PO Box vs. street address: delivering postal mail via USPS

Does your business need a PO Box address, or can you use your street address? Why do people still use PO Box addresses in the digital age? And what advantages do they have over street addresses? These are some of the questions small business owners and self-employed people are faced with when choosing a mailing system.

While some opt to use street addresses for their business because it is an easy and free way to register a business, using a street address isn’t always the best choice. It comes with drawbacks and potential legal consequences for business owners. A PO Box provided by the United States Postal Office (USPS) is a better choice in many cases.

To help you make the best choice for mail delivery for your business, we take an in-depth look at the difference between delivering mail to a USPS PO Box and a street address. 

Why identify whether or not an address is a PO Box or not?

If you use a courier service like UPS or FedEx to ship your products, you probably will not deliver to Post Office Boxes as these locations can cause problems for your shipping guarantees and delivery. But some customers may choose to have a PO Box so let’s delve further into the differences between a PO Box and a street address and how it may affect you. 

Sending mail to PO Box vs. street address

When sending mail to a PO Box or street address, you need to be aware of the differences and which format to use when addressing an envelope or postcard. We’ll discuss that in more detail, but let’s first cover what you need to know about PO Box addresses.  

What is a PO Box address?

A PO Box is also known as a post office box and is a lockable mailbox that serves as the official or permanent mailing address of an individual or company. The mailbox is located in a United States post office managed by the U.S. government. These physical mailboxes exist in most post offices, with many locations offering 24/7 access.

How does a PO Box work?

Those who want to know how a PO Box works will be pleased to find that the process is quite simple. First of all, you need to find a suitable location. Most people choose their local post office, but others opt for a PO Box near their workplace or close to their commute. Here you rent a secure locker that receives your mail.

Why do you need a PO Box address?

There are several reasons why people prefer a PO Box address to a street address. A PO Box is suitable for you if:

You want to maintain your privacy

Post Office boxes allow you to keep your physical address private and reduce the risk of identity theft.

You send direct mail campaigns

If you are a business, you can send marketing materials to PO Box addresses without those on your mailing list providing their permanent street address. When you use a mailing service like Postalytics, the process is straightforward. When sending a letter or postcard, you enter the PO Box in the appropriate field and the Postalytics system automatically calculates the difference between zones and delivery costs.

You want a secure mail option

Unlike regular mailboxes, you can only open a PO Box with a key or code. This makes the PO Box the most secure option available.

You do not have access to your mail

Some people use PO Boxes because they do not have regular access to their physical mailbox. People who travel often and stay abroad for months cannot get to their physical mailbox and therefore have security issues with leaving mail unattended for long periods of time

The difference between delivering postal mail to Post Office Boxes vs. street addresses

One significant difference between a PO Box and a street address is that the PO Box cannot be used as an official address for your business when filing documents because it is not a physical street address.

Other differences include:

  • A street address gives a business more credibility because customers have the confidence that it is a legitimate entity, while a PO Box is generic. 
  • A street address can be used in Google search results and for Google verification, while a PO Box cannot. 

Another big difference between a PO Box and a street address is the PO Box address format. 

PO Box address exampleStreet address example
John SmithMr/Ms. Smith
567 Honeycomb Rd555 Main St
PO Box 1234Unit 55
Atlanta GAAtlanta GA 30301

If you are given both a street address and PO Box number, and you’re unsure which one is correct, assume it is the PO Box. Use the recipient’s name, followed by the words “PO Box” and the PO Box number.

The following line should be the street address. 

Preference between the street address and PO Box (example)

Mr/Ms. Smith
567 Honeycomb Rd
PO Box 1234
Atlanta GA

Alternatives to PO Boxes

There are also other PO Box alternatives available. For example, companies like UPS offer very similar services in commercial spaces. Instead of providing mailboxes in government buildings, UPS offers them in UPS stores. Some companies offer virtual mailboxes if using your home address or PO mailbox is not a viable option. 

What is the difference between a mailing address and a physical address? 

Mailing addresses are different from physical business locations. A physical address is where a business physically exists, which may be a street address in the case of a small business or self-employed person. A mailing address is where a company receives mail. Although these addresses can be identical, they do not have to be.

Businesses can have multiple business addresses, but it is not always practical for the street address and mailing address to be the same. For example, if your business or street address can receive customers, it may not be practical to use that address for correspondence. A business mailing address is more efficient and effective than a physical address.

Even though most businesses still operate from a physical location, some opt for a virtual office address instead of a physical business address. This way, they can use a prestigious address without incurring the additional costs associated with an actual presence. Doing this allows, businesses to project a professional image without the need for a real office.

In addition, a business can also opt for a registered address. For example, you can also register your business at another site, such as your home, an attorney’s office, or a law firm.

Using a PO Box for your business: What you need to know

Now that we have looked at the pros and cons of using a mailing or street address for your business versus a PO Box let us look at how to rent a PO Box and choose the right option for your business. 

How to rent a PO Box?

Aside from the location of your PO Box, there are other considerations when you decide to rent a PO Box. Evaluate which organization is best to rent the box from, the size of the box for your business needs, and which PO Box rental agreement suits you best. Ask yourself the following questions before you rent a PO Box so you can make these decisions: 

  • What type of mail will arrive at my business?
  • What budget have I set aside for my new business mailbox?
  • How easy will it be to pick up my physical mail?
  • Will the mailbox offer a 24/7 mail pickup service?
  • Are there additional services the mailbox provider provides that I can take advantage of?

As long as you consider these important details before deciding, you will rent the right PO Box for your business. To sign up for a PO Box from the USPS you will need to choose a six- or twelve-month lease term and complete Form 1583. This is a one-page form to confirm your identity. You will need two forms of ID, and one of them must be a photo ID. 

Now, let us look at your options to determine which USPS PO Box solution is best for your specific needs.

Choosing the size of a PO Box

Mailboxes are a popular option for anyone who wants to receive their mail in a secure location, but there are a few things you should consider when deciding which type of PO Box is best for your needs. For one, you should consider how often you plan to receive mail in the future and what kind of mail you expect to receive.

Budget-conscious customers often look for cheap options for mailbox services, but that can be a big mistake. Large mailboxes are much better for storing business documents or other similar items than smaller mailboxes.

If you want a mailbox for your personal mail and bills, a small mailbox may work just fine. Since you only have a handful of letters to deal with each week, you won’t have to worry about running out of space. Plus, USPS PO Boxes are designed so you do not have to worry about packages too big for your box not finding their way to you. 

When a package that is too large for your box is delivered you will be notified and given a key that gives you access to a larger private box to pick up your package there. If you use your mailbox for business purposes and regularly max out the space in your PO Box, the USPS will likely require you to increase the size of your mailbox after a while.

Selection of a PO Box rental price

There are two different fee structures in the USPS mailbox world: the “competitive” fee structure and the “market-dominant” fee structure. Based on this, PO mailboxes in larger cities and urban areas tend to be more expensive than in rural areas. The fee for a rural PO Box might be $35 per month for a small PO Box, while you might pay as much as $50 per month for a box in a large city. 

The length of time you rent a PO Box from the USPS will impact how much you pay. If you rent your PO Box for more extended periods, you can save a lot of money as you are offered discounts for longer-term rentals. 

How can I find out how much a PO Box will cost?

While the USPS makes it easy to find rental information online, it can still be confusing. Fortunately, a tool on the USPS website can help you get an idea of how the PO box rental cost This tool provides a map that allows you to search for specific PO Box sizes (from Extra Small to Extra Large) based on your ZIP code.

What to do once you have signed up for a PO Box address?

After you have signed up for a PO Box, it is advisable to permanently change your mailing address to your new PO Box address through the USPS’s National Change of Address Program. Change of address requests can be made online at USPS.com or in person at a post office using PS Form 3575. You can enter your PO Post Office Box number in the street address field in the new address section and mail will be forwarded within 2-3 weeks. You can track the progress of your new address request via USPS.com.

Why change your street address to a PO Box address? 

These are some of the reasons a business could choose to reserve a PO Box over a street address:

  • To ensure documents are kept confidential
  • To enable a business owner to collect mail when it is convenient to do so
  • To have a safe and secure way of receiving mail

Once you make the change of your business address to a PO Box permanent it guarantees that all of your mail will be sent to your newly rented PO Box within one week. You can immediately begin addressing your mail to this new address when you sign up. 

You can use a PO mailbox as your mailing address, but it cannot be legally used as your physical address. You cannot use a PO Box as your driver’s license address, credit card billing address, or any other personal identification information. Use a PO Box only if you want to use it as a mailing address.

Can I get a PO Box without a physical address?

After the anthrax postal attacks, the postal service tightened its requirements. It is no longer possible to sign up for a PO Box without first having your own address. If a person does not have an official address, they can hold their mail at a nearby post office. This is called “general delivery.” When receiving mail this way, senders must provide complete information, including the city, state, and ZIP code of the post office to which the mail is to be sent.

If you are looking for a short-term solution for mail, the general delivery address is an option. But it is not meant to be permanent. The USPS will only hold your mail for 30 days. 

Why do organizations provide a street address and a PO Box address?

We have already explained why an organization may use multiple options for mail delivery, such as a PO Box and a street address. Some individuals or businesses automatically provide both addresses for deliveries to have a backup if the street address cannot receive delivery for some reason. Given these options between a street address and a PO Box, the USPS will automatically choose to deliver mail to the PO Box if you don’t indicate a preference. They do so because it is less expensive for them to deliver to a PO Box on their premises. 

Delivering postal mails through USPS to a physical address over a PO Box address

So how can you make sure your mail is delivered to a preferred address? Simply write the desired address on the first line and the secondary or alternate address on the second line. You can even indicate that it is a backup address. The only reason the PO Box is listed is in case you are not there when the mail is delivered to your street address, and it needs to be signed for or for some other reason cannot get to you. In this case, the postal service will forward the mail to the USPS PO Box, and the recipient will receive a notification that it is there.

Postalytics tracking dashboard

Delivery of mail by USPS to a PO Box address instead of a physical address

Let us consider the same scenario, except you want to use a PO Box address instead of a physical address. Simply arrange your information so that the PO Box address is displayed first. This way, l the USPS knows that you want to use a PO Box for delivery.

Writing both PO Box and the street address in the first address line

What happens if you write both the PO Box and the street address on the first line? Then the USPS has a choice, and they will usually choose to deliver to a PO Box because it is less expensive for them. The best way to make sure there is no confusion between the main and alternate addresses is to write the primary address on the first line and the backup one on the next line.

Writing an invalid and a valid address in different address lines

The postal service must always verify that an address is genuine for mail to be sent. The USPS’s address verification system is not perfect, resulting in the rejection of a mailing. For direct marketers sending business mail or those who send promotional material, this means that they must verify both addresses on their mailing list before they can mail them.  An accurate method, such as the address verification offered by the mailing service Postalytics, will detect minor typos and correct the address to provide an accurate and complete deliverable address. You can be confident the recipient’s address has been verified and eliminate wrong addresses.

Valid PO Box address format

What is a valid PO Box address? To be valid and therefore recognized by the USPS, you need to follow this format when mailing a PO Box: 

  • Begin the address with the words “PO Box” 
  • Follow it with the relevant box number, usually a 2-5 digit number. 
  • Don’t’ use punctuation; therefore, write “PO Box,” not “P.O. Box.”

Sending mail to PO Box via UPS and FedEx

UPS and FedEx do not deliver packages to a PO Box. This precludes PO Box owners from receiving mail in their PO Boxes via a direct mail service like Postalytics. The good news is that there is a simple solution to this problem, you just need to change the address format as you write the address for this mail. This format is called PO Box street address. 

You can use it to send packages to a PO Box address through all retailers and shipping companies like UPS or FedEx. The PO Box Street Address (or PBSA) is a combination of the PO Box number and the street address of the specific post office. To ensure you have a legitimate and working PBSA, verify it with an advanced address verification tool like that offered by Postalytics.

How to get UPS and FedEx to deliver to PO Box

Generally, FedEx does not deliver to PO Boxes for US addresses. But there are some rare cases where it will. For instance, some of the larger post offices accept FedEx Smart Send deliveries. But there’s a trick.  To get the UPS or FedEx to deliver to a PO Box, use a different address format, namely, use the street address and the number without the PO reference. For example, rather than “PO Box 123” for the address, you would use “505 Main Street #123”.

What address should I use for my business?

If you care about portraying a professional image, you should use a commercial address. A commercial address is associated with a commercial property rather than a residential one. It’s worth the investment to have an office so that your customers don’t have to use your home address. Plus, a commercial address will protect your privacy and information. While you may use a home address for some purposes (like registering with the state), you’re required to have a commercial address for more formal business tasks (like opening a business bank account).

Reach any street address or PO Box with automated direct mail

Having looked at why businesses may choose either a PO Box or street address for their mail, this has implications for direct marketers. What if your mailing list in your automated direct mail campaign contains both PO Box and street addresses? Many businesses that choose to use a mailing platform like Postalytics make it possible to reach a street address or PO Box with your campaign because both can be verified and are accepted by the USPS. 

Postalytics tracking dashboard

Final thoughts

When sending mail, whether to a PO Box or a street address, the mail carrier will check to see if the address is valid. If it is not, the mail will not be delivered. This means that your company can lose valuable resources and money by sending mail to invalid addresses. 

If you are interested in a better solution, then Postalytics has the answer. We have developed tools that help you verify the address with advanced address verification tools while keeping dead ends out of your database. You can also track your mail every step of the way from the comfort of your dashboard. We also enable you to identify USPS PO Boxes and other non-standard addresses so you can work more efficiently and provide a better experience for your customers.