The ADISC forum frequently receives requests for advice on how to discreetly receive packages from online retailers. While not completely exhausting the many options available, this article attempts to address those questions specifically for those living within the United States. Those living outside the United States may find parts of this guide useful, though the options and shipping rules available will vary.
United States Postal Service
Post Office Box
Post office boxes are a very economical option for receiving shipments, although not all retailers will ship USPS. Large or heavy packages are frequently more expensive to ship via USPS than other carriers like UPS, so retailers who do offer this option will occasionally charge more for shipping. The cost of post office boxes starts as low as $12 for six months, depending on location. Post office boxes can be rented online or in person but in order to actually start using the box you must present two forms of acceptable identification (at least one of which must be a photo ID). Acceptable forms of identification include the following: driver’s license or state issued photo ID card; armed forces, government, university, or recognized corporate identification card; passport, alien registration, or certificate of naturalization; current lease, mortgage, or deed of trust; voter or vehicle identification card; home or vehicle insurance policy.
A post office box is a possible option for those under 18 although the rules for renting a box under the age of 18 are unclear. According to the United States Postal Service FAQ’s regarding PO boxes:
"PO Box service may be provided to a minor (a person under 18 years of age) unless the minor's parent or guardian submits a written objection to the appropriate postmaster. However, minors may not apply for a PO Box online."
"You must be 18 years or older to apply online for a PO Box. If you are under 18 years of age and want a PO Box, you may apply at a Post Office."
There is no limit to the size of the package that can be received by a post office box. If you get a post office box just to receive large packages, it is wise to pick the smallest (and least expensive) box. The post office will either put a note in your box informing you to pick up your package from the post office desk during business hours or else they will leave a key that unlocks another box designed to hold packages. They will not forward the package, or any other mail received, to another address unless the box owner has explicitly asked them to forward mail.
USPS General Delivery may be a very low cost option but it could be difficult to get a retailer to agree to ship using this method. Call your retailer before attempting to order items for general delivery. When General Delivery service is used, mail or packages can be sent directly to the regional general delivery post office which will hold it for up to 30 days. In order for the post office to release the mail or package, the receiver must present valid photo identification. It is unclear if there are any restrictions on age for general delivery and it is a good idea to check with your regional general delivery post office about age requirements before ordering. To find out which post office in your area provides general delivery service, contact your local post office and they will provide the location. According to the USPS:
"General Delivery is available for customers if carrier service or a PO Box is not an option. Individual mailpieces will be held for up to 30 days and can be conveniently picked up by presenting identification. This is also a great option if you don’t have a permanent address. To find which office is designated for General Delivery at your location, please contact your local Postmaster."
This option is clearly designed for people who rarely need to receive mail. Frequent abuse of general delivery may result in the post office asking you to rent a post office box. To receive mail via general delivery, the sender must address packages to:
(Post office name) – General Delivery
(City, State, Zip code)
There are two options available for receiving discreet shipments via UPS. The advantage of using a carrier like UPS is that it may give you broader options in which retailer you buy from.
Hold for Pickup Service
UPS will hold a package at a regional shipping center for up to 5 days and can be retrieved with a valid photo ID (acceptable forms of photo identification are listed here). If you are under 18, it is best to check with your regional UPS center prior to ordering any products. According to UPS:
"UPS will deliver your package to the UPS Customer Center you choose and then call the recipient when the package is ready. Packages are usually available by 8:30 a.m. on the scheduled day of delivery."
Hold for pickup service is free of charge. In order to use this service, your retailer must specifically mark the package so that hold for pickup service is used. This involves your retailer addressing the packages similar to the following:
(Your phone number)
(UPS hub address)
Please hold at hub for customer pickup.
Your retailer may or may not be willing to ship using this method so call them prior to ordering.
UPS has franchise stores that are independently owned and provide mail box services that include receiving deliveries from any carrier. This is the most versatile, but also most expensive, option for discreet receipt of packages. Different franchise owners may have differing age requirements and prices for renting a mail box. Virtually all retailers will ship to a UPS store location. This may be a good option if you receive packages very frequently and order from retailers that won’t ship USPS.
For more information, visit The UPS Store Mailbox & Postal Services.
FedEx offers a service called Hold at FedEx Location that is very similar to UPS’s hold for pickup option. The retailer must choose this option when printing their shipping label so it is likely that you will have to call them to place your order. More details can be found at FedEx - Hold at FedEx Location.
Other Options and Considerations
There are certainly other shipping carriers that offer similar services as outlined above but it is unlikely that your retailer of choice will use them. There are also many independent mail box providers that will offer services similar to UPS stores at varying prices that may have different age requirements.
If you must be certain that a package does not arrive at your home address then the only way to guarantee that is to not give away your home address when ordering.
Do not give a retailer the address of the empty house down the street; this does not work and guarantees that you will never actually receive your package. Shipping to a vacant address or false name is a surefire way to lose your package (and your money) with no way to recover it.