Choosing a Virtual Mailbox
An important consideration if you’re moving out of the country is what to do with your mail. Inevitably, you will be receiving important tax documents or other mail from institutions that don’t yet have paperless options among junk mail and shopping catalogs.
What is a virtual mailbox?
Having a virtual mailbox essentially gives you a U.S. street address where you can have all your mail delivered. It’s ‘virtual’ because you can then see all your incoming mail online. The company you choose to go with scans the envelope and uploads the picture to your dashboard. You then choose to:
- have the mail opened and its contents scanned for you,
- have the mail recycled and/or shredded (typically for free),
- have the mail stored long-term (typically for a fee over 30 days), or
- have the mail forwarded to an address that you provide (sometimes for a handling fee).
Why do I need a virtual mailbox?
I don’t have immediate family in America nor do I want to bother a friend to manage my mail for me.
For others who do have immediate family in America and don’t mind them going through your mail, this post is most likely not for you.
Feature and cost comparisons
In my research, I came across 7 different virtual mailbox companies. Each had 3 or more different plans depending on the volume of mail one expects to receive. I compared the lowest tiers of each of the 7 companies. 2 of them had more than 1 low-usage tier so I included them both.
|Company||Mailbox Location||Annual Cost1||Monthly Cost2||Adj Monthly Cost3||Mail Received4||Extra Mail||Content Scans5||Extra Content Scanned||Forwarding Fee|
* Others mailbox locations offered for an additional monthly fee (usually $4.95+).
Annual cost takes into account discounts in prepaid annual plans or monthly trials offered. This is typically first year's annual cost.
Monthly cost is the advertised monthly cost, likely what you'd be paying after the first year.
Adjusted monthly cost is the first year annual cost (with discounts) divided by 12.
Mail received is the quota of individual pieces of mail the company will intake at no additional cost.
Extra mail is the cost for each additional piece of mail you receive above your quota.
Content scanned is the quota of individual pieces of mail the company will scan for you (at your discretion) at no additional cost. The unit is in pieces of mail, unless otherwise indicated. Note that there are usually limits as to the number of pages per piece of mail they will scan for you at no additional cost. Mail is typically <3 pages so this shouldn't be a concern for most people.
Extra content scanned is the cost for each additional piece of mail you request to be scanned above your quota. The unit is in pieces of mail, unless otherwise indicated.
Forwarding fee is the handling fee on top of the standard shipping charges.
Since the above table is still confusing and hard to visualize what's the best deal, I whipped up the below tool to help you compare costs depending on the volume you're expecting.
|Company||Est. Monthly Cost||Est. Annual Cost|
USPS Form 1583
When applying for a virtual mailbox, you’ll need to send the company a USPS Form 1583. It seems whichever company you go with will give you a pre-filled form that you’ll need to get notarized with 2 pieces of identification.
Most, if not all, of the companies do not include junk mail in their quota. Some companies do not disclose how they identify junk mail, while others specify that it is whether the addressee is your name or if it’s simply ‘Resident’, ‘Customer’, or ‘Business Owner’.
The different companies also offer a host of other features, such as check depositing (usually for a fee), long-term mail storage (it is typically free up to 30 or 60 days– after that, cost varies depending if it’s a letter or a package/parcel), and multiple users (if you want to share your virtual mailbox with someone else).
I ended up going with AnytimeMailbox because it had the cheapest price for 25 pieces of mail received and 10 scanned per month. PhysicalAddress was a close second, but I preferred having an address in Portland, OR over Las Vegas, NV.
I had spent the last few weeks diligently contacting companies to stop sending me physical mail, so I don’t expect to be receiving a lot of mail. I also don’t expect to be receiving a lot of mail important enough where I need them opened and scanned for me. But I do need a virtual mailbox because I am expecting to receive tax documents as well as credit card renewals and any other important notices.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, you might look into the user interface of the dashboards offered by the different services. Unfortunately, most of these companies don’t have a mobile app yet (seems like only AnytimeMailbox and TravelingMailbox do) but they offer e-mail notifications when incoming mail is received. Some also offer tags, folders, and even Evernote/Dropbox compatibility.
All I needed was someone to intake my mail. I’m not too concerned with same-day turnaround or the UI. My top priority is keeping my expenses low, so this was the best option for me.
In a few months, I’ll consider writing a follow-up post on my experience if it strays far from what I was expecting.