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How to return mail to sender

Joanna Heep

August 11, 2021

Did you receive mail that isn’t yours and need to send it back? It happens. Can you return unwanted mail to the sender? Short answer: yes. But, there are a few reasons for returning mail to sender and a different way for each. 

What does it mean to return to sender? It’s a common policy used by the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS, FedEx, DHL, and other carriers to handle mail items that are misdelivered or rejected. 

How does it work? With return to sender, a mail carrier will pick up the mail item, whether it’s delivered to the wrong address or person or rejected, and send it back to the sender. Follow the below step-by-step guide to know what process to use.

Someone who doesn’t live at your address

If you’ve recently moved and received the previous resident’s mail. This happens often, and there’s an easy way to fix it.  

  1. Write “Not At This Address” on the envelope or package 

Also, you need to make sure any barcodes are defaced (if you don’t do this, you risk the chance of the letter or package coming back to your address).

  1. Give the mail back to your carrier or put back in an USPS collection box

You can return the mail by putting it back in your mailbox or giving it back to your mail carrier. 

If it’s a letter, you can also find the blue collection boxes around your town and drop it in there. Make sure you’ve written “Not At This Address” on the mail item.

Mail delivered to the wrong address

Mistakes happen. If your mail carrier delivered a mail item that displays a different address, it’s easy to get redelivered—and you have two options:

  1. Put the mail item back in your mailbox.  

If you have a standalone mailbox, put the red flag up. If you have a communal mailbox, put the letter in the collection box. 

  1. Hand the mail item to your mail carrier. 

Handing your mail item directly to your mail carrier is the best approach if you received a misdelivered package. 

When returning to sender this route, you do not and should not write anything on the envelope or package. It may, however, be helpful to your postman if you leave a sticky note on the item to inform them of the situation.

If you or someone you know receives mail at a difficult address with frequently misdelivered mail, you could opt for a virtual address to eliminate the confusion. 

Mail that you do not want

If you receive a mail item addressed to you and has the correct address, you have the option to refuse it. 

  1. Write “Refused” on the mail item 

Once you mark the mail item, return it to your mail carrier — through the collection box or handing it to your mail carrier.

  1. Select the “Refused” box on a signature slip 

Certain types of mail come with a slip with delivery instructions and options. Check the box “Refused” and the mail carrier will not complete the delivery and will return to the sender. 

This option works for mail that requires a signature, such as certified and registered mail, Priority Mail Express, collect on delivery, and mail insured for over $200. Please note you cannot refuse mail if you have already signed for the mail item. If you’ve signed off on the letter or package, then you will need to pay the postage to send it back.

Your frequently asked questions, answered 

Does it cost money to return to sender? 

No, it does not cost money to return to the sender if you follow the above guidelines.

How long does it take to return mail to the sender? 

How long it takes for a letter or package to be returned to the sender depends on the mail class used. When you return to the sender, the mail item is returned as the same mail class used to send it. For example, if the letter or package you received came as Priority mail, they will return it as that.

How to return to sender with your Earth Class Mail account

Return to sender is easy with your Earth Class Mail account. If you receive a piece of mail that’s not addressed to you, click the “Not My Mail” button on your dashboard. The mail item is returned to our processing team to ensure that it gets properly delivered to the correct person. Visit here for a step-by-step guide to do this within your dashboard.

Wish return to sender was as easy as a click of a button? Sign up for a virtual mailbox!  Learn more.

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