The Liner Notes with backgroundWhat does General Delivery mean? How has it been used? Can you still use it today?

Most of us have heard of it, but how many of us have actually used the Postal Service‘s General Delivery? I sure haven’t. I thought it was a fairly antiquated way of delivering mail to someone who had no permanent address, but you knew lived in a certain area. Turns out, you can still use General Delivery as a useful, if usually temporary, tool.

General Delivery is a way of delivering mail to someone in a city if all you know is their name and location. The catch here is, though, that they have to know to look for it. It’s better to use it as a way to receive your mail, by giving out “General Delivery, City, ST Zip” as your address than it is to randomly send someone something that way.


B Free Franklin Post Office. Image by Ben Franske CC 2.0 Generic.

B Free Franklin Post Office. Image by Ben Franske CC 2.0 Generic.


General Delivery has been used in a variety of ways. When someone is temporarily displaced, due to homelessness, natural disaster, or even on vacation, it’s a way of receiving your mail. Also, in places without home mail delivery, when P.O. Boxes are a bit scarce (such as in areas of Hawaii, apparently), General Delivery comes to the rescue. You can also use it to protect your personal information, such as if you want to exchange mail with someone you met online, or if you’re paranoid about the Feds.

You can totally still use it today. Though there are some rules.

  1. Apply for General Delivery. There is a form to fill out. It’s the government. What did you expect? Plus this makes it easier to be official.
  2. Format your address correctly. Use the Zip+4 of 9999, and include “GENERAL DELIVERY” on its own line, preferably in all caps.
    John Doe
    Anytown, ST 00000-9999
  3. The post office will hold your mail for up to 30 days, but sometimes for shorter periods, depending on the sender and other factors.
  4. Be prepared to show ID (sometimes two forms) to pick up your waiting mail.
  5. If you have too high a volume of mail, you may not be allowed to use General Delivery for it. Talk to the post office for more information.
  6. Sometimes only the “main” branch of a post office in an area will offer General Delivery service. Inquire at your local post office before having anything sent there. Then when you do have mail sent to you, be sure to use the correct zip code.

You may want to do a test run with a trial piece of mail to make sure it works, if you will be counting on this method of delivery for anything important.