What is a Virtual Mailbox? (and How to Choose One)
July 25, 2018
Updated June 19, 2020
Managing your postal mail doesn’t have to involve sorting through a giant pile of envelopes on the kitchen counter. Fortunately, virtual mailboxes are the go-to solution for modernizing your postal mail. Making the switch to a virtual mailbox means you’ll get to enjoy less paper clutter, the freedom to move or travel freely as you wish, and the confidence that important mail won’t fall through the cracks.
At Earth Class Mail, we’ve scanned over 10 million pieces of mail to give our customers the flexibility to travel the world or work from anywhere without hesitation.
If you haven’t already taken the leap, let us walk you through what a virtual mailbox is, who it’s for, and what questions you should ask before you choose a provider.
What is a virtual mailbox?
A virtual mailbox is a digital mailbox service that contains scanned copies of your postal mail, which you can access from your computer, tablet, or phone.
Wondering how you can access your postal mail virtually?
Here’s how it works:
You pick a physical address from a provider’s list of available addresses. That becomes your virtual mailing address.
Your mail is received by the virtual mailbox provider, where it’s scanned and uploaded so that you can view it.
Some virtual mail providers will accept packages and forward them to the address of your choice.
Decide what you want to do with your mail. Some companies provide the option to store your mail, share it, shred it, or connect with other apps—like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Quickbooks Online.
Who should get a virtual mailbox?
A virtual mailbox can be particularly useful for people who work remotely, who value location independence, travel extensively, or live abroad.
Freelancers. If you’re a home-based freelancer, you may not want to put your home address on your website or invoices. A virtual mailbox allows you to keep your home address private while sharing a professional address with clients.
Expats. Managing your mail while in another country can be a hassle. Just because you’re living abroad doesn’t mean people (and businesses, the government, your student loan servicer, etc.) stop sending you mail. The last thing you want is to miss an important bill, check, or notification because you’re not in the country. In the past, you may have listed your address as your parents’ or a friend’s house and asked them to let you know if something important arrived. With a virtual mailbox, you have access to all of your mail, 24/7, wherever you are.
Digital nomads. If you chose a location independent lifestyle, the need to continue managing postal mail shouldn’t hold you back or create unnecessary anxiety. Using a virtual mail solution means you know you’re up to date on your postal mail and that important communications won’t fall through the cracks.
RVers. Living as an RV nomad is becoming increasingly popular. RVer Michelle Schroeder-Gardner shared with Business Insider that one of the most common questions she gets about her lifestyle is “how do you receive mail?” If you’re choosing an RVer lifestyle, you may have seen people talking about forwarding mail to friends or to specific RV parks that you intend to visit. With a virtual mailbox, you don’t have to rely on friends or wait until you get to a specific location to open a letter. Your mail will be available on your computer, phone, or tablet whenever you need it.
A virtual mailbox may be a good fit for you if…
You want a better solution for managing your postal mail.
If you have a giant stack of unsorted mail right now, then a virtual mailbox might be a good choice for you. A virtual mailbox will not only reduce your paper clutter, but also turn your mail into searchable PDFs so you can always find what you need.
You want to keep digital records of important documents.
You can avoid the time-consuming process of scanning in documents that may not be the best quality. With a virtual mailbox, you’ll get every document as a high-resolution, searchable PDF. And if you want any original pieces of mail, you can just request they be forwarded to you or physically stored.
You travel frequently. If you travel a lot, for work or pleasure, you might get tired of asking your neighbor to pick up your mail or putting it on hold at the post office. Especially if you receive packages regularly, having a virtual mail solution with the ability to accept packages can be useful. Once you know you’ll be home for a bit, you can request the packages be sent to your home address.
Questions to ask when choosing a virtual mailbox provider
Now that you’ve decided that you’re interested in a virtual mailbox, here are some questions to ask:
What addresses do they have?
One of your first considerations will be the virtual address that you choose. If you’re a freelancer, you may want a street address that you can also use to register your business. If you’re an expat or an RVer, you might be happy with a P.O. box. Maybe you want to have a virtual address in the city you consider “home,” or maybe you like the idea of having a virtual address in a place you’ve never lived but have always loved—the options are plenty.
What actions can you take on your mail? To get the most value out of your virtual mailbox, ask whether you can see a demonstration of the product to understand the scope of functionalities available to you. If that’s not possible, be sure to find out:
In what format will you receive your mail?
How does the service provider treat packages and checks?
Can you easily export your information to other applications?
What are your options for organizing your information?
Can you have multiple users on your account?
Can you search for documents within the platform?
3. What network and physical security measures do they take? Ask service providers what they do to safeguard their customers’ private information. Find out:
Do they rely on local partners (like local businesses or postal shops) for mail intake or they have independent operations? While local partnerships might increase the number of addresses available to you, they may reduce the security of your mail.
Are the people handling the mail items trained to handle confidential health and financial information?
Are there security systems in place at the facilities that receive and store mail items?
Do they have back-end security measures in place to keep your data safe?
4. How quickly can you access your information? One of the major benefits of using digital mail and document solutions is accessing information quickly, in useful formats. Find out:
How long will it take to see your mail contents from the moment you request an item to be scanned?
Is there an option to automatically scan all content?
How long does mail forwarding take?
Can you access your mail on a mobile device?
5. What is included in the plan? Of course, you want to find out the price of a plan, but you also want to understand exactly what’s included for that price. Price comparison of different services isn’t always apples to apples. Think about what features you will need (mail scanning, mail forwarding, storage, shredding etc.) and make sure you understand the pricing structures associated with those plans and features.
6. Do they provide other services you need? For instance, some virtual mail services also offer the ability to automatically deposit checks or pay bills received in the mail. These additional services can help you get money faster and reduce the possibility of late payments.
A virtual mailbox can help create flexibility and efficiency in your life, but only if the service you use prioritizes those values. Think about how you want a virtual mailbox provider to improve your experience managing your postal mail, and use these questions to find a solution that can meet your needs.
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