mail, they will see the notification card, which they have to sign to receive the Certified Mail. You only need to talk to the post office clerk when claiming Certified Mail in your P.O. box.

  1. What is Certified Mail Restricted Delivery?

With Certified Mail Restricted Delivery mail service, only the recipient can receive the mail or package. The recipient must pick up the mail in person if the package is left unclaimed at the post office. 


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