The Post Office That’s Underwater

Over the past few years, the U.S. Postal Service has struggled to make ends meet — and unfortunately, that’s likely to get worse. Per NPR affiliate WBUR, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the USPS particularly hard; “the agency is anticipating a loss of $13 billion in revenue this fiscal year due to the crisis” and anticipates more than $50 billion in total lost revenue over the next decade. That’s not a recipe for success. Most other businesses in that situation would have to consider ceasing operations — you can’t run a business when you’re that far underwater.

But if the small archipelago nation of Vanuatu is any proof, maybe being underwater can help the post office — if it takes the word “underwater” literally.

Located in the South Pacific about 1,100 miles (1,750 km) east of northern Australia, Vanuatu is rather easy to miss. (Here’s a map; the red flag shows where Vanuatu is.) But like most other inhabited places on the Earth, if you want to send a letter to or from Vanuatu, you can — you just need a stamp and to take your note to the post office. And that may also give you a chance to break out the diving gear, too — if you go to the post office seen below.

That is the Vanuatu Post’s underwater post office, and yes, it really is underwater, and yes, it’s a real post office. 

The “Underwater Post,” as it’s officially called, opened in May of 2003. Situated at the resort location of Hideaway Island, the post office is mostly a tourist attraction. Per the Vanuatu Post’s website, “the Post Office sits in around three meters of water and both divers and snorkellers are able to post special ‘waterproof postcards'” which are “canceled/embossed by the postal staff in the Underwater Post Office. Instead of being stamped with ink to show that the card has been sent, the Post office has developed a new embossed cancellation device.” And if you’re not confident in your snorkeling ability, don’t worry; “if snorkellers cannot duck-dive down that far, Hideaway Island staff will be on the spot to help out,” the website notes. 

The hours of operation vary daily — unlike most postal services, bad weather can most definitely shut down the Underwater Post. The post office raises a flag to signify when it’s open and, as Atlas Obscura warns, you best pay attention to that flag or “you may arrive to find it closed, in which case you must take your mail back with you—no dropping it off.” 

But other than that, it works a lot like a regular post office. In 2017, Vira Timbaci, who manages the postal service in the region, told Smithsonian that “every week hundreds of postcards are dropped off at the underwater post office” and, one would assume, all of those are ultimately delivered to friends and family back home. The notes, though, may smell a bit fishy.

Bonus fact: The Vanuatu Underwater Post is the first of its kind and it is still the only functional underwater post office, but there are other ways for people in diving gear to send a friend a letter. The easiest is to simply walk into any post office wearing diving gear, but that’d look really silly. The more fun opportunities? A pair of underwater mailboxes. There’s one in Susami, Japan (see it here) and Pulau Layang-Layang, Malaysia (pictured here). Neither are staffed but if you can swim down there, eventually, your mail — which you should enclose in a waterproof bag! — will make it to your addressee. But it may take a while for that to happen; the Malaysian one, at least, closes on occasion when tourism dips too low.

From the Archives: Off the Hook: Underwater Malaysian phones… kind of.