Canadians with U.S. PO boxes are having packages returned to sender because of the border closure
VANCOUVER -- Jennifer King lives 10 minutes from the border, so for years, picking up her mail at her U.S. Postal Service box was no problem. That is, until the pandemic hit and in March the border closed to non-essential travel.
“I scrambled knowing that was going to be my last chance to pick up any mail in my box,” King told CTV News Vancouver.
By the time she arrived it was late at night and there was no one working the front desk.
“There were two packages there that I knew I wouldn’t be seeing for a really long time,” King said.
King is a dual citizen, so she could cross the border, but she said the two-week quarantine upon returning to Canada and the risk of being in the U.S. just isn’t worth it.
“I called the post office, actually, the branch in Blaine, and I asked them if they could forward my mail to my Canadian address,” she said. “They said they couldn’t do that.”
CTV News reached out to USPS and received a reply from strategic communications specialist Ernie Swanson.
“First-class mail is being held at the post office,” Swanson said. “Parcels are being held for 30 days and then returned to sender.”
For Canadians with PO Boxes in the U.S., Swanson said there are a couple of options.
“If they have an acquaintance in the U.S. near the post office, they could mail their box key to that person, who could pick-up mail and then mail it to them,” he said.
He also suggested they have their mail forwarded, telling CTV News both mail and parcels can be forwarded internationally.
CTV News called the Blaine post office where King has her PO Box and inquired if they’d forward parcels to Canada. The person who answered said: “No, from what I’ve been told, we’re not currently doing that. What I do know is you can have someone you do know pick it up for you.”
In King’s case, she had her attorney go to the mail box to retrieve her deliveries.
“I’m sure that most Canadians in the Lower Mainland don’t have somebody like me across the street who can pick up their mail,” said Len Saunders, King’s immigration lawyer. “In order for me to pick up clients’ mail or packages I either have to have their keys or a written authorization.”
He told CTV News that many clients hadn’t been informed that mail wouldn’t be held long term.
“It’s unfortunate that the post office has taken such a harsh stance and not informed their clients who are Canadians that a lot of their mail and packages are going to be sent back or have been,” Saunders said.
In some cases, he said, he’s heard of people “exchanging packages over the border” at Peace Arch Provincial Park.
“That is what I was told was the main reason that Peace Arch was closed on the Canadian side,” Saunders said.
The B.C. government disputes this, telling CTV News the park was closed because of the pandemic and to encourage physical distancing.
Some private U.S. mailing companies have been storing mail and packages for Canadian clients since the border restrictions began, even getting creative and renting shipping containers for overflow.
In King’s case, she may be at risk of losing her PO Box. She pays the user fee with an American credit card, but can’t get to her U.S.-based bank to put money in the account, and her bill is due July 31.
“They would say you can pay by cash at the actual post office or the credit card that you have on file online, but I wasn’t able to put a Canadian credit card online I was only able to use a U.S. credit card with a U.S. address,” said King. “I’m hoping a phone call with a Canadian credit card will pay my bill. Otherwise, I’m going to lose my box as of August first.”
All in all, King said, the entire ordeal is going to cost her “close to 300 (dollars), just to get my mail.”