Nearly 45 years ago the first email was sent. Around the same time, banks began transferring money electronically.
So it makes perfect sense that in the year Two Thousand and Sixteen we still chop down trees, process them into paper, print words on them, load them on to trucks and airplanes, move them around the world, and then pay people to carry them to our door through rain, sleet, & snow… where we drop them into the trash.
I’ve done my best to avoid this whole mess by opting out of all paper mail, and exclusively using email and online tools. Still, the USPS only cares about their main revenue source (bulk mailers), the IRS and other government agencies like licking stamps, and credit cards are physical (for now.) And some companies (even pure online businesses) are in love with paper checks, even though they cost more than ACH transfers.
So for the last few months we’ve been processing all of our mail with Traveling Mailbox.
Traveling Mailbox is an online postal mailbox. They scan all of the non-junk mail and make it available for viewing 24/7. All of the USPS revenue “mail” gets dumped in the trash without me ever seeing it. (As a fun aside, check out the lengths this guy went through to torment bulk mailers.)
Traveling Mailbox Review
This is what my online postal mailbox looks like right now.
Anything that looks interesting, I have it Opened and Scanned. For example this letter from Geico, informing us that they owe us $59.62 from 3 years ago. Why didn’t they just send email?
Once I’ve finished reading anything of use, I hit the Shred button. It is conveniently disposed of in a secure fashion, without my risking a paper cut.
Once I call Geico, I know they are going to insist on mailing a paper check. Can you post a credit to my credit card? No.
Direct deposit? Uh-uh.
Alas, I have to pretend it is 1972 all over again. Or in this case, Traveling Mailbox will forward checks to a bank for deposit (for a fee.)
I haven’t tested this feature, because instead I uploaded check images to my Capital One 360 account for free. (Free $20 with new account.)
For a few items, I need the actual physical mail. For example for credit cards and my absentee ballot for Washington State.
For the cost of shipping plus a small handling fee (a few bucks) Traveling Mailbox will forward any number of pieces of mail anywhere on the globe.
For example, I forwarded some mail to my brother in Minnesota, which I’ll pick up when we visit in August.
I’ve also forwarded two new credit cards to our hotel room in Madrid. The free hotel nights we get by using the new cards more than covers the cost of mail forwarding.
(Traveling Mailbox will also process and forward packages, although I haven’t tested this feature…)
Traveling Mailbox’s customer service is top notch. Prior to signing up, I asked questions about credit card and check processing via their online chat. They even walking me through the process of getting a notary signature online. (If you decide to switch to an online mail processing company, do it before you leave the US.)
I asked a few questions just to test their resolve, as part of the vetting process. It was really the customer service that made me choose Traveling Mailbox over other options.
Over the past months, their online chat has been helpful with forwarding mail, changing my billing credit card, and addressing a few minor questions.
Considering the poor state of customer service for the majority of big companies these days, I found the Traveling Mailbox support refreshing.
Unsure about what to expect, I signed up for the month-to-month billing option at $20/month. Plans exist starting at $15 if you are OK with a North Carolina mailing address, but I paid an extra $5/month for a Seattle location.
I’m now completely sold on doing all of our mail online. At the end of this billing cycle, my subscription is going to annual billing which provides 2 months free ($40 savings per year.)
For nomads, Traveling Mailbox is a great option to handle all of that mail back home without placing the burden on friends or family.
Were we to decide to settle down in the US at some point in the future, I would keep Traveling Mailbox as our mail solution. It really is that good.
If you are looking for an online mail solution, consider Traveling Mailbox. I think you’ll love it.
(Links to Traveling Mailbox are affiliate links, and if you sign up for their service we will receive a small commission. If you use and love another solution, please share in the comments.)
Have you eliminated Spam from Uncle Sam? Would you use Traveling Mailbox?
Related: The International ATM Bonanza (how we efficiently withdraw large quantities of cash in foreign lands.)
While living in Shanghai for three years, I’ve also had good luck with US Global Mail, another service which has been very effective. Best –
Wow, that looks like a great service! $15 (or $20) per month is really pretty affordable. Is there no limit on the amount of mail they will process and scan at that price? If so, that’s pretty incredible.
If and when we decide to do the nomadic traveler thing, I’ll definitely look into this.
There are some limits, but they are high enough we haven’t come close.
This sounds like a great service. I didn’t even know this kind of thing existed. Maybe some day when we travel. ..
I agree it sounds great for travelers, but I’m almost inclined to sign up for regular use to avoid dealing with all the junk mail we get.
My husband and I are living overseas and are using Earth Class Mail, which provides a similar service. One thing I’ve learned is that certain companies do love to put “important information enclosed” on things like monthly financial statements that I could read online. And this is companies where I’ve opted in for electronic statements. It really irks me to pay the fee to scan something only to find a document that’s available online. It looks like you are getting a better price from Traveling Mailbox, so I will have to check them out. Do you pay extra for each scanned item, or do you get a quota of scans included in your monthly rate?
There is a quota of scans of 40 incoming envelopes and 35 pages per month on my plan (the cheapest one.) I haven’t come anywhere close to that. It’s weird that you receive physical monthly statements… I haven’t seen one of those in years.
I looked into Earth Class Mail as well, but they were substantially more expensive. I think it started at ~$50/month with a lot of fees on top of that?
I’m grandfathered in to ECM at an earlier rate of $25 plus scans, but your rate for TM is still much better. If we weren’t about to move back to the US I’d switch.
I’ve run into issues with certain banks and credit cards recognizing that certain mailing addresses are not actual home addresses – and they insist on having one for your home address. Have you encountered a similar problem where Traveling Mailbox address wasn’t accepted?
This is a physical address / legal street address, not a PO box. I applied for two cards with my TM address with 100% success, so I haven’t seen a problem. ymmv
Hi Jeremy & Winnie! Great to hear you’re using TM too. I’ve been using it for the last 3 years, and I won’t go back to snail mail. I’ve found that Vanguard, Fidelity, etc, will allow the TM address, but I had minor inconveniences with a couple banks and some credit card companies. One bank put a hold on my account upon opening it, while they asked me if this was my actual address. When I said it was, everything was fine.
I recently opened a credit card and they also delayed my application until I was able to contact them. They said that they knew it was a mail service center, and that that was ok, but that I also had to provide them a residential address. I gave them a friend’s address, and voila… they say they will only contact me at my preferred mailing address, not the residential address.
Other than this, everything has been smooth sailing. Apparently credit card companies and banks have some of the TM addresses on a list of “mail service centers”, but they can still accommodate you after a phone call. For the record, I use the Texas address. Perhaps that one is on everyone’s list, and not Seattle’s. ??
p.s. I’ve used the deposit feature. It works great.
p.p.s. I’ve used the mail forwarding feature for packages many times– to the US, to Hong Kong, to Europe… I’ve received all my packages, and have had the option of having it delivered USPS or UPS. I use it sporadically for buying inconvenient items from Amazon.
USPS will validate address information including if the address is a commercial mail receiving agency, that is how they know.
That service definitely fills a void for the long-term traveler. More privacy and more reliable than having mom and dad open the mail and having to decide what’s important and what’s not. :)
Plus it eliminates that “You live with your Mom?” stigma
This is great! Thanks for the tip. Do you know if they serve non-US customers?
I believe it is US only.
Thanks so much for sharing this! We will be checking it out (through your link of course!) for our early retirement travels beginning next fall. We also will be living out of two homes at that point and this could answer all of those mail issues we were starting to think about. As far as paper checks, etc. go – I just wrote out ten paper checks this month (we have multiple rental properties) for water bills, town taxes – and it makes me crazy. They don’t even offer electronic options or bank drafts….
Back in Seattle we still had a few places that required paper checks, but I used Fidelity’s online billpay service instead. I think in a few cases they still mailed a check, but I didn’t have to deal with checks, envelopes, stamps, etc…
Another problem solved! Can’t wait to use the service! Thx
I guess that answers my questions about getting mail if we end up leaving Raleigh and traveling for more than a few months at a time! Looks like a neat interface to see if you really need your mail forwarded before you pay to have it sent on to wherever you are in the world.
Also neat is their main NC address is just on the other side of Raleigh from me (in the next county).
Is leaving Raleigh under consideration?
I’ve been wanting to ask you about your mail and bills while you live out of the country. We live in the Seattle Metro area so apparently they are fine with using the address for your ballots. I’m assuming this is the address you use for your taxes (this would be great with no state income tax and I could keep my King County Library card!!!? Also, this is probably the answer to another one of my questions, I know that investment financial companies don’t like clients that live out of the country and only do trades while you are in the US, Is this your way around that?
I use the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell approach.
I was curious about the same thing… are you able to use this as your tax address in order to stay qualified as a Washington state resident? (No state income tax!)
Having a mailbox isn’t enough for residency purposes. You couldn’t hang out in Hawaii 9 months out of the year but claim to be a Washington resident just because of this.
But if you are already a WA resident, you will continue to be until you establish a legal residence elsewhere.
Sure, but I was mainly curious how you deal with this. I know your last residence was in Washington. Do they allow you to set your tax address to this service?
I use it as my legal address for all things, taxes included.
Did you have a problem using this address for your driver’s license and vehicle registration (if you have one)? We are about to become nomadic and are trying to decide whether to use a family address for those things since the Traveling Mailbox address is hours away from our home base now, and I believe you have to get those items in person in the same county as the address.
Do you have to have the physical check in hand to send a photo to your capital one 360? My bank won’t let me send a photo unless it’s made through their app which requires the physical check in hand. So… I’m looking for another bank.
I use DakotaPost.net because I wanted a South Dakota address and Traveling Mailbox didn’t offer one.
I’ve not had a physical check in hand with the Capital One 360 account for at least two years. I just upload jpegs.
Something that worked for me in the past that you might try… instead of taking a picture of the check directly, you could take a picture of the jpeg directly from your laptop screen.
How do you get the check signed? is that something your mail forwarding service does for you?
I do it electronically. See this.
This worked great on 360 EXCEPT they put my check on hold for 5 days since it was a new account and I had recently moved. Also had some trouble with scanned checks not working. It has to be a photograph. My mail service sent me a scanned image instead. Had to get them to redo with a photograph.
I think it takes 5 days even with an old account and without moving.
Taking a picture of the laptop screen did not work for me. They wouldn’t accept the check.
This is pretty cool! Not sure if we’ll ever be traveling long enough to be in need of such a service, but it’s good to know something like this exists!
I’m glad to hear that they have this service available as we’ll need it in the future. Does one membership cover both of you or did you have to get separate accounts?
3 recipients per account. Or more for an extra $5/month, which also includes other goodies (more free scans, and a scanpak for receipts)
This is super cool! It also seems like a good idea for snowbird retirees.
Or people in a snowy climate who have a mailbox some distance from their home.
Growing up, I remember people getting in their car just to drive to the end of the driveway to collect their mail.
This is perfect. I’m going to take off traveling long term in a few months here, and this is exactly what I need. Hell, I’m probably going to start using it even before I leave! hah, Thank you for another awesome article, Jeremy. You throw bull’s eyes with each one.
Thx THG. Glad it helped.
I would probably even use Traveling Mailbox in the case where we move back to the US.
All over it!
Is there any security concern that someone else is opening and has access to your mail?
Such as whom ever is opening it to use the information contained in it for fraudulent purposes
On my list of things to worry about, this isn’t in the top 100.
I’d be more worried about snoopy neighbors taking mail out of a mailbox or people digging through trash, than for a company with a vested interest in keeping your mail secure.
This is perfect timing for my situation. Thanks. @Jeremy – is WA still your residence on paper for all official/tax purposes? If yes, did you have to do anything special to maintain this status given that you are not spending any significant time in the state?
I’m not doing anything special other than not establishing residence in any other US State.
This seems kinda of related since we’re talking about communications. How about telephone and texting to a US phone number?
My wife and I will be traveling abroad as much as we can for the next 10 years and we’re giving up our US home. We will be traveling back to see the kids and grandkids several times a year.
We want to keep our phone numbers and be able to use them while we are abroad. We don’t want the hassle of changing our numbers. We want to be able to take incoming and make outgoing calls as well as texts from people without a smartphone. We have used Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, etc. to make video calls, voice calls, and text, but these options requires the other party to have these apps. We want to receive calls from and make calls to regular old dumb phones.
We are thinking of porting our current US numbers to Talkatone that will allow us to receive calls, make calls, and text anywhere in the world. We would then use pre-paid local sims while abroad and in the US.
We don’t know if Talkatone is a good option or not. Just an idea right now. We would appreciate feedbacks, suggestions, and experiences you have have with this.
T + K
I haven’t used Talkatone since the Google Hangouts app included incoming call functionality. I wrote a post awhile back about our overall communications solution.
I have a republic wireless phone and pay$5/month ($6.45 with taxes) to have a Wi-Fi only plan. I live in Spain and can’t use the RW phone for Spain calls but I can call and text the US for free and have a US number. I bought a sim card for another phone to use in Spain/Europe. I know republic is changing things around and maybe offering sim cards note so this might be the perfect solution for you.
I use Magic Jack. It gives you a us phone number, you can make call from PC or smart phone to any us number. It also has text function on the smart phone.
I’ve been living overseas in Edinburgh for about 9 months and brought along our VoIP phone. It has been invaluable in being able to directly call Vanguard to make Roth conversions, open accounts etc., and also my bank back home to make wire transfers, etc. When I call, they actually think I’m calling from my home back in California, so no questions. We also use it when we call family in France regularly. It is our home phone we have had for years. However, WhatsApp is our main communication tool for close family members back in the States and in France. For mail, my wife’s brother handles it, although we don’t really receive anything important very often.
Hi, off this topic, but wondered what software you use for your budget charts, which are much more detailed than Mint. Are they generated automatically from online credit card and checking account data, or do you have to enter data manually? Thanks!
Thanks for sharing- this would also be a great business idea for an enterprising college student whose friends are on study abroad programs. Happy travels!
That’s a pretty cool service. It would come in very handy when we go traveling later.
I like all things paper, though. It is so much easier for me to deal with and there is a record. I guess it psychological. I’m old fashion.
There is a record with this as well. The scanned docs are online forever with no risk of fire, water damage, mold, etc…
This sounds like a really cool service! It’s tiresome to deal with mountains of mail upon returning from one of our adventures. Sometimes I think your better off just throwing the whole pile in the garbage (not that I would) and starting over. I’m sure the bills will have no problem finding us again! – Mrs. FE
I love the idea of this business, but I wonder how sustainable and scalable it is.
Dealing with all that mail seems very labor intensive, but maybe they are highly automated.
Hopefully they have established agreements with some of the big junk mailers to completely stop sending garbage to them. That would save everyone a lot of time and money, not to mention a lot of trees.
How do you handle your address for things like your brokers and billing address for credit cards. Did you make the address the traveling mailbox address – do you feel any risk the brokers would identify it and not allow you to maintain your accounts (brokers don’t like keeping accounts open for non us residents). Also any potential issues you see if the address or a large portion of the address is shared by many people. Thanks.
The TM address is used for everything, brokerage and credit cards inclusive. Granted I’ve only had this arrangement for 4 months +/-, but I don’t expect any problems.
re: brokers don’t like keeping accounts open for non us residents
This is often stated, but not entirely accurate.
Vanguard has a policy (not a law) that they don’t want to open new accounts for non-US residents. (See boglehead discussion from 2013.) Many other brokerages have no issue for US citizens abroad or foreign investors.
I didn’t know this existed. It’s a really interesting idea and a needed tool, especially in today’s age when so many people live abroad.
I remember a few years ago I heard on NPR that some guys from Stanford/Wharton/Harvard B school got seed money for a startup to do exactly that, except the Postal service bureaucracy gave their business model fits. I wonder if it’s the same people with this company that I heard about before. Lot’s of entrenched interests protecting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of postal workers and my boomer parents who still refuse to do online bill pay out there, so I doubt it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
I recall reading a similar story… in that startup, I believe they wanted to completely eliminate physical mail. So a letter written in NY for a person in CA would be scanned at a NY post office, and an electronic copy would be sent via email to CA.
For whatever reason, the Post Office would rather transport that letter across the country… so this solution just scans the latter when it arrives in CA and then sends me the email.
Bureaucracy wins again.
I think this is a real great post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.
If you’re not staying in one place for an extended amount of time how do you know which address to forward your mail to? For example, if I have 1 week in each apartment when do I hit the ship button and which address do I send to? Do they provide an accurate delivery date?
The forwarding is just done through UPS or the post office, with next day air as an option. I’ll plan in advance and send it to a hotel. They receive mail/packages for guests all the time.
Will the hotel hold it for you if it arrives early? That would probably the easiest option.
BTW, where are you right now? Pretty early morning for Thailand ;)
Yeah, they’ll hold it.
We are in Paris.
Never noticed that page, thanks. Ok, I’ll let you get back to enjoying Paris. Eat some pan au chocolats, they’re incredible! We’ve been there once for only 2 nights and it rained all of both days, but we wandered around in the rain and it was wonderful.
We use mailboxforwarding.com. USP forwards your mail for free for one year only. After that, you must change all your account addresses to the mailboxforward address get get them scanned and uploaded online for you to review. Do you have to do the same?
Sounds the same. Our Traveling Mailbox address is our official address.
I guess one advantage of living in a country where the govt mail system has pretty much collapsed (South Africa) is that we can pretty much do everything online now. I don’t receive paper bills or statements for anything, everything gets paid with a bank EFT or a card, cheques are pretty much not used (and generally not accepted anywhere, except for some business situations).
Literally the only time I have ever had a chequebook was when I lived in the UK for a bit. I didn’t know what to do with it, and eventually chucked it into one of the shredder bins at work.
There are considerable downsides too though, especially if you want to order stuff from overseas (sellers never seem to be able to understand that if they don’t email a tracking number, I will never get the package). Still, I’ll take what small advantages I can get.
Your post was more about 2 years ago now. I also need on online postal service as we will be spending a semester abroad. Are you still happy with travelingmailbox? I am a bit nervous about trying these new system I guess. Travelingmailbox has a few bad review online… found iPostal1 online, wondering if you or any of your readers have heard or using it? Thanks! Fab
Traveling Mailbox is great. If we move back to the US I’ll still use it for no junk mail and easy online check deposits
I cannot get over North America’s attachment to checks. Germany originally set up account-to-account transfers 110 years ago today, on October 5, 1908. Most people here have never seen a check. Sometimes retired folks will walk their paper transfer forms to their bank, since they have nothing else to do, and most people do their transfers online with some sort of TAN (Transaction Authorization Number) device, usually one’s smart phone, to secure the transaction – important features that are missing from ABA EFT.
As an employee of the US Foreign Service, I get mail forwarding for free, but must still change addresses every time we move to a new posting. I’m trying to get the mail folks to set up something like Traveling Mailbox, but my suggestion is working at the speed of government… :-(
Hi thanks for the great article. I have some questions. Do you still own residential property in the US, and is this the address that the bank and credit cards have on file as your residential address? I have found that, post 911, banks will not allow mailboxes or business offices to be used as residential addresses. They are able to take the address you give them and determine that it is a mailbox rental facility and not allow you to use that address. Of course once you establish the bank or credit card account, you can give the bank a different mailing address. The problem is, even though you tell them to send all your snail-mail to a mailbox address, the bank will still send an occasional piece of snail mail to your residential address. You can’t stop this, even when you say you want to go paperless for all communications. If you don’t live there anymore, then the USPS will return the snail mail to the bank, in which case you have to give the bank a new residential address or they will shut down your account, or else if the mail isn’t returned to the bank then those stupid balance transfer checks and credit card offers that they send will go to whomever is living there. So you can see it’s a bit of a problem. How do you handle it?
Most people use the physical address of a friend or a family member. We use a friend’s. But, in the past 2 or 3 years, they have not received a single piece of mail in our name. Every 6 months or every year or whenever I remember, I’ll pay $1 to the USPS to renew the auto-forward to the Traveling Mailbox address.
What bank do you use? I have a business account with PNC and have had a difficult time with them about the residential address. I’ve done everything I can to go paperless but still they send snail mail. Furthermore, they are supposed to only send snail mail to the business address. But every couple of months they send some kind of offer to me, personally, at my home address even though I do not have a personal account with them, only a business account. Time to get a new bank I think..
I think you could use any bank besides PNC. They have a reputation.
I’m mostly Fidelity and a credit union.
I’m not sure what you mean by “Every 6 months or every year or whenever I remember, I’ll pay $1 to the USPS to renew the auto-forward…” USPS seems to offer temporary forwarding for 6mo and renewable for another 6mo, for a total of 1 year only. After that, only permanent forwarding/address change is available.
So fill out the form again. And again. And again.
Source: Me, going on 5+ years now.
Thanks for the tip! I’ve never done USPS temporary forwarding before. Do they forward ALL of your mail, including junk, magazines, etc? If not, where does the unforwarded mail – say, the junk mail – go? To your old address?
Hello Jeremy, thank you for sharing the great idea. We just signed up with TM this year. However AMEX requires both the home and the business addresses to be a physical address so we have to use our friend’s. The problem is AMEX keeps sending new cards to the physical address even though a mailing TM address is provided. Have you ever encountered the same problem? Any suggestions? Thank you!
You have to give Amex what they want…
Is this a problem or an inconvenience?
Your friend can forward the envelopes to the TM address (or to you) or give you a pic of the back/front of the card so you can just add it to apple pay or equivalent.
Thank you Jeremy!
Unfortunately it’s actually an inconvenience for us. I guess there is no other way…..