Direct Mail

What Is Certified Mail USPS?

By 19 March 2024April 15th, 2024No Comments
usps certified mail costs

What Is USPS Certified Mail, and How Does It Benefit Businesses?

Have you been in situations where you needed delivery proof for mailing? Perhaps a client refused to acknowledge they received your invoice due letter three weeks ago. Or you may need to prove that you sent your tax documents before the due date. 

What is USPS Certified Mail and How Does it Work?

The situations can vary! But having evidence of mailing and delivery can be a lifesaver for many businesses.

Also, the law recognizes such evidence in case of legal disputes.

Hence, USPS offers Certified Mail to help individuals and companies get electronic confirmation and a receipt, proving they sent something and the recipient received it on specific dates.

certified mail be sent to a po box

But what is Certified Mail, and how to send it? 

Also, does it cost extra to get the proof of delivery? 

Please keep reading to uncover the answers to these questions and take advantage of this postal service. 

Let us begin!

What Does Certified Mail Mean?

Certified Mail is a USPS service that helps you mail securely throughout the US. When you send a Certified Mail item, you get legally-recognized proof of mailing.

The recipients also need to sign for the item to confirm that they received it. Again, it acts as evidence that your mailpiece was delivered to the correct address.

You can use Certified Mail for First-Class Mail, First-Class Packages, and Priority Mail items. So, you need to pay the postage (depending on which class you select) and a Certified Mail fee to avail of this service.

Plus, your Certified Mail mailing speed depends on which mailing class you choose and takes anywhere from two to five business days.

Some most helpful and popular features of the USPS Certified Mail option are:

  • Refund: If you do not get a mailing receipt or electronic verification of your mailpiece within 30 days, you can apply for a refund. However, some items are exempt from it.
  • Delivery record: The USPS stores the recipient’s signature for two years from the date of posting.
  • Proof of signature: If you want to get a copy of the recipient’s signature, you can opt for a Return Receipt (discussed in detail further).
  • Delivery status: You can view the delivery status through the USPS Certified Mail tracking number you receive while mailing your item.
  • Mailing receipt: It is advisable to store this receipt for later use.

You can track your Certified Mail items via Bulk Electronic File Transfer Service, phone, or the USPS website. Make sure to keep the mailing receipt safe so that you know your item’s tracking number.

How Does the Certified Mail Service Work?

Mailers need to fill out the PS form 3800 (see image below) to avail of Certified Mail. You need to mention any additional services that you need in this form. Plus, at this point, you should decide which mailing class you want to use for sending your mail.

certified mail sample

The barcoded area on the left is torn and affixed to your mailpiece to enable you to track it. You can keep the remaining part of the form as your mailing receipt.

The USPS first scans the mail at the Post Office, after which it is sent to the automated sorting and processing center. You can view your mailpiece as it passes through every point in the USPS mailing stream.

Finally, the carrier delivers the item to the mailing address after getting a signature from the recipient.

Does Certified Mail Require a Signature?

If you wonder whether Certified Mail can be delivered without a signature, the upfront answer is no!

In cases where no one is present at the address to receive the mail item, the postal carriers cannot deliver it. Instead, they leave a notice and take the mailpiece back to the Post Office.

Then, the intended recipient can take the notice to the Post Office mentioned and collect the item. The item is held for about four weeks before it is returned to the sender.

What Are the Different Delivery Options for Certified Mail?

The regular USPS Certified Mail service only gives you a mailing receipt and tracking number. But, you can avail of some add-ons by paying an extra fee. These add-ons also determine how you want your mail to be delivered.

It depends on you whether you want to get a copy of the recipient’s signature or not. Also, you can restrict delivery to only the intended recipient. Here’s how:

Certified Mail Return Receipt

Please note that a Return Receipt is different from a mailing receipt. A mailing receipt is the right section of your PS form 3800 that you get while posting your item.

But, you may think- what is Certified Mail Return Receipt? It’s a Return Receipt having the recipient’s signature mailed back to you as proof of delivery. It is also known as a green card.

You can purchase a Return Receipt from the Post Office while mailing your item by paying an additional cost.

If you do not opt for a Return Receipt at the time of posting, you can do it later as well. The USPS already stores the recipient’s signature for two years, irrespective of whether you choose this option or not. So, you can pay the fee and request it at any time until this 2-year period is over.

Certified Mail Electronic Return Receipt

If you want to get a Return Receipt for Certified Mail online, you can request an electronic Return Receipt. In this case, the signature is created with the help of signature generators, converted into a PDF, and emailed to you.

This option is faster and also costs less.

Certified Mail Restricted Delivery

Many people are confused about- what Certified Mail Restricted Delivery is.

However, it is a helpful add-on, and everyone should know about it, so here you go. It helps mailers restrict their mail delivery to ensure that it reaches the right hands.

Basically, under Certified Mail-restricted delivery, only the addressed recipient can collect and sign for the mailpiece or package. The recipient may have to produce personal identification to verify their identity.

There are options as well to choose from while restricting the delivery of your item, and they are:

  • Certified Mail Adult Signature Required: Using this option, you can ensure that only an adult (21 years or older) can sign for the mail.
  • Certified Mail Adult Signature Restricted Delivery: This option is a combination of Restricted Delivery and Adult Signature Required. If you select this add-on, the addressed recipient should be over 21 years of age as only they can collect the mail.
  • Certified Mail Restricted Delivery with Return Receipt: It is the most secure Certified Mail delivery option available. Naturally, it has the benefits of both Restricted Delivery and Return Receipt. But, using this option can raise your costs noticeably, especially if you are mailing several people at once.

What Is Certified Mail Used For?

Certified Mail is ideal for sending sensitive mail items such as:

  • Legal documents or court papers
  • Tax audit updates and notifications
  • Confidential or classified papers
  • Contracts
  • High-value parcels, etc.

Though individuals can also use this service, businesses use it more commonly. It helps them send the above documents to their debtors, creditors, high-ticket clients, attorneys, IRS, etc.

We have made a checklist to help you ascertain whether you need to avail of Certified Mail. Use this option only when:

  • You need a record of mailing and delivery
  • You want to ensure that only the intended recipient receives the item
  • You need to mail a sensitive or confidential item

Certified Mail Costs

Now that you know the Certified Mail meaning and features, let’s talk about how much it costs:

  • The USPS charges a fee of $3.75 for every mail item in addition to the postage
  • Offline Return Receipts cost $3.05, and the electronic ones cost only $1.85
  • If you opt for Certified Mail Restricted Delivery, you need to pay an extra $9.75
  • Adult Signature Required costs $6.90 per item
  • The cost of Adult Signature Restricted Delivery is a little cheaper at $7.15

Please consider which add-ons you need in-depth and then opt for them as the costs can add up quickly.

Other Ways to Use Certified Mail

If you want to avoid going to the Post Office and filling out the forms, try other options to send Certified Mail. The solution is to use labels to send your items. You can buy these labels online and affix them to the mailpieces you want to mail.

This way, you can benefit from all the Certified Mail features without standing in a queue or putting in any manual effort.

But, also take care to affix the correct number of stamps enough to cover the postage costs.

Once you affix the stamps and the labels, you may drop off your items at any mailbox located in your area. Or you can drop them at your own mailbox for the carrier to collect.

Another option is to buy Certified Mail envelopes. You can then print your mailing details on these envelopes and drop them off at a mailbox. Remember to buy USPS-approved Certified Mail labels and envelopes only.

It is easier to send Certified Mail using these options, and you can also save some bucks. By buying Certified Mail online and opting for Electronic Return Receipt, you can save around $2.20 per piece.

What Is Certified Mail Vs Registered Mail?

You already know that Certified Mail is sent along with First-Class Mail, First-Class Mail Package, and Priority Mail items.

Registered Mail is also used with these options but takes a little longer to arrive. It is used for more valuable things, and the packaging is sturdier compared to Certified Mail.

Find below some more points to help you understand the differences between Registered Mail vs. Certified Mail:

  • Registered Mail costs start at $13.75, whereas Certified Mail rates begin at $3.75 only.
  • Registered Mail is insured up to $50,000. There is no insurance coverage included in Certified Mail unless you buy it separately.

The only similarity is that both Certified Mail and Registered Mail have free USPS tracking and give you proof of mailing and delivery.

Can You Get a Refund for USPS Certified Mail?

You can ask the Post Office for a service fee refund if the electronic verification and mailing receipt do not reach you within 30 days.

Apply for a refund online on the USPS website or visit the local Post Office to 

  • Submit the PS Form 3533, the return of fees and postage voucher, and an application.
  • Provide proof of postage and mailing.

However, USPS does not refund the postage; it only returns the additional fee you paid at the time of purchase to upgrade to Certified Mail.

Many people don’t know about the refund rules and expect to get the entire fee back.

But please note that the refund is only available when you don’t get the delivery confirmation. The Post Office delivers your mail to the correct address within the specified time frame.

Hence, cross-checking with your recipients to see if they received the mail before requesting a refund is advisable. Chances are you didn’t get the confirmation because the item never reached them. In this case, you can file a missing item report and wait for the Post Office to respond.

Also, remember that USPS grants refunds at its own discretion. You won’t get your money back if the item you sent was undeliverable and the delivery attempt failed. Ensure you only send eligible mailers to the correct address to avoid such issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Certified Mail available for postpaid mail?

No. You can only certify First-Class Mail, First-Class Package service-commercial, and Priority Mail prepaid items. It helps USPS track your mailers better and provides accurate delivery confirmation.

Does adding Certified Mail help deliver my shipment faster?

No. Adding Certified Mail does not increase your shipping speed. Your delivery speed depends on your selected mailing service, like First-Class or Priority Mail.

Use PostGrid’s direct mail API to prepare, print, and distribute your mailers online. Our 2-business day SLA ensures your mailers are out the door at breakneck speed.

Can you send Certified Mail to all address types?

You cannot use Certified Mail for international shipments because it’s a domestic service only. But you can get the delivery details for mail outgoing to FPO (Fleet Post Office), DPO (Diplomatic Post Office), and APO (Army Post Office) locations.

How many days does the Post Office hold the Certified Mail items before returning them to the sender?

The Post Office stores mail for 15 days before returning it to the origin postal outlet and redirecting it to the sender. However, the sender can retrieve their items only when they sign for them. 

Can I drop off my Certified Mail in a mailbox and still get the receipt?

USPS permits dropping off Certified Mail envelopes and packages in collection box receptacles (the Aviation Mail security restrictions are applicable). The Post Office checks whether you have attached adequate postage to your items, covering the postage and the service fee. 

But you must visit the Post Office and submit your items at the counter to get a validated receipt that confirms your postage payment.

Does the Post Office send you the proof of delivery each time you send Certified Mail?

USPS does not automatically mail the proof of delivery record to the senders. You must request the recipient’s signature record by buying the Return Receipt. The Post Office lets you choose between getting a by-mail or electronic Return Receipt. 

If you forget to get the Return Receipt, request delivery information by submitting PS Form 3811-A within 90 days from the mailing date. 

What items are ineligible for Certified Mail shipping?

You cannot add the Certified Mail feature to 

  • International Mail
  • Media Mail
  • Library Mail
  • Priority Mail Express
  • USPS Retail Ground
  • Bound Printed Matter

Try upgrading to other USPS mailing classes to get add-ons, like Certified and Registered Mail. These options are best for sending crucial correspondence, like business contracts, sales letters, invoices, checks, etc.

You can skip using Certified Mail when mailing marketing items. However, decide only after considering how much you spent on the campaign.

If you want to send highly-personalized letters to high-ticket clients, using Certified Mail can be an excellent way to showcase credibility.

Can I send Certified Mail via an automated direct mail company?

Yes. Automated direct mail solution providers, like PostGrid, can help you prepare and send Certified Mail. It saves you the trouble of filling out forms and visiting the Post Office. Also, you can request the Return Receipt without completing additional formalities.

Is it worth spending extra on buying Certified Mail?

Absolutely. Certified Mail offers senders peace of mind and ensures their mailers reach the correct destinations.

You can confirm that your mail reached the correct person using Certified Mail. Also, storing evidence of delivery gives you the upper hand because the recipient cannot legally refuse that they received the item or document.


Certified Mail is an effective and affordable way to track your mail items and ensure that they reach the correct recipient. But, you may find it daunting to fill the forms or buy and use the Certified Mail packaging materials.

Hence, PostGrid’s direct mail API is here to assist you throughout your mailing process. Apart from mailing, we also help you design and print your items in two business days only.

PostGrid has a vast range of features like address verification, HTML templates, per-piece tracking, etc. You can explore more by signing up here.

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