Courier business has grown massively during the coronavirus pandemic. With people confined to their homes, online shopping and deliveries are often the only way of obtaining essential items.
Courier deliveries are not just a delivery lifeline for many people. They also help create an income for new couriers who are unable to carry out their normal job, or who have been made redundant.
This guide explains what you need to become a courier, including:
- The job of a courier
- Choosing a vehicle
- Courier driving qualifications
- Costs to set up as a courier
- Self-employed courier work vs working for a courier brand
- Safety tips for couriers
- Getting the right insurance
Courier work typically involves picking up items from a depot, warehouse or storage facility and delivering to multiple drop-off points. This includes parcels, packages, letters, and newspapers.
Drop off locations are typically within a local radius. This is a distinction between courier and haulage work.
Haulage involves transportation of larger items over longer distances, with a pre-planned pick-up and drop-off point. This could involve heavy electrical goods, refrigerated stock, vehicles, and more. This also includes furniture removals and house moves, which some people mistakenly think of as courier work.
Takeaway food deliveries are also not classified as courier work. Like courier deliveries, you are paid for the delivery of goods. However, there is more risk involved with the timely delivery of hot food than with courier work because timescales are even tighter. You need specialist insurance for takeaway deliveries.
Now we know what a courier does, let’s see how to become a courier.
Getting started as a courier
The more goods you can carry, the more deliveries you can make. For this reason, if you want to work full-time as a courier, you will need a van. Storage space is key for couriers!
A van of up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW) is sufficient for most courier work. The GVW refers to the weight of the van when it is fully laden, so the 3.5 tonnes includes the goods you are carrying. Think of a standard Ford Transit, Vauxhall Vivaro, or Peugeot Partner. This should give you enough storage capacity to carry a good load of deliveries each day.
Make sure the van is maintained, has a valid MOT, and is taxed, before getting an insurance quote.
The main advantage of sticking to a 3.5 tonne GVW limit is that you can drive the van with a standard (category B) driving licence. Although increasing your van in size to 7.5 tonnes GVW could be useful for larger loads, you will need additional qualifications for this.
If you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997, you are permitted to drive commercial vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes GVW with no additional licence, including courier work.
If you passed your test after 1st January 1997, you’ll need to pass a further test to obtain a C1 licence from the DVLA. While there are plenty of training courses available, you may wish to contact the DVLA before attending one, to ensure you gain the correct qualification.
The exception to this rule is electric vans. You can drive an electric van weighing up to 4.5 tonnes GVW on a category B licence. This is because of the weight of the battery required to power the van. However, new couriers are unlikely to be able to afford the £50,000+ required for a new electric van, and the technology is new, so there aren’t many used electric vans available yet.
There are various costs to consider when setting up as a courier:
- Buying a vehicle, including any finance agreement.
- Road tax. This typically costs £265 a year for a diesel-powered van produced since 2001, falling under the TC39 VED tax code. Euro 4 emissions vans registered between 1st March 2003 and 31st December 2006, or Euro 5 emissions vans registered between 1st January 2009 and 31st December 2010, pay £140 for 12 months’ tax. You can choose to pay six-monthly or by Direct Debit, at a slightly increased cost. Rates for vans built prior to 2001 are different again. Check with the DVLA to confirm the costs.
- Costs will obviously increase with the more deliveries you make.
- Vehicle maintenance costs. Service intervals will be more frequent, and wear and tear will be greater, for professional couriers.
- You may have to pay congestion charges in larger towns and cities, now or in the future.
- Any costs involved with advertising your services to companies.
- Insurance for your vehicle, goods in transit, and liabilities.
Working as a self-employed individual, these are the main costs involved in setting up. If you want to run your own courier business, there are other possible costs, some of which are detailed below.
Working for a courier brand such as FedEx or DHL offers the security of regular work and income each month. The downside is that it limits you to the work and the hours they have to offer.
Being self-employed offers the greatest flexibility. You can pick who you work with and the hours you choose to work. The downside is that all costs are down to you – and you need to submit your own tax return! However, the best work-life balance and potential earnings are often achieved by self-employed couriers.
If you don’t know where to start looking for work, try Courier Exchange to find people who are looking for your services. Smaller, local courier companies can also be a good source of work for first time couriers.
You may even choose to setup your own small courier business. If you do, make sure you:
- Create a business plan: including the services you offer, who you will be providing services for, your fees and outgoings
- Organise as many vehicles as you need
- Find premises to operate from, including somewhere to safely store vehicles overnight
- Get other members of staff you might need onboard
- Promote your services
- Take out the right insurance to cover your courier vans
For more information, visit our Insurance Guide for Couriers.
- Plan your day properly. Work out how many deliveries you can make, and the route you should take.
- Use a route planner like Route XL to find the best route and order to deliver items. This will allow you to print off your schedule and tick off deliveries as you make them.
- Allow time for rest breaks and meals. Staying focussed is crucial behind the wheel. Make sure you drink plenty of water and have snacks on board.
- Carry a warning triangle, high-visibility jacket, and a torch, in case of emergencies.
- Installing telematics and video cameras can help to record footage of accidents and improve driving safety.
- When delivering goods during the coronavirus pandemic, ensure you wear a mask before exiting your van to drop-off goods. Sanitise your hands regularly. When knocking on a door, leave the delivery on the doorstep and stand back at least 2 metres. Photograph the item to confirm delivery.
- Always carry your mobile with you in case of emergencies.
Extra safety tips for couriers driving in winter
- Fit winter tyres.
- Ensure fluid levels are topped up before each journey, including windscreen wash.
- Make sure you have de-icer spray, ice scraper and additional warm clothing to hand.
- Carry additional snacks and supplies, including a flask of warm drink, in case of emergencies.
For more driving tips, read our guide to Driving Safely in Winter.
Wherever you choose to work, make sure you are fully insured.
You will need:
- Insurance for your van(s) – on a third-party, third-party fire and theft, or comprehensive basis
- Insurance for goods in transit – typically, you can get insurance for loads of up to £50,000 with a single vehicle for any one claim.
- Public liability – cover in case a member of the public suffers injury or damage to their property. Cover can extend to £10m liability, or more if required.
Follow our courier insurance guide for full information on the different types of insurance on offer. When you’re ready for a quote, give ChoiceQuote a call and we make sure you get the right policy to meet your needs.
How much could I earn as a courier?
Courier deliveries are a competitive market, so earnings can vary greatly. Payscale.com reports an average salary of around £11 an hour. A typical Amazon Flex delivery driver can earn £13-£15 per hour, and some self-employed drivers can earn up to £40,000 a year. However, bear in mind that the cost of purchasing, maintaining, fuelling and insuring your vehicle will be offset against any income you earn. Working for a courier company, you can earn anything from £5-£11 an hour on average. Other regular work could command higher fees.
Can I work as a courier part-time?
It is possible to work part-time as a courier, and many people do. However, there is plenty of work for full-time couriers, and this can prove more cost-effective if you buy your own van and insure it for courier deliveries.
What can I transport as a courier?
Couriers generally deliver parcels, packages, newspapers and letters. They pick up from a single point (e.g. a depot) and deliver to multiple addresses. Takeaway delivery drivers and motorcycle messengers are not classified as couriers and will require separate insurance.
What happens if I have an accident whilst delivering parcels?
- Always stop, no matter how minor the accident. Switch off your engine and turn on your hazard lights.
- Remain calm. Get everybody involved to a place of safety, wherever possible. Call for an ambulance if required.
- Call the police – 999 for an emergency or 101 to simply report the accident. This is required by law.
- Make sure you exchange details with anybody else involved.
- Contact your insurer to report the accident ASAP.
What happens if a parcel is damaged?
The recipient of the parcel may report the damage to the company who shipped the item, and claim compensation from them.