Expat Tip: How to Choose your Post Box

It just occurred to me that I should tell you more about choosing the right post box, which is one of the things you will (or, if not, should) have on your moving-in to-do list.

The reason this occurred to me now was because – what else – I was having another one of those South African “running-errands-and-not-getting-anything-checked-off-my-to-do-list” days. And it had to do with the post office.

Post boxes where we get our mail. Oh, and you could sit on that inviting bench and watch passers-by!

For weeks leading up to today I had been toting around a little blue slip from the postal service, telling me that a package that hadn’t fit into our post box was waiting at the post office to be picked up. Yep, that would be just around the right time for a Christmas present we had been waiting for, about a month late, so nothing out of the ordinary there. But which post office? This is where you realize you’re living in Africa – the slip doesn’t actually mention the post office. There is a stamp on it from the post office, but it’s illegible.

Past experience told me it would be at the Dainfern post office, the one on Cedar Road in that crappy little shopping center that is mainly noticeable for its shuttered-up store fronts and broken window panes telling of past break-ins. Not my favorite place to be. Plus it’s on “that other side” where I don’t go often. The place I DO go often is where my actual post box is located, right at the entrance of our neighborhood, and, wouldn’t you know it, there is even an actual post office there. However, for some reason our mail is held at the OTHER post office, NOT the one right next to the post boxes as you might think. Every day as I was getting groceries or my mail, I would eye our little post office longingly, wishing that little blue slip was theirs. But I didn’t go in. I had been there too many times before and was always sent to “the other side.”

Today I had finally accumulated enough errands for “the other side” to make a post office visit worthwhile. I was already in a less than stellar mood when I arrived there, because earlier the pharmacy hadn’t had in stock what I needed, the bank machine had been out of order (I guess I should count myself fortunate it didn’t also swallow my card as has happened before), and the sheet music I had ordered, oh, only six weeks ago, was still not in stock (“it is coming from overseas, mam” – as if that explains it all). Also, this morning Jabulani couldn’t find his diving manual, after having lost his blazer yesterday and his locker key and gate access card the day before that. Somehow, when boys turn thirteen, their brain goes missing. I wonder where it goes. Wait, I don’t think I want to imagine exactly where it goes. Anyway, you can perhaps understand why my typically abundant patience was wearing a bit thin around the edges.

So do you know what the lady at the post office told me when I gave her the little blue slip? Not right away though, only after rummaging in the back for ages? “So sorry, we don’t use these slips any longer, this must be from the other post office, the one on the other side.” What? This IS “the other side!” I wanted to yell at her. Apparently, what happened is that they changed the postal codes, unbeknownst to anyone and most certainly not communicated in any way, so that now my little oh so convenient post office on OUR side actually IS the one holding our mail, which is how it should have been all along. I also found out that I’ve been using the wrong postal code for ages. Apparently there is one for our street address and a different one for our post box, and I had been using neither one of those. But I think I’ll have to ask at least two more people before I settle on any one of them.

They DID have my package at our little post office, which by no means I could be sure of, so all was well in the end. I jut couldn’t believe I had been passing within mere feet from my package for weeks!

So, for the promised tip on mailboxes:

  • Select one at a place that is safe, and a place you go to every day. If it’s too far out of your way, you end up never checking it, which is actually just as well because not much mail seems to arrive here in the first place.
  • Don’t assume the post office next to your post box is the one associated with it. Make sure you find out which post code is associated with both your street address and your post box, it might make the mail get there faster (though faster is a relative term, plus I sometimes doubt the postal codes are even used here in South Africa, because every postal employee you ask about your post code tells you a different answer).
  • Apply for it early and renew it on time when you get the notice. You don’t want to lose a convenient post box once you have it.
  • Don’t actually change your official address to your South African post box. It’s fine for local mail (and I suppose Christmas cards, if you’re okay with them getting here around February) but if possible keep an overseas address for all your “home” mail, especially financial statements and such. You don’t want to get that call from your bank asking you if it’s okay to transfer $10,000 to Nigeria.
For more information on postal matters, check out:


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