Out of office reply in Outlook without Exchange, vacation autoresponse for Gmail and Outlook.com

In my previous article I explained how you can set up auto reply for Outlook Exchange accounts. Today I'm going to show how you can automatically reply to emails without using an Exchange Server account. If you are not sure which email account you use, please check this first: How do I find out which email account I use?

How that you know which account type you have, let's set up your out of office autoresponder.

Setting up out-of-office auto reply for Outlook POP3/IMAP accounts

Unlike the Exchange Server accounts, POP3 and IMAP account do not have the Automatic Replies feature (formally Out of Office Assistant). Nevertheless, you still can set up Outlook to automatically reply to some or all of your incoming email messages while you enjoy your vacation.

Note: In case of POP/IMAP accounts, Outlook should always be running and configured to check intermittently for new messages. Naturally, your computer must be turned on all this time.

Of course, it is not very convenient or may be even unsafe to leave a working machine without any supervision for a long time, but there is no other way. Though, some email providers (e.g. Gmail or Outlook.com) allow creating autoreplies directly on their web-sites. So, first of all I'd advise you to check with your email provider if it is possible to configure your vacation auto-response on their side.

Below you will find the step-by-step instructions on how to create an out-of-office auto-response without using an Exchange Server account. You can do this by using an email template in combination with Outlook rules. But be aware that this functionality is available in Outlook 2010 starting from Office 2010 Service Pack 1. Okay, let's get cracking!

Creating an autoreply message template

  1. First, we need to create a template with the out-of-office message that will be automatically sent to people who sent you an email. You do this in the usual way by clicking the New Email button on the Home tab.
  2. Compose the text for your automatic reply. If it is intended for your personal account, it can be similar to what you see in the screenshot below. For business out of the office messages, you'll probably need something a bit more formal :)
    Compose the text for your automatic reply.
  3. When you have finished writing the message, save it by clicking File > Save As in the message window.
  4. In the Save As dialog box, give a name to your auto reply template and choose to save it as Outlook Template (*.oft). After that click the Save button.
    Name your auto reply template and save it as Outlook Template (*.oft).

A word of caution to advanced users: do not change the destination folder for this file, save it exactly to the location that Microsoft suggests, namely to the Microsoft > Templates folder. "Why to advanced users?" you may ask me. Because a new user would not even dare think of changing anything unless they are explicitly told to do so :) .

Well, we have done the first part of the job and now you need to create a rule to automatically reply to new email messages.

Setting up a vacation autoreply rule

  1. Start creating a new rule like you usually do by clicking the New Rule button under Home tab > Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts.
  2. Choose to "Start from a blank rule" and "Apply rules on messages I receive", and then click Next.
    Create a rule for messages you receive.
  3. Specify the conditions you want to check. If you are setting an out of office auto-response for all incoming messages received from all your accounts, you don't need to check any items here.

    If you want automatic replies to be sent only for messages received from one of your accounts, or containing specific words in the subject or body, or received from specific people, then check the corresponding options in the upper part of the dialog under Step 1: Select condition(s) and then click underlined values under Step 2: Edit the rule description.

    For example, I am creating a rule to autoreply to all messages received via my Personal account and my settings look like this:
    Specify the conditions you want to check.

  4. On the next step, you define what you want to do with the messages. Since we want to reply using a specific template, we choose exactly this option and then click a specific template under Step 2: Edit the rule description to choose the template we want.
    Choose to reply using a specific template.
  5. In the "Select a Reply Template" dialog box, in the Look In box, choose User Templates in File System and select the template we created a few minutes ago (out-of-office-reply).
    Select the out of the office template.
    Click Open and this will bring you back to the Rules wizard where you click Next.
  6. On this step, you are to set exceptions to your automated reply rule. This is not an obligatory step, and the common practice is to skip it and not to add any exceptions. However, if you don't want to send an out-of-office notice to some senders or to messages received from one of your accounts, you can check "except if from people or public group" or "except through the specified account", respectively. Or, you can choose from a handful of other exceptions available to you.
    Set exceptions to your automated reply rule.

    Note: Some people also choose not to auto reply to returned emails (if the subject contains "returned mail" or "undeliverable" etc.) in order not to create an infinite loop between two mail servers and not to clutter their inboxes with undelivered messages. But this is actually an extra precaution, because the "reply using a specific template" rule will send your auto-reply only once during a single session, i.e. until you restart your Outlook. And if you set an exception like that, an automated response won't be send to absolutely all emails containing the specified word or phrase in the subject line, e.g. "What do I do when I get a returned mail?".
  7. This is the final step where you specify a name for your auto-reply rule and review the rule's description. If everything is Okay, make sure the rule is turned on and click the Finish button to save the rule. That's all!
    Name your rule, review its description and save it.

In a similar way you can set up several vacations auto-reply rules, e.g. with different text messages for your personal and work email accounts, or for messages received from certain people. For example, in a personal autoreply intended for your friends you can leave a phone number on which you can be reached; while in your business autoreply you can specify the email address of your assistant or a colleague that can handle the most urgent matters during your leave.

Tip: If you are creating a few auto response rules, you can check the "Stop processing more rules" option so that your vacation autoreplies won't conflict with each other. This option is available on the 3rd step of the Rules Wizard when you specify what you want to do with the message. However, be very careful when choosing this option. If you have some other rules in your Outlook and you want them to be applied to incoming messages during your holiday, do not use "Stop processing more rules".
Important! Don't forget to turn off your autoreply rule when you return :) You can do this via Home tab > Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts. Also, it may be a good idea to create an Outlook task or to-do reminder that will remind you to turn off your out off office auto response rule.

How to set an automatic vacation response for Gmail accounts

Gmail is one of email providers that let you configure automated vacation replies on their web-sites. In this way, you won't have to leave your PC working when you are away. You set up Gmail's vacation autoresponder in the following way.

  1. Log on to Gmail.
  2. Click the gear icon in the top right corner and select Settings.
    Click the gear icon in the top right corner and select Settings.
  3. On the General tab, scroll down to the Vacation responder section and select "Vacation responder on".
  4. Schedule your vacation auto response by setting the first and the last day (optional), then type the subject and body of your message. If you do not specify the End date, remember to set the "Vacation reminder off" on your return. It's pretty easy, isn't it?
    Configure and schedule your vacation response

    Tip: It may be a good idea to select "Only send a response to people in my Contacts". Unlike Microsoft Exchange server and Outlook that send an automatic response to each sender only once, Gmail will send your vacation autoreply every 4 days to every person that sends you several emails. And if you receive a lot of spam messages or if you are leaving for a long period of time, this can help you avoid a lot of cleaning when you return.

How to set up automated vacation replies for Outlook.com and Hotmail accounts

Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) accounts also allows you to set the out-of-office auto replies directly on Hotmail and Outlook.com web-sites. This feature is called automated vacation replies and you can set it up in this way.

  1. Head over to Outlook.com (or Windows Live Hotmail) and log on.
  2. If you have an Outlook.com account, click the Gear icon Gear icon in the top right corner next to your name and select "More mail settings".
    Select 'More mail settings'

    If you have a Hotmail account, click on your name in the top right corner, and then choose Options > Mail.

  3. Under "Managing your account", select "Sending automated vacation replies" to configure your auto-reply's settings.
    Select 'Sending automated vacation replies' to configure your auto-reply's settings.
  4. Outlook.com does not provide an option to schedule your out of office replies, so you simply select "Send vacation replies to people who email me" and type the text of your vacation notice.

    Send vacation replies to people who email me

Note that the "Only reply to your contacts" option is checked by default underneath the vacation reply message. If you want to automatically reply to everyone's email, you can of course uncheck it. Though, it may be reasonable to leave it checked to thwart spammers.

Note: If you have a new Outlook.com account, the Vacation reply feature might be turned off. Microsoft will automatically enable it after you've used your account for a few days. If you want to turn it on right away, you will need to verify your account with a mobile phone number, you can do this using their Add a phone page.

Well, this seems to be all you need to know about automatic replies on different email accounts. Now that your out-of-office auto-response is properly configured, shut up your computer (remember to leave it running if you use a POP/IMAP account) and enjoy your vacation! :)

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37 responses to "Out of office reply in Outlook without Exchange, vacation autoresponse for Gmail and Outlook.com"

  1. bian says:

    I tried fatherly following the instructions you give , but my outlook still does not work ? There is wrong?


  2. Hi Brian,

    Which account type did you try to set up an autoreply for: POP/IMAP, Gmail or Outlook.com?

  3. brscpa.com says:

    This worked perfectly. Thank you very much.

  4. Kathy says:

    Wonderful instructions. Great information on how to set up auto reply in Outlook 2007 without a microsoft exchange server. Worked perfectly! Simple and concise.

  5. srikanth says:

    I want to setup a auto responce for my support email address in hotmail.

    With the name system generated mail.

    • Alexander says:

      Hello Srikanth,

      Sorry I do not quite understand what you mean by “with the name system generated mail”. The general approach to setting up an auto reply in hotmail is described in the article.

  6. Deepak kaushik says:

    but it'still working outlook offline

  7. Jessica says:


    One of our email accounts is sending an automated reply-but it is not located in 'rules'. We would like to turn it off but can't locate where it originates from. It is an IMAP/SMTP account on MS Office Home and Business 2010.

    Any ideas on how to locate the rule and turn it off?


  8. Jo Dunk says:

    Setting any auto-response for every email received is asking for trouble!
    Imagine two people with these running where one decides to email the other... so what happens?

    The auto-response emails to say 'I'm out... blah blah' and you client emails back to say 'I'm out... blah blah blah. This loops until somebody's email server fails and dies under the load!

    Be warned! I have seen servers fail from using responders to every email. beware the LOOP!

  9. Lauren S says:

    You can't imagine how many blogs I've read, instructions I tried before this and nothing. But this is MAGIC! Thank you. One little difference you had from all the others is in the rules section for Outlook --- not sent to a "person" but "sent "through the specified account". That did it! I simply used "exceptions" for the solicitation email so not every email is responded to. Thank you very much. I'll be back.

  10. Scott says:

    mine will work one time for each received email address and then not again until i delete the rule and reset it. What's the fix for that?

    • Scott says:

      maybe that is what you meant by:
      "But this is actually an extra precaution, because the "reply using a specific template" rule will send your auto-reply only once during a single session, i.e. until you restart your Outlook."

      So is that "once" for each person that sends you an email - I assume?

  11. Joe says:

    I also think the same way

  12. Qais says:

    I need a text of good automatic reply .....can any one help in this regard.

  13. Judy Bee says:

    How to stop out of the office reply when the incoming email is identified as junk or spam?

  14. Lesleigh Brown says:

    Hi Alexander,
    I have followed the instructions step by step - however when I receive emails it says 'Error - Can Not Reply To Message'. Do you know why this might be happening? Is there a way that I can fix this?

  15. Ashlei C says:

    Upon setting the rule for POP3/IMAP accounts, can the email that the Out of Office rule is applied to send out emails?

    For example: I set the rule for my PM's account, as he is on vacation. I have noticed twice, today, wherein he has replied to one of my messages, sent TO him during his time out of the office. The message appears in my inbox, and then moments later disappears. (We are on the same server.) Is this because of the rule? When we remove the rule upon his return, will the current messages appear? Or could I have other issues going on? Thx!

  16. Sara says:

    Ive closed my hotmail account its due for closure in 60 days. Will my holiday reply still send to my contacts while waiting to close

  17. Senthil Kumar says:

    Your Blog is Usefull, But I had one Issue, When My outlook or my System in Shutdown, this option will not work, Whats the solution for that...

  18. Senthil Kumar says:

    Please Reply this Blog, Iam Waiting For your reply...

  19. Sifiso Nkosi says:


    kindly assist; I want to remove the out of office reply, using office 2010, without exchange server?

  20. Sheri says:

    Worked! Thanks,

  21. Soi says:


    I have followed the instructions for my work email, but still don't receive the automatic response from my work email.
    i have closed the outlook and then open it again, but the result is still the same when i do the test (send email to my work email to see if i get a reply).

    How can I correct it or is there a step that I am missing?

  22. Archie Montoyo says:

    Very helpful information and it works thanks.

  23. lindy says:

    I have cleared the rule and the suto out of office reply is still being sent. I am on a pop3 server

  24. Jason says:

    Great job on this tutorial! Everything was where you said it would be and it worked. Thanks

  25. jerry lharrod says:

    my tools will not let me click on vacation auto reply to cancel on windows live mail

  26. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for your instructions. My auto reply is working properly, so now I am headed out the door!

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  29. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for the absolute fool proof instructions - fabulous tutorial.

  30. kayne says:

    Hello Alexander;

    My story;

    Yesterday I had the fantasy of getting out of the office for a few days to visit family who went camping. As I was receiving job applicant emails through a gmail account (forwarding to Outlook 2016- Office 365) I wanted to let people know that I was not ignoring them so set up a rule based on the link below.

    Fast forward to this morning…Truck is loaded and I am ready to head out at 3 Am so I might get to the camp spot by breakfast to surprise the kids. But maybe a quick check on email to make sure all is good.

    Check main office email…..Hmmmmm.. Set up dispatch for an emergency call but all pretty good
    Check personal email….all good….Hooray I am almost ready to go

    Scroll down to gmail address……Wait a minute????? There is only one email thanking me for letting them know that I will be gone for the weekend….I had at least 14 email in the Inbox last night… OMG Where are the emails??? Frantically start erasing the “Rule” to stop any more damages and now I am seeking where those emails went.

    Went on to Gmail account to see if I could find but no..... everything is erased on email except that one response.

    If you have posted this condition and the fix on your blog I would bow to the 4 gods and register you with Goddess Haven if you might point me in that direction. .

    • Hello Kayne,

      I've never run into anything like that. The only ideas that comes to mind is check the Trash folder on gmail (Deleted Items in Outlook), if the messages are not there, switch to the All mail folder and sort it by date.
      Sorry, but I have no other ideas about where those messages could have disappeared.

  31. fred says:

    I was wondering if I have outlook running on my Android phone, is that a way of sending to OOO notices?

  32. Cliff Edwards says:

    I have tried the instructions over and over again, it just does not work, there is no reply and the rule just defaults to a standard template even with my template selected

  33. AutopartsMiles says:

    This is a great blog! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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