How to Create “Out of Office” Auto Email Replies with OS X Mail

| MGG Answers


Michael writes: It's summer and I'll be on vacation for a few weeks with no desire to keep up with my email inbox. How can I set up an "out of the office" automatic reply in Apple's Mail app so that my contacts know that I'm away and when to expect me back?


Often in corporate environments a company’s email provider will offer this feature as a server setting. For users without that luxury, it’s also possible to configure a local email auto reply using the Rules functionality of Apple’s Mail app.

To get started, first launch Mail and go to Preferences > Rules.

Apple Mail Auto Reply

Click “Add Rule” and give it a pertinent description, such as “Out of Office Auto Reply.” Then set your condition to apply to “Every Message” using the drop-down menu and choose to perform the “Reply to Message” action from the second drop-down selection.

Apple Mail Auto Reply

Next, click “Reply message text…” to bring up the action’s text input window. The text you enter here will comprise the message sent in reply to those who email you while you’re gone.

Apple Mail Auto Reply

Finally, click OK to finish creating the rule. Now, STOP (Hammer time!). The next steps are crucially important. Making the wrong choice will be detrimental to your mental, and possibly physical health. So PLEASE. STOP and READ the directions for the next step before you proceed. Read them twice, three times for extra points, and make sure you're familiar with what you need to do before you proceed.

Stop Sign

Okay, ready? Mail will now ask you if you’d like to apply the rule to existing messages. Choose Don’t Apply. We’ll repeat that: Choose Don’t Apply. This will ensure that only new messages receive the automatic response; choosing “Apply” instead will send the automatic reply in response to every existing email in your account, no doubt creating a point of tension between you and your soon-to-be-former friends and coworkers as their inboxes fill up with untold copies of your out of office message.

Apple Mail Auto Reply

Once your rule is created, it will be active by default. You can deactivate it by unchecking its box in Mail > Preferences > Rules. Once active, everyone who sends an email to your account will receive your automatic reply until you deactivate the rule upon your return.

Apple Mail Auto Reply

If you have more than one email account and only want your automatic reply to be sent to emails received at certain accounts, you can add additional conditions to your Mail Rules. You could also configure your Rule's conditions to send a response to certain individuals, certain email subjects, or even broader filters such as whether or not the sender is in your contacts list.

Have fun experimenting with the various rule conditions, but remember to choose "Don't Apply" when saving your rules!

This question was originally answered on MGG 455: Hey NSA, Can John Have His Packets Back?

About MGG Answers:

Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!

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Please add to your article that if one is subscribed to any mailing lists to please find some way to exclude them from the autoreply? I manage a mailing list with a mere few hundred members, and every summer, I have to set a bunch of them to nomail, and write them private emails letting them know what happened, and to remember to turn their subscription back on when they get back from vacation. Invariably, some of them then need help with that, so it would be much simpler if they did it themselves before leaving.

The easiest way would be if you could add something to your article on how to exclude certain email addresses from the vacation reminder.

Tan Hai Woo

How about those spam emails?  We were advice not to reply to those spam emails so they would not generate more and “confirm” our “existence” and continue to spam us.

With this “Universal” out-of-office email reply, it would also reply to the spams right?


Easier way: Apple is your Corporate Server Manager. Log into your iCloud account in your browser. Click Mail icon. Click on Prefs icon (gear thingy, upper right corner of screen), choose Preferences, chose the Vacation icon, click little box to activate Out of Office, type your OoO message and click Done. You’re done!

Paul Goodwin

Good idea MacDaddy. You’d still need this article method for your non iCloud mail accounts. Unfortunately, since I’m a non-business user, all of my email comes from non-critical sources. And even with the filter, you still end up with 2000 messages in your Inbox at the end of the 2 weeks off. So sending a single message to a mail list of recipients you care about may make more sense.

Jack Siegrist

I chose Apply changes accidentally, it was a very very bad experience.

Debbie Armstrong Leek

I’m on vacation right now and had a terrible experience. I got a business email that I forwarded to my personal email account. I have the auto response turned on both. I got in a “vicious” loop of ping ponged auto reply messages responding to one another. I also had emailed myself, and the same thing happened - blew up. Thank God I was able to remote in my main MAC to turn it off, but, I am concerned.
Is there some work around for this, or how would one prevent this from happening? I have 3 of my business emails turned on for this auto response (I run an insurance agency), as well as a personal email. The goal was to turn this “rule” on so I could enjoy my vacation and not worry about emails and responding to all my clients personally, but let them know who is. But instead, I am “worrying” about and and currently sitting in the Disneyland hotel dealing with this, while my husband and son are out in the park lol! Help!

Sompong Baker

Hi all,

I follow all the step as the picture shown above, but when someone sent me email and then it’s did send auto reply and I got email many times and none stop, instead of only one email. Can anyone advise?



I always like to leave an official, yet funny OOO email, because the official simple standard form is pretty boring, to me, at least. In our metro ethernet, we always try to come up with witty messages that bring a smile upon the face of those who read it. I believe they will also remember you’re out of the office easier if you’re giving them something different.

Lim Fern Fern

Thank you so much for the tutorial!

Jesse James

You should really put the warning to click “Don’t Apply” at the top of the article.  I clicked “Apply” and it ruined my day…

Jesse James

Is there any way to stop it from sending out emails to all my old email conversations?  It is literally sending out a million emails!

Avery Diener

I set it up and it works great! However not sure how to change which email account the auto response comes from. Please advice.

Best Astro

I got in a “vicious” loop of ping ponged auto reply messages responding to one another. I also had emailed myself, and the same thing happened.

Grafika Studio

Hi Jim, every time I go on holidays I re-visit this post to set-up my ‘out of office’. I never take the time to say Thank You for this post, so just wanted to let you know how useful this tutorial has been for me. Thank you so much, Rosa

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