Mailboxes in the USA

I was today years old when I found out that you can actually use your mailbox to send outgoing mail too, which is something that’s not common here in Sri Lanka or much of the Commonwealth.

In Sri Lanka, we have to go to the post office or use a mailbox on the street corner to send our mail. I’m not sure why it evolved that way here, but I’m curious if any of you have any insights or ideas about why it’s different in the US.

It’s fascinating to learn about the different ways that things are done in different parts of the world, and I’d love to know a reason why this is so.


I do it all the time! :smile: Using your personal mailbox for outgoing mail is only common in rural or suburban areas where you’d have to drive to the next mailbox (our country is huge and things are really spread out in some places!). And it’s only for the type of mailbox that has no lock on it. Mine looks similar to this, so the mail carrier can just open it. And if you put mail in it to be picked up, you put the flag up. That way the mail carrier will stop to pick it up even if you are not receiving any mail that day.


I think it’s because many parts of the US are still very rural (which was even more true back when the postal system was first being set up) and sparsely populated compared to many other countries. If the nearest town is 20 miles away, it simply makes more sense to have the letter carrier collect outgoing mail, than to have a few hundred families make trips into town every day to mail letters.

I’ve always lived in rural areas, and I was actually an adult before I learned that 1., many countries don’t have mail pickup, and 2., some cities in the US don’t either!


I’m not entirely sure why, but yes, you can mail things from your mailbox along with them delivering mail and small packages in there. Usually they are nearby the road so that the postal worker driving the usps truck/car can simply pull up. If you have mail to send out you just simply pop up the red flag so that they know to pick it up.

If I had to guess, it’s probably this way because not everybody live close to a postbox, and in more rural areas our already small sidewalks are nonexistent, so it’s not easy to get to a postbox if you don’t have a car.


That makes sense! I wish we had it here. Would save me some trips to the post office. Here there are companies which offer this but of course as an added cost.
Today I order my stamps and labels online but I’m old enough to remember a time when I had to take letters to my post office to get them weighed and stamped.
I’m still puzzled as to how this worked back in the day before the internet.
If it was me I would get the postage wrong all the time!

It is very fascinating to me to learn a postal system similar but yet so different from my own!

1 Like

I live in an urban area and mail from my mailbox just about every day. Because- postcrossing. . .

That said - postal workers seem not to know that the flag is supposed indicate outgoing mail.


For the sheer convenience of it, if you know and use the correct postage there’s no reason to go to a mailbox to mail outgoing mail. I rarely visit the post office ( I purchase most of my stamps online through USPS) . I have a small mailbox on my porch, and have a little binder clip on the lid where I attach outgoing mail (mostly postcards!). I’ve done this everywhere I’ve lived (generally suburbs near San Francisco, California) since I was a kid, even taping a penny next to the stamp when postage was raised and we were without the new denomination!!! Granted, I was a kid a long time ago… (edited to acknowledge that all mailboxes are not equally secure… knock wood, I’ve not yet had a problem in that regard)


Fun Fact, some of our older mailboxes have a little tiny shelf right inside the door, for you to put change, if you are in need of a stamp. The mail person will take the change and put postage on your letter and will send it off. Our area still uses this but im not sure if other areas in the US do. I live just outside a major resort area , that is rather rural and embraces the small town atmosphere.
This isnt my box, its night time here, but i grabbed this picture off the web so you can see the little shelf.


That’s an amazing fact! I’m fascinated to hear that postage is such a value-added service in the US! Wish we had that here!

Nice! I wasn’t aware of that feature in old standard style boxes.


When I had rural delivery here in the USA the postman would always give us an orange envelope to put money in to buy stamps and he would put the stamps in the envelope. You could also write on the front of it . It had prices for stamps etc and you could write how many and of what you wanted.


I live in the US and I am learning so much about our postal history, I have not had Rural Delivery before and this is great insight. I remember my parents had a great close relationship with our postman when I was young, and they would give him a letter with coins when they had no stamps. Also he a letter with postage due would be left in the box and my mom would leave change for the next day based on what was due. Now if there is postage due I get a little slip of paper without the item and sometimes I have never gotten the item because I cannot catch the postman OR the post office cannot locate the item.
We also had a milkman, a Charles Chips man, and various other people who came to the house.
ahhhh Back in the day, as us older people say…


I just clip outgoing mail to my box and the letter carrier grabs it when she stops by


Gosh!! I remember doing that when I was a kids living in the US. Everyone always had a roll of stamps on hand so the mailman could collect while walking his route.

1 Like

The mail room of my apartment complex (block of flats) contains four rows of these box types. There are also Amazon package lockers. My mother’s smaller building has similar delivery boxes built into the wall in a space off the lobby. Both of ours include outgoing mail slots as well.

Housing developments, condo complexes, ‘gated communities’ and other large residential areas often use these sites instead of the carrier visiting each household individually.

Finally, at what are known here as ‘strip malls’ (a few businesses clustered together, usually not more than a dozen or so), there is a set of boxes like this on a post/pillar for those businesses. One can use those outgoing slots if necessary. I learned that the only way to send mail from my home airport is to visit a box like this at the top level of the parking garage!


I’m amazed to see the thread I created just this morning blossom into such an informative space. I LOVE IT! :blush: It all started with a Simple question but now has evolved into a catalogue of mailboxes in all their shapes and function. :tada: :tada: This is something I love about the postcrossing forum. It always surprises me. Please keep these coming. :heart:


Charles Chips! When I was young my parents were frugal, so we never got them. But my friends did, and I remember sampling from the big 16 oz cans in their kitchens when I visited.


This is normal thing in Finland’s rural areas too. When I lived with my parens in country side I did put all my outgoing mail into our mailbox and special ‘POSTI’ reflector on it, that mail carrier knows to take our mail first and then put our coming mail in.


My parents brought back a silver metal postbox from the U.S. from a trip to the States. :mailbox::smiley:
German mail did not understand the custom about the red flag, so our mail men and women always put it up when they delivered their mail for us. :wink::slightly_smiling_face:
The good thing about that was that we could see whether we had got mail already from a distance. :slightly_smiling_face:


This is funny because I still think there should be another flag to indicate that you have mail! Nothing is more heartbreaking than walking outside to see if you have mail and opening up you mailbox to find the scariest thing… Absolutely nothing inside :rofl: