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Smarter Travel: How can I receive mail while traveling abroad?
December 22, 2014
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Receiving mail as a digital nomad – 2018 update

Having used Traveling Mailbox for nearly three years now, I thought it would be a good time to update this virtual post mail review and discuss my current feelings on the service for digital nomad mail. I’ll also touch on some of the more useful features that they provide.

Three years in – how does it hold up?

I’m happy to report that Traveling Mailbox is still the best virtual mailbox service, just as it was when I wrote this initial post three years ago. In fact, it’s only gotten better. They’ve actually upgraded the interface a bit in the last few months, which is good (but not great).

Since I run my business virtually, I generally don’t get important physical mail. However, when I do (such as receiving trademark registration certificates on behalf of clients), I can easily add the client’s address into my Traveling Mailbox address book and forward the item to them. They ship domestically and internationally, which is extremely convenient. They also offer multiple shipping options, as well as tracking.

Additionally, I’ve been doing a lot of credit card churning for bonus miles (helped out by another great service, Abroaders.com). The cards are sent to my Traveling Mailbox account, and I forward them to a trusted friend or family member to take photos of the card for me. Then, when I’m back in the States, I swing by and grab the physical cards, but I’ve been able to complete my minimum spending just from the number on the photo.

Simple, easy, and it’s let me fly across the world nearly for free multiple times in the last couple years. Traveling Mailbox is a huge help in making that happen!

Who is it for?

Before I get into my traveling mailbox reviews, let’s take a look at who these services are for. Who can benefit? Plenty of folks in different situations, such as:

  • Digital nomads who need a “home base” to receive mail
  • Someone who needs a physical address for business, particularly home-based businesses where you don’t want to publicly post that address
  • People who live out of the US, in need of expat mail forwarding
  • RV-ers who may be out of their home often, that want to know how to get mail without a permanent address
  • Others who just need a forwarding address

There’s probably many more situations (military and merchant marines, for example) where a mail service for travelers is a convenient way to receive mail online. Heck, if you just don’t want to bother with going out to your real mailbox, a virtual mailing address can be way more convenient than other methods.

Some people will say to get a PO box (which I did in the beginning), but this is much LESS convenient, in my opinion. You need to actually show up at the post office to get your mail, and you’re limited by space unless you want to pay more for a bigger box.

Must-have features

For those who haven’t used a virtual mail scanning and mailbox service, here are some of the killer features that I couldn’t do without:

Mail scanning

I use my Traveling Mailbox address as a physical address for business. The envelopes are scanned in for me and displayed on my Traveling Mailbox account dashboard. From there, I can tell if something is junk or if it’s worth having them open and scan for me.

The scanning is generally completed by the same or next day, but if there’s a rush, that option is available. Scan quality has been pretty great, so no complaints there.

You’re limited to a certain number of scans per month, and any above that are charged per page. Given the volume I deal with, I generally don’t go over.

This service is super convenient, for two reasons. First, it allows me to receive mail in the US and give the illusion (however easily shattered) that I’m based in San Francisco, rather than Bangkok or wherever I happen to be at the moment.

Second, it allows me to preview all of my mail and only concentrate on the important stuff (or the mysterious stuff).

As a bonus, being an internet person, it avoids the possible dangers of getting real life stalkers or other nasty stuff that can come from having your home or office address publicly posted.

Mail shredding

If you receive things like credit card offers and other items with your personal info on them, Traveling Mailbox will shred that mail for you, free of charge. Just “set it and forget it,” as Ron Popiel used to say (yes, I’m old).

Also, mail that lingers in your account for a certain amount of time will be automatically removed and shredded, so nothing is left hanging and your personal info is kept safe.

Check deposit

While I offer multiple forms of online payment, some clients still want to pay with a check. This would normally be the kiss of death for a virtual business, particularly when I’m thousands of miles away (I don’t believe that I can use scans of the check for my bank app’s deposit function).

Traveling Mailbox offers a check deposit service, which ships the check off to my bank and it gets deposited. I just set up the account and bank address in my dashboard, and pay the fee (about $10). If you’re getting a bunch of tiny checks, this probably isn’t a feature you’d want to use. But for larger checks, it is extremely helpful.

Mail forwarding

I mentioned it above, but the mail forwarding option is another great feature of Traveling Mailbox. It allows me to ship the mail off to a family member or friend’s forwarding address, so I can pick it up when I visit. I could also forward it to my condo in Bangkok, but I think it wouldn’t be worth the cost of international shipping. It’s good to have the option, at least.

The cool part of this feature is that I can group a number of items together in a shipment, cutting down on costs. I can also, as mentioned above, put my clients’ and other peoples’ address info into my account, so I can forward them mail that I’ve received on their behalf.

You can also receive packages through Traveling Mailbox, though you need to use a separate address for packages.

Conclusion

So, after three years, how do I feel about Traveling Mailbox?

I honestly don’t know how I’d have gotten by without it. It’s one of those uniquely modern services that helps bridge the gap between the old, stationary world, and the future of digital nomadism or geographic arbitrage.

I wouldn’t recommend a product without having used it and enjoyed it myself. So, as a long-time TM user, I give it my highest rating. Sure, you can get a PO box, but it doesn’t have the level of usefulness or service that a virtual address space can provide.

I can’t recommend Traveling Mailbox highly enough!

Note: The links to Traveling Mailbox are affiliate links, which help to support the site!

Original Post from December 22, 2014:

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?

  • Leave a Reply