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How Long Does Letter Delivery Within the Same City Take?

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The United States Postal Service guarantees local delivery of first-class mail should take between one and three days. Even though a letter is going just across town, it won't necessarily arrive at its destination overnight.

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Sending Mail Within the Same City
The USPS no longer offers overnight delivery on first-class mail, so even if one mails a letter to a destination just a few blocks away, it still might not arrive there for up to three days. No matter how close the intended destination is, the sender can't be sure of when it will arrive, unless he or she wants to pay extra for package tracking. However, the USPS does say that first-class mail consisting of a single piece, such as a letter or check, for example, will likely take two or three days pretty much anywhere.

How Mail Travels
Delivering mail involves much more than just simply directing it to the correct address, which is why even mail headed for the next street over could take a few days to get there. When mail is deposited in a box, it may sit there overnight until it can be processed the next day, adding on one more day until it can embark on the delivery process. Once mail is collected, it goes through several more steps before arriving at its destination. For starters, mail is sorted by type, such as packages and letters, and then arranged so that the addresses face the same way. It's then postmarked and imprinted with several fluorescent bars before being sprayed with a bar code. Then, each piece of mail is sorted by the zip-code it's headed to and then sent to a processing center. There, it's sorted again and sent to the appropriate post office for final delivery.

Determining Mail Delivery Timeline
While it may seem like determining when mail will arrive requires a lot of guesswork, the USPS does give customers a way to estimate the most likely delivery date. Customers can consult the USPS's delivery map, which uses the agency's service standards to predict when mail will arrive. Delivery timelines vary based on the zip-code from which the package was sent and whether it is being sent first-class or standard mail. By knowing these two pieces of information, USPS customers can better estimate when their letter will arrive, thus helping them more efficiently plan when to mail it.

Typical Mail Timelines
The USPS may not offer overnight delivery of first-class mail as it did in the past, but that doesn't mean that mail sent to a destination in the same city will take the full three days to get there. In fact, in practice mail sent within the same city arrives pretty quickly, often at the shorter end of the delivery timeline rather than the longer end. The New York Daily News tested this in 2009, with an informal experiment that demonstrated that a letter mailed from Manhattan to Brooklyn typically arrived just one day later no matter what class of service was used. While there are several types of mail options available, they don't always guarantee faster delivery, particularly for shorter distances such as within the same city.

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