How to Figure Out When Your Letter Will Arrive
When you send a snail mail package or letter, you may not know exactly when it will arrive unless you pay for tracking. If you stick your rent check in the mail on June 27, will it reach your landlord across town before the end of the month?
There’s a handy map to tell you. While they’re not exact predictions, the United States Postal Service has what’s called “service standards,” which dictate the agency’s goals for how long it should take a piece of mail to travel from one zip code to another. The map, which depicts the USPS's service standards as of October 1, 2022, is organized by both the class of mail (first-class mail, marketing mail, etc.) and by the zip code of origin.
By consulting the map, you can figure out your mail’s travel timeline and see a rough portrait of how mail travels throughout the country. For instance, a magazine (periodicals class) originating in Portland, Oregon, should arrive in Seattle in four days, and will take five days to arrive in north-central Montana:
Marketing mail sent from Portland might take as long as five days to reach Seattle:
These days, a piece of first-class mail sent from New York City will travel as far as some areas of Wisconsin and Illinois in three days and takes around five to make it all the way across the country to California:
If you want to reach Guam, first-class mail sent from New York City will take six days, though that’s a pretty far cry from the 17 days marketing mail will take via the same route:
Again, all these are standards, meaning they don’t necessarily reflect the reality of every mail delivery, which has gotten slower since late 2021, when the USPS began dialing back on the use of airplanes to transport mail. But they are a good way to estimate when you can expect that postcard or check to arrive once you stick it in the mail if everything goes right.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2023.