What Is A PO Box?

Interested in getting a PO Box? Here is everything you need to know about what it is, how it works, pricing information and more!

A Post Office Box (often just called a PO Box) can provide you with your secure way to receive mail, especially if you don’t want to provide detailed information about your physical address for a variety of different reasons. Very inexpensive (sometimes completely free), maintained by the US federal government, and about as secure a solution as they get, it’s hard not to like all of the advantages that choosing to rent PO boxes bring to the table.


At the same time, if you have always used your home or business mailing address – your physical address – to receive mail and packages and haven’t had a PO Box in the past you might be wondering what all goes into signing up for one, using one, and making sure that you are taking advantage of all the benefits a PO Box has to offer. In this detailed guide we not only cover how to rent a PO Box (and save money on it as well) and how to make the most of it, but we also cover PO Box alternatives and what you need to think about before you sign on the dotted line and choose to start receiving mail through this kind of service.


Let’s dig right in!


po boxes at the post office


What Exactly is a PO Box?


To start things off, it’s important to really break down what a PO Box does before moving into how does a PO Box work and whether or not you should rent PO Box options in the first place. A PO Box is essentially nothing more than a lockable mailbox set up for you and only you (as well as your family or your business), and can be as small as a drawer size personal space to something much larger that sits at a United States postal office. These kinds of physical boxes are available in pretty much every post office lobby, with some postal offices providing 24/7 access (though this will vary on a case-by-case basis).


There are a variety of other PO Box alternatives out there that offer very similar services in commercial spaces, too. Companies like UPS, for example, provide PO Box alternatives that are very similar – though they obviously operate these mailboxes out of their local UPS Store locations as opposed to housing them inside of federal government buildings. As far as the process to rent PO Box options is concerned, it’s really pretty simple and straightforward. We will cover that a little more in depth in just a moment, though.


po boxes


How Does a PO Box Work?


Those wondering how does a PO Box work are going to be pleased to discover that the process is really easy to navigate and easy to manage. To begin with, you’ll want to find a PO Box location that you are comfortable with. Most people choose their local or town post office, but others choose PO boxes located near where they work or near where they commute – especially if you can find better deals, better privacy, or want to have your physical mail delivered to an address unattached to the town that your physical address is located.


The same can be said about those looking to take advantage of PO Box alternatives like the ones available. You’ll want to find a location that you can confidently get to on a regular basis to actually pick up your mail, but you don’t necessarily need to choose a location that is in super close proximity to your home or office. After signing up for your new PO Box you’ll want to change your mailing address to that new box address. The information regarding your new address will be provided to you the moment that you sign up, and you are encouraged to change your address permanently through the National Change of Address Program conducted by the United States Postal Service – even if you’re using a PO Box solution from a commercial program as opposed to the USPS themselves. This change guarantees that inside of a few days (a week or two at most) all of your mail is going to be redirected to your PO Box. You won’t have to worry about managing all kinds of mail changes companies and individuals with this approach, but you’ll also guarantee that all of your mail (ALL of your mail) is redirected to the PO Box that you have rented now.


po boxes at the post office


How Do I Get a PO Box?


Now that we’ve covered how does a PO Box work it’s time to dig a little deeper into how to get a PO Box, which is really all about choosing the right PO Box size, choosing the right organization to get the box from, and signing up for a rental agreement or lease that makes the most sense for you.


Above all else you’ll want to consider a couple of different things before you make any final decision with looking to rent PO Box options, including but not limited to:


  • The kind of mail you are going to be receiving
  • The kind of budget you have set aside for your new mailbox
  • The ease of getting to your physical mail on a regular basis
  • The potential for 24/7 mail pickup services
  • Any extra services provided by the mailbox organization you are looking to take advantage of


As long as you consider those key details before moving forward you really shouldn’t have any trouble whatsoever renting the right mailbox or any PO Box alternatives available.


Breakdown of PO Box Sizes


One of the key determining factors to finding the right mailbox service we highlighted above had to do with thinking about the type of mail you expect to receive, as well as the frequency of mailings that you anticipate hitting your new PO Box. A lot of people jump into this process looking to sign up for the cheapest mailbox available, which inevitably means the smallest mailbox option out there – which may or may not be an ideal situation for the mail that you receive on a regular basis. If you are looking to take advantage of the services for personal mail than a small mailbox can work perfectly well. You probably only get a handful of bills or letters on a weekly basis, and don’t have to worry about overflowing the capacity of that mailbox on a regular basis. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to take advantage of mailbox services for business purposes the odds are good that your mailbox would become overwhelmed pretty quickly if it was quite small – especially if you are pretty active with your own mailings, conduct a lot of business through the mail, or expect and anticipate things being shipped to you on a regular basis, too.


The USPS PO Box services are designed so that you won’t ever have to worry about packages too large to fit in your box not finding their way to you. The local USPS office is going to a small key inside of your PO Box in those eventualities, allowing you access a larger private locker to get your packages from. If you’re using your box for business purposes, though, and are taking up a lot of that shared space on a regular basis the chances are pretty good the USPS is going to require you to bump up your box size or pay for a separate private locker expressly for your own usage. Those are all important things to consider when you’re looking to figure out how does a PO Box work best for your specific needs.


block that says price


Breakdown of PO Box Rates


As far as rent PO Box rates are concerned there really is no “one-size-fits-all” kind of answer for folks that want to figure out how do I get a PO Box inexpensively. Two individual fee structures exist in the USPS mailbox world, one identified as the “competitive” fee structure and one identified as the “market dominant” fee structure. As a general rule of thumb, this basically means that PO Box is in larger cities and urban areas are going to be quite a bit more expensive than PO boxes in more rural locations.


Just as a quick example, a small PO Box located in a small town in North Carolina would cost somewhere around $30 for a three month rental block of time. If you wanted to get that same small PO Box from the USPS in a larger city – Boston, Chicago, or New York – you can expect that same three month rental to set you back closer to $45 or $50. Thankfully though, the USPS does make it easy to find out how much it’s going to cost to rent PO Box options in your area. There’s a tool on their website that helps you find the right size for your needs (ranging from Extra Small all the way up to Extra Large, with three other sizes in between) and then search for options available in your ZIP Code to help you get a concrete idea of how much this kind of rental will cost.


Rental terms are also going to impact the amount of money you’ll be asked to spend after figuring out how does a PO Box work. Longer-term rental schedules can help you save quite a bit of money compared to shorter-term schedules, especially if you prepay in advance. Renting a PO Box for just three months may cost more per month than renting a PO Box for two years, for example.


How to Get a PO Box Without a Physical Address


Those trying to figure out how to I get a PO Box if I don’t have a physical address are going to be a little upset to learn that right now the USPS does not allow people to sign up for a mailbox without an address already. Individuals without a permanent physical address can have mail held for them at a local post office, though, as long as they have people send the mail to “general delivery” as the address followed by the town, state, and ZIP Code of the post office they want to pick their mail up at. This is not meant to be a permanent solution, however. The USPS will only hold mail sent to a General Delivery address for 30 days before disposing of it – and you’ll have to arrive at least once a week to pick up your mail to continue taking advantage of the service. At the same time, PO Box alternatives that are not run through the United States Postal Service may or may not allow you to set up a mailbox service without having a physical address to back it up. This depends on the organization that you choose to move forward with, though.


Can I Use a PO Box as a Legal Address?


You are not able a PO Box as a legal address, as it is not technically the address that you reside at – it is not, anyway, your physical address. This address can be used as a mailing address only. Mail can be sent to and from this address, but you won’t be able to use it on your driver’s license, any other identifying documents, or as a billing address for your credit or debit cards, for example.


Does USPS Offer Physical Addresses?


The USPS does not offer a physical address. When you get a PO Box, you just get a box number. You can however use the street addressing service, which will allow you to receive packages from private carriers at the physical street address of the Post Office.


Is A PO Box A Physical Address?


No. A PO Box is just a box at the Post Office and therefore cannot be used anywhere as a physical address.


Virtual mailbox on a mobile device


Popular Alternatives to PO Boxes


Of all the different popular PO Box alternatives out there, none is more flexible, adaptable, or customizable as a virtual mailbox service (like the ones available through US Global Mail). Signing up for a virtual mailbox service is very similar to signing up for a PO Box service, with the main difference being that a lot of the facilitation receiving your mail is handled by private company that digitizes a lot of the process – really streamlining the way that you deal with your mail on a day-to-day basis.


After signing up for a virtual mailbox service you’re given a physical address (not a PO Box address) to use, one that all of your mail will be forwarded through. As pieces of mail arrive each document, letter, and package will be digitally scanned (the exterior only) giving you an opportunity to view everything that hits your mailbox in real time. You can then choose to have certain items opened and scanned to be sent to you digitally as well, but can also choose to have these pieces of mail or these packages forwarded to a physical mailing address (or PO Box) that provides you with an extra layer of security and anonymity have been able to enjoy otherwise. There is a lot of convenience, a lot of control, and a lot of extra security built into the virtual mailbox solutions provided by US Global Mail. Check out the options available today for more details.

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