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What is Snail Mail?

Snail Mail refers to traditional postal services, where letters and packages are physically delivered. In an age of instant digital communication, snail mail retains a personal touch, often reserved for heartfelt messages and important documents. It's a nostalgic reminder of a slower-paced world. Ever wonder what makes snail mail persist in the digital era? Join us as we explore its enduring charm.
Kathy Hawkins
Kathy Hawkins

"Snail mail" is a term used to refer to mail that is sent in the traditional way — through the postal service — rather than by email, fax, or other electronic means of communication. It is given this name because it can be very slow, as is a snail. Postal mail generally takes two or three days to go from origin to destination, if not many more, whereas email can be sent instantly.

With email, a message is sent directly from a user's mail program to another person's email address. Though many email messages simply contain words, they may also include photos or other digital files, such as songs, or links to websites. Since most people in Western society now use email on a regular basis, snail mail has gone out of fashion for simple letters, though it is still necessary for sending packages or legal documents that require signatures.

Packages and letters sent via a postal service are considered snail mail.
Packages and letters sent via a postal service are considered snail mail.

Though the postal service seems to have gone out of style for many uses today, it has a long history all over the world. The first postal systems in the world originated in Persia and China, and date back to possibly as early as 1700 BC. These early mail systems relied on messengers who rode horses from town to town, and most mail was delivered to government officials or royals.

Sales flyers are sent through snail mail.
Sales flyers are sent through snail mail.

Today, snail mail is sent through both public and private services, and it can be delivered internationally. In the United States, the US Postal Service is the most common method of delivery for a letter or package, though private carriers are frequently used by online retailers to ship their goods. Under the postal service method, individuals pay for the service by pasting stamps on their letter or package, which are equivalent to a specific amount of money. The price to send a piece of mail varies depending on the package's weight and whether or not it is traveling internationally.

Letters are one form of snail mail sent through the postal service.
Letters are one form of snail mail sent through the postal service.

Until the 1990s, it was very common to send personal letters using the postal service. Many people have stored collections of letters from friends and loved ones, and the personal correspondence of many writers, artists, and other celebrities have been compiled into books. With the advent of email communication, postal mail is used much less frequently for personal letters; however, it is still the only method for sending larger packages from one place to another. Although its uses have changed over the years, it is still a valuable system.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is snail mail and why is it called that?

It's sometimes better to send handwritten letters to friends through the snail mail.
It's sometimes better to send handwritten letters to friends through the snail mail.

Snail mail refers to the traditional method of sending letters and packages through the postal service. It is colloquially called "snail mail" due to its relatively slow speed compared to electronic mail (email), reminiscent of the slow pace of a snail. In an age where instant communication is prevalent, snail mail has become synonymous with any postal correspondence that takes days or weeks to reach its destination.

How does snail mail compare to email in terms of usage today?

While email has surpassed snail mail in terms of speed and convenience for everyday communication, snail mail remains relevant for specific purposes. According to the United States Postal Service, in 2020, 129.2 billion pieces of mail were processed, indicating that traditional mail is still in use for legal documents, direct marketing, and personal correspondence that benefits from a tangible touch. Email, however, is the go-to for quick, informal, and business communications.

What are the environmental impacts of using snail mail?

The environmental impact of snail mail is significant due to the resources used in paper production, transportation, and delivery. The production of paper requires water, energy, and trees, contributing to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation of physical mail also leads to carbon emissions. However, many postal services are adopting eco-friendly practices, such as using recycled materials and electric delivery vehicles, to mitigate these effects.

Is snail mail more secure than electronic mail?

Snail mail is often considered more secure than email due to the physical barriers to interception. While email can be vulnerable to hacking, phishing, and other cyber threats, traditional mail requires someone to physically tamper with it, which is a criminal offense. However, both forms of communication have their vulnerabilities, and it's essential to take precautions like using secure mailing methods and encryption for sensitive information.

What are some unique uses of snail mail that cannot be replicated by email?

Snail mail offers a personal touch that email cannot replicate, making it ideal for sending handwritten letters, postcards, and greeting cards that convey a sense of warmth and thoughtfulness. Additionally, it is used for official documents requiring original signatures, notarization, or physical presence, such as legal contracts, passports, and certificates. Snail mail also allows for the shipping of physical items, gifts, and samples that cannot be sent electronically.

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Discussion Comments


The US Postal Service has sure gone through a lot of changes in the last several years. I can't help but think that email and technology have played a big part in that. Some of the smaller post offices across our state have closed down. Our delivery service is also quite slow and some days we don't receive our snail mail until 7:00 pm.

The cost of a postage stamp keeps going up as well. I pay almost all of my bills online anymore and rarely send one in the mail. When you think about the number of other people who do the same thing, that is a huge chunk of money the postal service is losing out on every year.


I have always said that my grandpa would have loved email. He had 6 kids and would write letters to them on a regular basis. He also loved to share jokes and would clip something funny out of the newspaper to send along with the letter.

Many times he would include letters he had received from some of the other kids. This was one way he helped the siblings stay in touch and know what was going on because they were scattered about in several states.

Using something like email to keep everyone up to date and sharing a good joke with everyone would have been a lot of fun for him. There is something special about a hand written letter, but I think that email is more efficient.


I very seldom write letters anymore but will use snail mail to send cards to friends and family, such as a birthday or a sympathy card.

I know there are many online greeting card sites where you can send a card through email, but I still prefer to send a card through the postal service. I usually always include a short personalized note that is not nearly as long as a letter would be, but it lets them know I am thinking about them.

@anon276094 -- I agree that there is nothing quite like receiving a hand written letter in the mail. When I was a girl I had penpals that I would correspond with through snail mail. I have always enjoyed both sending and receiving letters in the mail and agree that an email does not have the same personal touch.

Snail mail, or normal post, as you call it, will never end. It is not the same to receive a physical letter as a virtual thing. I guess we humans shall not lose the ability to interact with friends as in the past. It gives some kind of human touch, Don't you think?


So basically it's letter mail? Cool.


i hate frying potatoes which in german is called potatoes laura while it takes long time to get fried and to be right. my preference is more for french fries(potatoes ratte) which cook faster.


Someone sent my item that i won on ebay snail mail and it's been weeks. It's the slowest process i have ever had to wait on. If someone is going to send you something using snail mail i would say good luck. I don't have three or four weeks to wait around for the item.


Today is the first time I heard about snail mail and this is the first website that gives me all I want to know about it. Thanks.


snail mail is slower than email but is more reliable than email.


Maybe you could talk about the difference between email and snail mail. That would be great!


i had a package sent to me using snail mail and i haven't received it yet. my question is, how long does it take for international deliveries? and how can i find out if it is still on the way or not?


Doesn't "snail mail" more specifically refer to non-expedited postal mail? That is, mail that is not first class or overnight or priority 2-day, etc. It's just slapping the minimum postage on a letter/package and dropping it off at the mailbox or post office.

Or so I thought...


You will be interested to learn that the new breed of postal services are web-to-postal SaaS solutions.


this information was very helpful to me. thanks a lot.

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    • Packages and letters sent via a postal service are considered snail mail.
      By: mch67
      Packages and letters sent via a postal service are considered snail mail.
    • Sales flyers are sent through snail mail.
      By: Johanna Mühlbauer
      Sales flyers are sent through snail mail.
    • Letters are one form of snail mail sent through the postal service.
      By: tab62
      Letters are one form of snail mail sent through the postal service.
    • It's sometimes better to send handwritten letters to friends through the snail mail.
      By: zakaz86
      It's sometimes better to send handwritten letters to friends through the snail mail.