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What Does Return To Sender Mean USPS?

what does return to sender mean usps

In this age of technology, we don’t use the postal service as much as we used to. However, USPS still plays a vital role in our society. After all, not everything can be done by email, can it?

And sometimes, items sent through USPS might be marked ‘return to sender.’ What should you do if this happens?

Well, let’s find out what does return to sender mean USPS?

What Does USPS Return to Sender Mean?

Well, it means there was a problem delivering the item. Often it’s because the address is missing information, and therefore the delivery cannot be completed. It can also happen if the recipient refuses to take the package, or in some cases, if there have been two delivery attempts and no one was home.

Where Might You See USPS Return to Sender?

You’ll find this notification in one of two places. Firstly, the USPS worker must place a “return to sender” sticker on the undelivered item. But, if you use the USPS online tracker, you’ll receive the message this way too.

Why Does USPS Mark Packages Return to Sender?

As mentioned previously, there are many reasons that an item could be given a return to sender mark. The main reason is due to issues with the sender, but the person receiving the package could also be the cause.

Why Does USPS Mark Packages Return to Sender

Problems with the Address

The most common issue faced by USPS is the way people address packages. The postal service needs as much information as possible to deliver the item to the correct place. If that address is inaccurate, then the mailman can’t do their job.

A missing zip code, an incorrect house number, a spelling misprint: there could be any number of reasons that an address is wrong. And USPS can’t spend time trying to guess. If that address isn’t right, then the parcel will be returned to sender.

Sign your name on the dotted line…

Another reason that you might get a USPS return to send notification is if the parcel requires a signature. Tracked items need the recipient to sign off on the delivery. If USPS tries to deliver more than twice and does not get a signature, then the package is marked return to sender.

If you’ve got a package that needs a signature, you can check its progress right here. Simply enter your tracking number, and it’ll tell you the current status of your item. You can also arrange alternative delivery instructions if you know you’re not going to be home.

Refusal of package

Sometimes, the person residing at the address doesn’t want the package. The most common reason for this is a recent change of address. This means the package has gone to the wrong person and, therefore, must be returned to sender.

And What Happens to Mail Marked as USPS Return to Sender?

If a piece of mail cannot be delivered, USPS must mark it as return to sender. They do this by separating it from the rest of the mail, then marking it with a large yellow sticker. This ensures it stands out from the rest of the mail and doesn’t accidentally get redelivered.

Now we play the waiting game…

For packages that need a signature, the post office will hold the item for the owner to collect. This waiting period is usually 15 days. For most other packages, though, there’s no waiting time, and the item will be returned to the sending address straight away.

And What Happens to Mail Marked as USPS Return to Sender

What Should I Do if My Mail Was Marked USPS Return to Sender?

Well, that depends. Are you the sender or the recipient of the parcel? What you need to do differs slightly.

Sending mail…

If you’re the one who sent the package, then good news! You don’t need to do anything. The package is on its way and should be with you shortly.

Of course, this doesn’t help you understand why it was returned. If you’re not sure, the best thing you can do is check with the staff at your local post office. You should also double-check the address to make sure everything is ship-shape and above board.

Not sure about the address?

No problem! USPS has a service to check zip codes. Search by full address, city, and state, or just input the zip code you have to see which areas it covers.

And don’t forget…

Take care to remove that return to sender sticker before you send it again! Its bright, eye-catching color is designed to make it immediately noticeable to postal workers. If you don’t take it off or find some way to cover it, you’ll probably get the package back again!

You’ve Got Mail…

If you’re waiting for a parcel and you get a notification that it’s been returned to sender, there are a couple of things you need to do. First things first, call your local post office. There’s a good chance they’ll have the item ready and waiting for you. You can find the number of your closest location here.

You've Got Mail

But what if it’s not there?

If it’s already been returned to sender, then that’s who you’ll need to get in touch with. Talk to the person or organization responsible for posting the package. They will have to rearrange another delivery.

Oh, and just one more thing…

If you have to go to the post office to pick it up, be sure to take a valid form of ID! USPS staff can’t hand out your parcel to just anyone. The ID must match the name on the package, and it must be current and not out of date.

How Long Does it Take USPS to Return Mail to Sender?

The length of time it takes for a package to be returned to sender is not standard. It can take different amounts of time, depending on the circumstances. You need to think about why USPS returned the item to sender.

For example…

In case of an incorrect address, the return process is super straightforward. The item will be back with the sender within a day or two. The package usually doesn’t even make it into the hands of the delivery worker, as an eagle-eyed worker will spot it at the sorting office.

How Long Does it Take USPS to Return Mail to Sender


Other returns aren’t as fast. Refused parcels or those that need a signature are kept at the post office for 15 days. This is to give the recipient as much chance as possible to claim their mail.

If it isn’t picked up during the allotted time, only then will USPS return to sender. At the end of that 15 days, the package will be picked up by a USPS truck. From there, it could take anything from two to five days to make its way back to the original sender.

Can I Get a Refund if USPS Returned My Mail to Sender?

The short answer is, no, you can’t. It’s USPS policy that it doesn’t issue a refund if it is unable to deliver a package. This rule applies to all items, regardless of the reason for the incomplete delivery.


Because an incorrect address isn’t the fault of USPS! And neither is the refusal of a package or the recipient not being home to sign for it. If USPS refunded every item that couldn’t be delivered, they’d be out of business in no time!

Read more: How to Return Mail to Sender?

So, what can you do?

Don’t panic, there’s not much you need to do. If you’re the sender, simply check the address and other details, and resend it. The original postage you paid is still valid, so there’s no need to pay again.

If you’re the recipient and your parcel was returned to sender, there’s not much that USPS can do. This is a matter between you and the sender. If you need a refund, you will have to contact them.

Want to Know More about USPS and Its Services?

USPS is known for its outstanding delivery services! So, before you post your parcel, find out Does USPS Print Labels or Can I Drop A Package In A USPS Mailbox, as well as What Is A USPS Parcel Locker if you don’t happen to have your own mailbox.

Once the package is on its way, you can track it by finding out Can You Track A USPS Package Without A Tracking NumberDoes USPS Have First Class Tracking, and Why Is USPS Tracking Not Updating?

Of course, if you’re expecting a special delivery, you may want to know Does USPS Deliver On Sunday or perhaps Does USPS Deliver At Night, plus what to do when USPS Says Delivered But No Package and How Long Does USPS Hold Packages if you weren’t in for your delivery.

Final Thoughts

USPS return to sender is exactly what it sounds like: the package was returned to the original sender. However, as you’ve seen here, there can be many reasons for it. And how long that return takes depends on a variety of different conditions.

But the good news is, it’s always fairly easy to handle! USPS doesn’t like to make things too complicated. So, regardless of your circumstances, you should be able to deal with your USPS return to sender situation in no time!

All the best with your posting! 

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