How Long Does USPS Hold Packages? What To Do If You Missed The Delivery

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on October 1st, 2023

USPS retains undelivered packages for a standard period of 15 days from the initial delivery attempt. This retention period begins after one or two unsuccessful delivery attempts made to the recipient’s address. In cases where the recipient fails to collect the package within the 15-day holding timeframe, it will be returned to the sender.

Notably, for international packages or those dispatched from abroad, the holding duration extends to 30 days. Conversely, Inbound Express Mail Service packages are returned after a five-day holding period unless the sender specifies a different duration.


Why Does USPS Hold Packages?

Packages are held by USPS due to failed delivery attempts. This may occur for various reasons, often beyond the control of postal carriers. For instance, the package may bear an incorrect, illegible, or incomplete address, making it impossible to locate the intended recipient’s location, leading to the package being deemed undeliverable.

In some instances, the address might be correct, but the mailbox is too full to accommodate the package, or the delivery requires the recipient’s signature, but no authorized person is available to sign for it. In these cases, the carrier might leave a PS Form 3849 at the door, indicating a delivery attempt was made. However, the decision to leave this form is discretionary, and not all carriers may choose to do so.

What Happens to Undelivered Mail?

For undelivered packages, customers must complete the PS Form 3849 to retrieve their held packages at the post office. If no action is taken by the customer within the 15-day holding period, the package will be dealt with in two ways depending on whether it has a return address:

  • Packages With Return Addresses: These are sent back to the return address. If the sender is unavailable, the package will be directed to the lost mail department.
  • Packages Without Return Addresses: Such packages are forwarded to the Dead Mail Office. Efforts will be made to locate the sender; failing which, the package contents will be either discarded or auctioned, depending on their value, to protect customer privacy.

How Does USPS Hold for Pickup Work?

USPS offers a dedicated service known as ‘Hold for Pickup,’ where undelivered packages are sent to designated USPS locations for recipients to collect. Notifications are sent to recipients via email once their package is available for pickup. This service is particularly beneficial for recipients who wish to have their packages held securely for an extended period.

For individuals planning an extended absence, such as a vacation, the USPS Hold Mail Service can be utilized to securely retain all mail and packages at the local post office for up to 30 days. This service is offered free of charge and can be used for a single address at a time, covering all individuals listed at the address. It’s crucial to note that users of P.O. Boxes automatically have their packages held for 30 days without needing to request this service.

Utilizing USPS Hold Mail Service

USPS Hold Mail Service is a valuable offering designed for customers planning to be away from home. It ensures the secure retention of all mail and packages for a specified duration. To activate this service, customers need to sign up for mail forwarding, which can be initiated in advance or as early as the upcoming delivery day.

Initiating the Hold Mail Service is straightforward and can be done through various channels:

  • Online: Customers can either sign in to their existing accounts or create new ones to access this service. After providing a valid mobile number and answering verification questions, customers can specify the hold duration and the method to receive held mail post-expiration.
  • In-Person: Visiting a local post office during business hours allows customers to fill out an authorization form, enabling the activation of Hold Mail Service.
  • By Phone: Dialing 1-800-ASK-USPS during business hours a day in advance allows for telephonic service activation.
  • By Mail: Customers can send a letter addressed to the local Postmaster, requesting the activation of the Hold Mail Service.

Modifications to USPS Hold Mail Request

Customers have the flexibility to alter or cancel their USPS Hold Mail requests. Upon submission of the initial request, a confirmation number is provided via email or through the Customer Care Center, making it imperative for customers to furnish accurate email addresses.

With the confirmation number in hand, customers can easily make the necessary modifications or cancellations to their Hold Mail requests online or through a call to the Customer Care Center. In the absence of a confirmation number, changes can still be made by visiting a local post office with valid identification or by calling and following the provided instructions.

Early Package Pickup and Third-party Authorization

For customers wishing to retrieve their held mail earlier than specified, it’s possible to do so, albeit with some charges. The service gets instantly deactivated, and regular mail delivery resumes on the next working day.

Additionally, customers can authorize third parties to pick up their held mail. This process simply requires the customer to send an authorization letter to the local Postmaster. The designated individual must then present valid identification at the post office to collect the items.

Post-Hold Period Package Handling

Packages unclaimed past the stipulated hold period (15 days for domestic and 30 days for international packages) are returned to the sender. For Inbound Express Mail Services, unless otherwise specified by the sender, packages are returned post a 5-day retention period, in adherence to Section 766 of USPS rules and regulations.

Understanding USPS Hold Mail Service Cost

The USPS Hold Mail Service is provided free of charge to all customers, offering a secure and reliable solution for temporary mail-holding needs.

Additional USPS Hold Mail Service Insights

  • Planning: Customers can initiate the Hold Mail Service between 30 days in advance to as late as the day before the scheduled delivery date.
  • Volume of Mail: Upon expiration of the Hold Mail Service, customers should anticipate a significant volume of accumulated mail.
  • Non-USPS Deliveries: For packages delivered by carriers other than USPS, it’s advisable for customers to arrange for alternative pickup or delivery solutions.

Picking Up Packages Pre-Delivery

USPS understands and accommodates customers eager to receive their packages promptly. Many are willing to personally visit USPS facilities to collect their packages prior to scheduled delivery. USPS offers two main options to facilitate early pickup: Package Intercept and Package Hold, providing customers with greater control over their deliveries.

Missed Delivery Package Pickup

In the event of a missed delivery, customers can request USPS to hold the package for pickup at a local post office. Though USPS generally attempts redelivery on the next business day, the same delivery challenges may persist, making a hold request a practical solution for prompt package retrieval.

Intercepted Package Pickup Locations

Intercepted packages can be picked up at local post offices, USPS distribution facilities, or other designated locations. As some distribution centers may restrict public access, it’s crucial for customers to coordinate with USPS beforehand to streamline the package retrieval process.

Tracking Package Location Pre-Interception

Before initiating an intercept request, customers should inquire about the current location of their package. Understanding the package’s status and location helps in making an informed decision on whether an intercept is necessary or if waiting for the scheduled delivery is more practical.

USPS Delivery Location Policies

Typically, USPS delivers packages to the address specified on the mailing label. However, upon customer request, packages can be held at local post offices or delivered to alternative locations at the specified address. It’s important to note that USPS does not deliver to different addresses across town without additional postage and the launch of an intercept, which may incur additional costs.


USPS holds undelivered packages for 15 days from the initial delivery attempt. Customers have various options and services at their disposal to manage and retrieve held packages efficiently, ensuring a smooth and reliable mailing experience with USPS.


Editorial Staff

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