Have you ever wished that you could check your mail while you were traveling? To be clear I’m talking about your home mailbox, postbox, or the mailslot at your house or apartment, not your email “mailbox” or inbox. The U.S. Post Office is not obsolete yet.
Despite electronic and paperless billing options, we all still need a way to receive paper letters and packages. However when we are working from the road or living abroad, the post office just doesn’t cut it. The USPS still offers the same old options to hold and forward our mail with nothing to address the digital age.
There is an app or cloud-based solution for everything. So it should come as no surprise that there is a service for your postal mail as well. I'm talking about an online service with a physical mail processing center that lets you check your mail using what’s known as a virtual post office box. While the concept has been around for years it still requires explaining to understand how it can fit into your travel-often lifestyle. Cutting edge solutions such as Earth Class Mail (my personal recommendation) make the leap between the post office and your mailbox in the cloud.
We all know what renting a P.O. Box at your local post office entails and you’ve surely seen the UPS Store franchises around town. The latter rents private mailboxes to personal and business customers in the local area. I’ve rented one of those in the past in San Francisco, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and it was sufficient at the time. Unfortunately the friendly neighborhood mailbox store that I rented from years ago in San Francisco has closed down due to increasing rents. What is the risk that your local mailboxes etc type retail shop will be around next year?
The biggest downside to renting a PO or private mailbox is that it requires you to visit your lock box in person to check for and pick up any delivered mail. When you are out of town or more than a short walk or drive away, or the weather is awful or you can’t find a parking spot, stopping at your mailbox store is a hassle. I recall many times not being able to find the time to stop by my local UPS Store during a busy work week. At least some locations are open extended hours for customer access or let you call ahead to find out if your mailbox is full or empty.
A virtual post office is built from the ground up for the Internet age. It gives you a remote U.S. mailing address with online controls to receive, open, scan, store, shred, deposit checks, and forward your mail to anywhere both domestic and international. You outsource your mail handling to them and use your smart phone or desktop computer to process your mail virtually.
To demonstrate the benefits of this revolutionary concept, let’s meet three types of travelers and business professionals who often rent a private mailbox to save time, protect their financial security, and manage their mail wherever life, work, and family take them.
Review the one that fits with your lifestyle to determine if a virtual mailbox with Earth Class Mail (or one of their competitors if you prefer) is right for you.
If you’re like me and travel regularly for work and for vacation, collecting frequent flier miles along the way, you need a way to “pickup” your mail when you’re away from home. With a virtual post box like with the Earth Class Mail service (my personal recommendation), you won’t need to worry about putting your mail on vacation hold. Plus when you get sent on an extended or unplanned trip to visit customers or colleagues, your mail will automatically “follow” you on the road.
With this technique I suggest that only direct your important letters, account statements, and time-sensitive documents to be delivered to your Earth Class Mail address. That’s all we care about, right? The goal of the frequent flier is to prevent those pesky direct marketers from getting their address and unleashing the junk mail deluge. This type of traveler knows how important it is to opt-out of home address sharing and opt-out of all offers being sent to their “secret” (aka virtual) mailing address.
Read my detailed advice on eliminating junk mail forever, especially if you are moving homes and signing up for an online mailbox service.
See if you are like this Frequent Flier who is willing to pay for a private mailbox in the cloud to turn paper mail into “electronic” mail and never miss a beat.
Full Time Job
Works as an account manager for a big insurance company and travels several times a year for business, mostly within the USA. She earns frequent flier miles on United Airlines and hotel points with Marriott Rewards which she is allowed to redeem for personal travel. She takes advantage of her business trips for bleisure travel by making time to explore the cities that she visits.
With her 3 weeks of vacation plus 10 company holidays, she takes 2 week-long vacations a year in addition to several weekend trips. During long holiday weekends she either goes on a driving vacation or takes a short flight to explore a new city.
With endless travel opportunities for both business and leisure, she needs technology solutions for managing her home and finances while away.
How She Uses Earth Class Mail
With a virtual PO Box configured with email alerts, Lisa won’t miss a time-sensitive piece of mail while she is on the road for work. Instead of putting her mail on hold and waiting until she returns home from a business trip, she can receive email notification whenever a letter is delivered to her private box address. At the click of a button or automatically, she can request important mail to be scanned and read online later as a PDF file later. For example if she receives a letter from the IRS or notification of an overdue mortgage payment, it can be dealt with promptly (as it must).
Catherine also doesn’t need to burden a neighbor or family member to pick up her mail when she takes off on a last minute business trip. Not only would they have to pick it up every few days, that person would have to sort through the pile and try to determine if anything critical arrives. Since all her household and financial accounts list her private Earth Class Mail box as her default mailing address, those bills and notices can be dealt with before their deadlines.
In addition Lisa has moved twice in the past few years. Instead of having to change her home mailing address with dozens of companies each time (and likely missing a few), her Earth Class Mail address remains the same. The only thing that follows her to her new home address is the never-ending junk mail. Only her important accounts know about her Earth Class Mail address, so the junk mail pile can usually be tossed in one go.
Expats sponsored by their employers to temporarily live overseas are an obvious match for renting a secure postal mailbox. Even though they may be living in another country, they still have to pay their U.S. credit card bills, receive tax statements and (unfortunately) file a U.S. tax return annually, monitor payments on outstanding loans, and be notified when anything arises with their home, bills, and finances. Whew! And that’s just a partial list.
None of that is easy or sometimes possible without a valid U.S. mailing address. Who is going to gather, sort, and tell you about your private and personal mail every week or two? A family member? A friend? A neighbor? I would rather pay a trusted service to deal with that instead of being a burden for months or possibly years to come.
When my wife and I first moved to Ireland for a job assignment a number of years ago, I was extremely worried about missing a critical piece of mail while maintaining my excellent credit history. Renting an online post box in the USA represents the best of both worlds for expats. You can maintain a fixed US state mailing address (numerous states to choose from) regardless of which countries your job takes you to and for how long.
For that and many more reasons, Earth Class Mail has become an essential tool for expat singles, couples, students studying abroad, and families who move from the United States to a foreign country.
Expat Job Assignment
Melissa works full-time as a project manager at the European headquarters for an American pharmaceutical company. She and her husband were sponsored for their visas and moved overseas as part of a 2-year global job assignment. David is going to work remotely for his current employer while Melissa is on her expat assignment. They gave up their city apartment in the states, but need to maintain a U.S. mailing address for financial and personal reasons while they are living overseas.
David also needs a U.S. mailing address to use as the official address for his part-time social media marketing consulting business. By running his online sole proprietorship or incorporated single-person LLC business in a personal income tax-free state, he can potentially (no, I’m not giving tax advice) save on taxes. It makes no sense to try to incorporate his business in another country if he is scheduled to move back and if his customers and his income originates from American clients.
They are both active on media sites and do not want to lose access to book, music, and video streaming services such as iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Having a U.S. credit card with a U.S. billing address is often a necessity to maintain these customer accounts. They also use CurrencyFair to transfer money from US dollars into European currency accounts such as Euros, Sterling (British Pounds), and Swiss Francs on demand with the best conversion rate.
International Travel Plans
Melissa receives 4 weeks of vacation a year as part of her benefits package. That is because 20 days is the minimum legal vacation day requirement in The Netherlands where she is working. She has to travel to her home office in San Francisco at least twice a year in addition to taking several business trips to visit other European offices like Dublin, London, and Zurich.
With her generous vacation time this expat couple is able to embark on one vacation per month. They are taking mostly long weekend trips to a variety of European cities by flying budget airlines such as Ryanair which includes bleisure European travel. So even though they are living overseas in a corporate furnished apartment, they are often away from both their US and Amsterdam homes. Keeping timely tabs on bills and financial statements is always a concern.
Even though they expect to be living abroad with a two year European visa, they still need to keep an official address in the U.S. for several critical reasons. Some banks and financial institutions will not accept a foreign address for their account holders. They often require a permanent U.S. address for sending out legally required disclosures, interest and trading statements, and annual tax notices. The same applies to many other accounts that Melissa and David maintain such as for their American credit cards, life insurance policy, iTunes subscription, and state driver’s licenses.
There are loads of situations where only an address in one of the 50 states is acceptable to maintain or open an account. This tech savvy couple prefers not to use the address of a relative for practical and privacy reasons. Remote mail management, document scanning, and international forwarding to any place worldwide are all required features. Therefore Earth Class Mail is the right solution for them while they are on assignment and even after they return.
For self-employed persons working online, Earth Class Mail is the professional way to maintain a legally required physical mailing addresses in the USA. Fortunately David can choose from several popular states for incorporating or running a remote business such as Texas, Florida, Delaware, and Washington. The best part is that the virtual mailbox management screen lets him add a new state address in just a few clicks and create multiple (recipient name) alias mailing addresses as needed.
We can all dream about quitting our job to travel the world, but even if you make that a reality you have to pay the bills regularly. Digital nomad is the term often used to describe those (lucky or crazy) people who have no fixed home as they travel from place to place. Regardless of whether they spend months in Belize or a year in Thailand or travel non-stop in a spontaneous manner, these travelers still need to earn a living to pay for this lifestyle.
As a self-employed blogger or marketing consultant or web developer or whatever, digital nomads eventually need to establish a professional business entity if they want to take on established clients. Fortunately the United States is one of the most friendly places to register and locate an online business. This is especially true because so many vendors and service providers trade in U.S. dollars and are first and foremost open to U.S. resident or citizen customers.
Are you a digital nomad or want to become one some day? Read on to see how setting up a business and registering a corporate mailing address in the states can help remote workers live to travel.
As a successful digital nomad, Natalie works from the road as a tech writer for several Fortune 500 companies who pay her to produce user manuals and documentation. Her hours may be sporadic with tons of gaps, but her goal is to earn enough money to be able to keep traveling and experience living in many different countries. Leveraging her tech writing talents to perform contract work (she has a happy client list and recommendations on LinkedIn) is a flexible way to live, work, and travel for a living.
Natalie is a U.S. citizen and never wants to give that up. Before quitting her job to travel the world, she worked at a Fortune 500 financial services firm in Boston and saved a bit of money to launch her around-the-world adventure. She will be earning money online while living the digital nomad lifestyle. Therefore she needs to run her life and business as an experienced contractor who just happens to be residing out of the country.
Since Natalie is never in the same place for long, it makes little sense to establish bank accounts and mailing addresses in any one country. She is constantly traveling and not always sure where she’ll end up next. Plus the legal requirements and financial disclosure rules may prevent her from doing so anyway. All she needs is her computer and a reliable broadband Wi-Fi connection to get billable work done. The business and finance side is a necessary evil of being a remote worker.
Occasionally she’ll stay put in one country to hang out with fellow digital nomads and to get a chunk of work done for a project. Regardless she and her business are on an indefinite road trip. Her savings are deposited in the USA and it is easiest for it to stay there (and accumulate interest) so it can be withdrawn when needed in whichever currency suits. Fortunately she has a debit and credit card that charges zero currency conversion fees on ATM withdrawals and charges such as with Capital One Bank.
As a freelancer, Natalie receives payment for her work via bank transfer or using PayPal as an intermediary. Business income most often comes in as U.S. dollars to a U.S. bank account. Everything she does is registered to her Earth Class Mail address so that she can receive invoices, tax notices, statements, and legal documents promptly to a safe and secure location.
It is critical that Natalie stays compliant by paying the correct amount of federal, state, and self-employment social security taxes on earnings. She can deduct business expenses of course which she does with the help of an accountant who specializes in Americans living abroad. Unfortunately as a U.S. citizen she’ll have to report worldwide income each year and pay any taxes due regardless of where in the world she happens to call home.
She set up her Earth Class Mail dashboard so that envelope image scans are sent to her email inbox which are viewed on her iPhone as they arrive. Weekly she logs in using a phone or notebook computer (the web user interface is mobile friendly) to select whether to have mail pieces opened and the contents scanned to PDF (online only or as an attachment file) or to shred and recycle the junk mail. Usually Natalie can instantly tell which mail items are important, but sometimes she needs to have them scanned to figure that out. For example a letter from her credit card company may end up being a marketing-related offer to transfer a balance or upgrade to the latest travel rewards program. There often is no way to know until the important looking letter is opened and scanned.
To save money she’ll forward physical items such as replacement ATM cards and promotional products to her brother who lives in San Diego. She visits him at least once a year. In the interim he is willing to send Natalie a care package of mail and other things she misses from home to her current global residence.
These are just three examples of people who found the perfect way to take charge of their paper mail online while they travel for work or live overseas. In fact my wife and I have been all three of these types of people at one time in our married lives. We quickly discovered that we couldn’t manage without our trustworthy Earth Class Mail account.
Want to see how it works? Read my full review of Earth Class Mail on VacationCounts.com with screenshots and postal mail workflow.
Every great solution always has downside, so I have to mention that my recommended service can seem a bit expensive compared with what you’d expect. Technology solutions are often free and ad-supported like with Gmail or Facebook. However paying a company to receive, process, scan, store, shred, and forward your physical mail remains a labor intensive business. Don’t forget that it’s way beyond what you can get by renting an old-fashioned PO Box. The cost of forwarding mail domestically or internationally (often quite expensive for more than one piece) will never go down in price, but most of the per piece costs are the standard postal rates.
Any company you hire to legally receive and accept mail on your behalf must maintain strict security protocols. This has to include background checking their staff, locking down and monitoring their mail scanning and storage facilities, and putting into effect policies to prevent theft or fraud. I hesitate to trust a mom-and-pop business with my such items like my 401K and social security statements, replacement debit cards PINs, and checks meant for deposit. For me, my business, and my family, it is absolutely worth the price.
As covered in my previous overview and review article about Earth Class Mail, you can tell that I highly recommend their service from personal and business experience. They have been indispensable in helping me to manage online all of my U.S. mail regardless of whether I am living in the states, living abroad, working remotely, traveling for weeks at a time, or moving to a new home.
That continuity and the fact that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to inform every business account each time I am residing at a new address is well worth staying a customer. Earth Class Mail helps me to protect my long term financial security while my wife and I work and save for retirement. I feel more confident that I’ll not be the victim of identity theft since I’m less likely to lose a critical letter or leave it unopened for weeks. I also don’t want to miss a voter registration notice or an unexpected tax letter or other sensitive mail that is impossible to anticipate and which I definitely don’t want to lose.
So if you are interested in learning more or convinced to sign up for a free trial, follow my link to the new customer start page.
If you are one of the three types of travelers described above, I suggest you choose their “Starter Plan” right now. It is the lowest cost option with a-la-carte pricing based on how much you mail you receive and scan. Of course if you know your expected needs are beyond the basics, join a full-featured plan which includes a greater volume of mail per month. Compare the options and decide what is best for your, your family members, and your business knowing that you can always upgrade or downgrade plans and add-on features.
You’ll need to fill out an official USPS 1583 postal consent form to authorize them to receive mail on your behalf (a legal requirement). After that you can start giving out your new personal or business U.S. address (and print it on your business cards) according to plan.
I suggest that you change your address for a few select accounts at first and try it out over several months to get a feel for the flow and usage patterns. Then when you’re ready, modify all your important accounts to send mail (when it can’t be paperless) to your Earth Class Mail private mailbox number. While you are at it, review all your account paperless options so that you reduce physical mail as much as possible as some might have changed since last you checked.
My own advice is NOT to submit an official USPS forwarding order to redirect all of your U.S. mail to your virtual postbox. You are not permanently moving to a new address so don't treat it as such. You definitely don’t want to pay for junk and non-essential mail to be sorted, scanned, or forwarded. Plus you cannot in the future forward your mail from an Earth Class Mail account to another address if you discontinue the service. Try to use it like a private mailbox for select vendors, important accounts, and business activities.
Use it only for your timely personal and business account relationships like your bank, insurance company, investment advisor, credit card, tax accountant, loan notice, storage locker, safe deposit box, business registration, vendor accounts, and anything else that need to have delivered virtually to you worldwide. Keep a detailed list in a spreadsheet for safekeeping.
So which mobile worker are you? Expat employee? Frequent flyer business traveler? Digital nomad such as a travel blogger perhaps? Add your comments below if you think a virtual mailbox rental fits your global work and travel lifestyle. What tips can you offer on how to optimize your paper mail to save time, save money, and never miss an important letter?
For full disclosure, VacationCounts may receive a fee for referring new customers to the companies mentioned in this article. In no way does this affect the recommendations offered and in no way will this cost you anything to click through to follow my personal advice.
Going on Vacation Soon?
Download a Free Handy Checklist
Subscribe to the VacationCounts newsletter and get a free 6-page PDF checklist to make sure you are always prepared and ready to go on vacation.