My Great Leap

Published on May 22nd, 2011

17

Desperately Seeking… a Mail Forwarding Service

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I swear, our dear www is both a blessing and a curse.  On one hand, Msr. Google is surely the messiah of we consumers – freely giving us refined access to most every blurb, review, and comparison price on any and all obscure products and services. But likewise that bountiful sea of information can seem a curse – leading us down dizzying paths to unearth the best (in this case, value for my particular needs) mail forwarding service.Yep, another necessary chore when one plans to high-tail it to the other side of the world – perhaps for good.  What to do about stray snail mail when one no longer has a U.S. of A. street address?

On the freebie end of the scale, many long-term travelers and expats simply forward their mail to family or friends who can advise what comes in, handle depositing checks, forward a renewed credit card, etc.  But that seems like far too much of a burden for folks over the long term, and personally, I want to be able to SEE my mail and handle all discards, payments, deposits myself.  Yup happily, even whilst I’m sitting in that g-forsaken rice paddy (which – despite the water buffalo and the mud – just happens to have a handy wifi/internet connection), there are online services that allow me to view and handle my own snail mail.

Indeed, so very many choices of such services that I’ve now spent days and days wading through sites such as Earth Class Mail, Bongo International, USAbox, USA2Me, USAMail1, Virtual Post Mail, and more.  The choices are baffling as each offers a slightly different menu of services, and it swiftly becomes a case of comparing – not just “apples and oranges” – but the fine print details of  “Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious”.

Most all offer a variety of plans – each with/without a set up fee, a hierarchy of monthly fees of course, as well as the number of recipient names allowed, maximum number of pieces of mail/month, number of mail scans included in the monthly fee, along with varying costs for “extras” like more mail pieces, more scans, etc.  Then there’s varying mail storage periods (e.g. 30 days, 60 days, 6 months) and junk mail discarding option (some inexplicably don’t allow it!)  Some offer check deposit service (which might come in handy for payments from my website clients), and/or fax service.  And most offer repackaging (some for an extra fee, some for free) to save shipping costs when forwarding multiple items you’ve purchased online.  And speaking of shipping costs – just what are their handling rates? will they ship via USPS? (the cheapest method) or just UPS/Fed Ex?, and how do they determine weight? (most use a standard “DIM Weight” system used by most carriers).

(btw, many/most online stores like Amazon, eBay, etc. won’t ship to a foreign address – least of all Vietnam.  So all the more reason for a mail forwarding service that gives you a respectable U.S. street address.)

For my purposes, the first and foremost factor of course is whether they ship to Vietnam.  Most do, but some don’t so these were swiftly tossed aside.   Then I had to guesstimate just how much mail/packages I might receive/need to forward on a monthly basis.  Hard to predict, but to test the waters I deliberately counted my incoming snail mail for a month, switched my bank statement delivery to online, got myself off stray mailing lists (yeah, like I need to know the latest sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond when I’m knee-deep in a rice paddy halfway ’round the globe), etc.  YMMV of course, but for me this whittled down the essential mailings to but a handful.  And as I’m not much of a “shopper” (neither online nor locally), I don’t expect to have need for oodles of packages shipped each month.

And finally, the most critical factor of all: how’s their customer service?  I mean, this is my personal MAIL people!  And I’m not about to drop it into the hands of some faceless baffoon working out of a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.

So I whittled down the online mail forwarding contenders to the three most promising (Bongo, USA2Me and VPM – Virtual Post Mail), and telephoned them all to get further details/test their customer service.  Suffice Bongo immediately turned me off as too slick (think: used-car salesman) and evasive with details.  USA2Me proved satisfactory in detailing their options, but it was VPM that immediately stood out as a service I could truly rely on.  Very reasonable fees (with no set up fee and half-price for the 1st 3 months), a user interface to die-for (they scan both front and back of each mail piece), and… their customer service is outstanding!  When I called, I had to leave a voice mail, but Joel, the manager returned my call within the hour.  And within minutes I felt like he was a long lost uncle.  Not only was he open and candid about all aspects of the Virtual Post Mail service, but he offered a ton of tips to help me make my decision.  In short, I feel confident that my mail will be in excellent hands with VPM.

Virtual Post Mail User Interface:
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Sample postcard…

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You can click to flip to the back side – kewl!

Though it’s still a tad early to start physically forwarding my mail, I was anxious to get started so I can be sure VPM will be the best for me once I actually move 7,000 miles away from U.S. soil.  So I signed up for an account to test drive the system.

Happily, VPM offers your first 3 months at half price, as well as a choice of promos that gives you either a higher number of mail received/mo. or more free scans.  I opted for the “Personal” plan for $19.99 month (but pay just $10/mo. for the first 3 months) to get started (you can downgrade/upgrade plans any time) and chose the “Scanners Paradise” promo so I get 50 mail pieces and 25 scans (up to 10 pgs. each) per month within my plan.  Additional mail pieces are 30¢ and scans, 99¢  As Joel says, they automatically cull much of the junk mail that comes in, and over time I’ll likely have less and less mail receivables.  So hopefully I can whittle my essential mail down further, and can eventually downgrade to the $10 per month plan.

In any case, I now have a sweet little virtual street address on “Lemon Ave.” in “Walnut, CA”, I feel confident that I’ve found the best mail forwarding service for me, and can finally check that chore off my list.  Leastwise I’m going to give VPM a try for the next several months and will report back here again to let you all know how it goes.

November 2015 Update:
I’ve expatted in 3 different countries now, and have resettled on a 3rd continent (Ecuador, in South America) – still totally happy with the choice I made more than 4 years ago: Virtual Post Mail. Have had many checks deposited and renewed credit cards sent. A major load off this expat’s mind, for just $10 per month!  Do read the comments below for more details on how VPM has worked for me.

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



17 Responses to Desperately Seeking… a Mail Forwarding Service

  1. Tara says:

    I used to be with VirtualPostMail but when I started traveling again, I called them to get my account setup and no one answered the phone! So I started looking at other providers and I went with TravelingMailbox.com … Great customer service, prompt, always answers the phone.

    • Dyanne says:

      I’m surprised Tara – I’ve been with VPM now for more than 5 years and they’ve always been super responsive by email, phone and Skype call. Looks like TravelingMailbox is a tad more expensive than the basic “starter” account that I have with VPM though. As I rarely get but a stray snail mail every great once in awhile nowadays, it’s all I need for $10 per month. Glad you found a mail service that works for you!

  2. Thanks Dyanne!

    This is SO very helpful. I was feeling the overwhelm you described 🙂

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad I could help sort out the “apples and oranges”, Tiffiney. It was a good bit daunting for me too when I started my research, but my $10/mo. Virtual Post Mail service has proven perfect for my needs for nearly 4 years now.

      Indeed, I might add that ideally, go with a company that offers easy, fast and reliable personal contact via email and/or skype (and test it first) Though I’ve seldom needed such, over the years there’s been times when I had to ask a question (about depositing a stray check into my bank account, forward a renewed credit card, etc.) and the staff at VPM always was there to swiftly help.

  3. We imposed on a friend who is going to pick up our mail every week or two and just let us know about the important stuff. He is authorized to toss the catalogs and other junque mail. 90% of our mail is junk!
    Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Longest Day – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA to Chiang Mai, ThailandMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      For short trips that works fine, Suzanne. But when you’re living abroad for years on end, I didn’t want to impose.

      For just $10 per month my VPM mailbox is most handy – indeed essential as an expat. I can also have them mail my renewed credit cards to a chum in the States (cheaper than mailing it me on the other side of the globe) and said chum can kindly forward it in a c.a.r.e. package replete with chocolate and peanut butter! 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    How has this worked out for you? Still using the same service?

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes indeed @Anonymous, it’s been more than a year now and my trusty VPM service is working beautifully. I only get a stray piece of snail mail or two each week, so my $10/month plan is all I need.

      Indeed, thanks for the reminder. I’ve been meaning to write an updated post on Mail Forwarding for Expats (I’ve just been too busy traveling to Thailand, Mongolia and Australia lately). 😉 Stay tuned… hopefully I’ll get to it one day soon.

    • Mary Moss says:

      I expect a tax refund to arrive while I am out of the country. Have you had reliable experience with VPM depositing a check?

    • TravelnLass says:

      No Mary, I’ve not (yet) had need for check deposit through VPM. But I believe it’s just $5 for the service – just give Joel (at VPM) a ring. He’s always been ever ready to help answer any of my questions.

      In any case, if you haven’t already, with but a couple few weeks to go (yikes!) do get VPM set up NOW ‘cuz you’ll have to file a special form w/ the USPS IN PERSON to forward you snail mail to (any) mail-forwarding service.

    • TravelnLass, thanks for the writeup and for the follow up – was wondering how things were going, and incidentally wondering about tax refund checks.

      Keep it up!

  5. Teebo says:

    That is what I meant. FL has 5 yrs business name period while Texas has 10 yrs. Yes, and since the states are strapped for cash, they will seek you out to pay them. I just got back in the states for a lil’ while, buying a car in Texas is 1/2 of California with sales tax and reg fees.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think Teebo’s reference to a no personal income tax state is if the state of the virtual mailbox address (California for VPM) will demand state income tax on any business conducted through that address.

  7. TravelnLass says:

    Yes Teebo, as I said check deposit is handy for me as I will continue to do freelance website design from my laptop in Vietnam (one of the nice perks of such location-independent work) 😉

    I don’t know about PayPal, but most the mail forwarding services I researched take credit cards, so that’s no problem.

    And re: tax-free states? You mean where the virtual mailbox address is located? Isn’t the tax-free tied to the state that the company is incorporated in? I believe VPM is incorporated in CA, but in any case I don’t believe there’s any tax involved in their mail forwarding fees.

    What mail forwarding service do you use in FL?

  8. Teebo says:

    I think one that accepts paypal and offers a check deposit service for those telecommuters is good to have too. Oh, and sales-tax free states and no personal income tax states too. SO, to have all that My choice is between Fl, TX and OR. I prefer FL though.

  9. manonthelam says:

    Looks like you have done scads of research, and 20 bucks a month is perfectly reasonable IMHO. I usually just get my mail forwarded to a friend’s house. Like Dalene though, I’d be interested to see what’s available North of 49… 🙂

  10. Dalene says:

    Good review of the options – can you look into Canada now for us too please? Ha!

    Just kidding, we’re quite happy with the mail service provided by Gord Heck Incorporated. We’ll keep using and abusing our family for such things until they tell us to stop. 🙂

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