Using the U.S. Postal Service
Using the U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service offers a wide variety of services to make it easier for you when you move or when you receive and send packages.

Prices vary greatly depending on the sending methods used.
Mailing Address

Before you leave home, give your correct mailing address in the United States to family and friends who will be writing to you. If you do not know the address of your American residence before you leave home, have letters sent in care of your international student adviser. Inform people of your permanent address as soon as you can. Be sure to include the "zip code." A zip code is a five-digit number identifying the postal zone in which the address lies. Some private citizens, businesses, and organizations use more precise, nine-digit zip codes. For example, the zip code for the U.S. immigration service district office in Helena, Montana, is 59626-0036.

Whenever you change addresses while you are in the United States, you should go to the nearest post office and fill out the following:
  • Immigration Service Address Report: Each time you change your address, report your new address to the U.S. Immigration service on form AR-11 within 10 days from the date you move. Also report all changes of address to your international student adviser.
  • Change of Address Card: The post office has change of address cards for the forwarding of your mail if you move. The post office will forward (send) to your new address all mail addressed to your old address and will continue this service for 12 months after the date the change of address card is filed. This service is free.
Post Offices

Telephone numbers of post offices are listed in the blue pages of the telephone directory under "United States Government — U.S. Postal Service." Some city directories also list local post offices under a separate number for "Information" or "Customer Service."

Every city has a main post office, and larger cities have several full-service branch post offices and small, minimum-service substations, as well. Substations often are located in drugstores or other places of business. Many universities also have substations or other small, minimum-service post offices on campus. These facilities sell stamps and provide basic services like mailing packages to addresses in the United States. Although you cannot send a registered letter or mail packages to foreign countries from these small substations, you can go to a full-service post office or branch office off-campus to do these things. Regular post office hours are usually from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon on Saturday. Substations have the same hours as the business in which they are located. Most post offices deliver mail once a day, except on Sundays and federal holidays.

Post Office Boxes

Most post offices have small combination lock boxes that can be rented to receive your mail. There is a nominal charge for rental, which varies from city to city. To apply for a post office box (usually called a "P.O. Box"), go to the nearest regular post office; bring with you some piece of identification that has your address on it, such as a state driver's license. If there are no post office boxes available, your name will be put on a waiting list. When you are assigned a post office box, you will be given the combination of the lock. Mail can then be sent to you at the post office where your PO box is located. Be sure to tell correspondents to address letters to your name, PO Box number, station (if needed), city, state, and zip code. Mail is delivered to post office boxes as it is sorted. Post office lobbies (where boxes are located) usually are open 24 hours a day, every day of the week; however, some lobbies are closed on Sundays. If you rent a PO box, you will be given complete information by the post office where the box is located.

Postal Rates

Postal rates for mailing letters and packages change occasionally and changes are well advertised. Rate sheets can be obtained from local post offices, or you can access the U.S. Postal Service's rates calculator web page at There are a number of options and types of services available.


Delivery by air usually is recommended for mail going across the country and outside the United States. Letters and postcards to overseas addresses can be sent by surface mail for less, but it takes much longer (for example, six to eight weeks to Europe), and the cost difference is so small that airmail is always recommended.


These are special, prestamped letter sheets that fold for addressing and mailing. They are made especially for correspondence to other countries. They are inexpensive and convenient.

Certified Mail

This service ensures that the recipient receives your letter; it requires that you pay an extra fee. If you want a return card signed by the recipient as proof that it has been received, there is an additional charge. It is a good idea to send applications and other important papers to U.S. addresses by certified mail. Certified mail cannot be sent abroad.

Registered Mail

This service is the most secure means of delivering valuable mail both in the United States and abroad. You receive proof of mailing, and the handling of the registered material is closely controlled from the point of mailing to the point of delivery. The cost varies with the value of the article being sent. For an additional fee, a return receipt can be obtained, showing proof of delivery. Insurance may be purchased for up to $25,000 coverage against loss or damage. Registered mail service is available to most foreign countries.

Book Rate

You can send books in the United States and to most countries at a reduced rate as long as the package contains only books.

Direct Mail Sack

This is an even cheaper way to send a large number of books. The books are put into a large canvas mailbag and the bag is tagged and sent.

There are size and weight limitations for sending packages through the U.S. mail. Ask at the post office about rates and regulations. Use boxes or padded mailing envelopes for packing, and seal them well with a good packing tape. Do not wrap packages in paper and do not tie them with twine.

If you wish to send packages to foreign countries, fill out customs forms that the postal clerk will give to you. Be prepared to list the contents and to give the value of each item. If the package weighs less than two pounds (0.9 kilos), ask about a special, cheaper "small package" airmail rate.

Many private or commercial firms offer normal or express mailing services through a variety of delivery options. Usually these firms will prepare packages for mailing for an additional fee. Prices and services offered vary greatly, so it is worth doing a bit of research before choosing one firm over another.

Postal Money Orders

Money orders (a safe way to send money through the mail) can be purchased at the post office. There is a small fee, depending on the value of the money order.

For more information on the postal service in the United States, consult the U.S. Postal Service's Web site at