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Different Types of Rural Carriers

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No other job in the United States Postal Service is as popular as that of a mail carrier. Popularly known as the postman or the mailman, they are the most visible representatives of the USPS. Most of them have become regular faces in their routes that people expect them and know them by name.

If you’re applying for a postal job, you might have come across employment opportunities for different types of rural carrier positions in the USPS. There are regular rural carriers, part-time flexible rural carriers, substitute rural carriers, associate rural carriers, rural carrier reliefs, auxiliary rural carriers, and temporary relief carriers. Essentially, they perform the same functions of delivering mail to their intended recipients in places that are considered rural areas in the United States. They are also expected to have the same skills (e.g. skilled driving) as the regular rural carriers.

Before we go into the differences, a little backgrounder: When Rural Free Delivery was not introduced in the United States yet in 1897 those living in the rural areas had to make the effort to go to the city to get their mail. But from 1897 onwards, they did not anymore have to make that trip as Rural Free Delivery slowly got integrated into the mail delivery system.

Among all rural carriers, the regular rural carriers are considered full-time employees. As such, they work on an established rural route on the basis of a triweekly, five, five-and-a-half, or six days in a week. They enjoy all the benefits that the USPS gives to its career employees, including health and life insurance, retirement plans, paid leaves, and others.

Part-time flexible rural carriers are those that are appointed to serve on regular and auxiliary routes as directed by management. Substitute rural carriers and rural carrier associates serve full-time on a vacant route or in the absence of a regular carrier. Rural carrier associates (RCA), for example, are expected to work every other Saturday or when the regular carrier is absent from work. The latter usually happens when the regular goes on vacation or calls in sick. RCAs must be flexible, too, as they might be called to serve on short notice in case the regular carrier is unable to perform his or her functions. Since substitutes and associates are not career-track positions, there are no benefits.

If you are interested to earn extra money to supplement your income, however, you can look for opportunities to become a regular carrier associate for the USPS. You will need to apply through the USPS website (, complete an online assessment form, and pass a postal battery exam to be considered for a rural carrier associate position.


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