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Occupation Profile for Couriers and Messengers

Pick up and carry messages, documents, packages, and other items between offices or departments within an establishment or to other business concerns, traveling by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile, or public conveyance.


Significant Points

  • Most jobs do not require more than a high school diploma.
  • Employment is expected to have little to no change, reflecting the more widespread use of electronic information-handling technologies such as e-mail and fax.


$21,540.00 Median Annual Wage 4,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
3.9 Average Unemployment Percentage 46.3 Percentage That Completed High School
134,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 41.8 Percentage That Had Some College
134,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 11.8 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Bank Courier
Bank Messenger
Bank Runner
Bicycle Messenger
Bill Distributor
Bill Hiker
Bill Peddler
Call Girl or Boy
Call Person
Call Worker Person
Circular Distributor
Copy Boy or Girl
Copy Chaser
Copy Messenger
Copy Worker
Court Messenger
Crew Caller
Deliverer, Merchandise
Deliverer, Outside
Delivery Clerk
Delivery Driver
Delivery Driver, Courier
Delivery of Shopping News
Delivery Person
Diplomatic Courier
Distribution Technician
Errand Boy or Girl
Errand Runner
Floorperson, Messenger
Freight Caller
Helper, Office Messenger
Laboratory Courier
Mail Carrier
Mail Courier
Mail Messenger
Mail Room Clerk
Mail Technician
Mailroom Courier
Mat Boy
Mat Worker
Message Clerk
Messenger, Copy
Office Boy or Girl
Office Helper
Office Messenger
Office Runner
Pharmacy Messenger
Pick Up Man
Pick Up Worker
Proof Carrier
Route Aide
Route Aide, Telegraph Office
Runner, Package Delivery Room Service
Sample Distributor
Security Messenger
Singing Messenger
Store Boy
Store Worker
Telegraph Messenger
Telephone Messenger
Tube Operator
Yard Caller

  • These occupations often involve using your knowledge and skills to help others. Examples include sheet metal workers, forest fire fighters, customer service representatives, pharmacy technicians, salespersons (retail), and tellers.
  • These occupations usually require a high school diploma and may require some vocational training or job-related course work. In some cases, an associate's or bachelor's degree could be needed.
  • Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience may be helpful in these occupations, but usually is not needed. For example, a teller might benefit from experience working directly with the public, but an inexperienced person could still learn to be a teller with little difficulty.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees.

Most couriers and messengers train on the job. Communication skills, a good driving record, and good sense of direction are helpful.

Education and training. Most courier and messenger jobs do not require workers to have more than a high school diploma. Couriers and messengers usually learn as they work, training with an experienced worker for a short time.

Other qualifications. Couriers and messengers need a good knowledge of the area in which they travel and a good sense of direction. Employers also prefer to hire people who are familiar with computers and other electronic office and business equipment. In addition, good oral and written communication skills are important because communicating with customers and dispatchers is an integral part of some courier and messenger jobs.

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.

Advancement. Couriers and messengers have limited advancement opportunities. However, one avenue for advancement is to learn dispatching or to take service requests by phone.

Some independent contractors become master contractors. Master contractors organize routes for multiple independent contractors through courier agencies.

Nature of 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. Couriers and messengers use trucks and vans 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 reroute them to pick up a new 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 people receiving the items.

Most couriers and messengers deliver items within a limited geographic area, such as a city or metropolitan area. Mail or overnight delivery service is the preferred delivery method for items that need to go longer distances. Some couriers and messengers carry items only for their employer, often 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. Messenger or courier services usually employ the bicycle messengers.

Work environment. 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 must cope with all weather conditions and the hazards of 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, 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.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)

Median annual earnings of couriers and messengers in May 2006 were $21,540. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,430 and $27,080. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $34,510. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of couriers and messengers in May 2006 were:

Medical and diagnostic laboratories $23,020
Depository credit intermediation 20,680
Couriers 20,650
Legal services 20,610
Local messengers and local delivery 19,560

Couriers employed by a courier service usually receive the same benefits as most other workers. If uniforms are required, employers generally provide them or offer an allowance to purchase them. Most independent contractors do not receive benefits, but usually have higher earnings.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Couriers and messengers
  • Job Outlook

    Employment of couriers and messengers should have little to no change through 2016, despite an increasing volume of parcels, business documents, and other materials to be delivered. The need to replace workers who leave the occupation will create some job openings.

    Employment change. Employment in this occupation is expected to remain unchanged during the 2006-16 decade. Employment will be unchanged because of the more widespread use of electronic information-handling technologies such as e-mail and fax. Electronic transmission of many documents, forms, and other materials is replacing items that had been hand delivered. Many legal and financial documents, which formerly were delivered by hand because they required a handwritten signature, can now be delivered electronically with online signatures. However, for items that are unable to be sent electronically—such as blueprints and other oversized materials, securities, and passports—couriers and messengers will still be needed. They still will also be required by medical and dental laboratories to pick up and deliver medical samples, specimens, and other materials.

    Job prospects. Despite the lack of job growth, some job opportunities will arise out of the need to replace couriers and messengers who leave the occupation. Demand for couriers and messengers may be particularly strong in certain activities, like transporting donor organs for hospitals.


    Couriers and messengers together held about 134,000 jobs in 2006. About 25 percent were employed in the couriers and messengers industry; 15 percent worked in health care; and 9 percent worked in legal services. About 19 percent were self-employed independent contractors; they provide their own vehicles and, to a certain extent, set their own schedules. However, they are like employees in some respects, because they often contract with one company.

    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    • Supplemental — Record information, such as items received and delivered and recipients' responses to messages.
    • Supplemental — Perform routine maintenance on delivery vehicles, such as monitoring fluid levels and replenishing fuel.
    • Supplemental — Check with home offices after completed deliveries, in order to confirm deliveries and collections and to receive instructions for other deliveries.
    • Supplemental — Call by telephone in order to deliver verbal messages.
    • Core — Walk, ride bicycles, drive vehicles, or use public conveyances in order to reach destinations to deliver messages or materials.
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.

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