Couriers and Messengers

There are close to 125,000 couriers and messengers working in the United States. Projected job growth for the next decade is expected to remain level for the next decade. Increasing internet use and the growing acceptance of digital signature mean fewer hand deliveries. Items which cannot be faxed or emailed, such as passports, architectural drawings, securities, and cash will continue to be carried by couriers and messengers.
Individuals with a high school diploma can work at most courier and messenger jobs. A driver’s license is required from the state in which you work if driving is among your duties.

Couriers and messengers carry and deliver packages for companies, government agencies, and individuals. For the most part, these deliveries are local. Most companies for which couriers and messengers work offer one-day delivery. One or two hour delivery gives a courier company a competitive edge, therefore some offer this type of service. At times, a courier might be charged with delivering a legal document, tickets, medical materials or specimens, passports, financial records, or other items that require special attention.


A courier or messenger might get delivery instructions from a supervisor in person. Alternatively, cell phone, two way radio, email, or fax might be the method of communication. Couriers and messengers must be reliable and honest. Sometimes they are entrusted with delivering money, or accepting payment for an item. Generally, hand-delivered packages require a signature to show the item was properly delivered, which is another responsibility for messengers and couriers.

Services are generally offered in three forms.

  • First, businesses such as banks, law firms, or laboratories may employ couriers or messengers to deliver and pick up items for the company.
  • Large companies may employ a messenger to deliver internally only.
  • Finally, some couriers and messengers work for delivery services who work with multiple businesses, organizations, or individuals. It is also possible, with experience and connections, for a courier or messenger to contract deliveries independently.

Couriers and messengers may deliver using vans or trucks, such as UPS or FedEx. Others may deliver by car or motorcycle. Where traffic is a problem, many couriers prefer to use a bicycle for faster delivery and the convenience of taking easier routes. Some couriers and messengers prefer to make delivery by foot.
Couriers and messengers are able to work with more independence than many other jobs. Because these workers are constantly in motion, supervisors are rarely present. Those who deliver by motorcycle or bicycle will be required to make deliveries even in bad weather. Those who deliver using vehicles may be responsible for carrying heavy boxes. Road construction, accidents, and traffic backup can make it difficult to stay on schedule. When the package contains a timely document, such as paperwork for a real estate closing, or a fragile item, such as an organ being delivered for transplant, couriers and messengers must find a way to make the delivery on time at all costs. Many delivery companies require couriers and messengers to use their own car or van. Those who deliver by motorcycle or bicycle also must provide the means of transportation.
Making a greater number of deliveries may be difficult and result in stress, however, many couriers and messengers are willing to do so because income will be greater. Couriers and messengers must not sacrifice road safety for others as well as for themselves, regardless of time constraints. More packages are delivered by messengers or couriers during the work week when businesses are open. However, many delivery service companies offer customers evening or weekend deliveries.
Knowing the locale is important to a courier’s or messenger’s success. For example, workers should be aware of short cuts, heavily travelled roads, one way streets, proximity of parking, and locations of stop signs and traffic lights. Couriers must also have an innate sense of direction. Courier service businesses and companies who hire in-house couriers will train new hires on-the-job by partnering them with an experienced employee. Couriers who will carry toxic materials, medical materials, or potentially hazardous materials will likely be required to take a class in safety.
There are limited opportunities to advance in this line of work, but remaining with a particular company over time will earn an experienced worker more pay and better assignments. The median hourly pay is approximately $12-13 dollars an hour. Those at the low end or new to the business may earn less than $9 per hour, while those at the high end could make nearly $20 per hour. Some couriers and messengers belong to a union and enjoy better benefits as well as a greater sense of job security.