Difference between Certified and Registered Mail | 8 Basic Facts

difference between certified and registered mail

Unlike emails, conventional mails still travel the roads and skyways. They cannot be transferred at a breakneck speed or reach your door right after you send them. Despite the speed issue, we still, even in this era of stupendous scientific progress, can’t deny the importance of physically transported letters, documents or parcels.  

This flowing article is dedicated to introduce and differentiate two mailing options that are offered by the USPS. Certified and registered mail, the main difference between these two options are in their way of sending. While the certified mail option follows a less secure process compared to the registered mail, it’s you to decide which postal service you’ll choose based on your need.

The postal office has a long history of sending letters, cards and gifts. You never want your private stuff to be exposed to any third hand. So, you choose postal services as a medium of transferring them. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the things sent via certified mail are not secured, but it just doesn’t follow the security level as the registered mail does. If you are sending costly materials to anybody, this would definitely require more security than a critical paper document. 

People still have enough reliance on postal services, especially while sending documents like tax returns, legal notices, business contracts, or other credentials. However, the difference between certified and registered mail is not only in the way they are sent but also what you can send purchasing these options. There are price differences between these two services too. While the certified mail is cheaper, the registered mail costs more bucks. Let’s find out more.

Comparison chart

DifferenceCertified mailRegistered mail
Return ReceiptProvides return receipt with the signature of the senderProvides return receipt with the signature of the sender and detailed location information
SecurityLike other conventional mailing servicesProvides extra protection to the sent item
TransportedTransported along with regular mailing servicesTransported separately with a chain of custody
StoredStored along with other regular mailing servicesStored separately from other regular mailing services
Mailing barcode receipt colorGreen and whiteRed and white
InsuranceNo insurance against the sent itemInsures up to $50.
CostCheaper compared to registered mailCosts more compared to other regular and certified mailing services.

What is Certified mail?

Well, not all US mailing services are meant for every kind of item. In order to choose the right option, you need to go through the features of the offered services. 

Certified mail offers its customers to send mails through first-class and priority mailing services. The sender gets a mailing receipt at the time of posting and an electronic tracking number to check the shipped item’s status. After the item is successfully delivered, the sender can request a return receipt too. If the recipient refuses to admit the delivery of the item in any case, the return receipt is a document the sender can show as proof. 

This delivery proof receipt comes in a postcard (the special green card) form signed by the recipient. This receipt also comes with an email copy with the signature of the recipient. However, the return receipt charges an additional fee, and It’s completely the freedom of the sender whether he/she needs a return receipt or not. 

On the other hand, the electronic tracking number notifies the sender about the mail status (whether it was received or a delivery attempt was made). 

Certified mail was first introduced in 1955 by the US postal service, and it has two categories: regular certified mail and the restricted certified mail. The restricted mail is used to deliver sensitive mailings and is handled confidentially. Regular mail is cheaper than restricted delivery mail. 

When to use certified mail?

Certified mailing service is most commonly used to send tax returns, legal documents, bank-related documents, letters sent to IRS and creditors, Job-related documents, court papers, and other important credentials. 

This mailing option is mostly used when the sender needs to provide evidence of whether the mail was processed successfully. 

Nonetheless, certified mail is purchased to send domestic mails only; it doesn’t allow you to send anything internationally. Still, because certified mail is handled carefully and relatively cheaper, numerous agencies, officials and individuals prefer to purchase the service. 

How to send certified mail?

To obtain a certified mailing service, you need to visit the post office and purchase the required option. The certified mail offers regular and restricted delivery. Under the regular delivery, anybody at the recipient’s address can sign the receipt. But, if you choose the restricted delivery, it’s only the recipient who can sign the receipt. 

The certified mail can be sent under first-class mail or priority mail. The first-class mail takes 2-5 working days to reach the recipient’s address, while the priority mail takes 2-3 days. Although, this time span can be varied based on the presence of the recipient. If the sent item takes longer to be received, the mail returns to the sender’s address.

To complete the certified mail slip, you may be needed to provide proof of your personal identity. And after completing the paperwork, you’ll be provided with a unique 18 digit USPS tracking number. This tracking number helps you to track the current status of your sent item. You can also request a return receipt, for which you’ll have to pay an additional charge.  

What is registered mail?

The registered mail is the most secured option the USPS offers while sending your mail. It maintains tight security from drop to delivery of your mail. Usually, when you need to send something that is valuable, you are suggested to purchase the registered mailing service. 

Items are handled and transported with extra protection as the USPS provides a chain of custody. As a result, the customer can track the product throughout the entire delivery process and has more control over the sent mail compared to certified mail.

For any possibility of damage or loss of your item, the registered mail service insures your shipment for up to $50.00, and they are sent in a sealed container or locked chamber. Items are stored in a secured place (cage, locker, room) away from certified and regular mail items.

For registered mailing service, the recipient needs to show identification and proof of signatures on delivery. Like certified mail, registered mail also provides mailing receipt, return receipt, electronic verification number. Additionally, registered mail requires a detailed record of the location. The mailing receipt is red and white and comes with a barcode. 

The registered mail can be sent following some specific classes like the first class mail, priority mail, collect on delivery, restricted delivery, return receipt, signature confirmation etc.    

You can send a package that weighs up to 10 kg, and no dimension of the package can exceed 600 mm. The price of the purchase depends on the weight of the product. 

When to send registered mail?

Usually, people opt for registered mail when they need to send something that is costly, irreplaceable or unique. Packages that weigh up to a certain limit are usually used via registered mail. 

This service offers both domestic and international shipment; hence if you are looking for a secured service to send your item out of the US, you can undoubtedly go for registered mail. 

Customers can choose any mail class according to their need. Not to mention, each mail class has unique characteristics and prices. If you purchase registered mail with a priority mail class, it will generally be delivered faster compared to the first-class mail class. 

As for the security measures, the registered mails are transported slowly, so it takes more time to deliver. Usually, it takes 10-14 days to reach its destination. If the recipient doesn’t receive the item within a certain period of time, the sender can request an investigation by submitting a form 1000

Not only packages, but you can also choose registered mail to send important documents or confidential papers domestically and internationally. 

How to send registered mail?

Before submitting your mail to the post office, you need to prepare your package by sealing it and writing down the sender and recipient’s addresses on the body of the package. You write down your exact address on top of the package, and on the bottom portion, you mention the recipient’s exact address. 

You’ll be provided with a mail receipt form 3806 by the post office. One section of that form to be filled up with the post office, and on the other section, you need to write down the required information carefully. 

A section of that form will be given to you for further record and inquiry. You’ll also receive a green return receipt against your purchase. 

The registered mail label sticker is red and white, and it contains a barcode with a sequential number that has two letters where the first letter is always R. You’ll need to stick the barcode part of the label sticker on the packet or envelope of your item and the consequential number that starts with an R on the green return receipt. 

The post office is going to charge you based on the weight of your item and the service you opt for.  

For international registered mail, the sender needs to provide more information, stick international stamps and go through more paperwork than sending them domestically.

The key differences between Certified and Registered Mail

  1. Certified mail provides a return receipt on an additional fee to the sender that contains the recipient’s signature. On the other hand, a registered mail option provides the sender with a receipt with the recipient’s signature and a detailed record of the location. 
  2. Certified mail doesn’t maintain a security level as the registered mail. The registered mail is transported with extra protection (chain of custody, locker or in a cage). 
  3.  Registered mail is transported and stored separately from other mailing services.
  4. For extra security, the registered mail insures the package for up to $50, while the certified mail doesn’t insure the mail. 
  5. The mailing receipt of the certified mail is green. Contrarily, the registered mail receipt label is red.
  6. Certified mail can only be delivered domestically. In comparison, the registered mailing option provides both domestic and international services. 
  7. Certified mail is cheaper compared to registered mail. 
  8. Certified mail is charged based on the class of service. While the registered mail charges based on the weight of the item and class of service the customer opt for.  

Certified vs registered mail: Cost 

Although the updated cost of certified mail in 2021 has been increased, still it’s way cheaper compared to the registered mail. The cost of certified mail depends on the class of service. For example, if the customer chooses the priority mail or restricted delivery, this will cost more than the first-class or regular delivery. Additionally, if the return receipt is requested, the customer has to pay an extra $2.85. 

On the other hand, the USPS offered registered mail currently costs $12.60, and the price can be varied depending on the weight and class of service of the mail.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

Which is better registered or certified mail?

Under certified mail, the sender can request a return receipt that ensures the delivery of the sent item. The process of transporting certified mail is straightforward, and generally, the customers use certified mail for sending important documents. On the other hand, the registered mail provides extra security to the sent item. 

Registered mail provides a return receipt with the signature of the recipient and detailed records on location. Customers generally use registered mail to send valuable and irreplaceable items. It can also be transported out of the US. So based on all the characteristics, registered mail can be considered a better service when it comes to security and the area of its action. Although, registered mail costs more compared to certified mail.

Should I send my tax return certified or registered?

When sending your tax return, certified mail can be a better option for you. Usually, based on past records, sending documents like tax returns, legal documents, business documents, etc. People still rely more on certified mail than other mailing services.

Why does registered mail take so long?

As for the extra security provided to transport registered mail, the entire process proceeds a bit slowly compared to other mailing services. That’s the main reason registered mail takes a long time to deliver an item.

What is the most secure way to send mail?

The registered mail is the most secure way to send mail the USPS offers. This service is known for its extra security measure. Hence, customers rely on registered mailing service, especially when sending valuable items.


Knowing the difference between certified and registered mail is important because different mailing services are designed for various purposes. It’s an obligation of the customers to go for the right one. Therefore, doing the paperwork correctly and providing appropriate information based on the service the customer’s pick out, knowing enough about them, must be a priority.

Although, the paperwork and procedures can now be done online, which makes the entire mailing process pretty convenient these days. Still, you cannot ignore the importance of knowing the postal services in detail to choose the correct option.

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