USPS General Delivery: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

USPS General Delivery: What Is It and How Do I Use It? 1

If you’ve browsed many RVing forums or discussion groups, you’ve likely seen the term “General Delivery.” Whether you use a mail-forwarding service or enlist a friend or family member to handle your mail for you while you travel, you will have to navigate the perks and downsides of USPS General Delivery at some point in your travels. We love when RV parks will accept packages on behalf of guests, or when shipping services such as UPS or FedEx will deliver them to your campsite, but we also know this is not the norm. It is best to be prepared for the conveniences and inconveniences of this General Delivery before you choose to use it.

What Is General Delivery?

General Delivery is a service offered by the United States Postal Service that allows you to receive mail in an area in which you do not have a permanent address.  This can be highly convenient for RVers who enjoy traveling on a more frequent schedule, as it allows you to receive your mail almost anywhere there is a post office!

How Does General Delivery Work?

The short answer to this question is this: have the mail you wish to receive addressed to

Your Name
General Delivery
City, State Zipcode (of the post office where you will be)

Give it a few days to arrive, then check in regularly until it’s ready for you to pick up!

In reality, there is a bit more to it that this, though. Before you know the address you should use, you want to select a post office nearest you that accepts General Delivery. You can find that information on the USPS website here. Once you’ve narrowed your options by location, you can review the list of available services to confirm that “General Delivery” is listed.

Sounds easy, right? Typically, it is a pretty smooth process. However, there are a couple of potential hurdles you should be aware of any time you’re considering using General Delivery to receive your mail.

Problems With General Delivery: Retrieving Your Mail

USPS General Delivery: What Is It and How Do I Use It? 2

Even though a location states it offers General Delivery services, you will want to call their local number and ensure that is truly accurate. We specify the local number because calling the 1-800 number routes you to the national customer service line, which may not have the information you want.

A mistake made by many travelers is assuming that a location which accepts General Delivery also holds it for you to pick up. You’re probably thinking “Come again?! Why wouldn’t they?” 

In more populated urban areas, most post office locations DO accept General Delivery. However, they then route General Delivery mail to a central location, often the hub of that city, where addressees can retrieve their mail. In smaller towns, this may mean just driving a mile or two, parking, and walking in. In larger cities, such as Austin, Texas, you have to drive into the heart of downtown, drive in circles looking for street parking, give up and pay for parking in a private lot, then find your way back to the post office to wait in line and pick up your mail. If you’re there during morning rush hour, lunchtime, or afternoon rush hour, make sure you allow yourself ample time and patience to navigate traffic, and maybe pack a snack for your ‘hike.’

That initial phone call is also a great time to ask if that location limits pickup to certain hours. While most post offices are open 8:00 AM to 5:00PM, they may not have staff on-hand to manage pick-up services all throughout the day. In smaller towns, where staffing is often lighter, you may only be able to pick up in a 2-3 hour window. Save yourself some time by confirming this information before you arrive.

Problems With General Delivery: Unexpected Fees and Restrictions

You’ve used the USPS website to find a location, confirmed they do actually receive and distribute General Delivery mail, AND it’s near your campsite! Perfect! Now it’s time to go pick up your mail. But wait, there may be a catch…

Some locations apply fees and/or restrictions to use of their General Delivery service. These are not consistent across all locations, so it can be alarming to find out that you cannot have your mail until you fulfill additional requirements set by that particular location. 

How do you avoid this surprise? Reach out to the post office location in advance and speak with their postmaster to confirm that they do receive General Delivery. While you have their attention, ask if there are any special circumstances related to General Delivery. Restrictions may include handling fees, additional postage, registering in advance to receive mail, etc. Again, we emphasize using the local number on the USPS website, not their toll-free number. The local one will get you to the office, the toll-free one will send you to national customer service, which is not as informed on daily procedures at the local office.

Another restriction to keep in mind is size- while your local office is happy to accept your mail-forwarding package, maybe even your new InstantPot, they may not have the room to accept your solar panels, lithium batteries, pet food order, etc. In cases where they do accept packages of this size, be prepared to retrieve them ASAP to avoid causing an inconvenience or incurring a storage fee. 

Along this same line, if you anticipate receiving multiple packages, confirm whether there is a limit to how many that location will accept and hold on your behalf. 

Problems With General Delivery: Competitor Services

Be mindful that UPS and FedEx are competitors for USPS. As such, not all post office locations will accept packages delivered by these companies. This is another situation in which it would benefit you to reach out to the local post office in advance and confirm whether they will receive packages from competitors. 

This can be a tough scenario to navigate when ordering from companies such as Amazon, where the method of shipping isn’t always disclosed at the time of purchase OR upon confirmation. This is when options such as Amazon Lockers are preferable, given that there is one available in your area. If not, talk with the office staff at your campground and see what alternatives they can suggest before you place your order. Maybe there is a UPS store in town that will accept your package for a fee!

Using USPS General Delivery To Receive Mail As an RVer

As you read through these potential problems, you may get the feeling that General Delivery is more complicated than it’s worth. Why is a service that is intended to be convenient surrounded by so many ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs?’ The good news is that the vast majority of questions can be answered with a single phone call 1-2 weeks in advance of when you will need their service. Planning ahead allows you time to find a different location, choose to delay your mail to your next destination, or find an alternative service that suits your needs, all without the panic of ‘what do I do?’ once your mail is already en route. 

For a quick reference tool, we put together these key questions into a short guide you can keep handy during your travels. 

USPS General Delivery: What Is It and How Do I Use It? 3

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30 Responses

  1. Be advised, is not accurate in listing specific zip codes that accept General Delivery. And not all post office local phone numbers will be answered by humans, so you can verify that they do accept G.D.

    1. Yep, that is definitely an issue with some locations! Even those who do have staff answer the phones can often take several minutes of ringing and/or being on hold to get through. Unfortunately, there is not an easy solution to this if you are not yet physically near the P.O. you’re trying to reach.

  2. You didn’t address UPS Smart Post or FEDEX Sure Post, where the private shippers use the post office for the final leg of the delivery. If you know your seller is going to use one of these 2 delivery programs, then you can still address your delivery to “General Delivery” at the post office & they will accept it because they are sharing in the revenue from that shipment. But if you use General Delivery & your seller sends the package by “regular” UPS or FEDEX, the package may go to the post office, but the post office will then charge you extra for handling the package, since they did not share in the revenue like they would have with a Smart Post or Sure Post shipment.

  3. I’ve run into way too many post offices that accept general delivery only for “new to the area” residents that have a permanent address that will be available within 30 days.

    I got caught by the Austin situation once also. When I showed up, the only clerk was very put out that I wanted to pickup my package. She told me it wasn’t in the office several times. After I showed her the online status, she agreed to go look even though she assured me it wasn’t in the office. Needless to say, she came back with it saying that someone put it in the wrong place.

    I’ve also run into post offices where you can talk to the person that handles General Delivery and they want to talk about RV living.

    I had one Post Office where I missed the open hours and the Postmaster let me fill a forwarding address online so I could pick my mail up at my next stop.

  4. A workaround for the UPS/Fedex problem:

    When I order something online and don’t know for sure it will be shipped USPS (e.g. amazon, etsy), I simply add “PO Box” to the address. It forces the shipper to send via USPS/Smart Post/ SurePost.

    General delivery
    PO Box
    City, State zip-9999

    Small businesses will sometimes reach out to ask about the missing P.O. Box number but I just explain the situation and they’re happy to ship it general delivery.

    1. We have seen several RVers try this successfully. Unfortunately, it doesn’t consistently work, but when it does, it’s handy!

  5. Several bad experiences in Florida caused me to stop trying to use General Delivery. First of all, it may be impossible to get anyone to answer their phones. One postmaster told me that they are not required to answer their public phone numbers! I chased one package back and forth across Fort Myers. It ended up at a PO that does not support General Delivery, so they returned it to the sender.

  6. I have found that General Delivery varies greatly from Post Office to Post Office. I have been the most successful when visiting the Post Office and asking, “How do you want this addressed?” I just came from a post office which gave me two addresses even with different zip codes for the same location depending on what was being sent.

    Worth mentioning that many post offices will only take your mail for 30 days. This is especially true in FL.

    As mentioned, you cannot rely on the Post Office website at all. Here again, visiting the local PO is very helpful. I have also had a Post Office require that I fill out a form in advance to be able to receive General Delivery.

    We have had the best luck at small town post offices. Always have a tracking number.

    Amazon is the hardest since you do not know how it is being sent. I tried the PO Box trick, only to have it returned to Amazon. In a small town I have talked to a UPS driver and asked them, “Who is the best in town to take my package and hold it for me?” They gave me a small shops name who was happy to hold my package.

  7. Another issue that RVers face if they drive an oversize vehicle, is to go to Google Earth and see what the parking lot looks like! Most POs only have angled parking, and if you are driving a larger motorhome, you may have to park on the street and walk a ways to get to the post office!

    We have been using General Delivery for the past 4-1/2 years, and have only had minor issues with it, as stated in the article and comments. Most of the issues have had to do with the inconsistencies within the USPS. They should all have the same rules, but they don’t, and the web sites are not always accurate! Still, if you do your proper research ahead of time, it can work well, as it has for us.

  8. Arizona and apparently now Texas are a 30 days only, then you need a PO Box. Just picked ours up at the Congress PO and was informed

    1. Thank you for responding with this. I’ve been using general delivery for almost a month now, but every time I go to my PO, they always say I have no mail. I find it a bit weird.

      1. Have you previously confirmed that the location you’re visiting is the site of that area’s General Delivery service?
        Often, towns with multiple post offices will designate one location for General Delivery, even if the zipcode on your address differs. For example, in Austin, TX, RVers camping at McKinney Falls State Park will have mail sent to the 78744 zipcode there as General Delivery, but all General Delivery actually goes to the downtown post office and must be picked up from there.

    2. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the address like

      Phone number
      General Delivery
      City, state, zip.

      So they could give a courtesy call for individual that are stranded.

      Long story short
      Wallet got lost, canceled cards, then reorder new cards, sending to Nevada then family going to send them out to me in Oregon in general delivery.

      General Delivery should have some choices that would cost a fee.

      Well that’s my thoughts

      1. Yeah sure, just what I need. 123,283,398,236,298 people who got my # from the envelope calling me daily.
        That’s why the military stopped using SSN’s for mail delivery several decades ago.

      1. Each USPS location has some flexibility in customizing their rules for handling General Delivery. There are some post offices that restrict the length of time you’re permitted to use General Delivery before they’ll start declining your mail or direct you to use a PO box. This is why we recommend you check with each location before you plan to have your mail sent there as General Delivery.

    1. Yes, you’ll want to use your name in the address. Otherwise, USPS will have nothing to verify the mail is yours when you come to pick it up, and may not release it to you.

  9. I was amazed that the main post office in New York city only opens general delivery from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (two hours) that’s beyond imagination. For the worst i mean.

  10. General delivery sucks I spoke with a 40-year veteran of the post office when I asked questions about my options for holding my mail what the 40-year postal veteran left out is that my mail would circle around the state of Texas I guess for 10 to 14 business days or longer with no guarantee that I would receive my mail. I’m currently waiting on a contract that was mailed to me via the post office on April 1st and now it is a possibility that I may not even get the mail because the supervisor at the post office where I live indicated that if I don’t get my mail in the next 10 to 14 business days I may have to choose to start the process over. what the what. I expect for businesses and yes this includes the post office to be reasonably knowledgeable about their products and services. Telling me that you’re a 40-year veteran employee of the post office does me no good if you leave out pertinent information and then demonstrate an attitude of I don’t care because it’s not my mail this has been a complete cluster f for me and I still don’t have my mail.

    1. I’m here in Ogden does anyone have information on why my Packages would keep getting returned to sender if the address of the post office and the general Delivery address both on package the post office said it can’t have THIER address on it only general Delivery has anybody heard such a thing

  11. I have used General Delivery (GD) dozens of times in my RV travels. I have never been charged an extra fee for anything, but as a retired postmaster I suspect that might not have to do with GD itself, but for a package sent using a competitor (UPS, Fedex, etc) and not by the special procedure where the competitor pays the postage for the final leg of the transportation. I did have a package returned the same day it arrived at a post office in Arizona. I had tracking to see what happened and spoke with the postmaster who informed me they only provide GD to those who apply in advance for it. As a retired postmaster I know the regulations, which do not include an application for GD. The regulations also provide for service up to 30 days for “transients” (travelers) as well as extended service for new residents until they can get home delivery. I ended up sending a complaint to the District Office in Phoenix and got an email back from their marketing director with profuse apologies and assurance the postmaster I dealt with would be required to follow the regulations in the future. My main advice to anyone is always have things sent to GD with a tracking number. In addition to proof of what happens to an item, it saves you having to make trips to check whether the item is there, as you can track it online.

  12. I want to use General Delivery for anonymity. I don’t want to get a P>O box and don’t want one particular person to know where I live, Will this work?

    1. General Delivery can work for that, but each post office’s requirements can vary. Some may require you to provide personal information ahead of receiving the package, others restrict how many pieces of mail you can receive via General Delivery before they require you to get a P.O. box, and still others only allow general Delivery for a defined amount of time, and will refuse all other mail for you received after that period of time.
      In short, you need to reach out to the USPS local office you’ll be using most to find out what their requirements are, if any. If you plan to be mobile, plan ahead and reach out to each post office you plan to use before having mail sent there.

  13. general delivery is for people down and out in life/the homeless to have an address to receive mail. not for people who live the home free lifestyle to get amazon packages delivered and held for them for free. this is for emergencies, rver should stop being chintzy and pay small business mailbox shop to receive packages and mail.

    1. Chincy? Seriously, try working for a company that does infrastructure and is coast to coast. It has nothing to do with being cheap, believe it or not some want to pay bills on time and not spit out excuses…

    2. Chintzy? 1st off, not sure “home free lifestyle” means.
      Secondly, “hold it for free”? The postage has been paid. Furthermore, It saves them the time and money of sorting, loading in the truck, and delivering.
      A PO Box costs $45 for the cheapest one available here. I’m on social security. I can’t afford an additional $45. in just mailing costs for one package.

  14. Jay
    I find it interesting that the U.S. Postal website never MENTIONS General Delivery at all!!
    As a national service, required by the U.S. Constitution and Federal law, it is appalling there is no required standardization for how the service works. Also, for the working poor who do not have an address and cannot afford a bank account, how can they receive their monthly Social Security Disability checks when the post office will only hold mail for 30 days and they have to wait 30 days to pick up the next check?? They should hold mail for 60 days before sending it back to the sender.

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