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Couriers and Messengers

Significant Points
  • 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.

    Working Conditions

    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.

    Job Outlook

    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 materials.


    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.

    Related Occupations

    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.

      • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition

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