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What does a courier do?
A courier is sometimes also known as a delivery van driver, van driver, courier driver or multi-drop driver. They collect items from depots and deliver them to various customers, including businesses, the public and others.
Couriers can transport many different things, including packages, other goods and even messages. They can use various modes of transport to do their job, e.g. vehicles, trains, aeroplanes, bicycles, cargo bikes, mopeds, motorbikes, etc. Some may specialise in local deliveries; others may travel nationally or internationally. Therefore, what a courier does will depend on their type of role, where they work and the goods they handle and deliver.
A courier’s main aim is to ensure the items they collect from depots are delivered safely, efficiently, quickly and securely to customers. Couriers can also handle extremely important packages and legal/financial documents. Some may even transport life-saving items, e.g. urgent medical supplies, blood and organs.
Couriers will spend most of their working day travelling to make their deliveries. Therefore, they will be mostly in/on their mode of transport, e.g. a van. They may also spend some time working in the depot or an office, and some walking is usually required. They will carry out many tasks, including collecting items from depots, loading goods, planning routes, delivering door-to-door and returning items. The role may also require ad hoc administrative work, such as completing records and reports.
Couriers mainly work alone. However, they may work with other colleagues (including agency staff) at depots. They will also liaise with other external stakeholders, including clients and customers. They can work for employers of all sizes, from small transport businesses to large logistics companies. Some may also choose to be self-employed or freelance.
A courier’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for (employed or themselves), and where and what they deliver. Some examples of their duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Picking up items from a warehouse, pick-up point or depot.
- Planning routes to ensure prompt, safe and efficient deliveries.
- Receiving and adhering to delivery schedules.
- Loading items onto delivery vehicles in the correct order matching the delivery route.
- Verifying delivery information, e.g. names, addresses and telephone numbers.
- Travelling between destinations.
- Delivering items correctly to their final destination.
- Contacting customers en route if there are any issues or queries.
- Updating tracking systems with an estimated time and location.
- Proving delivery has been made, e.g. getting customers’ signatures and taking photographs.
- Giving invoices to customers and collecting payments (where applicable).
- Returning any undelivered items.
- Recording mileage and fuel purchases.
- Updating delivery records.
- Maintaining and checking vehicles.
A courier can expect to work 20–42 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role. It will also depend on where they deliver to and how many deliveries they make.
Some courier jobs involve long shifts, i.e. up to 12 hours. Most of this time will require couriers to travel and work away from home. They may have to walk fair distances, and the role is likely to include some heavy lifting, so they must also have a certain fitness level.
Being a courier is not a 9–5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours. There is usually a requirement to work different shifts, including evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. There may be some roles that offer set days and hours. However, there may be a requirement for overtime in busy periods.
What to expect
There are many positive aspects to being a courier, especially if an individual likes to be out and about and enjoys being active in their job. Delivering essential items to people, some of which can be life-saving, can be extremely rewarding. Couriers can go home at the end of the working day knowing their job makes a difference to people and businesses.
Being a self-employed courier and having an opportunity to be your own boss can be attractive, as it can give individuals the independence to take charge of their working day and overall career progression. Even employed couriers have a sense of freedom, as they will work autonomously in their role and will usually be able to manage their own schedules.
There is no shortage of courier roles; jobs are available nationally and internationally, and individuals can choose to be employed, self-employed or freelance. Some jobs offer flexible hours so individuals can fit their work around their own personal lives. As courier roles do not require formal qualifications, it can be a great career choice for less academic individuals.
Boredom will never be a problem for couriers, as their work is very varied and fast-paced, and they will interact with many people during their working day. The role enables them to travel around their region and not be stuck behind a desk. There may also be opportunities to travel further afield and explore some new areas.
Even though there are positives to being a courier, there are challenges and cons, for example:
- Mental demands – couriers can get extremely busy during their working day. They will have to safely deliver numerous items promptly, which can be stressful, especially if stuck in traffic or they cannot make a delivery. Some couriers have a set number of packages they need to deliver, so the ability to meet targets is essential.
- Physical demands – being a courier is often physically demanding. Individuals can spend all day travelling and walking and may carry out regular manual handling as part of the role. If delivering by bicycle, individuals will also need to be physically fit.
- Difficult working conditions – couriers can face challenging working conditions, depending on their mode of transport. Travelling by bicycle, motorbike, moped or scooter can be challenging in poor weather conditions, e.g. extreme heat and cold, snow, ice and rain. Being stuck in heavy traffic in a vehicle can also be uncomfortable when it is hot and cold. There can also be limited access to welfare facilities, especially when delivering to more rural areas.
- Self-employment expenses – if a courier decides to be self-employed or freelance, they will have various costs that can quickly add up. They will first need a suitable insured well-maintained vehicle. They will also have expenses relating to vehicle maintenance, fuel, advertising, business insurance, tax, National Insurance, equipment (mobile phone/computer/satnav/manual handling), etc.
- Health and safety risks – couriers can face many hazards, e.g. driving, lone working, work-related violence, manual handling, falling objects, hazardous substances, slips, trips and falls and work-related stress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has further information on health and safety when driving or riding for work.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective couriers must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Travelling and delivering items all day can be challenging and stressful. It is physically and mentally demanding, requires work in difficult conditions, and the hours may be lengthy and unsociable. However, there are many positives too, and those who become a courier really enjoy their work and the flexibility the role gives them.
When considering whether to be a courier and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a courier
Some of the personal qualities a courier requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Sensitivity and understanding.
- Trustworthy, cooperative and reliable.
- Knowledge of transport methods, costs and benefits.
- Knowledge of local roads and geographical locations.
- Knowledge of related legislation and standards, e.g. driving and the Highway Code.
- Knowledge of maths and the English language.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
- Navigational skills.
- Organisational skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Driving skills.
- Time management skills.
- Communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- Having a good level of physical fitness.
- Having a good work ethic.
- The ability to work to tight deadlines.
- The ability to work both with others and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. computers and hand-held devices, for basic tasks, such as recording deliveries.
- The ability to work long and often unsociable hours.
Individuals do not require any specific qualifications to become a courier. However, intermediate apprenticeships can help them enter the profession, e.g. express delivery operative or urban driver. They should have some GCSEs, usually English and Maths or equivalent, for an intermediate apprenticeship. It usually takes a minimum of 12 months to complete. Opportunities are on the Government’s Apprenticeships website.
There is also a City & Guilds Driving Goods Vehicles course, which is part of the apprenticeship framework. However, some colleges and private training companies may offer a standalone training course.
On the job training and volunteering
In addition to apprenticeships, individuals can apply directly to employers to work as a courier and learn on the job. Some employers may also provide full training and support for those without training or experience. Whilst there is not usually a requirement for specific qualifications, employers may stipulate that individuals possess basic maths and English skills. They may also require knowledge of the local area.
There is no substitute for practical experience. Volunteering as a driver can also help individuals understand what is involved in being a courier and help them build their knowledge and skills. Charities, community transport schemes and hospices may provide practical experience in driving, collecting and delivering, e.g., an individual could volunteer as a charity collection driver. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Any work experience relevant to driving, collecting and delivering can be beneficial and help an individual work towards becoming a courier, e.g. working in storage or a warehouse. Having experience in working to tight deadlines can also count.
Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help couriers enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide training courses.
Some examples of relevant courses that may be useful for couriers include:
- Additional driver training, e.g. advanced driving course.
- Bikeability cycle training (for bike couriers).
- Basic vehicle/bike maintenance.
- Driver and road safety awareness.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Additional health and safety training, e.g. COSHH, work-related violence, lone working, slips, trips and falls, stress, and manual handling.
- First aid.
- Time management.
- Customer service skills.
- Business management (if self-employed).
- IT skills.
Professional bodies, not-for-profit organisations and associations, such as the Institute of Couriers, Alliance of British Drivers and the National Courier & Despatch Association (for companies), can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become couriers, giving them the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the type of courier work an individual wants. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training courses required for courier roles. Jobs are on websites, such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and other job sites. If an individual wants to be self-employed but wants support and a regular workload, companies such as Amazon, City Sprint, Evri and Yodel offer opportunities.
If couriers have more relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge), it will open up more opportunities. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement and keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Some courier roles may require individuals to undergo a criminal record check, as they may handle sensitive, expensive and critical items. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Driving/other modes of transport
Couriers that drive vehicles, including motorbikes and mopeds, will be expected to have:
- A full driving licence that is correct for the type of vehicle/transport.
- Their own vehicle/motorbike/moped (if self-employed).
- Previous driving experience in the countries delivering in.
- A good driving record (some companies may stipulate a clean driving licence, and some may allow for a maximum of six points).
- No previous disqualifications.
Employers may also stipulate experience in using other modes of transport, e.g. bicycles, e-bikes and cargo bikes. Couriers may have to use their own bikes.
There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed, for example:
- Having the correct insurances, i.e. public liability and home/car business. If employing anyone, employer’s liability insurance will be required.
- Registering with HMRC.
- Filing tax returns.
- Registering with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed can be found on GOV.UK.
Some courier roles are subject to regular drug and alcohol testing, which individuals must pass to start/continue working for the company.
Some companies may require their couriers (employed and self-employed) to wear a uniform.
Where do couriers work?
Couriers mainly work for agencies and private companies, e.g. transport, courier services, freight and logistics. However, there are also numerous self-employed or freelance opportunities.
They will predominately work in/on their mode of transport and travel to delivery depots to collect the items and then to various delivery destinations to drop them off. They could work in urban, suburban or rural areas and even overseas. Customers may include businesses, the public and others. Therefore, couriers will visit many different types of places.
How much do couriers earn?
A courier’s salary will depend on their experience, location (i.e. London supplement), shift times, role and whether they choose to be self-employed, for example (these are only a guide):
- Entry level – £16,000+ a year.
- Experienced – £25,000+ a year.
- Specialist – £30,000+ a year.
According to Glassdoor, the average UK salary for couriers in July 2022 was £24,000 per year.
Self-employed couriers will need to factor in various expenses when considering the salary, e.g. tax, National Insurance, vehicle, MOT/tax/insurance, fuel, other insurances (business/liability), equipment, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of courier roles to specialise in
There are various opportunities for couriers to specialise.
They may decide to specialise in a mode of transport, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Car courier – uses their own or a company car for deliveries.
- Van courier – uses their own or a company van for deliveries.
- Motorbike courier – uses their own or a company motorbike for deliveries.
- Moped courier – uses their own or a company moped for deliveries.
- Bicycle/e-bike courier – uses their own or a company bicycle/e-bike for deliveries.
- Cargo bike courier – uses a specialist transport bike for deliveries.
- E-scooter – uses their own or a company e-scooter for deliveries.
In addition to the above, couriers can also specialise in delivering specific items, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Pharmaceutical courier – delivers medical supplies to the pharmaceutical sector, sometimes in temperature-controlled transport.
- Food courier – collects food and drinks from various premises and delivers them to customers.
- Medical courier – delivers urgent and emergency medical supplies, medications, and samples to various healthcare settings, e.g. hospitals, laboratories and clinics. It can include specialising in delivering to specific premises, such as laboratory and hospital courier.
- Temperature-controlled courier – delivers items that are temperature sensitive that require ambient, chilled or frozen conditions. It can include food, pharmaceuticals and laboratory samples.
- Legal courier – delivers important legal documents and are typically used by solicitors, barristers, courts and chartered accountants.
- Signatories/witness courier – collects a signature or multiple signatures and delivers the final documents to a deadline.
- Light courier – delivers small parcels and packages only, so it is a good option for those who would find heavy lifting difficult.
- Multi-drop courier – delivers items to multiple locations for clients.
- European courier – makes deliveries in Europe and usually requires European driving experience.
- Long-distance courier – delivers across the UK. It can mean more unsocial hours and nights away from home.
- Home courier – delivers short distances across their neighbourhood, which can involve more walking.
Some couriers can also choose to work days, nights or weekends. There are plenty of roles from which a courier can choose.
All different courier roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. However, all couriers will need to be able to drive/ride their chosen mode of transport, have the correct licence/experience, plan routes, work to tight deadlines, deliver items efficiently, securely and safely, and be honest and trustworthy.
Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for (if employed) and the type of work a courier wants. Further training will usually be necessary for specialised roles.
If couriers do not carry out their role correctly, it can cause issues for clients and customers. If items are not delivered to the correct recipient or are lost, it can compromise people’s information and may result in stolen items.
Significant delays may seriously affect businesses and individuals, and if items are critical and urgent, e.g. medical supplies, it can cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role, couriers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. only carry out the tasks in which they are trained and competent.
Standards, codes, technology, techniques and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, couriers must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes in legislation to remain legally compliant and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and safely. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives couriers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them to provide the best possible service and progress in their career.
Joining a professional body, not-for-profit organisation and association can help prospective and current couriers enhance their skills and overall career. The Institute of Couriers, Alliance of British Drivers and the National Courier & Despatch Association (for companies) offer different levels of membership, CPD and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for couriers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a delivery coordinator who manages a team of couriers or work more on the customer service and sales side. They can also decide to become a specialist courier, such as a medical or legal courier. Alternatively, they may choose to become self-employed and start their own business or work for a larger company.
Knowledge, skills, and experience that come with being a courier can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could use their driving skills for other roles or enrol on a training course to get a large goods vehicle (LGV) licence, which can open up opportunities in freight and logistics. They could also deliver money and high-value items with specialist training, e.g. Security Industry Association (SIA) licence and defensive driving.