The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research.

A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month.

The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters.

The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world.

Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets.

“A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says.

How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.

Comments (154)

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  • anon

    The post service is horrible. They sent my urgent package to wrong place. Later, they found it and told me and assure me that they will resend to me on second day. But they did not, they send back to sender ,so far not sure if they send back correctly or not. It is the post office in Columbia, Missouri.

    Sep 20, 2016
  • anon

    A piece of mail that was originally stamped 12/17/15, then 8/20/16, then 9/7/16 and then today almost 9 months later we receive it back as no longer at this address. Who is held accountable for this and what is the standard procedure? Very disappointing to say the least.

    Sep 13, 2016
  • anon

    the same thing happened to me!!! I sent out christmas cards and the mail was originally stamped 12/17/15 and just last week (end of september) finally got it back returned undeliverable. same thing happened towards end of last year too around dec 2014... seems like during busy season things just slip through for them.

    Oct 02, 2016
  • anon

    My mail was returned to everyone because Fort Hood postal service did not inform me that after 30 days that will happen. Even though I told them to hold my mail, and that we were at a family emergency. They will not help me put, let alone Killeen postal service. My address has not changed either.

    Aug 26, 2016
  • anon

    You can put in a temporary forward ( be sure to specify the dates) to"General Delivery" in the local post office of the town that you are in currently. This can be done at any post office with a form or online at usps.com. You can also cancel the forward if you are going return earlier than expected.

    Aug 30, 2016
  • anon

    This article is joke. No body will answer all the questions and provide the assistance. The 800-ASK-USPS does nothing as well. My letter is missing and have talked to different people at the local post office. I got different answer every time. Well, at least the 800-ASK-USPS does provide assistance and tell me the same answer each time when I call. Because I have never get a chance to talk to a human being.

    Aug 26, 2016
  • anon

    I've been working for same company address has not change still my mail keeps being returned to me but I receive mail from them tired of my pay roll not being delivered

    Aug 25, 2016
  • anon

    if a package is received at the correct address, and has not been opened, but the person has moved to a different address, can you simply change the address and resend it, or do you need to pay additional postage? Can anyone tell me?

    Aug 21, 2016
  • anon

    As a result of my generosity to one or two charitable organizations I am now receiving dozens of requests from numerous concerns with address labels, notebooks, stationary, t-shirts, coins, dollar bills. Often several times a week from the same organization. I have contacted them by mail asking politely that they cease to send me anything in the mail. Some have stopped others not and new appeals seem to take their place. Is it ok for me to mark these "return to sender"?

    Aug 19, 2016
  • anon

    A postal worker in my town told me that if I write "return to sender" on those unwanted letters and packages from charities and advertisers, the post office employees WILL JUST THROW THEM AWAY. Maybe it's because the mail from those places are not sent with "first class" postage, but at a reduced bulk rate provided to them. So much waste, isn't it, to get mailings from a charity's national, state, city locations - and then sometimes for each holiday season. All that money they waste that should be spent on their research or on people they are supposed to be helping.

    Apr 29, 2017
  • anon

    I would like to understand why my mail person feels they have the right to take my mail and return it to sender. If I don't not check my mail everyday and three days ago by. They return to sender. How is this okay??? My husband and I both travel for work I am not going to keep putting my mail on hold every time I am gone for a few days. This is completely not okay. It makes problems for my bills every time they do this. If the USPS would stop sending me junk mail. My mail box would never get full!!! Did your issues and have some respect for those who keep paying for you to have a freaking job!!!!!!!

    Aug 18, 2016
  • anon

    I completely agree!!! I also travel for work and this same thing just happend to me and this is absolutely ridiculous!!!

    Aug 24, 2016
  • anon

    How do you pay for them to have a job? The postal service receives $0 from the Government.

    Oct 19, 2016
  • anon

    I mail 700 postcards to my customers twice a year. about 200 are returned each time, yet I know those people live at that address. Why does this happen.

    Aug 15, 2016
  • anon

    I have lived at the same address for 10 years, with no changes to my address or zip code. For some reason when my family mails me anything- it is automatically returned to them for WRONG ADDRESS. This is not correct. They are in fact sending it to the correct address and my post office is returning for wrongful reason. I have several letters of PROOF. Please advise.

    Jul 18, 2016
  • anon

    Sent letters two separate times to the same address not knowing the person had moved and it was past the forwarding period, neither of the letters were returned to me. Is there any way to find out what happened to these letters

    Jul 12, 2016
  • anon

    DID YOU GET A ANSWER FOR THE QUESTION, THANK YOU

    Nov 07, 2016
  • anon

    it was delivered to the mailbox at the address you had on the letter. the new person living there probably threw it away

    Aug 30, 2016
  • anon

    I've waited on my package to come from Ukraine, Kiev All the way to California & unfortunately USPS says Your item was returned to the sender on May 10, 2016 at 7:57 am in FOREIGN CENTERJERSEY CITY NJ 099, NJ 07097 because it could not be delivered as addressed. I'm very upset because there were dance dresses for my daughter and she really needs them for coming competition. However, nobody can't help me to send my package directly as addressed. I know my address was writing correctly and I still don't know what's happened. Is here anybody who can tell me why my package can't be delivered to my address?

    May 12, 2016
  • anon

    Hello I had two roommates move out and one also had a son.how do I go about on stopping there mail from coming to my house. I also got another persons mail showing up and they never lived here

    May 12, 2016
  • anon

    I process returned mail for a technical college and we seem to be receiving more returned mail than usual. Is there any way that I can find out why mail is being returned? Most of the mail is returned with a "Return to Sender, Not Deliverable as Addressed, Unable to Forward" yellow sticker. I call the people we are sending mail to and they verify that the address is either their address or a family member's address where they are receiving mail. Is there a resource available, free or otherwise, that I can use to help with this situation? Thanks!

    Apr 19, 2016
  • anon

    I know what could be improved. My mailman to stop driving in my bushes and throwing my packages. :)

    Apr 08, 2016
  • anon

    Sent a letter but forgot to put in last number in zip code. What will happen ? Put a return address label luckily.

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    Sent a card to my daughter. Forgot to put the last numerical in zip code. Will it be sent back to me eventually ?

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    I agree that the USPS is likely the best postal system in the world, but this study was certainly flawed. The letters should have been sent from locations around the world. An addressing infrastructure is very important, but poor countries have to prioritize. Resources spent on addressing might be better used in healthcare or job creation. But the point is well taken that creating an address system needs to be a high priority as well.

    Apr 04, 2016
  • anon

    I receive an inordinate amount of solicitation mail. Can I write "refused....return to sender" and put it back in mailbox? Thanks. Betty

    Nov 03, 2015
  • anon

    I used to open the envelope and glue the return address label on the top of a large manila envelope.. I would fill it full of all the junk mail I received plus newspapers and other paper items. I taped the envelope closed and sent it back to them. I would enclose a hand written, in black felt pen ink, thanking them in advance for recycling so I didn't have to. I had thought about using a shoe box and putting a brick in it, but I realized it wouldn't fit through the mail box slot at the P. O. box. I did this for over a year, it was part of my routine. Gradually, I stopped getting all the snail mail spam.

    May 14, 2016
  • anon

    Hi. I am having a delivery service issue. First of all, I just had twins, have no help, and it's impossible for me to get to my mail every day as I live in an apartment complex and the mail room is pretty far away from my apartment. I typically check my mail once a week. I went to check my mail this week and there was nothing in my mailbox except for a red slip of paper that had "vacant" written on it. I went to my apt office and was told by my apartment manager that the postman had come into the office this week of 9/28/15 and informed him that he would be pulling my mail. I went to my local post office 9/30/15 and my mail was nowhere to be found. The supervisor told me to call in the morning to check with the morning supervisor, which I did, and the mail carrier happened to be there. I asked him where my mail was because the post office is supposed to hold it for ten days before it's sent back. The mail carrier told me he had returned my mail. I asked him why he didn't hold it for ten days and he said that he and I had had a conversation about my full mailbox in the past, before I had become pregnant. I informed him I had never spoken to him NOR did I live there before I was pregnant and he tried to argue with me about that. Bottom line, I am sitting here investigating who sent me what, who I should be calling to inform them my mail is being returned, also, having to sort out my bills and call EVERYONE I owe money to because all of my checks from work were in that mail load, as well as, a new CC that helps me get by each month. I will be paying late fees for sure. I am in a huge bind here. I should be paying attention to my twins but instead I have to do this. This is utterly frustrating as the postal service is a service oriented industry and it seems to be going down hill quickly because of disheartened postal workers. I don't know what else to do . This was totally unnecessary for the carrier to do.

    Oct 01, 2015
  • anon

    On sept 11 2015 I did a return to sender with an unopened package. Is there anyway to know where it is now? Or how long it will take because I'm needing a refund from this company that it is supposed to go to. PLEASE HELP.

    Sep 15, 2015
  • anon

    Hi. Did you got answer for this question? Im having the same problem now.

    Feb 24, 2017
  • anon

    I've waited on my package to come from China All the way to Chicago & unfortunately USPS says my address is incorrect and just sends my package back to sender and I'm very upset because half of the time they don't answer the phone and rude ! Then I'm upset because one simple number is wrong and I have proof it's my package and everything and still sending MY ! Package back like its my money it's my things ! What the hell ? How you gone tell me what to do with my package my money I spent ?!

    Sep 03, 2015
  • anon

    I'm not sure if this is being sent to the right person, but I have not been receiving my mail to my home address for a few months especially my car note which comes every month on the 26th has not seen it for 4 months. I have contacted the dealer and I was informed that my mail has been forward to another address without my permission. I have cam home on a few occasions and has not seen any mail in my mailbox. This is quite suspicious to me. The only other person who receives the mail is my husband who I am currently separated from. I don't want to believe he is removing my mail. I contacted a postal inspector last week to see what steps I needed to take. I have been waiting for the letter which I have not received. I have not put in a change of address neither have I moved been here for over 12 yrs or purchased a postal box. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHERE HAS MY MAIL BEEN GOING. I would appreciate if this is forward to the correct person that can assist me with this action. I don't have a tracing number due to I don't have any mail to track. Thanks Valerie Stewart-Daniels

    May 12, 2015
  • anon

    I recently started running a business out of my home (2 months) and 1 check sent to me with the correct address was sent back to sender, now I have 2 other clients that claimed they sent me a check (more than 10 days ago) and I still have not received them. My company name is: BB Design + Printing My zip is: 33309 I am very concerned about this...

    May 11, 2015
  • anon

    Hello Maureen, Thank you for taking the time to notify our offices of this occurrence. The role of the USPS Office of Inspector General is to investigate waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Unfortunately, this issue falls outside of the jurisdiction of this office. However, please contact your local Postal Service Consumer Affairs Office at (305) 470-0890 or (305) 470-0801 , so they can look further into this matter for you.

    May 12, 2015
  • anon

    I keep writing retun to sender on mail for a person that hasn't lived at this address in over 20 years. The postal service keeps sending it back to me. Any idea how I can get this mail sent back to where it came from? Multiple advertisements for credit cards.

    Apr 25, 2015
  • anon

    I am very frustrated with the service I am not receiving from your worthless carriers. This is my 2nd time of having trouble with mail not getting delivered. This last time I ordered online and had it sent to my grand-daughters address. It arrived in So Ca on Mar 3rd. It was handed off from Fedex to USPS. It says it was returned to sender as the address was undeliverable. It should have been St and not Ct. The number was correct. The lazy postman dd not even attempt to deliver. The odd thing is he didn't even scan it to show he was delivering it. I have been trying all morning to contact the po but no one answers. I contacted customer service and this nice lady trying to help me asked if I got a call back from Tracy. I told her no and that's why I am calling. I would just like to know where my package is. I called the sender and they said they have not received it back I am sorry to say but you need to fire some of these worthless employees and hire some that care. Here is another reason I say that. My daughter mailed me a priority mail last Nov. It went from Denver to Prescott Valley (AZ). it got to Phoenix and was sent to Fl. Came back to AZ then back to FL. Came back to phoenix and back to FL for a 3rd time. Finally back to Phoenix and onto Prescott Valley. There are lots of people that want jobs and would take pride in their work. I worked for the sorting facility n Denver a Xmas time. I made every effort to get the mail to the places it was addressed to. It seems like at this time you have employees that just don't care. They are making good and if they don't care then send them o their way.

    Apr 23, 2015
  • anon

    How do I advise usps to no longer deliver any mail to a deceased person. I only see options to stop advertising/new mail from being delivered. Is there a way to have all mail returned to sender? I am unable to retrieve the mail to mark it as such myself.

    Feb 15, 2015
  • anon

    Hello Neek, Thank you for contacting our offices and we truly apologize for the inconveniences that you have experienced so far. The role of the USPS Office of Inspector General is to investigate waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Please contact your local Postal Service Consumer Affairs office, which is separate from the customer service line, at 1-800-275-8777 so they can look further into this matter for you.

    Feb 17, 2015
  • anon

    Everyone should try to avoid using the post office at all costs. I've had 5 packages returned to sender. And meanwhile ups has delivered right to my door without fail. Usps employees clearly don't care if you get your package. You should try to send your packages to your workplace, assuming either ups or fed ex delivers directly to your employer

    Jan 31, 2015
  • anon

    I have to agree. I have recently had an overseas package sent back to the sender even though I signed the delivery notice. They never made an attempt to deliver after that, and then returned the item overseas. What incredible waste. I was never notified of any changes to the delivery status online, even though I put in a request online to have them redeliver well within the 15 calendar day limit. I think that USPS does not care if you get your packages delivered. I pay taxes here in the USA and have lived here all of my life, why do I deserve such terrible service from a government agency? I will strongly encourage everyone I know not to use the USPS and will personally be looking to use other carriers every time I look to get a package delivered to me from here on out. Absolutely terrible service.

    Apr 06, 2016
  • anon

    Hello Taylor, We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced. The USPS Office of Inspector General investigates waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Although this incident does not fall within the jurisdiction of our offices, please call and file a complaint with the Postal Service Office of Consumer Affairs at 800-275-8777. By doing this, you will provide them with the information needed to look into this occurrence.

    Feb 05, 2015
  • anon

    Mr/Ms Inspector, why are the only comments you have a response to not in your purview? Scroll down and see the trend...then figure out whether or not the USPS is the right fit for your "skill sets"?

    May 15, 2016
  • anon

    I'm finding myself getting frustrated as the days go by and no one seem to know where is my package. It has a very important documents and I need it returned to me since it was delivered to the wrong address. The package has a tracking number and the notice says it will return back to the sender if the appropriate address is included. I have been waiting for over 10 days now . I there a way I can track it to re office in DC where it's now and I will pick it up myself ?

    Jan 26, 2015
  • anon

    Hello Med Kassin, Thank you for taking the time to contact our offices. The USPS Office of Inspector General investigates waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). However, we have forwarded your claim to the Postal Service Customer Service Office in an effort to assist you. U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General

    Jan 27, 2015
  • anon

    My packg was sent to DC address as a priority mail with signature required. The address delivered TO was wrong and the final was undelivered. I need to know who to contact to get the next status on the packg as it has a very important docs. package # 23041070000021451648 On the tracking website it says its being returned to the sender if the appropriate address is provided. Very generic no specifics. Please help me , I need the package as it has important documents.

    Jan 23, 2015
  • anon

    MKassim, Here is a the number for your nearest Consumer Affairs Office: 804-775-6313. They should be able to further assist you with your inquiries.

    Jan 26, 2015
  • anon

    Why do I keep getting my sons Christmas card back as "insufficient address" while he got other mail I sent the same day!!!to the same address !!they have Grinch working at Tx 77598?in Webster?Q

    Dec 19, 2014
  • anon

    Suzanne, I sent a message to the email you provided with the number to the Houston USPS Office of Consumer Affairs. This situation would best be handled by their office. Thank you for your comment. OIG Blog Moderator

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    I HAVE BEEN HAVING TROUBLE WITH LETTES AND CARDS BEING DELIVERED IN A TIMELY FASHION. ONE LETTER MAILED LESS THEN 20 MILES AWAY TOOK 38 DAYS. BIRTHDAY CARDS GOING TO NEIGHBOR STATE ARE TAKING 2 WEEKS. I SAI THE SAME THINGTHERE IS A PROBLEM SOME WHERE. I NOW HAVE A MISSING PACHAGE SINCE JAN 18TH

    Feb 26, 2013
  • anon

    On JANUARY 3, 2013 I took a pkg. to my local post office unopened RETURN TO SENDER. Clerk # 08 pocessed it accordingly (I assumed). As of this date the pkg. has been back and forth from Atl. to Memphis a dozen times, it eventually made it to 2 different California facilities has not been scanned again since FEBRUARY 6, 2012. It still has not made it to it's final destination of Torrence, CA. TODAY IS FEBRUARY 22, 2013. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!!!!! FYI 420300179102927002514312472120

    Feb 22, 2013

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