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What is Registered Mail?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are times when a valuable piece of mail must absolutely, positively reach its destination without the risk of theft, loss, or damage during the delivery process. Postal customers who need to mail expensive jewelry, sensitive documents, or irreplaceable antiques can pay a surcharge and send the items as registered mail. Registered mail is handled with a higher level of security than standard mail, including the use of a special lock box, signatures at every transit point, and a traceable routing number.

When a postal customer requests this service, the clerk should attach a special note to the envelope and provide the customer with a receipt containing a unique tracking number. At this point, the customer can also purchase insurance on the contents of the package, although the post office generally limits the amount of coverage available. The package does not have to be certified or insured in order to be delivered, however.

The postal clerk places all registered mail into a special lock box separate from the main mail processing equipment. This secured box will travel along with other mail to different receiving centers, where an authorized postal employee will sign for possession and route the mail according to its final destination. This chain-of-custody process will continue until the package reaches the post office assigned to the recipient's address. The customer can use the tracking number to follow the package's progress online and view any attempts to deliver the package.

Sending a letter or small package this way can be a relatively expensive delivery option, costing many times the price of regular first class delivery. There are also additional charges for insurance and certified receipt by a specified recipient. Some people will pay the extra fees for certified or registered mail in order to make sure their federal tax returns reach the Internal Revenue Service on time, but such services are generally designed to protect items with intrinsic value, not standard paperwork.

Insurance on items sent this way may be limited to the actual replacement value of the item, not necessarily its perceived or potential value. The loss of a legal document, for example, would only result in reimbursement for the attorney's time and expenses, not the total value of the contract, will, or property title it represented. Registered mail is the highest level of security most postal customers can obtain, but it should be used primarily for smaller objects of value or cash, not large, irreplaceable works of art or delicate antiques.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to SmartCapitalMind, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon295583 — On Oct 07, 2012

Question: I have been away from the USA for four years. I have my mother forward all mail to me. If an organization sends me a registered letter, can my mother or someone else sign for it at the address it is sent to? --Gary

By Noblerabbit — On Apr 03, 2011

In the UK it has become almost standard to send anything of value by registered mail (recorded delivery) due to the fear of theft within the postal company.

Does anyone think that registered mail could compete with worldwide couriers such as FEDEX or DHL? I am an expat in South Korea and send/receive most of my mail via courier for the added security.

By jespusspuss — On Mar 31, 2011

You have registered mail partially correct. I worked in a mailroom at one time and also a law office, going to the post office many times with both certified mail and registered mail. I asked a clerk at the post office the difference.

Certified mail is signed for at each post office.

registered mail is signed for by each person that handles the mail.

Most legal documents went certified mail.

The post office now has a tracking service which has a minimum size for the mail. It is cheaper then certified or registered with a return receipt. You get a receipt similar to the receipt foe registered and certified mail. You can use your phone or the internet to trace the movement of your mail.

You can also insure a package. I use this feature when I return items I have purchased. I print out the tracing when the package is delivered. It gives date, time and location of delivery. It costs around a dollar. I believe it is eighty-five cents.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to SmartCapitalMind, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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