The number of Americans living abroad, including expats and Digital Nomads, now totals over nine million. Many of them still receive mail in the US from time to time (or regularly) though, and a Virtual Mailbox Service provides a way for expats to see their US postal mail more or less instantly.
The way the best Virtual Mailbox Services work is the company providing the service notifies you that you have mail by emailing a scan of the envelope. At this point you can choose for them either to shred or recycle the letter without opening it (if it’s junk mail for example), open it and email you a scan of the contents, and/or forward the letter (or parcel) via international postal services (which may be necessary for IRS correspondence, for example).
Most of the best Virtual Mailbox Service companies charge a monthly fee that includes scanning and emailing up to a certain number of letters per month. Forwarding letters and parcels internationally is billed as an extra depending on the postal cost (i.e. where it’s being forwarded to etc).
Some of the best Virtual Mailbox Service companies are more geared towards businesses, other more towards individuals.
One important consideration for American expats and Digital Nomads when setting up a Virtual Mailbox Service is to ensure that the mail address that they choose in the States doesn’t create a State tax filing liability for them. Most expats won’t pay State taxes after they move abroad, however the rules vary in every State, and some consider having a mailing address in the state, perhaps taken with other ties (such as a bank account, or drivers license), as triggering a State Filing liability.
“A virtual mailing service gives you a physical address, that you can set as your permanent address, and to which you can direct all your mail.” – The Professional Hobo
The safest states to have a mailing address in for expats in this respect are those that don’t charge state taxes at all – Wyoming, Washington, Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, Florida and Alaska.
Most of the best Virtual Mailbox Services provide non-PO Box addresses, so an additional benefit, anecdotally at least, is that these addresses may be used for driving licenses or if your bank requires a US address.
Which is the best Virtual Mailbox Service provider?
Earth Class Mail – https://www.earthclassmail.com/
Earth Class Mail is the industry leader. Geared for businesses as much as for individuals, Earth Class Mail’s services start at $69 a month, and includes unlimited users and cloud storage, secure end to end encryption, and a wide choice of US addresses.
US Global Mail – https://www.usglobalmail.com
An economical service for individuals, starting at just $10 a month, with more expensive options available for those who receive more mail. Simple and efficient, with discounted shipping rates for those who require mail or packages physically sent on. Just one US address is available though, in Houston, TX, which is fine in terms of state taxes. To get the best prices, you have to lock in for at least two years.
Travelling Mailbox – https://travelingmailbox.com/
Travelling Mailbox is another popular service for expats and Digital Nomads. It’s similar to US Global Mail, but with more bells and whistles, such as a choice of US postal addresses, and the ability to sync with data storage software to store scans.
It also has options for businesses, a highly rated interface, and an app.
VirtualPostMail – https://www.virtualpostmail.com
VirtualPostMail is another good option for individuals and businesses. When they scan mail, their scan has character recognition, meaning that you can search for particular words in the scan when you receive it. Their shipping rates are transparent and reasonable too. One of their addresses is in Nevada, a no state income tax state.
Anytime Mailbox – https://www.anytimemailbox.com/
Anytime Mailbox offers addresses throughout the US (and around the world) by operating through franchise partners. Their service is intended for individuals, with pricing based on how much mail you expect to receive.
While all of the above firms offer a similar service in principle – alerting expats when they have US mail and then scanning or forwarding it upon request – where they differ is in the details – their online/mobile interface, integration, US address choices, customer service, and international shipping rates. So which service is best really depends on each expat’s particular requirements.
Don’t forget to file!
Don’t forget that because the US taxes on citizenship, all Americans are required to file a federal tax return every year, reporting their worldwide income, even if they live abroad.
When expats file, they can claim one or more provisions such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion or the Foreign Tax Credit to reduce their US tax bill (often to zero), however they have to file to claim these.
Expats may also have to report their foreign bank accounts and investments, and any foreign registered businesses they may have.
Expats who are behind with their US tax filing can catch up without facing penalties using an IRS amnesty program called the Streamlined Procedure, so long as they do so before the IRS writes to them.