Certified Mail should be properly prepared to avoid delays!
At the Postal Service, Certified mail is processed by machine along with regular mail. Incorrectly prepared Certified mail is rejected by the machine and must be processed by hand. This can cause delays up to and including sending it back. In some cases, the white portion of the certified label does not bear the originators location and cannot be returned. Without the white portion you have no proof of mailing. Some senders are not filling out the return address on the green Return Receipts. Without the return address the Postal Service cannot send the card back to you.
Use the Correct Forms
Certified Mail requires PS Form 3800. These forms are designed to be read by machines and have built-in features to assure accuracy. An area to one side of the bar code is treated with a special dye to show that this is an official document.
The receipt portion requires the name and address of the recipient, not the sender.
The lower portion is your proof of mailing. It will receive a round stamp from a Postal Service official before it is returned to you. You should identify your school or department or your school and your name.
Forms printed before February 2000 should not be used. If you have old forms, throw them away. If you need current forms I have them here or you can get them from any Post Office at no charge.
Place the Label Properly
In accordance with S912.23 of the Domestic Mail Manual: “Certified mail must bear a barcoded green Form 3800. The label part of the form must be placed above the delivery address and to the right of the return address, or to the left of the delivery address on parcels.”
The top of the label folds over the top of the envelope at the dotted line. The bar code should be right side up and on the front of the envelope. There needs to be at least 3 ½ inches of clear space from the right edge of the letter. This is the postage area. If the label is placed in the postage area the meter will print postage on the bar code, rendering it unreadable, which may delay delivery. Please place the label as close to the return address as you possibly can.
If a Return Receipt is required
Many who send Certified mail also require a Return Receipt (the green card). PS Form 3811 is a form that requires a signature from the person that accepts the mail. Affix the card to the back of envelopes or to the front of packages, if there is space. Do not cover the address with the card.
To properly fill out form 3811, you should print the recipient’s address in Box 1 (a label will work fine).
Indicate the Service Type. You only need to check “Certified Mail”. You do not need to check “Return Receipt for Merchandise” (separate service, separate form).
Fill in the Article Number in Box 2. This is the 20 digit number that appears below the bar code on the certified label. Current Certified labels have a separate gummed strip that can be applied in this box so that you don’t have to write the number yourself. This is a valuable cross-reference for Certified mail. Be sure to put your return address on the other side of the card (a label or rubber stamp works fine here). Without the return address, the Postal Service cannot return the receipt to you.
If you want to be certain that the intended recipient receives your letter, you can check “Yes” in Box 4 for “Restricted Delivery”. When this box is checked, the mail carrier will only allow the addressee to sign for the letter. There is an additional fee of $3.50 for this service, so only check this box if you need this service.
For slightly more readable instructions (with pictures!) download the file below.