What do you do if you’re an expat living abroad or traveling for a long time but still need to receive mail or packages? You might be able to use a friend or family member’s address, but if you don’t have this option or receive a lot of mail, a mail receiving service makes it easy to view and manage your mail while you’re away–it’s a digital mailbox you can access wherever you are. There are a few mail receiving services and I’ll explain what I use, how it works, and why I chose it over others.
What’s a Mail Receiving Service?
This is a subscription-based service that’s a good solution for expats, digital nomads, and long-term travelers–or anyone who needs a physical address to receive mail. This kind of service gives you a physical mailing address and will process your mail so it can be viewed online.
It’s important to know that some banks or other services may not legally be able to accept a mailing service as your registered address. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a great workaround here other than using a friend or family members’ address–or–sticking with your old one, if you are set up for paperless mail.
Why Do I Use One?
I need to be able to receive mail regularly at a US address while I’m traveling. Every now and again I’ll have a piece of mail delivered to a relative or friend for safe keeping or to bring with them if they meet up with me wherever I am in the world, but I didn’t want to swamp someone with everything I get, and a digital mailbox is great for keeping it all organized. I’ve used Traveling Mailbox for three months and I’m very happy with it. It was pretty simple to set up and easy to use.
Setting Up an Account
When you sign up for a mail receiving service, you’ll have a choice of addresses to pick from. Traveling Mailbox doesn’t cover every state in the US, but certain major cities are, including Manhattan. After picking the location, you’ll be issued one address for paper mail and another for packages. Some TM subscriptions also include a number for receiving fax uploads to your account. Sadly, we still live in an age where some businesses–and government institutions–(even doctors!) still have business processes that rely on fax machines.
Next, you’ll need to fill out a US Postal Service form authorizing the receiving service to get your mail. It only took one day for Traveling Mailbox to review and approve mine once I uploaded it and added identity verification. Before they can receive your mail, you’ll also need to provide USPS with change of address notice and set a date for mail forwarding to go into effect so it stops going to your old address. Make sure you also notify anyone who sends you mail of your change of address; Mail forwarding only stays in effect for 6 months.
How it Works
Subscription prices are based on the address (more for somewhere like NYC), and how much mail you expect to receive and open. You can purchase a monthly plan, or get a bit of a discount by paying for a year in advance. Each tier has a monthly cap of both received mail items and page scans. If you’re totally unsure of how much mail you receive, count your important, non-junk mail for a week and estimate what you’d receive in a month. If you receive more mail than your cap or request more page scans than what’s included in your subscription, Traveling Mailbox will charge a small fee for each overage.
Every time you receive mail, the front of the envelope is scanned and uploaded to your account. You’ll get an email notification each time. Your options after viewing the scan are open and scan, forward, or delete. If you request ‘open and scan’, Traveling Mailbox will open the mail and scan each page into your account for you to view or download–I love that it takes only one business day. Your mail will be held until the expiration date, but you can download easily everything to keep your inbox space clear.
To forward your mail, enter an address and choose the shipping speed. You can bundle items in a shipment or forward individually and pick from several shipping speeds. Once you’ve entered that you’ll be shown an estimated shipping cost before confirming your order.
Packages are handled differently. There’s a receiving fee for each one, and an additional fee to ship it wherever you need it to go. I haven’t used this but a handling fee seems reasonable.
Why did I choose this over others?
Let me count the ways.
The forwarding service. Have friends or family meeting up with you overseas? You can forward them your mail to bring along you and be spared ridiculous overseas shipping costs.
Check forwarding. You can add a check deposit address, and routing and account numbers for your bank, and Traveling Mailbox will deposit any checks you receive upon request. The other services I found did not offer this. This is especially important if you need receive travel insurance reimbursement; Many companies issue refunds by check and cannot direct deposit or send the checks overseas.
Customer Service: They have live support reps on chat so it’s really easy to talk to someone and get answers quickly. I don’t have too many because it’s pretty simple to use, but I love being able to talk to someone real-time. I have a background in client services so this was important to me.
Junk Mail Filtering: Any junk mail gets tossed out; Anything that looks like a flyer or has a customer ID or customer number on the address label (junk mail giveaway) goes in the can.
What could be improved?
The design is pretty dated but overall it’s easy to use, and the other services had similar-looking user experiences.
**This post contains an affiliate link, which means that if you purchase a service through my site, I’ll receive part of the price at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I like and use.