Looking for a way to receive mail while traveling or set up a mailing address in another state or country? Maybe you don’t have a residential address but still want to receive mail. If this is the case, a virtual mailbox (sometimes referred to as a virtual address or digital mailbox) is exactly what you need.
With a virtual mailbox your mail is scanned so that you can view it from mobile or computer anywhere in the world!
As a digital nomad, I have been fortunate enough to travel the world while running my business. And a virtual mailbox has played a major part in that. Without one, I would have had to miss out on all the adventure and run my business from a single location. No thanks!
Today I am going to take you through everything you need to know about a virtual mailbox including the basics, the best address services and what you need to look out for when signing up (things I wish someone told me).
- What is a virtual mailbox?
- Virtual mailbox alternatives
- Benefits of a virtual mailbox
- Setting up a virtual mailbox
- Best virtual mail boxes by country
- American virtual mailbox services
- Canadian virtual mailbox services
- UK virtual mailbox services
- Virtual mailbox services for the rest of the world
So let’s kick this guide off with the basics….
What is a virtual mailbox?
A virtual mailbox is a paid service that gives you a physical address that you can direct all your mail to, even if you are in another country.
Most virtual mailbox services will run a model similar to this…
1. You are given a unique address – This is similar to a PO Box, giving you a real world address to have your mail delivered to. However, unlike a PO Box, you will never visit this address to pick up your mail.
2. Mail is received by virtual mail service – Once mail that is addressed to you is received by the virtual mailbox provider, they will scan the front of the envelope or package
3. You are notified – You will then get an alert, either through email or the virtual mailbox app, to let you know that you have mail. From here you will be able to see a scan of your unopened mail from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop – anywhere in the world. The scan will look like this:
4. You choose what happens next – From here you will have the option for the virtual mailbox staff to open up the mail (and scan the insides), forward your mail to a different address, archive it or discard it.
It is the ability to have the mail scanned and read instantly, anywhere in the world that make virtual mailboxes a popular choice amongst businesses and travelers.
Once scanned, your letters are converted into a searchable PDF that can be kept for later reference. Some virtual mailboxes even integrate with apps like Evernote and Dropbox, which makes storing and organizing your mail as a business even easier.
Alternative options to a virtual mailbox
Perhaps a virtual mailbox is almost exactly what you need. Before I continue, I am quickly going to cover three alternatives to a virtual mailbox that may be more appropriate for your personal circumstances.
1. The step down – PO Box
Cheaper than a virtual mailbox, a PO Box from the US Post Office gives you an alternate address to receive mail. However, you will have to physically pick up your mail from the PO Box. Po Boxes also do not accept deliveries from Fedex, UPS, DHL and other courier services and are limited as to the size of goods they can accept. Suitable for both individuals and businesses.
The Step Up – Virtual Office
Hire a whole office with a virtual address to give your business a professional appearance and use it only when you need to. Services include a secretary to answer calls, receive and answer mail, fax machine use and hire meeting rooms. As you can imagine, this is a much more costly option. Suitable for businesses only.
Alternate Service – Freight Forwarder/Package Shipper
If you need a service to ship bulk forward packages, to any address in the world, consider a freight forwarder like MYUS. They store your products at a virtual address until you are ready to ship them all at once, offer packaging services, discounted courier fees and even offer a concierge shopping service if your international credit card will not work in that country. Suitable for both businesses and individuals.
A freight forwarder is a better choice for those of you who will be forwarding a lot of packages and mail, which can prove costly with a virtual mail box service.
Benefits of a virtual mailbox?
Virtual mailboxes are perfect for those of you who work while traveling abroad or are opening up a business in another country without having a physical presence.
Get a professional business address
A virtual mailbox can also be used if you are starting your own online business from home and do not wish to use your home address. Unlike a P.O box or Private Mailbox, a virtual mailbox allows you to use your business name and a real physical street address, You can even get a more prestigious address in California or New York, making your business look professional and convey trust.
Start an international business
Perhaps you are starting an online business that targets a foreign country. You can purchase a virtual mailbox service in that country so that it appears you have a local presence. Buy buying virtual mailboxes in multiple countries, it can make your business appear to have a global presence, all from the comfort of your bedroom!
Run a paperless office
Some businesses like accountants take advantage of the scanning process to allow them to store clients invoices, receipts and tax paperwork in a digital format. Because all scanned mail is converted to a searchable PDF, you can easily tag, annotate and store and locate documents in seconds. No more digging through a filing cabinet to find what you are looking for.
A local mailing address for foreign investors
Foreign property owners and investors can also benefit from virtual mailbox. Typically government, tax and real estate correspondence will be sent to your property address and do not mail internationally. With a virtual mailbox, they don’t need to.
Receive mail while traveling the world
But it’s not just businesses that can benefit from a virtual mailbox. If you regularly vacation, are an expat, live out of a cruise ship or RV, or find yourself away from home for extended periods of time – you will also benefit from a virtual mailbox since you can receive all your mail from home while out adventuring.
And the best part? You don’t have to check your mailbox each day to see if you have received mail. You will receive a notification on your device alerting you that you have unopened mail.
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to using a virtual mailbox!
Setting up a virtual mailbox
Before you can open up your own mailbox, you will have to verify your identity. This is an essential step to prove that you are indeed the proper recipient of your mail and assists with preventing identity theft.
While it may seem like a headache, can you imagine the chaos that would follow if anyone could open a virtual mailbox on your behalf without proving their identity?
Fortunately, proving your identity is a quick and simple task.
Setting up a mail box in the United States
In order to legally allow a virtual mailbox to open your mail in the United States as a US citizen or business, you will need to fill out a postal consent form – The USPS 1583 Form and have it notarized.
If you are already overseas, or just want to fill the form out from the comfort of your own home, your best option is to use an online notary service. I personally used, and highly recommend, a service called notarize.com.
Using Notarize is simple – Download the app on your phone, upload the postal consent form (or anything else you want notarized), follow the steps to confirm your identity then have what is essentially a Skype call with a certified notary in the U.S. All in all, the process took about 10 minutes and only cost $25 to complete. If you are already overseas and want to set up a virtual mailbox, using an online notary like notarize is your only choice.
Setting up a virtual mailbox anywhere else in the world
Virtual mailbox services in other countries, such as UK, Europe or Australia, will require you to confirm your identity with the service you are registering with. Typically this will require you to fill out an online form and supply a valid piece of identification via email.
Whatever address you choose, don’t forget to redirect your current mail to your virtual mailbox address if you need to. This will need to be done with a form obtained through your countries local postal service.
Virtual Mailbox fees
While fees for virtual mail services vary greatly; generally speaking – the less mail you get, the cheaper the virtual mail box fees.
A bare bones service with a few envelope and letter scans will cost you less than $10/month. The more services you need, the higher the monthly cost. Those of you who get hundreds of letters a month can pay upwards of $60 for a virtual mailbox that allows you everything you need to run a remote business.
The best virtual mailbox services reviewed
Below I will quickly cover some of my favorite virtual mailbox services from around the world. These virtual mail boxes offer great value and amazing service.
Best United States Virtual Mailbox Services
These are the best virtual mailbox services that you will find in America. Each offers virtual mailboxes in different states. Between the three you should be able to obtain a virtual mailbox in any state you desire.
1. Traveling Mailbox
Traveling Mailbox great option for businesses that want a virtual mailbox provider that does not provide PO Boxes, meaning you can receive couriers like Fedex, DHL and UPS. With locations 19 different states, and mail scanning available 7 days a week, this is a virtual mailbox that really impresses.
But where Traveling mailbox really shines is it’s value for money. Mail scanning is included in each plan, not a paid extra and shredding is free. All plans have the option to add multiple names (employees or family members). There is also the option to deposit checks so you can still get paid while traveling too.
Mail scans can be viewed either online or through a iOS or Android app on your phone or tablet. You can even add folders and tag mail so that you can organize and find your scanned mail at a moments notice. Users of Evernote will be pleased to know you have the option to upload your scanned mail directly to the Evernote app on your phone. This virtual mailbox also works with bill.com and Dropbox.
All plans above the basic plan also have a fax number thrown in and the service is outstanding. Plans start at $15/month and in terms of both price and value, Traveling Mailbox offer a virtual mailbox service that is hard to beat.
When it comes to virtual mailboxes, no other service offered as many locations as iPostal1 – and none of them are PO Boxes. In fact, they have locations in every state except Mississippi, Wyoming and South Dakota. That’s a whole lot of choice!
There are plans for both individuals and businesses, with businesses having the opportunity to choose a US street address in multiple cities if you so choose. Businesses also have the option to upgrade to a virtual office which includes fax, call forwarding and voicemail.
Up to five names can be added to the account (family or employees) and scans are available to be viewed either online or through the iPostal1 mobile app. The only downside to iPostal1 is that no mail scans are included in the plan and must be paid for on an envelope by envelope basis.
Prices start at $9.99/month and those of you who are looking for a long term virtual mailbox can pay for a year up front and get two months free.
3. Earth Class Mail
The virtual mailbox solution that focuses on Business. Popular with accountants and other professions that receive mail in volume, Earth Class Mail actually makes it possible to run a paperless office with unlimited scanning each month.
You don’t have to manually approve each envelope to be opened and scanned (although that is an option), you can set up rules to automatically scan all or certain types of mail that come into your virtual mailbox.
Out of all the virtual mailboxes I tested, Earth Class Mail had the best user interface – not only did it look great, but it was simple to use and made organizing mail a breeze.
For those of you looking to incorporate your LLC in another state, this is the only virtual mailbox that offers a registered agent for a small monthly fee.
Earth Class Mail has a strong focus on security with 256-bit encryption, HIPPA (the standard for protecting sensitive data) compliant processes and strict monitoring of who can and does access your mail – Earth Class Mail is trusted by big companies like Lyft and Reddit to manage their mail.
Business plans start at $99 a month, which is on the pricey side for a virtual mailbox. But by offering unlimited scanning that can be synced to Dropbox, cloud storage, accounting programs like bill.com, and other third party programs; Earth Class Mail offers a service that justifies every cent.
Best Canadian Virtual Mailbox Service
For those of you wanting to set up a virtual mailbox in Canada, there isn’t a whole lot of choice. Fortunately, between these two services there is more than enough to cover most peoples needs.
For businesses, eSnail is the best virtual mailbox in Canada. For a monthly fee you will receive included mail scans, secure shredding of your old mail, mail storage for up to 3 months and they will even forward checks for free.
At the time of writing this, eSnail.ca was also the only service that offered a Canadian address in multiple locations. Choose from Toronto, Vancouver or Edmonton.
I particularly liked that you could archive as many scanned letters on their server at no extra charge. And perhaps best of all, you can set the frequency of how often they update you about mail that has arrived with daily, weekly or up to the minute alerts.
2. Canadian Address
Canadian Address is unique in that you do not actually need to pay a fee to set up an address. Opening this virtual mailbox is free and you only pay when mail is received. Perfect for expatriates and individuals that only receive small amounts of mail. Scanned mail is paid for at $3.00 an envelope.
While the website may not give much away and the contact email is actually a Gmail address, having personally used Canadian Address in the past, I can assure you they are a legit service. Customer support is incredibly helpful so be sure to contact them if you have any further questions or concerns.
Best UK Virtual Mailbox Service
When it came to the UK, one virtual mailbox outclassed the competition by a long shot. In terms of both value and services offered, UKPOSTBOX couldn’t be beat.
When it comes to servicing England, UKPOSTBOX, offers a service that can not be beat. They offer everything you could expect from a virtual mailbox including mail scanning, parcel forwarding and check deposit. And as I like to see, both envelope scans and mail scans are included in each plan.
But what really set’s UKPOSTBOX apart that it gives your business the ability to send domestic mail in the UK. Simply write a letter, upload it to your account and then UKPOSTBOX will print and mail it on your behalf. There are two huge benefits of this – you save money because you do not have to ship internationally, and mail will arrive quicker.
Out of all the UK virtual mailboxes I tested, UKPOSTBOX offered the best interface and even included Dropbox and Evernote integration, allowing you to easily share and store your scanned mail.
UKPOSTBOX even offers a pay as you go option for those of you who hardly ever receive mail.
The rest of the world
While there are hundreds of different virtual mailbox services across the world, only one has a truly global presence at an affordable rate.
Clevver Mail offers virtual mailbox addresses in the following locations…
- Austria – Vienna
- Australia – Sydney, Brisbane, Perth
- Canada – Toronto, Montreal
- China – Hong Kong, Shanghai
- Chile – Santiago
- Czech Republic – Prague
- France – Paris
- Germany – Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg
- India – Gurgaon
- Ireland -Dublin
- Israel – Tel Aviv
- Italy – Milan
- Japan – Tokyo
- Poland – Warsaw
- Portugal – Lisbon
- Russia – Moscow
- Spain – Alicante, Madrid
- Thailand – Bangkok
- Turkey – Istanbul
- United States – Chicago, New York,
- Vietnam – Hanoi
As you can see, Clevver Mail allows you to open up a virtual mailbox the world over. And perhaps what is most impressive is that they constantly have new locations opening, so be sure to check back if you cannot find an appropriate virtual mailbox in your desired location.
The main benefit of dealing with Clevver Mail is that they offer global support in English. This was a major headache I ran into when trying to set up a virtual mailbox in non-english speaking countries. Take Russia for instance. While there were local virtual mailbox services, they could only communicate in Russian. And while Google translate did it’s best, communicating what I wanted done with my mail was a nightmare.
As you would expect, Clevver Mail offers all the usual features including scanning, mail forwarding, online and app software and shredding. But where they really shine is for businesses.
Clevver Mail allows you to set up filters and automation so that they can automatically take care of your mail without any input from you. And perhaps best of all – they offer legal company addresses at these same locations.
Pricing varies according to location but you will have the option to pay as you go or sign up to monthly business plans which offer extra features and further discounts.
Things to be aware of when setting up a virtual mail box
Below I will quickly cover things to be mindful of when setting up a virtual mailbox.
Using a virtual mailbox as a registered business address
While many individuals do use a virtual mailbox to register their LLC in another state, this is not the correct way to do it and does come with an element of risk.
In order to legally register a business, you must have a registered agent with a physical street address in each state you wish to register. An unattended mailbox or address (like a virtual mailbox) won’t cut it.
Fortunately, there are many registered agent services to be found online, typically costing between $50 and $300, that can legally incorporate a business in another state on your behalf. After all, if you are setting up a professional business, you want to make sure you do it properly.
Virtual mailboxes and state income tax
If your virtual mailbox is located where there is a state income tax, like North Carolina, do you have to pay this state income tax?
I contacted a few virtual mailboxes to clarify the issue and I have good news for you – A virtual mailbox on it’s own does not establish business or personal presence in the state for tax purposes.
This means that even if your virtual mailbox is located in a state that imposes a state income tax, you will not have to pay it.
Please note, these statements did not come from a qualified tax attorney. To properly clarify, you should contact a tax professional in the state you plan to open a virtual mailbox for clarification.
Using a virtual mailbox as an address for government forms
Are you considering using a virtual address for bank details, drivers license or other official documents? This is something you will have to discuss the service prior to signing up.
Choose your address carefully
While it may seem that you have struck gold with a virtual mailbox service that offers locations in every country, you will need to choose an address carefully.
Many virtual mailbox services will use USPS P.O Boxes and forward the mail from their to their sorting and scanning facility. This allows the virtual mailbox to offer more addresses even though they may not have a physical presence in that state.
While this does give you more choice, it also adds an extra step that not only adds room for error (such as misplaced mail) but also delays how soon your mail is scanned, since it must be forwarded to the virtual mailboxes head office.
Also, Fedex, DHL, UPS and other couriers will not deliver to a P.O Box.
Check where the virtual mailbox can forward mail to
While a virtual mailbox can scan your mail so that you can access it anywhere in the world, there may be developing countries that they are unable to forward mail to.
One of our readers, Claire, found this out the hard way a few years back. She had a one off instance of needing to forward her birth certificate to where she was staying in Vietnam. And the virtual mailbox was unable to do so. Fortunately, after much time spent back and forth, Claire was able to receive her birth certificate.
But all the drama could have been avoided if Claire was aware that the virtual mailbox could not physically ship to Vietnam to begin with, so she could choose a service that was more suitable to her needs.
Choose a strong password
An obvious but often overlooked part of setting up a virtual mailbox is to use a strong password. The longer and harder to guess the better. Check out this guide for advice on choosing a secure yet easy to remember password for your virtual mailbox.
Or better yet – use a password manager like Lastpass or Dashlane and you’ll never have to remember or type another password again!
Be careful closing down your virtual mailbox
The biggest downside to a Virtual mailbox is that no virtual mailbox I came across had the ability to forward your mail once it is closed. USPS will not forward your mail from a virtual mailbox address and while a virtual mailbox is required to keep any mail addressed to your for up to 6 months, I came across many stories about how virtual mailbox staff refused to forward the emails without an open account.
So once you decide you no longer need a virtual mailbox address, you will need to take extra care to inform everyone that was direction mail to your virtual mailbox that the address is no longer valid.
The only solution to this is to inform everyone that contacted you through your virtual mailbox that you have moved on, ideally before you close you’re your service.
Please note, that each virtual mailboxes policy is different and you should discuss their re-direct policy prior to signing up.
Got some information you want to add or just want to share your experience with using a virtual mailbox address? Let me know in the comments below!