There are times when a valuable piece of mail must absolutely, positively reach its destination without the risk of theft, loss, or damage during the delivery process. Postal customers who need to mail expensive jewelry, sensitive documents, or irreplaceable antiques can pay a surcharge and send the items as registered mail. Registered mail is handled with a higher level of security than standard mail, including the use of a special lock box, signatures at every transit point, and a traceable routing number.
When a postal customer requests this service, the clerk should attach a special note to the envelope and provide the customer with a receipt containing a unique tracking number. At this point, the customer can also purchase insurance on the contents of the package, although the post office generally limits the amount of coverage available. The package does not have to be certified or insured in order to be delivered, however.
The postal clerk places all registered mail into a special lock box separate from the main mail processing equipment. This secured box will travel along with other mail to different receiving centers, where an authorized postal employee will sign for possession and route the mail according to its final destination. This chain-of-custody process will continue until the package reaches the post office assigned to the recipient's address. The customer can use the tracking number to follow the package's progress online and view any attempts to deliver the package.
Sending a letter or small package this way can be a relatively expensive delivery option, costing many times the price of regular first class delivery. There are also additional charges for insurance and certified receipt by a specified recipient. Some people will pay the extra fees for certified or registered mail in order to make sure their federal tax returns reach the Internal Revenue Service on time, but such services are generally designed to protect items with intrinsic value, not standard paperwork.
Insurance on items sent this way may be limited to the actual replacement value of the item, not necessarily its perceived or potential value. The loss of a legal document, for example, would only result in reimbursement for the attorney's time and expenses, not the total value of the contract, will, or property title it represented. Registered mail is the highest level of security most postal customers can obtain, but it should be used primarily for smaller objects of value or cash, not large, irreplaceable works of art or delicate antiques.