Beyond Mail Forwarding: Virtual Mail Options for Nomads and Travelers

(Last Updated On: March 7, 2019)

Why Do You Need a Mailing Address?

Typically when you move to a new place, you fill out a mail forwarding form with the post office, and they make sure your mail gets to your new address. What? You don’t have an address? As full-time travelers, we don’t have an address because we typically don’t stay in one location for more than a month at a time.

That’s part of the fun of this lifestyle, and we aren’t alone. There are more and more people who are living the Digital Nomad/Location Independent lifestyle. We live and work online – shouldn’t we have a virtual mailing address instead of a physical one?  Unfortunately, that’s not completely possible just yet. While we wait for the world to catch up, we still need to establish some legitimacy by having an address, even if we don’t physically live there. 

Many institutions require a physical address. The IRS, Department of Motor Vehicles, and voter registration are just a few government agencies who still operate (at least in part) by physical mail. In the private sector, some law offices, some financial institutions and banks, and even employers providing end of year tax documents often default to snail mail. 

We also aren’t able to purchase airline tickets or even sign up for some conferences that even cater to digital nomads, without supplying an address. Also, you clearly need an address for physical things – such as renewed credit cards and packages.

We’ve put together a list of options for nomads and travelers to deal with “permanent address” issue, along with some things to think about. We’re originally from the United States, so our experience and advice is pretty USA-centric, but we’ve also included some resources for other places in the world.

A Virtual Mailbox is Your Starting Point

To start with, convert everything possible to electronic delivery. Before you even look at mail forwarding or other services, monitor your mail and convert everything you can to paperless billing and electronic delivery.

All of our credit cards statements, insurance renewals, and bank statements are available electronically. Even if you go with one of the mail forwarding or scanning services below, converting everything possible to delivery via email makes things cheaper and easier.

We use a separate email address just for bills, to keep things organized and so we don’t miss notifications.

Virtual Mailboxes - A list of mailing address resources for travelers and expats.
photo courtesy of www.nomadisbeautiful.com Beyond Mail Forwarding: Mail Options for Nomads and Travelers

Does It Matter Where Your Mailing Address is Located?

If you’re using your mailing address to establish residency in a particular state or region, it certainly can. Having a mailbox alone likely isn’t enough to establish residency in a state, but it’s certainly a start.

Driver’s License

I’m a firm believer that it’s a good idea to always have a valid driver’s license – you’ll never know when you’ll need it, right? If you’re picking a state to set as your residence, it’s a good idea to check the renewal options. Are online renewals available? How long does a license last before you need to go in again in person?

Taxes

If you are a U.S. citizen, you’re going to have to file (and pay, if you owe) federal taxes. The only way to avoid paying taxes is to give up your US citizenship, which can be costly (and generally not a good idea, in my opinion).

However, within the US, individual states levy taxes as well – but in different ways. There are currently seven states that do not have state income tax (and if you reside in those states don’t need to file a state income tax return).

Beyond Mail Forwarding: Virtual Mailbox Options for Nomads and Travelers
Beyond Mail Forwarding: Mail Options for Nomads and Travelers – US State Income Tax Rates – Where should the physical address be for your mail forwarding address?

If it doesn’t matter where your mail is being physically delivered, it can make sense to have a virtual mailing address in a state that has no income tax.

Voting

If you want to vote in local elections, you need an address. Of course, as a nomad, you’ll want to make sure your state or region allows absentee ballots.

What Are Your Options for Mail when Abroad?

Use the Friends and Family Plan

The cheapest and easiest (for you) option is to forward your mail to a trusted friend or family member, and make them responsible for shuffling through your junk mail to find the one or two pieces of mail that might be important.

This requires a significant level of trust – typically those “important” mail items will involve financial or legal information. It’s worth thinking about whether you want your chosen family member to be privy to your financial and legal woes.

Package forwarding and virtual mailbox services

I’ll be honest, before researching these options, we used the family plan by having my dad open our mail. We had to brace ourselves on regular calls for his comments about how much we were spending on credit cards, and his thoughts about how our retirement savings accounts were performing (“It looks like it wasn’t a good quarter for the 401K, Sean!”).

Use a Mail Scanning or Mail Forwarding Service

Fortunately, there are plenty of services that will receive your mail for you, scan the outside of the envelopes, and make the scan available to you, to decide if they should open it or not. From the envelope scan, you decide if you want the contents scanned, the mail discarded, or have the contents forwarded to you.

This is a great “virtual mail” option since the service provider basically converts your physical mail to electronic mail. We’ve compiled a list of the ones most used below, including their location and base cost.

Virtual Mailbox Options

ServiceLocationPublished Cost
SOS Mail SolutionsAustralia (Brisbane)$12-15/month
Canadian AddressCanadaPer letter charges
The Network HubCanada (Multiple)$23-56/month
eSnail.caCanada (Vancouver, Toronto)$13-41/month
Drop ScanGermany$0-26/month
ClevverMailGermanyA la Carte pricing
PriPostNetherlandsVaries
Swiss Post BoxSwitzerlandVaries
UKpostboxUK$0-150/month
Mailbox ForwardingUSA (CA, FL, MI)$14.95-49.95/month
Virtual Post MailUSA (CA)$9.99-59.99/month
USA BoxUSA (FL)$0-10/month
St. Brendan’s IsleUSA (FL)$11.99-29.99/month
Earth Class MailUSA (Multiple States)$49-499/month
Post Scan MailUSA (Multiple States)$9.95-39.95/month
Traveling MailboxUSA (Multiple)$15-55/month
USA Mail 1USA (NY)$9.99/month
NY MailUSA (NY)$25-40/month
Americas MailboxUSA (SD)$11-20/month
Escapees RV ClubUSA (TX, FL, SD)$8-12/month
US Global MailUSA (TX)$10-15/month
ScanMailboxesUSA (TX)$15-100/month
RegusWorldwideVaries

How much does a Virtual Mailbox Cost?

The pricing on the above chart is just a guide, based on the monthly charges advertised on each of the company’s sites (at the time of this writing). Almost all of these services have additional add-on costs based on volume of mail, storage requirements, whether you need mail forwarding, etc.

Each person’s situation is different – make sure you read up on the charges and limitations in order to find the best option for your own. And watch the costs – the monthly fee usually covers a set number of letters/scans, and perhaps some basic mail forwarding service, but over this you get charged a per letter fee. Head’s up: some services charge a postage deposit, shipping fees, enrollment and cancellation fees.

Determine What Mail Services You Need and What’s Offered

Beyond just a mailing address, there a huge range of services that some of these businesses provide, beyond simple mail forwarding. Many of these are offered at an additional cost, but if you need any of these, make sure they are an option for the mail scanner you sign up with.

Real Address vs. PO Box

UPS and FedEx do not ship to PO Boxes, only to “real” addresses, and if you are trying to use the address for residency purposes, a PO box will also send up some red flags. Most of these services have an address with a number similar to an apartment number.

Envelope Scanning/Online View

For a traveler, this is key – a scan of the outside of the envelopes allow you to mark the individual piece of mail as junk, or to be opened and have the contents scanned. The better service have an easy to use online site that allows you to review the scans and note what you need done.

Open and Scan Contents

Unless you making basic mail forwarding, with every item being sent to you, this is another critical service.

Package Receipt/Storage/Forwarding

Some services have limited space, and charge for package or parcel storage. If you need packages held for some time, check what the service’s maximum hold time is. Some may also be geared solely for scanning mail and don’t accept packages at all.

Package Consolidation

If you are receiving packages, some of these providers will repackage multiple packages into one for forwarding, saving you in shipping costs.

Check Deposit

Does anyone still receive physical checks? Try to get people to pay you electronically via ACH or funds transfer, or even PayPal. If that’s still not an option, some of the mail services offer additional check deposit service.

Junk Mail Handling

I’d recommend this one. Many of these services will automatically go through your mail and discard obvious junk mail. If they don’t, and scan everything, you can very easily hit your limit of maximum scans per month included in the base cost. Of course, there’s always a risk that something that is not junk will be discarded.

Number of Recipients/Additional Names

If you are a couple or family, check to make sure they allow (or don’t charge extra) for multiple recipients.

Email Notification

Do they offer email notification for new arrivals, or do you have to check the website yourself?

Signature Upon Delivery

Some packages and mail will require a signature upon delivery. Is there a physical person at the address that can sign?

Personal Shopper/Personal Assistant Services

Going either further afield, some of these providers even offer shopping services and assistant services, basically giving you a person on the ground in the location you choose.

Package Shipping and Forwarding Services

Beyond Mail Forwarding: Package Forwarding and Parcel Forwarding
Photo by Graeme Newcomb / CC

What if you are more concerned about packaging shipping than mail forwarding? One of the issues with traveling to far-flung countries is that you often don’t have the ability to buy products online and have them shipped to your country. Even Amazon, by far the largest online retailer, only ships to approximately 75 countries. Other retailers have an even smaller list.

Parcel shipping or parcel forward services allow you to purchase from an online retailer, and have the products shipped to a USA address. The shipper will then consolidate the packages and ship them to you in whichever country you are.

NameShipping LocationsCost
AeroPostLatin America, CaribbeanBased on weight/destination
CR BoxCosta RicaWeight-based
JetBoxCosta RicaWeight-based
ShipitoWorldwide0-4/month
Bongo InternationalWorldwideWeight-based

Other Mail-related services

Below are a few additional mail-related services that we ran across while researching this article, that might be of use to nomads:

eBrief.de (Germany) and Click2Mail.com (USA) both offer a service in which you email a document, and they print and mail it via normal postal mail, with a return address local to their service.

eFax allows you to email an attachment, and they fax it to the recipient. Does anyone still use faxes?

If you’ve used other services related to mail forwarding, mail scanning, or package forwarding that we haven’t included in this post, please leave a comment below and we’ll add it to this resource page.

Related articles you may find helpful:

Looking for ways to manage money while living as an expat? Here are some tips on managing finances abroad. 

Ever consider writing about your own experiences as an expat? Here’s a guide about how to start a travel blog so that you can share your own experiences and tips.

And you can head to our Travel Resources section for other money saving and ways to travel more comfortably that we’ve compiled after 2+ years of full-time travel.

Featured photo by Judith E. Bell / CC

Some of the links on this article are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and make a purchase, we receive a small referral fee. If you find the links useful and do make a purchase, thanks so much for your support!

26 thoughts on “Beyond Mail Forwarding: Virtual Mail Options for Nomads and Travelers”

  1. I have been intending to read this article for a while now and finally go to it. What a great informative post. I’m sure you’ll be getting a lot of people refering to it.

  2. Thanks for the article. It was very thorough! We started using Traveling Mailbox and it has been nothing but wonderful for us. I can view all of my mail online while I travel!

  3. Very helpful information. I used Traveling Mailbox in 2015 and the service worked pretty well, except there was a snafu with the forwarding address. The USPS refused to apply the account number on my forwarded mail so The UPS Store where TM accepted my mail threw it away. I spoke to the manager there who told me they have no way of looking up the recipient’s name to find the appropriate account number and there did not seem to be a process at TM to deal with this. I only found out about it because I never received my auto registration renewal notification and some other important mail that senders assured me they mailed to me. Thank goodness, none of them were checks! I may use TM again, but will choose a different state (both for this reason and for tax purposes).

  4. I have used Traveling Mailbox for the last three years and I can NOT recommend them. I find them to be increasingly slow to scan mail when requested and unless you get the manager on chat, the customer service reps are unapologetic and not helpful when there is an issue.

  5. I have been an expat living all over the world for 3 years. In that time I have relied on Traveling Mailbox LLC for my domestic personal mail needs. They were reliable until October 31, 2016 when they changed an addressing policy and failed to notify customers. This caused me untold problems and costs with non delivered time sensitive mail and checks. I wanted to work with them to resolve the issue bit their main customer service rep, Mike refused to acknowledge a problem on their end. It’s disappointing seeing a good service have problems and not at least acknowledge there might be an issue on their end. I can no longer recommend their service. Do your due diligence but I am switching to postscanmail which has served me well without issue for years for my business needs.

  6. Thanks for writing such an informative article, it really was an interesting read. Personally I signed up to ClevverMail at the end of last year as I work while I traveI and my clients come from everywhere. They’ve got addresses in nearly every country where I needed one so it fit pretty well.

  7. We use US GLobal Mail and i like them for this very reason. They will look up your mail even if the name or the box number is missing and add it in a section of the mailbox for you to confirm the mail is yours.
    Had used a similar service where each store who handled teh mail did it independently so while the company offered so many location choices, the service was different at each store location.
    and anyways, once you are overseas, the place your address is become irrelevant as long as you can see the mail in your inbox and get it scanned.

  8. SO If i rent a virtual mailbox, they will scan the document inside the evenlope? What if its a mastercard, will they scan the back and front of the card?

  9. We are using Traveling Mailbox, and have been since November 2015. I have had one really big beef with them, and it just happened. We ordered a BED. Overstock made a mistake and sent it to the TM address in Seattle (used our billing address, not our physical address). TM — using “process” not brains, sent the BED across country to their North Carolina address, which is where all mail is logged and scanned. So, someone in Seattle TM (which is actually a UPS store) gets a BED and treats it like a magazine? I spoke to the president of TM because they’d charged me $80 for this “service”.
    Anyway, as soon as Overstock told me the item was delivered, and I knew it was not at my physical address, I called Overstock to get it picked up from Seattle and sent to my physical address in another state (we are travelers!). Overstock did the right thing and said they would pick it up and send it to me free since it was their error. Of course, it was unbeknownst to me that Seattle had already shipped it to North Carolina. So, what does UPS do? They keep telling the guy trying to pick up the bed — 3 times — that it is “not ready”. What a cluster, right?
    Upshot: President did not offer to refund the $80 or admit their should be someone with a brain in their address stores who would go “Hmmmm, a bed, that is unusual, maybe I should reach out to the customer?”….or whatever. President did say he appreciated my comments and would bring them up in the next staff meeting. Whatever.
    I am out $80, I did get Overstock to go to NC and pick up the bed and they are delivering it to me at my physical address — now much further away from Seattle, so I expect I will get charged.
    Any deal I had on the bed is negated.
    Totally Frustrating Experience!

    Anyway, now shopping for a new service.

  10. I am moving from the US to Mississauga, Canada. How do I go about getting a physical address? I do not have a place to live as yet, no job yet. However, I was told that I need to change my drivers licence, insurance, etc.. How does one do that with no address as yet. I do not know anyone where I am moving-yet.

  11. Great resource, thanks for taking the time to put it together. We’ve been using the ‘friends and family’ method but it is all too often that mail ends up going missing. Looks like we are going to have to upgrade by necessity.

  12. Excellent article! Has anyone used a virtual mailbox service they are happy with for at least one year? If so, what is the name of the company to learn more? Thank you!

  13. Really interesting discussion. What nobody has mentioned is the issue of security. I feel really uneasy having my bank statements, credit cards, tax documents and other financial information sent to strangers, opened and handled. In these days of ramped identity theft, it seems to me that Expats and travelers would be easy targets for thieves. I have been all over the websites of these forwarding companies and none seem to address that issue. Some mention that they do background checks or they video tape their employees. But that is not enough for me. For example, I would like to know how they work? Is one person alone handling my mail? Or it is done in an open office with employees under constant scrutiny? Have other customers reported issues with identity theft, or loss/stolen packages? What is their process when a complaint is submitted? More information and details would give me more comfort.

    I have read reports of expensive products disappearing from some forwarding services. If that can happen, it seems to me that identity theft can happen as well. Does anyone have any insight to this?

  14. I am an expat in France. I have discovered that my mail forwarding service – Traveling Mailbox – which provides me with a unique physical address – is detected as a mail forwarding service by banks, Coverdell plans, the government, investment firms, and every other entity that requires a ‘physical address’ rejects the address. It’s extremely frustrating and has led to numerous problems – including the involvement of Homeland Security when I transferred a college savings plan to Dream Ahead.

    (Incidentally, the same thing is true for a cellphone number, now used by banks, investment firms, Amazon, and even email! to verify your use of their websites. They won’t accept a foreign number and if you provide the number of a friend in the US who will instantly forward a verification code, they somehow recognize this and refuse to verify.)

    I’m wondering if this is typical of all mail services.

    Susan

  15. Financial institutions (banks, stocks brokers) won’t open you an account with a mail forwarding address. It pops up in theirs computers as non residential address and refuse to open one. Anybody knows how to resolve this?

  16. Gotta BUMP this thread….. Lots of people are asking about residential vs Box mail delivery addresses for mail delivery and their noticeable difference when dealing with government, financial institutions, legal issues, etc. It would be nice to hear a solution or at least a way ‘around’ the problem as I don’t have patience for government or corporate failings for those of us who wear out tires or shoe leather all year. I’d love to get a hint, if anyone knows…

    For those folks worried about identity theft, I’m a victim from way back to almost a 7 figure tune. I can say it is much, much more secure to have your bills and whatnot emailed or “e-statements” sent instead of paper billing, if you’re worried about your personal data. Some things you can’t and that brings me back to my original inquiry.

    There were a couple of stores years ago – Mail Boxes ETC and Postal Annex here in the USA that would not only accept UPS / Fedex deliveries, they’d provide an address that would fool most of the finicky agencies out there. Anyone know if they are still around and work the same?

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