To put it simply, USPS parcel lockers make it easier for USPS customers to receive packages.
Parcel lockers can be found at two locations–inside of US Post Offices and at community mailboxes (also known as Cluster Boxes). In both cases, parcel lockers are used to deliver packages to box holders when those packages are too big to fit in standard mailbox compartments.
As you can see in the picture below, there are larger mailboxes along the bottom of these USPS Cluster Boxes, labeled “Parcel Locker” with a different letter and/or number…
What’s The Point Of A Parcel Locker?
In the past, USPS mailbox holders would have needed to visit a post office in person to pick up an oversized package. However, with the advent of parcel lockers, you can receive oversized packages at your address any time even if you have a small mailbox.
When found at post offices, parcel lockers function the same way but for post office box holders. In both cases, the use of parcel boxes helps save time, emissions, and hassle for both USPS workers and customers.
How Do USPS Parcel Lockers Work?
USPS parcel lockers make it possible for mailbox and post office box holders to pick up packages after hours or during busy office hours without having to wait in line or drive to the post office.
If you receive a package in a USPS parcel locker, you might first notice an update on your tracking information that says “delivered to parcel locker.” If you do not check your tracking info, you might simply find a key inside of your mailbox.
This key can be used once to open a corresponding parcel locker so that you can retrieve your package or packages. Your key will be attached to a plastic tag showing the number or letter associated with the parcel locker where your package is being held.
Find the parcel locker with the same letter and or number listed on your key tag, and use the key to open the box. Once the parcel locker key is inserted into the keyhole, you will not be able to remove the key. The box will now be stuck open until it is reset.
A postal worker will retrieve the key and reset the locker to be used by the next customer. Make sure to empty out all of your packages from the box before you leave, as USPS sometimes delivers multiple packages to a single parcel locker if they are addressed to the same person.
Smart Parcel Lockers
In late 2022, USPS rolled out a new version of their parcel lockers called Smart Parcel Lockers. Instead of using analogue keys, these Smart Lockers rely on a 6-digit access code which are sent to package recipients via email or text.
When you arrive at the post office, enter your access code into the screen provided at the Smart Parcel Locker kiosk. Once your code is entered, you will be shown the number of the locker where your package is. Packages must be picked up from Smart Parcel Lockers within 5 calendar days of delivery.
At this time, there are only 66 Smart Parcel Locker locations across the US, compared to over 30,000 US Post Offices. So, most of us are still using the old-fashioned, key-operated parcel lockers for now.
You can read more about USPS Smart Parcel Lockers here.
Parcel Locker vs PO Box
Parcel lockers and post office boxes have some things in common, so they are easy to mix up. However, there are some very key differences.
While a parcel locker is used for one-time deliveries and are not designated for one individual or business, a post office box is paid for up front and is used as the designated mailing address for an individual or business.
Post office boxes (commonly known as PO boxes) are a popular choice for people who cannot receive mail at their residential address, operate a business without a brick-and-mortar location, or simply want to maintain their privacy. In some cases, you can even qualify for a free PO box if you live in an area where your local post office does not offer mail delivery to your address.
Parcel lockers, on the other hand, cannot be purchased or reserved by an individual. They are used by post office workers as a helpful tool for expediting the package pickup process for Cluster Box and PO box customers. If a box holder receives a package that cannot fit in their box, they will instead receive a key that opens a parcel locker where their package is held temporarily.
While your mail can theoretically remain in your PO box for any amount of time (until it fills up), packages must be picked up from parcel lockers within about a week before they’re cleared out or returned to sender.
Can You Reserve A Parcel Locker?
Because parcel lockers are shared among USPS mailbox and post office box holders, they cannot be reserved for individuals. Instead, parcel lockers are intended to be used only when necessary so that they can remain open for anyone who might be receiving a package.
Instead, you can sign up for a post office box or Cluster Box if you live in an area where this is necessary. However, in most cases, USPS customers can receive their mail and packages directly to their residential address without the need for a Cluster Box, post office box, or parcel locker.
How To Get A PO Box
If you would like to sign up for a USPS post office box, you can start the process by clicking here.
To finish setting up your PO box, you will need to visit your local post office in person. There, you will receive a key or set of keys depending on how many people receive mail at your address.
Current USPS post office box fees can be found here. Fees depend on the size of box you choose, where you live, and how long you wish to rent your box for. Based on this range of factors, fees are extremely variable, but they typically range from about $40 to about $100 for a 3-month rental, with prices increasing from there for longer periods.
Unlike with parcel lockers, your PO box key is yours to keep for the duration of your post office box rental. If you lose or damage your key, you will need to pay for a replacement through your local post office. Key replacement fees typically range from about $10 to $15. Post office box keys are illegal to duplicate if you are not a designated federal postal worker.
How long can a package stay in a parcel locker?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. The time frame varies by location depending on how busy your local post office is. However, you should have at least 7 days to pick up your package from the time it’s delivered. Picking it up as soon as possible after delivery is a good idea.
How do you open a parcel locker without a key?
You can’t. USPS parcel lockers are designed to be key-operated, and the keys are only provided to the individuals whose mail is inside of those lockers. It is considered a federal crime to tamper with USPS property and/or anyone else’s mail.
If you were told that your package was delivered to a parcel locker but did not receive a key in your mailbox, you will need to speak directly to your mail carrier or a postal worker at your local post office.
Does USPS leave a key for parcel lockers?
Yes. If you receive a package in a USPS parcel locker, you will receive a one-time-use key in your mailbox. After you use the key to open the parcel locker, it will remain locked in the keyhole and can only be retrieved by a post office worker.
Is a parcel locker a mailbox?
Yes. A USPS parcel locker is similar to a post office box or locking mailbox. However, they are not designated to any one individual. Instead, they are used for one-time package pickup to help facilitate the pickup process and enable oversized package delivery to community mailboxes.