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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 that 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 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 the “permanent address” issue, along with some things to think about. We’re originally from the United States, so our experience and advice are 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 card 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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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 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
|SOS Mail Solutions||Australia (Brisbane)||$12-15/month|
|Canadian Address||Canada||Per letter charges|
|The Network Hub||Canada (Multiple)||$23-56/month|
|eSnail.ca||Canada (Vancouver, Toronto)||$13-41/month|
|ClevverMail||Germany||A la Carte pricing|
|Swiss Post Box||Switzerland||Varies|
|Mailbox Forwarding||USA (CA, FL, MI)||$14.95-49.95/month|
|Virtual Post Mail||USA (CA)||$9.99-59.99/month|
|USA Box||USA (FL)||$0-10/month|
|St. Brendan’s Isle||USA (FL)||$11.99-29.99/month|
|Earth Class Mail||USA (Multiple States)||$49-499/month|
|Post Scan Mail||USA (Multiple States)||$9.95-39.95/month|
|Traveling Mailbox||USA (Multiple)||$15-55/month|
|USA Mail 1||USA (NY)||$9.99/month|
|NY Mail||USA (NY)||$25-40/month|
|Americas Mailbox||USA (SD)||$11-20/month|
|Escapees RV Club||USA (TX, FL, SD)||$8-12/month|
|US Global Mail||USA (TX)||$10-15/month|
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 the 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. Heads 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 is 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 allows you to mark the individual piece of mail as junk, or to be opened and have the contents scanned. The better services have an easy-to-use online site that allows you to review the scans and note what needs to be done.
Open and Scan Contents
Unless you making basic mail forwarding, with every item being sent to you, this is another critical service.
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.
If you are receiving packages, some of these providers will repackage multiple packages into one for forwarding, saving you in shipping costs.
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.
Do they offer email notifications 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 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
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 can’t 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 in.
|AeroPost||Latin America, Caribbean||Based on weight/destination|
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:
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.
You can head to our Travel Resources section for other money-saving ways to travel more comfortably that we’ve compiled after 2+ years of full-time travel.