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Smarter Travel: How can I receive mail while traveling abroad?
December 22, 2014
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One big obstacle to smarter travel when becoming a digital nomad was what to do about receiving mail. Amidst the piles of junk mail there would occasionally be something important, so what was the solution?

My first big mistake:

My first method was very low tech and, as you can imagine, didn’t work out so well.

When I first left the US for five months, I had a P.O. Box in Southern California. I asked a friend still in the area to check the box every week or so, take a photo of the mail and I would tell them what to do with it.

Well, the mail wasn’t checked nearly often enough and the photos were sent even less often. It’s a crappy thing to have a friend do, and I should never have asked. When I returned home to visit in the summer, I had a big box (which luckily didn’t have anything particularly important in it) full of mail to sort through.

So how do I deal with it now?

Using tech to solve old-school problems:

I did some searching for online mailboxes, and here’s what I came up with. Some companies will give you a business address in a city. Heck, even my best pals Regus have a “virtual office” service like this.

However, those services are really expensive, costing upwards of $100 or more a month just to maintain the address and forward the mail. I didn’t want the mail forwarded all the way across the world, though. There had to be a better way!

There was.

I discovered two services to effectively deal with physical mail in a completely virtual way.

how_to_get_mail_02

Traveling Mailbox – the lifesaver:

Traveling Mailbox is a service that gives me an address in a major metropolitan area (San Francisco, in my case). It’s not a P.O. Box, so it looks like a real address. They receive my mail, send it to their processing center and scan it in for me.

When new mail arrives, the outside is scanned in and I am given a choice of what to do with it. Various options include “open and scan,” “open, scan and shred,” and just plain “shred” for that stuff you know is junk mail.

They will scan up to 35 pages in a month, but you can get more by paying a little extra per page. I don’t get a lot of mail, so this is fine. For this service, you pay either $14.95 (for a VA address) or $19.95 (for any other address) per month. That’s just a bit more than the smallest possible P.O. box cost me, and they didn’t do ANYTHING at the post office.

Traveling Mailbox will also receive and forward packages or forward the actual mail it receives, if you need it to. I’ve used that feature before, though it does cost extra. I’ve even seen it used as a surrogate address for a home-based corporation, as the person did not want to use their actual home in the public corporate filings.

This is such a useful service and I’ve had nothing but a good experience with it so far. Highly recommended!

Mail a Letter – another super-useful service:

I’ve had to mail the occasional letter from abroad, so I was initially stumped as to how to do this. Luckily, services exist that will allow you to upload a document, which they will then print and ship for you. You can even personalize the envelope and choose different shipping options.

The one I’ve used is Mail a Letter, which has worked out just fine in the few instances I’ve had to use it. They accept a bunch of different document types and seem to do the work quickly and with no hassles. Good stuff!

Update: Travis Poole from Traveling Mailbox alerted me to the fact that they will also mail pdf files for you, in case you want to stick with one service. Great news!

If anyone else has any elegant solutions to these problems, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

photo credit: Dr.Colossus and kevin dooley via photopin cc

About author

Zachary Strebeck

I'm a solo practice lawyer and full-time digital nomad. I run my law practice at www.strebecklaw.com, representing Internet, mobile software and gaming entrepreneurs. I also blog about digital nomad travel at A Lawyer Abroad.

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There are 2 comments

  • Josh says:

    While I personally use Traveling Mailbox as well, during my research I found a number of different services that do pretty much the exact same thing. I compiled my research as a helpful resource to others here:

    Comparison of virtual mail forwarding services

    I also had NO IDEA that Traveling Mailbox will send letters for me. Thanks for adding that little nugget of information, Zach!

  • Alchung says:

    Wondering how ‘Traveling Mailbox’ address would work if we update our driving license address? Some of them said it works on any financial account (Bank account, Credit card, etc). Also wondering if it works for business license too. Any insights? thoughts?

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