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.
|Just like sifting through my mail at home, yay! (note: Blogger compressed/fuzzed the pic - click to see the crisp original.)|
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.