How Long Does Snail Mail Take to Arrive?

You just finished writing a letter to a loved one. You slide the letter into the envelope, affix the stamp to the outside, and place the letter in your mailbox. At this point, you may be thinking, “When will my letter arrive?” While much of our correspondence today takes the form of emails, text messages, and social media postings delivered and shared instantly, snail mail requires some careful planning to account for delivery time. In this article, we’ll answer the question, “How long does snail mail take to arrive?”

How Long Does It Take a Letter to Arrive?

According to the U.S. Postal Service, First-Class Mail service has delivery times ranging from one to three business days. While this time frame is generally accurate, many factors, such as inclement weather, can affect mail delivery from location to location.

The Postal Service sets service standards for mail delivery. These service standards detail the Postal Service’s goals for how long it should take a piece of mail to move from ZIP code to ZIP code. You can view the Postal Service’s Originating Service Standards map online. The map is organized by the class of mail (First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Periodicals, and other mail services) and by originating ZIP code.

When you use the map, you can trace your mail’s transit timeline and view how long it takes mail to travel from place to place in the United States. Transit times vary not only from state to state but also region by region. For example, if you’re mailing thank you cards by First-Class Mail originating in Baltimore, Maryland, your cards should arrive in Boston, Massachusetts, in two days but will take three days to make their way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Standard Mail might take as long as five days to reach a destination in northern New Jersey or the southeastern portion of New York.

Keep in mind that these service standards are just that — standards. The USPS can’t guarantee that every mail delivery will follow the time frame outlined on the map. However, these service standards can help you estimate when you can expect the birthday card, letter, or postcard you send to arrive at your recipient’s home or business once you place it in the mail.

How Long Does It Take for Mail to Arrive During the Holidays?

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Image via Unsplash by highlandmag

Each year, the holiday season gives rise to a flood of holiday cards, packages, and other pieces of mail. According to a Postal Service news release, the agency estimates its busiest time of the holiday season takes place approximately two weeks before Christmas. At the start of the 2019 holiday season, the Postal Service estimated that it would process and deliver approximately 2.5 billion pieces of First-Class Mail, including cards, during the week before the Christmas holiday.

If you plan to place holiday greeting cards or other holiday correspondence in the mail, be prepared for the anticipated delivery time for snail mail to get extended. Given the increased volume of mail that flows through Postal Service sorting and handling facilities during the holiday season, mail transit times can be affected due to the demand. To ensure your mail gets delivered on time during the holidays, mail cards and items earlier than you normally would. The sooner you can get your holiday cards into the mail, the sooner they can arrive at your recipients’ homes or workplaces.

You may be asking, “How long does a card take to mail during the holidays?” The Postal Service doesn’t issue any guarantees, nor does it make any estimates. Instead, it issues recommended send-by dates for expected mail delivery before Christmas Day for shipping to domestic, international, and military addresses. The following dates reflect information for domestic shipping that was available at the beginning of the 2020 holiday season:

Shipping Dates for the Contiguous United States

Recommended send-by dates for expected delivery before Dec. 25:

  • USPS Retail Ground Service: Dec. 15.
  • First-Class Mail Service: Dec. 18.
  • Priority Mail Service: Dec. 19.
  • Priority Mail Express Service: Dec. 23.

Shipping Dates for Alaska

Recommended send-by dates for expected delivery before Dec. 25:

  • First-Class Mail Service: Dec. 18.
  • Priority Mail Service: Dec. 19.
  • Priority Mail Express Service: Dec. 21.

Shipping Dates for Hawaii

Recommended send-by dates for expected delivery before Dec. 25:

  • First-Class Mail Service: Dec. 15.
  • Priority Mail Service: Dec. 15.
  • Priority Mail Express Service: Dec. 21.

A New Way to Track Snail Mail

What if you could determine when a piece of snail mail will arrive at your home? Thanks to a Postal Service offering, you won’t have to guess whether a piece of mail will be coming to your mailbox.

In 2019, the Postal Service introduced a service offering called Informed Delivery available to customers. This service allows you to preview the front of incoming mail envelopes on your computer or smartphone. You can also track package deliveries and leave detailed delivery instructions for packages by using this service. If you miss a delivery, you can reschedule it through Informed Delivery.

Informed Delivery isn’t a new innovation by any means. According to the Postal Service, the agency has used this technology to automate the sorting and delivery of mail by digitally imaging the front of letter-sized mail directed through its automation equipment.

Here’s how the service works: Once you sign up for Informed Delivery and verify your mailing address, you’ll receive an email from the Postal Service containing up to 10 grayscale images of the front of any envelopes that are in transit to you. If the Postal Service identifies more than 10 pieces of mail scheduled to be delivered to you, you’ll see the status of all the items via an online dashboard. You can also view a list of all packages along with their tracking numbers.

Whether you’re mailing thank you cards or holiday greeting cards, a written acceptance to a job offer, or a letter to a distant relative, snail mail remains a tried-and-true form of communication. Thanks to the U.S. Postal Service’s online information, you have several ways to discover how long your snail will take to arrive and can plan your mail times effectively.

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