Does USPS Scan/X-Ray Packages?

The USPS delivers millions of packages each and every year. Some travel thousands of miles to reach their destination. Along the way to their destination, does the USPS scan or x-ray packages?

Yes – packages are randomly selected to be scanned and x-rayed for security reasons. If your package is traveling to or through a city, it’s likely it will be scanned. To avoid getting in trouble, make sure that the item you want to mail doesn’t violate the USPS rules.

The USPS scans packages to protect their workers and people receiving packages. But their rules regarding when and why they search a package can be confusing! In this article, I’ll cover how and why a package may be scanned by the USPS.

Can The USPS See What’s In Your Package?  

In most circumstances, the USPS will not see what is in your package. There are laws in place that protect citizens from the USPS poking around in their mail.

The USPS does not want to infringe upon your privacy, and usually has little reason to.

However, under certain circumstances, a Postal Inspector may have the legal authority to look inside your mail.

But what gives them the authority to do so? And how does the law protect your privacy?

Can The USPS Look Through Your Packages?

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, people are protected from illegal search and seizures of their persons and their property, including packages you ship in the mail.

You have a right to this privacy. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind.

First, not all mail is protected by the fourth amendment. First class letters and parcels cannot be searched without a warrant.

However, all other classes of mail can be searched because they are not considered “private correspondence” by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Second, mail is randomly scanned and x-rayed by inspectors for security reasons.

This helps investigators catch hazardous and illegal items to prevent them from being transported.

Packages are more likely to be scanned if they are entering a highly populated area, like a city.

Finally, these x-rays can be used as probable cause to open your package.

If a Postal Inspector has suspicions of the contents of your package, they can obtain a search warrant from a judge to open your mail.

How Long Does It Take For USPS to Scan Packages? 

The USPS regularly scans packages, and will often scan a package multiple times on route to its destination.

This allows users to track their packages nearly in real-time.

On average, you can expect your package to be scanned within twenty-four hours.

If you are tracking your package, it may take a few days before you can see its movement.

Does the USPS Scan Packages For Drugs?

As stated earlier, the USPS randomly scans packages for security reasons.

This includes scanning packages to intercept illegal drug trafficking.

Under current law, it is illegal to transport drugs via the mail. Transporting illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine is a felony.

Postal Inspectors are highly trained to spot packages with illegal items in them. Don’t do it – you’re going to get caught!

But here’s something most people don’t know: it’s also illegal to transport legal drugs!

You need a license to mail prescription drugs. It is a felony to do so without it.

Most medical providers have this license, which is why you can get prescriptions in the mail but can’t mail them to a friend!

While the USPS can’t catch everything, they’re pretty good at what they do!

According to an internal audit, the USPS intercepted over 60,000 pieces of mail containing more than 140,000 pounds of illicit drugs over 2018 and 2019.

The USPS is able to intercept so many packages thanks to random scans and their highly trained staff.

Inspectors are skilled at identifying suspicious packages, and there are a few characteristics they are looking for.

What Makes a Package Suspicious to the USPS?

There are a number of things that could raise red flags for the USPS. Here’s a list of suspicious mail characteristics:

  • Items addressed to someone who no longer lives or works there.
  • Items that have no return address.
  • Items that say “personal,” “confidential,” or “do not x-ray”.
  • Items that are excessively sealed.
  • Items that are leaking an unknown substance.

Any of these may alert a Postal Inspector to investigate further. For a broader explanation of what constitutes suspicious mail, and what to do if you receive it, check out this helpful guide from the USPS website.


The USPS regularly searches packages to prevent illegal trafficking and to ensure the safety of others.

While it is rare, a Postal Inspector may investigate your package if it raises suspicions, and they have the proper warrant.

You are protected under the United States Constitution from illegal search and seizures, so Inspectors need to provide probable cause and a warrant before having the legal authority to open your package.