According to Cambridge dictionary, in US, a mailbox is a box outside a person's house where letters are put, but in UK, it's a box in the street or other public place in which you can put letters to be collected and sent.

The dictionary states that postbox has the same meaning as the second meaning of mailbox (a public box) without mentioning US or UK usages. I could also find the word letterbox in the dictionary which seems to be used mostly in UK meaning both a mail slot and a postbox. According to the dictionary, mail slot is used in US to mean a rectangular hole in the door or in a wall near the entrance of a house or other building, through which letters, etc. are delivered. As a non-native speaker of English, I have these questions.

1. Can I use postbox safely to mean a public box for letters in UK, US and Australia?

2. What word(s) can be used in UK to mean the private box for letter outside your house?

3. Is there any word/words that you can use to mean the private box for letter outside your house without ambiguity in UK, US and Australia?

4. Can I also use mail slot in UK to mean letterbox?

5. Do you have any other suggestions?

  • 1
    I always thought the box on the corner in Britain was a "pillar box".
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 21, 2017 at 12:26
  • @HotLicks - Maybe. I think I recognise it, but it's not a term I've used much. It probably mainly applies to the big cylinder types (resembling, as they do, a pillar) and not to the smaller cuboid ones on a pole or recessed into a wall
    – AndyT
    Sep 22, 2017 at 10:39
  • @AndyT - The term was fairly common in fiction writing about 50 years ago. (I've always pictured it as being the type on a pole.)
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 22, 2017 at 12:11

3 Answers 3


I can only answer from a British viewpoint, but I think you are falling into the common trap of thinking "every country has the same things, they just use different words", which has never been true.

Post box or postbox is the common term for the boxes used by the Post Office to receive letters for delivery. Many of them are freestanding and circular, and are called pillarboxes, which is sometimes used by metonymy to refer to all Post Office boxes.

A box outside your house to receive letters is extremely rare in Britain; where they exist, they might be called mailboxes by analogy with America. Most houses have a slot in the front door for letters, sometimes with a plywood box or wire cage inside to catch the letters before they fall on the mat. This (whether or not it includes a box) is called a letterbox. Mail slot would be understood to refer to the slot. but is very American.


Some of your questions answered from an American point of view:

  1. Can I use postbox safely to mean a public box for letters in the US?

We don't generally use the term postbox, but I'd be surprised if Americans didn't understand what you meant. I suppose it's possible they might think you meant post office box (usually called a P.O. box), which is a box for incoming mail that you can rent, and that is located inside a post office.

  1. Is there any word/words that you can use to mean the private box for letters outside your house without ambiguity in UK, US and Australia?

We call those mailboxes, too. You can say your mailbox or his mailbox if you want to make it clear that it was associated with a house.


Postbox (also letter box) is the more common BrE term for a public box; in AmE mailbox is used both for receiving and sending mail (M-W):

  • A post box (British English; also written postbox), also known as a collection box, mailbox, letter box or drop box (American English) is a physical box into which members of the public can deposit outgoing mail intended for collection by the agents of a country's postal service. The term post box can also refer to a private letter box for incoming mail.


  • 3
    The kind of mailboxes outside houses that I've seen in American films are not commonplace in the UK. The (BrE) postman normally puts letters and small packages through the slot in the front door, generally called a letterbox even if it doesn't actually have a box behind. Sep 21, 2017 at 8:01
  • 1
    @Kate: In the U.S., city neighborhoods with houses very close together usually have letter slots, and the postman delivers letters to them by walking from one house to another. Modern suburban developments with houses set far back from the street usually have mailboxes by the street, and the postman delivers letters to them without ever getting out of his vehicle. I suppose American films are very often set in the suburbs. Sep 21, 2017 at 12:29
  • 2
    I didn't say I thought they were universal in the US! The questioner asked what we call them in the UK; the answer is, we don't have them. Sep 22, 2017 at 8:23

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