I’m often asked: are there any mail services for travelers? Great news: yes, there are, all over the world! If you travel full-time, long-term, or even just find yourself moving a lot and hate changing your mailing address, you may benefit from using a virtual mailing service.
What is a Virtual Mailbox Service?
A virtual mailing service gives you a physical address, that you can set as your permanent address, and to which you can direct all your mail. In many cases there is even a physical person there who can sign for packages.
When you receive mail, the virtual mailbox service will alert you to its arrival by emailing you a scan of the envelope. You can then direct them to do any of the following:
- Open the letter, scan the contents, and email them to you
- Forward the letter to your current address
- Recycle or shred the letter
Most also offer the option to then forward the mail to you, which is handy when you’re receiving packages, a new credit card, or important government correspondence.
Many virtual mailbox services offer a series of extra perks (usually for extra fees), such as depositing cheques to your bank account, fax services, and more.
While it used to be common for virtual mailbox services to assign PO boxes to their customers, many financial institutions, government bodies, and even courier services won’t deliver to a PO box, which rendered it impractical to use as an official address. So these days, the vast majority of virtual mailbox services give you a physical address.
There are many services offered in different countries. Obviously it’s probably easiest and best for you to choose a service based in your country of origin.
Some services offer you a choice of cities (or countries!) for your address to be based in (these are often slightly pricier), while others only offer one city option.
Why Use a Virtual Mailbox Service?
If you’re living or traveling abroad, you might have a home base at a friend or family member’s home. You might be sending your mail there and having them sort it for you, but if you don’t want to burden them with that anymore, or if said friend/family member moves too often for it to be convenient, a virtual mailbox might be your answer.
Perhaps you’re not abroad, but instead are running an online business and want to convey the appearance of having a physical office (perhaps even one with a prestigious address); in this case, you can use a virtual mailbox service that also has full office services like dedicated phone numbers answered by a receptionist, meeting spaces, and more.
Virtual Mailbox Fees
Fees for using a virtual mailing service vary greatly. Part of that is dependent on the amount of mail you receive and the number of perks you get.
Some virtual mailing services cater more to businesses rather than individuals. This means that they have higher standards of security and a larger repertoire of office-related services on offer, and therefore will cost more per month.
In most cases there is a monthly fee, with additional charges to forward mail/packages, deposit cheques, and receive/scan letters above the monthly quota.
You’ll find quite some variety in the fees listed below; remember that some monthly fees include a monthly quota of services (like forwarding x letters per month, above which you’ll pay extra per your usage), while other monthly fees are only for the address, and you pay for all additional services as you use them.
Authorizing Your Virtual Mail Service (U.S.)
As you might know, opening someone else’s mail is a federal offence in the U.S.; because of this, it’s important to authorize your virtual mailing service to legally open your mail for you.
That means filling out a USPS Form 1583, and also having it notarized.
Now, you may remember from getting your passport, that having something notarized means signing it in front of a legal notary, and usually involves a trip to the U.S. Post Office.
But what if you’re already on the road in another country and can’t get there? Or maybe you’re still in the U.S. but don’t have time to make it all the way to the post office.
Thankfully, there’s such a thing as online notarization now!
By using an online notary service, you can have your documents legally notarized by an official notary via webcam.
The service for individuals usually starts at $25, and for the convenience of being able to get your mail sent to you directly, it’s an extremely worthwhile investment.
Virtual Mailbox Comparison
There are a lot of virtual mailing services out there; more by the day. One way to find the best virtual mailbox service for your needs is to search for “virtual mailing service + [your country]”. Below is a selection of companies that I found through the grapevine and with a few basic searches.
(Note that some of these links are affiliate links; making a purchase through these links won’t affect your own price but will earn me a small commission. Thank you in advance for helping to support The Professional Hobo).
Virtual Mailing in the USA
Earth Class Mail is arguably an industry leader, and they strive to be best virtual mailbox service for business, with a full suite of services. Most people I know who use them also complain about the cost (but continue to use them).
- Integration with Dropbox and other software
- Option to use them as your business’s “registered agent” in the U.S.
- Higher standards of security
- Multiple user logins
- High variety of addresses available
- Pricier than many travelers are willing to pay
- No hidden fees, cancel any time
- Originally designed specifically for travelers
- 50-80% discount on shipping rates
- Newly launched website, making virtual mailbox management even easier
- Only address is in Houston, TX
- Page scans of letters not included
- Integrates with Evernote
- Multiple mail recipients
- Easy to use interface and app
- Limited number of page scans included in monthly fee
- Additional fee for some addresses
Contrary to its name, users get physical addresses, not PO boxes.
Virtual Mailbox Services in CANADA
This is the only virtual mailing service I found with no monthly fee; they give you a free virtual mailing address and simply charge you for what comes in and what you want to do with it. And the prices seem quite reasonable.
- Discount on the annual plan
- Can scan magazines
- Limited number of mail and page scans included in monthly fee
- Multiple users
- No check deposit
- No junkmail filter
Virtual Mailbox Service in the UK
Fees: Pay-as-you-go – 60 GBP/month
INTERNATIONAL Virtual Mailbox Companies
Regus offers full virtual office services around the world, of which virtual mail handling is just one service.
Fees: From $37/month
These guys are taking over the world, slowly! At my last check, they’re in 12 countries (with dozens of locations in Canada and the U.S. alone), and strive to be the best virtual mailbox service for travelers.
- Locations all over the world
- Real street address (no PO boxes!)
- Packages are accepted
- Full suite of services, including Open & Scan, Forward, Shred, etc.
- International forwarding available
- If you’re going away for a short while, you can sign up for as little as 1 month
- Prices vary by location, so you have to search around for a location/price point that fits your needs
- Not all locations offer cheque deposit
Determining What You Need
Once you’ve window-shopped a few virtual mailing services, you’ll become familiar with the terminology and pricing options. With a large range of monthly packages, it’s now time to determine the best option.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How much mail do you receive on average monthly? (This will determine the package you choose; the less mail you get, the cheaper it is)
- Can you reduce the physical mail you get by signing up for online statements?
- How often do you need your mail forwarded?
- Do you get cheques that need depositing? (Not all virtual mailing services can do this, but many can).
- Can your address be a PO box? (Some virtual mailing services show your address as a PO box, which some organizations won’t accept or ship to).
- Is having your address in a certain city or state important to you? (For example, for U.S. taxpayers, the state you “reside” in makes a huge difference to the amount of tax you pay; learn more about this and other tax issues in the Ultimate Guide to Filing Tax as a Digital Nomad)
- How about what country?
- Would you like it to integrate with software you already use?
Have you ever used a virtual mailbox service? Which service was it, and how was your experience?