Most jobs as couriers and messengers do not require more than
a high school diploma.
Employment is expected to decline, reflecting the more widespread
use of electronic information-handling technologies such as
e-mail and fax.
Nature of the Work
Couriers and messengers move and distribute information,
documents, and small packages for businesses, institutions,
and government agencies. They pick up and deliver letters,
important business documents, or packages that need to be
sent or received quickly within a local area. Trucks and vans
are used for larger deliveries, such as legal caseloads and
conference materials. By sending an item by courier or messenger,
the sender ensures that it reaches its destination the same
day or even within the hour. Couriers and messengers also
deliver items that the sender is unwilling to entrust to other
means of delivery, such as important legal or financial documents,
passports, airline tickets, or medical samples to be tested.
Couriers and messengers receive their instructions either
in person—by reporting to their office—or by telephone, two-way
radio, or wireless data service. Then they pick up the item
and carry it to its destination. After each pickup or delivery,
they check in with their dispatcher to receive instructions.
Sometimes the dispatcher will contact them while they are
between stops, and they may be routed to go past a stop that
recently called in a delivery. Consequently, most couriers
and messengers spend much of their time outdoors or in their
vehicle. They usually maintain records of deliveries and often
obtain signatures from the persons receiving the items.
Most couriers and messengers deliver items within a limited
geographic area, such as a city or metropolitan area. Items
that need to go longer distances usually are sent by mail
or by an overnight delivery service. Some couriers and messengers
carry items only for their employer, which typically might
be a law firm, bank, medical laboratory, or financial institution.
Others may act as part of an organization’s internal mail
system and carry items mainly within the organization’s buildings
or entirely within one building. Many couriers and messengers
work for messenger or courier services; for a fee, they pick
up items from anyone and deliver them to specified destinations
within a local area. Most are paid on a commission basis.
Couriers and messengers reach their destination by several
methods. Many drive vans or cars or ride motorcycles. A few
travel by foot, especially in urban areas or when making deliveries
nearby. In congested urban areas, messengers often use bicycles
to make deliveries. Bicycle messengers usually are employed
by messenger or courier services. Although e-mail and fax
machines can deliver information faster than couriers and
messengers can, and although a great deal of information is
available over the Internet, an electronic copy cannot substitute
for the original document in many types of business transactions.
Couriers and messengers spend most of their time alone, making
deliveries, and usually are not closely supervised. Those
who deliver by bicycle must be physically fit and are exposed
to all weather conditions, as well as to the many hazards
associated with heavy traffic. Car, van, and truck couriers
must sometimes carry heavy loads, either manually or with
the aid of a hand truck. They also have to deal with difficult
parking situations, as well as traffic jams and road construction.
The pressure of making as many deliveries as possible to increase
one’s earnings can be stressful and may lead to unsafe driving
or bicycling practices. The typical workweek is Monday through
Friday; however, evening and weekend hours are common.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most couriers and messengers are at the entry level and do
not require more than a high school diploma. Employers, however,
prefer to hire those familiar with computers and other electronic
office and business equipment. Because communication with
other people is an integral part of some courier and messenger
jobs, good oral and written communication skills are essential.
Couriers and messengers usually learn on the job, training
with an experienced worker for a short time. Those who work
as independent contractors for a messenger or delivery service
may be required to have a valid driver’s license, a registered
and inspected vehicle, a good driving record, and insurance
coverage. Many couriers and messengers who are employees,
rather than independent contractors, also are required to
provide and maintain their own vehicle. Although some companies
have spare bicycles or mopeds that their riders may rent for
a short period, almost all two-wheeled couriers own their
own bicycle, moped, or motorcycle. A good knowledge of the
geographic area in which they travel and a good sense of direction
also are important.
Couriers and messengers, especially those who work for messenger
or courier services, have limited advancement opportunities;
a few move into the office to learn dispatching or to take
service requests by phone.
Couriers and messengers together held about 147,000 jobs
in 2004. Approximately 23 percent were employed in the couriers
and messengers industry. About 13 percent worked in healthcare,
and around 8 percent worked in the legal services industry.
Another 8 percent were employed in finance and insurance firms.
Technically, many messengers are self-employed independent
contractors, because they provide their own vehicles and,
to a certain extent, set their own schedules. In many respects,
however, they are like employees, because they usually work
for one company.
Employment of couriers and messengers is expected to decline
through 2014, despite an increasing volume of parcels, business
documents, promotional materials, and other written information
that must be handled and delivered as the economy expands.
However, some jobs will arise out of the need to replace couriers
and messengers who leave the occupation.
Employment of couriers and messengers will continue to be
adversely affected by the more widespread use of electronic
information-handling technologies such as e-mail and fax.
Many documents, forms, and other materials that people used
to have delivered by hand are now downloaded from the Internet.
Many legal and financial documents, which used to be delivered
by hand because they required a handwritten signature, now
can be delivered electronically with online signatures. However,
couriers and messengers still will be needed to transport
materials that cannot be sent electronically—such as blueprints
and other oversized materials, securities, and passports.
Also, they still will be required by medical and dental laboratories
to pick up and deliver medical samples, specimens, and other
Median annual earnings of couriers and messengers in May
2004 were $20,190. The middle 50 percent earned between $16,390
and $24,720. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,020,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $30,510.
These workers usually receive the same benefits as most other
workers. If uniforms are required, employers generally provide
them or offer an allowance to purchase them.
Messengers and couriers deliver letters, parcels, and other
items. They also keep accurate records of their work. Others
who do similar work are Postal Service workers; truck drivers
and driver/sales workers; shipping, receiving, and traffic
clerks; and cargo and freight agents.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about job opportunities may be obtained from
local employers and local offices of the State employment
service. Persons interested in courier and messenger jobs
also may contact messenger and courier services, mail-order
firms, banks, printing and publishing firms, utility companies,
retail stores, or other large companies.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07