How To Return Mail & Packages To Sender | [5 Methods Inside]



The postal service handles millions of letters and packages each day, so mistakes are bound to happen. What can you do if you discover a piece of mail that needs to be returned to its sender? The process is quite easy, although it is a little different depending on the specific situation. Was it simply delivered to the wrong address or does it have your address but someone else’s name on it? Perhaps it has your name and address, but you simply do not wish to accept it. Regardless of the situation, there are steps you can take to get the mail promptly sent back where it came from. Keep reading below to learn how to do this.


How To Return To Sender

Many people often wonder how to return mail to sender. Returning a mail piece to its sender is easy and straightforward, but you need to make sure that you handle the situation properly so that it makes it back as soon as possible. You may need to write some details on the label so that the USPS knows the reason for the returned mail. Just follow the steps below and the post office will take care of the rest.


1. Method #1: Write “Return To Sender” On Envelope/Package

This is the method that you are going to use if you receive mail at your address that does not belong to you. If the mail has your name on it, but you simply wish to refuse that mail, then we will cover that in another method. Make sure that you do not open the letter or package that you are going to return. Next, take a look at the addressee to see whose name is on the package. If your name is shown there, then skip on down to the Refused mail section. If you see another name there, then this is the section for you.

Often, mail may arrive for someone at their old address or perhaps they simply got the wrong address on the mail piece. Perhaps a previous resident forgot to complete a change of address form when they moved or maybe it has been so long ago that the form has expired. Either way, you will want to notify the mail carrier that the intended recipient is no longer at that address. In that case, you will want to write “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS” clearly on the address label. This notifies both the post office and the sender that the addressee moved, and it should help reduce the number of mail items that are incorrectly delivered for that person there in the future.

If you are unsure who the intended recipient is, you can simply write “RETURN TO SENDER” on the address label of the package. Try to avoid writing on the barcode of the package so that the postal workers can continue to scan the package as they try to get it to the correct location. Once you have written the proper message on the package, you can drop it off at the post office or simply place it back into your mailbox. Be sure to raise the red flag on your mailbox so that your carrier knows they need to pick the package up.


2. Method #2: Dropoff At A USPS Collection Box

If you cannot give the mail back to your delivery person, you can always drop it off at any collection box. This method works if you need to return to sender via USPS. The United States Postal Service has many collection boxes, and they are often placed at busy locations across town so that people can easily drop mail in them. Before placing the item in the box, you need to make sure that a couple of things have happened.

First, if the mail incorrectly had your address on it, make sure that you write something on the envelope or package letting the letter carrier know that the intended recipient is no longer at the address. If you simply drop the letter in the box without any message, then it will likely just make its way back to your mailbox again in a day or two. Make sure that you write “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS” or “RETURN TO SENDER” on the envelope. If you know the previous tenant’s new address, you can even write that on there as well to make things a little easier for redelivery. The return to sender not at this address process lets the sender know that he or she should not send the intended recipient any additional mail items to that address.

Also, make sure that the mail was shipped through USPS before dropping it in one of their boxes. If it came from UPS or FedEx, then you will need to return it to one of those carriers instead of returning it to the U.S. Postal Service. UPS and FedEx both have collection boxes where packages can be dropped, but they are not quite as common as USPS boxes. The mail service will not do anything with packages not sent through the postal service.

If the mail has a different address on it but was simply delivered to your mailbox improperly, then you can just drop it in the collection box without any message on it. The post office should pick it up and deliver it to the proper mailing address within a couple of days. The method for handling a USPS wrong address return to sender is one of the easiest since it technically does not need to be returned to the sender. It just needs to be delivered to the correct address. You should not need to add any new postage since it was never delivered to the correct location on the first try.


3. Method #3: Put The Envelope/Package Back In The Mailbox

This is one of the easiest methods for handling return to sender mail. You can simply place the envelope or package back into your mailbox and raise the red flag. This alerts the postal carrier that they need to pick up something from your mailbox. Depending on the type of mail, you may or may not need to write anything on the package. If the unwanted mail was delivered to the wrong address, then there is no need to do anything other than place it back into the mailbox.

However, if the package has your address on it, then you will need to note whether you are refusing the package or the addressee no longer lives at the address. Your local post office can use your note to help update their records of who should be receiving mail at your address. Simply make the proper note on the package, place it back into your mailbox, and it will be sent back to the return address in a couple of weeks. Note that the post office usually holds mail for 15 days before ultimately returning it to the sender.


4. Method #4: Write “Refused” On The Envelope/Package

This is the method you would use if everything on the package is correct, but you simply do not wish to accept the mail. It could be junk mail or something that you did not order. It might even be certified mail or a letter in first class mail that you want to return without reading. In this case, you should write the word “REFUSED” on the address label. Make sure that you do not open the letter or package! If you have already opened it, then you will be unable to refuse delivery even if you have resealed the package. Once you have written “REFUSED” on the package, then return it to your mail carrier as soon as possible.

In the case of accountable mail, like certified mail or Priority Mail Express, then there should be a “refused” box that you can check on the mail delivery notification form. You can check this box on the form and return that form to your mail carrier or the post office. If the accountable mail has already been delivered to you, then you cannot refuse it in most cases. Most of this mail requires a signature upon delivery, so you cannot refuse the delivery once you have already signed for the package. In that case, you will need to repackage the item and send it back through normal delivery channels.


5. Method #5: Repackage The Item

Maybe you were waiting on that Amazon package, and when it finally arrived, you opened it right up. Unfortunately, it is not what you expected. So, how do you return it once you have already opened the package? Once you open the envelope or package, you cannot simply write “RETURN TO SENDER” on it and drop it back in the mailbox. You will be required to do a little more work to get that package back to its sender now.

If you have already opened the item, then you will need to repackage it. You might be able to use the same box that it came in, but make sure that you remove any old shipping labels or writing on the box that might confuse the mail carrier. Try your best to repackage it so that the item does not get damaged during shipping. You will also need to make sure that you attach new postage to the package before sending it back as well.

In many cases, the sender may have included a return address label with postage already included to make returning items easier. If so, then simply stick that new label on the package and hand it over to your postal worker. If no label was included, then you will need to visit the post office to buy postage. They can weigh the package and tell you precisely how much it is going to cost to get that package sent back. In most cases, you cannot track mail that has been returned to the sender. However, in this case, you will be able to track the package as it makes its way back. This is because the mail piece is treated as a brand new mailing instead of an item that has been returned to the sender.


The Bottom Line

There are multiple ways to send an envelope or package back to the sender. The method you choose depends on the specifics of your situation. You might need to add some clarifying language to the address label in some cases so that the mail carrier knows exactly what to do with the package. In most cases, you will not be required to purchase any additional postage to send the mail back. However, if you have already opened the package, then things become a little more difficult. You will need to repackage it and get new postage attached to get it sent back. When you need to return mail to its sender, make sure you follow the rules laid out in this article. Otherwise, you might find the mail stuck in a loop and simply showing back up in your mailbox every few days.


Frequently Asked Questions


Can you just write return to sender on a package?

Yes, you can write “return to sender” on the package and place it back into your mailbox. However, this is typically not the preferred method. If the addressee does not live at your address, then you should write “not at this address” on the package. If the package is addressed to you but you simply do not want it, then you should write “refused” on it. Following these rules makes it more clear why the package is being returned, and it can help avoid improper deliveries in the future.


Can I return unwanted mail to sender?

Yes, you can return unwanted mail to sender. If the mail has your name and address on it, then it is best to write “Refused” on the envelope or package. This lets the post office know that the name and address are correct, but you simply do not wish to receive the mail. You can take this route with junk mail or accountable mail such as certified or priority mail. If you have already signed for the package or opened it, then it is too late to refuse it at that point. You will need to repackage the item and attach new postage to get it returned.


How much does it cost to return to sender?

In most cases, it does not cost you anything to return mail to the sender. You can return it to your mailbox or place it in a collection box without any new postage. If you have already opened the package, then you will probably have to pay to make the return. The amount of postage required will depend on the size and weight of the package you are returning. A standard first class envelope might only require a single stamp while a larger package might require $10 or more of postage.


How do I report the change of address for someone else?

First, you should know that it is illegal to change someone else’s address without their consent. If you consistently receive mail at your address for someone else, then the best thing for you to do is visit your local post office. Let them know about the situation, and give them the names of everyone who should be receiving mail at your address. They can attempt to find the correct address for the previous resident so that their mail is properly forwarded to the new address. In addition, be sure to write “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS” on all mail received for that particular person. The amount of mail that you receive for them should begin to diminish as people learn that they no longer live there.


How long does USPS take to return to sender?

The USPS will hold the mail at the post office for 15 days before returning it to the sender. After this hold, it will make its way back to its originating location. So, the whole process of returning mail to its sender will take about 3 weeks from start to finish.


Can I track packages that are returned to sender?

No, in most cases you will not be able to track these packages. If you need to repackage an item and attach new postage, then you will be able to track the new shipment. However, if you have simply marked an item as “return to sender,” then the tracking capability ends once it is delivered to your address. You will not be able to see its progress as it travels back to the sender.

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