There are few things more frustrating than waiting for a package that’s taking forever. But when the tracking information for your package goes AWOL, too, things can start to feel pretty desperate. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
That’s why I’ve put together this definitive guide for what to do when your USPS tracking info isn’t updating, and how to prevent issues like this from happening in the first place.
How Does USPS Tracking Work?
Most (but not all) packages sent through USPS come with tracking numbers, which allow customers to keep track of where their packages are during the shipment process.
According to USPS, “most domestic mail products that are large enough and that are addressed to domestic locations” qualify for tracking. Most international packages also come with tracking, but there are “destination limitations.” Letters, flat mail, and packages that are small enough to fit through a letter box do not qualify for tracking.
(Note: Many sources online incorrectly claim that all USPS packages and mail pieces come with tracking, but this is inaccurate.)
Once you have your USPS tracking number, it can be used to track your package through the USPS online tracking tool. Tracking numbers can be found on your USPS sales receipt, customs form receipt, or via the Informed Delivery tool on USPS.com (for enrolled customers). For help figuring out how to find your tracking number, click here.
In theory, packages are scanned each time they arrive at and depart any location within the USPS network. USPS provides “end-to-end tracking,” which means that each package should be scanned at every stage from the time it arrives at a USPS facility to the time it’s delivered to its recipient.
USPS Tracking Updates: What Do They Mean?
Here are some of the most common USPS tracking updates and their meanings…
- Arrived at – This means that your package has arrived at a location within the USPS network. You will see this any time your package is scanned upon arrival at any time during the shipping process.
- Departed – This means that your package has departed any location within the USPS network.
- In transit – This means that your package is moving through the USPS network on its way to its destination. Your tracking info might be stuck on “in transit” for days or even weeks in some cases, especially if your package is being shipped across a long distance. This usually means that your package is on a USPS freight vehicle, either on ground or via air travel. It will be scanned and updated when it arrives at its next facility or destination.
- Out for delivery – This means that your package has arrived at your local post office and been sent out for delivery by your local postal carrier. This usually means you will receive your package within 24-48 hours.
- Delivered to agent for final delivery – This means that your package has been left with an independent “agent” to complete the delivery to you, such as a building manager, a receptionist at your workplace, or an independent mail courrier hired by USPS.
- Notice left – This means that USPS left a notice at your address of an attempted delivery. This usually only happens if your package requires a signature for delivery (as in the case of Signature Confirmation or Certified Mail).
- No access – This means that USPS attempted to deliver your package but were unable to access your property or mailbox. The delivery will likely be attempted again, or you can try visiting your local post office to pick up your package directly.
For a full look at what all USPS tracking updates mean, click here.
5 Possible Reasons
Before we get into the details, it’s worth noting that you should always make sure you’re entering your tracking number correctly when searching for your tracking information. If you’re being told by the USPS tracking service that they can’t find your package with the tracking number you provided, be sure to double check that you’re typing it correctly into the search bar.
Now, here are the five most likely reasons why your USPS tracking information isn’t updating…
In recent years, USPS has been dealing with historic delays within their system due to a record-breaking influx of mail, plus an understaffing crisis. For this reason, the most common explanation for why your USPS tracking information hasn’t been updated is simply that the system is moving slowly.
USPS delays are particularly common during the holidays, especially in November and December. If you’re experiencing tracking issues during these months, it’s safe to assume you’re not the only one feeling a bit confused and frustrated. It’s best to just wait it out and trust that your package will arrive eventually.
On the topic of delays, one of the most common reasons why the postal service gets delayed is inclement weather. Because the US Postal Service relies on both ground and air freight transportation, they are very vulnerable to weather conditions all over the country.
If you haven’t received any tracking updates for your package recently, try checking the weather between the package’s last scanned location and its destination to see if there might be a significant weather event happening, such as a snowstorm, windstorm, flood, blackout, etc.
Your Package Wasn’t Scanned
Another very common reason why your USPS tracking info isn’t updating is that your package might not have been scanned at its most recent checkpoint.
In theory, your package should be scanned every time it arrives at and departs a location within the USPS network. However, mistakes happen, and not every package gets scanned every time it should.
If you haven’t seen any updates on your tracking page in a while, it’s possible that your package is still moving towards its destination, but it simply flew under the radar of the tracking system temporarily.
Your Package Has Crossed An International Border
When you send a package to another country through USPS, you are not guaranteed to receive tracking updates through USPS after your package leaves the US.
Luckily, your tracking number should still work to track your package regardless of where it is. This means that if you sent something to the UK, for example, you can use your USPS tracking number to track your package within the UK postal system, Royal Mail.
As someone who sends a lot of international packages, I highly recommend searching for your package through its destination country’s online tracking system before giving up hope or submitting any complaints. I’ve had very good luck with this approach.
If you’re not sure what the postal service is called in the country where you sent your package, simply type “[the destination country] + track a package” into your preferred search engine. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that every country will have an online parcel tracking system.
Your Package Was Lost or Misplaced
Unfortunately, there is always a slim chance that your tracking information isn’t updating because your package has been lost or misplaced. Luckily, this does not happen often, but it shouldn’t be ruled out as a possibility.
Keep reading to find out what to do if you suspect your package may have gone missing within the USPS network. The good news is that most packages that are “lost” during transit end up being recovered. Because USPS handles so many packages each day at all of their facilities, it’s not unheard of that a package ends up falling through the cracks temporarily.
Troubleshooting USPS Tracking Updates
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many practical solutions when USPS is dragging their feet with your tracking information. In most cases, USPS will recommend that you simply wait to receive an update.
Some sources might suggest reaching out to the sender, but this likely won’t do much good either. The only situation in which this could help is if you have not received any tracking updates from USPS at all, meaning that the package may have never even arrived at a US Post Office to begin with. If this is the case, then you should definitely consult the individual who was supposed to have mailed your package.
Officially speaking, though, there are only two things you can do to seek help through USPS when your tracking information isn’t updating…
Submit A Help Request
If you’re coming up completely empty handed trying to figure out where your package is, the best thing to do is to fill out a help request on USPS.com. You can do that here, and a USPS employee should contact you via email to assist you with the problem. According to USPS, you should receive a confirmation of your request within 2-3 business days.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that USPS will be able to provide you with any definitive information about your package. Technically speaking, USPS doesn’t entertain help requests for late packages unless it’s been 2-3 days since your package arrived at a local postal facility and you still haven’t received any updates or delivery attempts. If your package is simply stuck “in transit,” you’ll probably just be told to keep waiting.
Either way, submitting a help request is important even if you’re not completely desperate (yet). That’s because it’s a required prerequisite for submitting a Missing Mail Search request, which you might need to do later on.
Start A Missing Mail Search
Finally, if nothing else works, you should submit a Missing Mail Search for your package.
USPS only accepts Missing Mail Search requests from customers who have submitted a help request that did not resolve the issue within 7 business days.
If your Missing Mail Search doesn’t turn up any answers, your last line of defense is to file a claim for compensation for your missing package, which you can do here.
Speaking off the record, there’s technically one other way you can potentially receive some tracking information about your package if USPS is letting you down…
Use A Third-Party Package Tracking Service
In recent years, many companies have popped up to provide package tracking services to frustrated customers of USPS and other postal carriers. Although this is no guarantee, these services can sometimes provide a more complete picture of your package’s tracking information than USPS.
The big upside to using these services is that they aggregate information from a wide range of shipping services, including international postal carriers. This can be particularly helpful if you’ve sent a package overseas, since USPS doesn’t usually provide tracking updates once your package has left the country.
Just keep in mind that in most cases (especially with domestic packages), it’s unlikely that these third-party companies will be able to provide more info than USPS.
How To Ensure Accurate Package Tracking
If we’re being realistic, USPS tracking mixups will probably always be an issue no matter how hard we try to avoid them.
That said, there are a few things you can do to decrease the likelihood of tracking and delivery issues. Most of these methods are preventative, so you’ll want to plan ahead rather than scrambling for a solution after something has already gone wrong.
The best way to ensure accurate and up-to-date tracking information for USPS packages (especially as a recipient) is to sign up for Informed Delivery.
Informed Delivery is a personal account associated with your individual (or business) mailing address that allows you to see and track most packages and mail pieces sent to your mailing address. The only major exceptions are magazines, catalogs, and packages sent through private couriers.
As an Informed Delivery user myself, I can confidently tell you that it’s worth it. Much of the time, I can see that packages are on their way to me before I’m even aware that someone has sent me something (or before it’s even been dropped in the mail). This is because Informed Delivery updates begin the moment a USPS shipping label is printed.
So, if you purchase something online, for example, from a seller who prints their own shipping labels, you’ll immediately have access to that tracking number and information through your Informed Delivery dashboard before the package even arrives at a USPS office.
If you’re having trouble accessing up-to-date tracking information for a package, you can sign up for Informed Delivery now. However, there is no guarantee that Informed Delivery will be able to offer you more information than what you’re already seeing on USPS.com. It’s best to sign up for Informed Delivery preemptively to help with package tracking in the future.
While this service won’t necessarily improve your in-transit tracking updates, Signature Confirmation is particularly good at ensuring that you’ll receive a secure delivery. This is because customers that pay for Signature Confirmation are guaranteed that their packages will not be delivered unless someone can receive the package in person and provide a signature. This completely eliminates the risk of a package being stolen off of someone’s front porch or being delivered without being scanned.
Similar to Signature Confirmation, Certified Mail can help ensure secure shipment and delivery of your package, although it may not improve your tracking updates.
Certified Mail provides the sender with a mailing receipt to verify that they sent the package. So, if you’re a recipient wondering if your sender mailed your package, Certified Mail can remove any confusion in this department.
The service also verifies delivery of the package through a recipient signature as well as an electronic delivery verification.
Priority Mail Express
While it shouldn’t necessarily matter what shipping method you choose for your package, packages mailed with Priority Mail Express often provide more up-to-date tracking information than packages mailed with less expensive shipping.
This is because Priority Mail Express packages are prioritized at the beginning of each business day. In other words, these packages get handled, scanned, loaded, and ultimately delivered first before all of the other packages.
If you can imagine, packages handled first thing in the morning before the postal workers have lost steam are probably much more likely to be scanned quickly and effectively than the packages handled in a rush towards the end of the day.
That said, there’s no guarantee that Priority Mail Express packages will never get lost or delayed.
What to do if USPS never scanned your package?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do in the event that USPS fails to scan your package within the USPS network. Your best options are to either wait and see if your tracking information updates or consider reporting your package as missing. However, USPS does not consider mail missing unless you have submitted a help request and not received any answers or solutions within 7 business days. By clicking here, you can submit a help request or start a Missing Mail Search.
Should you be worried if USPS hasn’t updated tracking in 7 days?
Not necessarily. The US Postal Service is notoriously backed up these days, so it’s not uncommon for packages to get delayed for a week or longer during transit, especially over long distances. However, if a full week has passed since USPS has updated the tracking on your package, you should immediately submit a help request here. If your issue is not resolved within 7 days of submitting your help request, then you can begin a Missing Mail Search here.
How do you know if USPS lost your package?
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to tell if your package is lost or just taking a while to get to you. However, if you’re concerned your package might be lost, you should submit a help request here. If USPS is not able to recover your package, you can file a reimbursement claim here.
Can a USPS package be delivered without being scanned?
Yes. Because USPS packages are delivered by human beings, packages sometimes get delivered even though the delivery person forgot to scan the item. In this case, you will not see a delivery update on your tracking information despite the package being delivered. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often.
Can you find a package without a USPS tracking number?
Theoretically, yes–but it is much more difficult, and not guaranteed. USPS Missing Mail Search provides an avenue for customers to track down their packages without a tracking number, but this system is not guaranteed to work. You can start a Missing Mail Search by clicking here. To start your search, you will need to sign up for a USPS.com account and have submitted an active help request at least 7 business days before your Missing Mail Search request.