The Job and What's Involved

Couriers, also known as despatch drivers, transport items that require urgent, safe or discreet delivery. These items may include valuable bankers' drafts, legal and business contract documents, or fragile items such as computer monitors. There are even specialist medical couriers who transport medical supplies, samples, transfusion blood and organs.

Often a same day service, items are collected from one location and delivered to the agreed destination. The courier usually carries the items by van, motorcycle, scooter and, increasingly, bicycle (in heavily congested urban areas). For longer distances and international courier work, items may be transported by rail or air.

In constant contact with a base depot using either two-way radios, mobile phones or a dashboard satellite navigation screen, couriers receive scheduled pick-up instructions. Collection and drop-off duties typically include:

  • Signing for the item or items upon collection.
  • Loading them carefully onto the vehicle in the right sequence for deliveries.
  • Examining vehicles before setting off and checking loads are safe.
  • Planning the delivery route in advance, navigating around diversions and congested routes.
  • Unloading items at the delivery point - secure packages usually need to be handed to the addressee.
  • Obtaining recipient signatures and documenting delivery times.
  • Confirming delivery with the central depot and collecting instructions for the next job.

Clients booking a courier service may request single collections and drop-offs. Large corporations, like newspaper and magazine publishers, may book a few hundred courier runs a day. Typical days may consist of several local trips or one or more intercity journeys. Occasionally, couriers may have to travel long distances, spending days away from home.

Much of the time couriers work on their own, although they have regular contact with customers. Whether employed or self-employed, couriers are generally responsible for vehicle running costs and maintenance of their vehicle. Motorcycle couriers usually have to buy or lease a motorcycle, of at least 200cc, and pay for road tax, insurance and protective clothing. Companies may operate 'hire to buy' schemes or rent vehicles to couriers at lower rates.

The average weekly working hours are between 40 and 48 hours. Typically, couriers are hired during office hours, but some courier companies operate an overnight and 24-hour service. Shift work and part-time work is common.

Van couriers especially may have to make longer distance trips, potentially overseas. This may involve overnight stays away from home.

The work can be physically tiring. Heavy lifting is more likely for van couriers.

Motorcycle and bicycle couriers, particularly in urban areas, may be exposed to traffic fumes. Protective masks and safety clothing are advisable. Some companies may provide a uniform.

A clean driving licence relevant to the vehicle used is essential.

Starting salaries for couriers are around £14,500 a year. Most couriers work on a self-employed basis, with rates of pay negotiated between the despatch company and the courier. Income varies depending on the number of daily bookings and regularity of work.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 98,800 people in the UK involved in courier work, 20,000 of which are motorcycle couriers. At present there is a general shortage, particularly of motorcycle couriers, in the South East and inner London. The sector remains relatively stable and courier opportunities exist throughout the UK in most major cities. The West Midlands, South East and London have the greatest number of couriers.

Typically, couriers are either employed directly by, or self-employed and contracted to work for, courier service companies. Some couriers operate independently. Parcel and courier franchises are also available.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers, in trade publications or in Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres. Companies offering franchise opportunities are likely to advertise online.

Education and Training

There are no formal academic entry requirements for becoming a courier. As van or car couriers need a driving licence, applicants must be at least 17 years old, but for insurance purposes, many employers prefer couriers to be over 21 (25 for van drivers). It is possible to begin motorcycle courier training with a provisional licence. For school leavers, starting out as a bicycle courier could be an option.

Some employers may also offer job-guaranteed Apprenticeships or training.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most courier training is on the job, although apprentices and those undertaking external training courses can work towards vocational qualifications. Covering all the key aspects of courier work, each is made up of mandatory and optional units. Current qualifications include:

- NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Carry and Deliver Goods
- NVQ/SVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Driving Goods Vehicles

NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Carry and Deliver Goods is made up of eight units, including transporting goods, the collection and delivery of goods, health and safety, security in the workplace, working relationships and customer service. Although candidates can select units, for the full NVQ they must be fully competent in all areas.

Those who undertake motorcycle courier training with Courierwise Training (formerly Camelot) study two-way radio practice, map skills, route finding, basic bike maintenance, and work towards NVQ Level 2 in Carry and Deliver Goods.

Featured Job Guide - Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabout

Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A courier needs:

  • A good level of fitness and stamina.
  • Map reading and navigational ability.
  • A responsible attitude to safety.
  • To be methodical and organised.
  • Trustworthy and discreet, as they frequently handle confidential documents.
  • Good customer service skills.
  • To be self-motivated and able to use their initiative.
  • Business awareness, particularly if self-employed.
  • To be prepared to work outdoors in all weather conditions, if travelling by motorcycle or bicycle.

Your Long Term Prospects

Large companies may offer couriers supervisory work, which may involve co-ordinating the courier workloads from a central depot.

With experience, there is the potential to set up as a self-employed courier, running either a private business or investing in an established franchise.

Couriers may also be able to undertake further training and move into freight planning, distribution or large goods vehicle driving.

Get Further Information

Institute of Couriers (IOC),
Green Man Tower, 332 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7LQ
Tel: 0845 6010 245

The Despatch Association, Lamb's End House,
36 Church Road, Magdalen, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE34 3DG
Tel: 01553 813479

National Courier Association (NCA), NCA House,
8 Clerkenwell Place, Springfield, Milton Keynes MK6 3HD
Tel: 0845 603 7813

Skills for Logistics, 14 Warren Yard,
Warren Farm Office Village, Milton Keynes MK12 5NW
Tel: 01908 313360

Other Related Jobs

Additional resources