How to Forward Your USPS Mail: A Deeper-Than-Usual Manual
Finally, A Manual!
When I was figuring out how to handle my own mail, I was surprised that I couldn't find any articles that gave a decent overview that goes beyond the very basics of the ins and outs of the USPS we all know and love. The world shall suffer no more! Below is an overview of my many answered questions and acquired wisdom from my research and experiences of moving over and over again. This will only cover forwarding directly with the USPS, although other options exist with the UPS Store and elsewhere.
The USPS offers these services for free on paper or for one dollar using their convenient online or phone services. It is for the most part very convenient, so there is no reason to have to use any other service. In fact, several other services online which advertise turning in your info to the USPS will actually hide hefty service fees of $20 or more which they will charge you after the fact if you aren't watching your credit card. Others will outright steal your payment information and your identity. So make sure you work with the real deal!
If everyone who needs mail forwarding from one address has the same last name, you can do a family request and will only need one form. Otherwise, each individual with different last names will need their own individual request. Also know that forwarding will only be performed domestically.
To change your address for free, you will need ask for a Change of Address form at any post office. You can also refer to it as their Movers Guide since what you will get is the form inside a packet full of coupons. You can request these at any post office. They often will not have these available without asking for them at the counter because they also contain many useful coupons, so people would just take them for the coupons if they could. So expect to get in line for one if you need one. But to receive and fill out the form is free. You'll need to drop it in the mail afterwards, and postage is free is well.
Online filing is the postal service's favored method of request. In order to fill out the form online, visit the following genuine USPS website and follow the instructions in the wizard:
It will require that you pay one dollar both to verify your identity as well as for the convenience. Be aware that the system may initially accept your request and charge your card if your credit card information is correct and then deny it afterwards, for example if your request is attempting to add onto an existing request longer than the 12 month limit. You won't get a refund of your money even if your request is denied in this way, so be careful not to put in several repeat requests if you get a denial.
Alternatively, you can call their automated line at 1-800-275-8777 and do the same thing and pay a dollar. But typing it yourself might make it less likely that there will be a mistake made.
Be Warned: Not Everything Is Forwarded!
Only first class, priority, or express mail addressed to you will be forwarded, and only if the sender did not place any kind of request that would prevent it from being forwarded. It will be sent on a piece-by-piece basis. Most mail not forwarded you might not miss. It will likely be mostly advertisements and bulk mail that would otherwise just fill your mailboxes. Forwarding is actually a way to get rid of all that stuff, if only for a time. (If you want to use forwarding as a way to more permanently reduce your junk mail, NEVER do a permanent change of address - see below).
However, there is some mail you may miss, like other packages, so definitely know what to expect. The following is NOT forwarded:
- Magazines and 2nd-class mail after 60 days
- Other non-first class mail - For example, non-profit mail, presorted standard mail, bulk mail, etc
- Mail not addressed to you - "Current resident," etc
- Mail with "Return Service Requested" or "Do Not Forward" **unless temporary change of address requested** - Mail with these requests, even if first class, will be returned to sender, since that is what these requests are requesting. Senders of this mail, often bank statements, some bills, etc, want to know that you are at the address they have, and if you are not, they want to know. So this mail will not be forwarded, and the post office will inform them of your forwarding address. However, if your change of address is temporary, this is forwarded, and no notice of the new temporary address is provided.
- Mail with "Change Service Requested" - This mail will not be forwarded either. It will also not be returned. Mail will be disposed of (hopefully securely, but I don't know), and the sender will be informed of your forwarding address.
- Other packages
Note that with other requested services, such as with "Address Service Requested," mail is forwarded. Mail with that request will be forwarded, but the sender will also be informed of your forwarding address. Mail with "Forwarding Service Requested" will simply be forwarded and senders won't receive your forwarded address unless your forwarding service ends and the USPS knows your new address.
Permanent Mail Forwarding
When you sign up for "permanent" mail forwarding, your mail is not forwarded permanently. It is merely an indication that you moved permanently. The USPS will forward your mail for one year after your request and will return your mail for 6 months afterwards. People or organizations who sent you mail at your old address will be informed of your new address if they paid for that service (ie, first class mail, "Return Service Requested," etc).
Permanent change of address requests override temporary change of address requests. To otherwise undo a permanent change of address, you will need the confirmation number on either the confirmation email or letter you received after you first placed the request in order to edit it either online, on the phone, or in person at a post office. If you run into trouble, you may have to contact a USPS Consumer's Affairs Office.
What most people don't know about permanent mail forwarding is that anytime you do this, it is reported to the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. This information is kept for 48 months. Your information is shared with pretty much anyone who pays for this information as long as they had a previous address of yours. The USPS loses a lot of money by providing cheap, convenient services, and this is one way they make enough to stay afloat. This works by encouraging vendors to pay for sending you junk mail and also by not having to forward junk mailed to the wrong address. This is unfortunately not something you can opt-out of, so expect your address to be shared when you request a permanent change of address. However, if you set up temporary mail forwarding, which can also last 12 months just like permanent forwarding, you dodge this bullet.
An Example of a NCOA Pitch
Temporary Forwarding - Limits and Benefits
If you are not planning on leaving forever, you will most likely be interested in choosing temporary forwarding of mail. However, be aware of the limits.
You must forward mail for a minimum of 14 days. This is because it will take some time to set up your forwarded mail in their system and have it begin forwarding to you - otherwise your forwarded mail would arrive at your new temporary address after you have already left it. If you aren't going to be around for a period of time less than 2 weeks, then you should request that your local post office hold your mail.
When you initially set it up, you can arrange for mail to be forwarded up to 6 months. You can extend this after your initial request up to one year (12 months). If your initial request was on paper, you will have to mail in a new request for free to do this or file a new online on phone request for a dollar. If initially you set up your temporary forwarding request online, it is easy to adjust your initial request without filing a new request. If your forwarding request ends before you attempt to edit it, it will be expired and you will have to put in a new request, either for free on paper or for another dollar online.
If you attempt to extend your temporary forwarding for more than 12 months, even if you have short gaps in between requests, the USPS will consider this a continuous 12 month period, even if it does not sound like it is because of the gaps. They will deny any new requests for temporary changes of address if you file again close in time.
However, there are a few strategies to continue having your mail forwarded.
- Request a permanent change of address to your "new" address. Despite the permanent sounding nature to this, this is also temporary (one more year) and you cannot renew this forwarding to your "new" address. It also comes with some other considerations (see above). According to the USPS, you could also request another permanent change of address from your "new" address back to your "old" one when you're ready to go back.
- Request Premium Forwarding Service. This is very expensive however (see below).
- Don't forward for 45 days. You must wait at least 45 days after any temporary forwarding request has expired or the placement of any new requests in order to place another one between the same combination of "old" and "new" addresses. So if you can deal with not having your mail forwarded at all for a month and a half, this is an option. Be sure you do not put in any requests that are doomed to get denied, or you may have to wait even longer, and if you paid a dollar to do it, you won't get it back!
- Forward to a different "new" address. If you cannot wait, perhaps you can receive mail at a different address. The limits on forwarding apply to the same combinations of "old" and "new" addresses, so if you choose to temporarily forward to a brand new address, those limits don't apply.
There are benefits to having your mail forwarded temporarily. First, you could conceivably extend your mail forwarding benefits. Second, your address will not be shared with others who pay to have this information as it is when your mail is permanently forwarded (see above).
A Side Word about Hold Mail Requests
If you are going to be away for a brief time, this is probably a better option than having your mail temporarily forwarded and potentially having mail sent to your alternate address after you have left it. Here's the official link to arrange online to have your mail held for free:
There you can check if Hold Mail is an option for you as it is not available for all addresses. Hold Mail requests can be made up to 30 days prior to the start date up to the day before you want mail held. Requests can last a minimum of 3 days and can last up to 30 days. Because it is handled by your local post office, you can also give some specific (reasonable) instructions if necessary.
You can choose whether to have all your mail delivered to your home or to pick it up at the post office when you get back. If you expect a large amount of mail that will overstuff your mailbox, it's better to pick it up at the post office.
In my experience, if you're going to be away for any significant length of time, you generally always need a Hold Mail request if you can do it simply because of packages. Although below I'll discuss several different situations, you never know when a random friend or relative will send you a fun package in the mail, and if you're away, you might miss it.
If you have a regular unlocked roadside mail box, this is a no brainer. It is extremely insecure to leave your mail in an unlocked box for very long. You are begging to have your identity stolen. Not only that, if the box starts bulging, you might as well tell all the thieves you're not home and no one's going to stop them. So definitely get a Hold Mail request.
Generally, mail received in a locked location (ie, front door slots, locked mailboxes) must fit through a small opening. Letters would be fine, and with a door slot you won't have to worry about getting too many, but even small packages often won't fit. Prescription bottles are an example of a small package that don't usually fit through slots. If your packages don't fit, they could be left at your door and stolen. If they require a signature before delivery and you don't get back in time to accept them or pick them up from the post office, the packages will simply be sent back to the sender. So a Hold Mail request will make sure your packages are ok while you're gone.
If you have a post office box, technically, you don't have to put in a Hold Mail request because your mail will just sit in the box until you come for it, and some postal workers will actually tell you that it's pointless to file a Hold Mail request for your post office box and will discourage it. However, this assumes that your box is big enough to hold all your mail for the period of time that you are away, and so other postal workers will get very irritated if you don't or will be cranky and tell you to buy a bigger box when you get back - here's why. Some locations are inundated with junk mail, multi-page local grocery store advertisements, etc, and these can quickly fill up your mail box even if you didn't receive a single letter addressed to you! So frustrating! Your ability to limit this junk mail is limited. Even if you attempt to contact every source of junk mail and tell them to stop mailing you, you won't reach all of them. And the mail that is sent is required by law to be delivered. If you have a chat with your friendly local postal worker and they agree to spare you by not delivering mass mailers to your home, your friendly local postal worker can be fired or charged with interfering with the mail because they prevented mail from reaching you that someone paid to have delivered! So your local mail people are powerless to prevent your mailbox from being stuffed with mail you never wanted and filling up way faster than you expect. So, long story short, be sure that your post office box can hold your expected mail plus all the typical junk mail you get before disappearing without a hold mail request. You'll have a similar problem with locked roadside mailboxes as well.
Some thieves follow UPS and mail trucks to steal mail and packages, so leave this behind instead when you leave...
Premium Mail Forwarding Service
This service is more expensive, but is intended for longer term forwarding situations, such as full time RV nomads or businesses seeking to establish an address in another state. With this service, your mail is held and collected, and then each week what you received will be placed in a mailer and shipped to you as one priority mail package.
There is a signup fee (as of this writing, $19.35 in person or $17.75 online), and then $19.35 each week to pay for the postage and service. So in one year, it will cost $1006.20 (52 weeks) plus the sign up fee in addition. Over a thousand dollars!
I have heard of other private services that will also do this for you, such as the UPS Store and other private services. Some individuals will provide this service at a much reduced rate. Make very sure you use a service you can really trust (meet them in person for sure) as they will have complete control over all your personal mail. Typically, there are laws protecting you from tampering with mail, and when you use these services, you will have to sign over rights to handle or even open your mail to these services (people). So be careful.