How to Use a Mail Service While Traveling or Living Abroad

Toamasina, Madagascar — January 2, 2016

If you’re going to travel for awhile or live and work abroad, or spend months hiking a long trail, or otherwise be away from home for an extended period, how do you manage your hard copy mail? I use a mail service. Maybe one will also work for you.

Earth Class Mail for Travelers and Expats!

Minimize Hard Copy Mail

If you’re like us, you’ll first try to minimize how much hard copy mail you actually receive, which is also good for simplifying life, reducing clutter, and having less impact on the environment. Even before the decision to live and work abroad, we set up to be notified by email when our various statements and invoices were available, and then we went online to review them. We eliminated outgoing hard copy mail by paying our bills automatically via our bank’s bill payment service or vendors’ bill pay on their websites.

We also registered with the no junk mail listings available in the USA.

For any junk mail still being delivered, I followed up directly with companies and organizations. This usually involved getting their customer service contact info from the mailed item, then sending an email with a scan of the envelope or returning the mail or a part of it with our address and asking them to remove us from their mailing list.

After all that, there were a few items that still came to us via the postal service. Some were welcome like the rare personal letter, birthday greetings, and Christmas cards. Others were personal business like information from not-for-profit organizations we support, health insurance statements, replacement debit or credit cards, property tax statements, and various government notices.

Maybe Family and Friends Help Out

At first, we thought we’d employ the friends and family mail service for the little bit of hard copy mail we were still getting. We thought a family member could collect our mail and send it to us periodically. If there was something important and time sensitive, we could tell them to open it, scan it, and email it to us. So we set up forwarding addresses to family and changed our address with companies we knew would still send hard copy mail.

But then it ended up not being just a little bit of mail. The four to six week delay to get our mail was bothersome. The things that were time sensitive were usually private and I wasn’t so comfortable having family members opening and likely reading private mail in order to scan and email it to us. On top of that, anything sent via email is just like a postcard that anyone can read. Yes, I could’ve encrypted the emails or shared encrypted files via cloud storage, but I wasn’t too knowledgeable about these back then and I find that, even today, not too many people are, which makes this a problematic option. I also felt having a family member do all this was a lot of work for them. Trying to get this all sorted, we eventually had mail going to four different places – our old address, and to three different family members. We didn’t think this out very well.

Online Mail Service

So I got on the internet, browsed for solutions, and settled on Earth Class Mail for our mail service. Earth Class Mail has been providing digital mail service to individuals and businesses since 2006. Of the mail services I looked at, not only was Earth Class Mail headquartered in my home state of Oregon (cool), they could also provide me an Oregon mailing address (even cooler). This not only coordinated with my online, area code 503 Oregon phone number (I’ll write about this another time), but helped virtually locate us in our home state in the United States.

This virtual location has prevented many, many headaches. I don’t have to deal with online forms that only accept US addresses or with some variation of the following conversation (based on true stories).

“No, no, no. I’m from the US but I live in Toamasina.”
“Where is that, sir?”
“Madagascar, a large island of the southeast of Africa.”
“Sorry, sir, we don’t mail overseas” … “we only do business in the US” … “we only do business with Americans.”

How Earth Class Mail Works

First, you complete and sign the forms that legally authorize Earth Class Mail as your mail service. Then, you choose an address in one of the 19 cities available. These are real addresses, so you can receive parcels and letters from US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, and couriers. These are also all US addresses.

Earth Class Mail receives mail on your behalf, scans the outside of the envelope or parcel, and sends you an email with the image of the envelope and notifying you of the new item in your mailbox.

You log in to your account online to tell them to open and scan it, shred it, or recycle it. You can have your mail scanned in black and white or color. You’ll get an email notice once the scan is complete and can then go back online to read the mail. They also offer to automatically email you the scan when it’s ready, but, as mentioned above, I don’t think that’s a good ideas since your mail will no longer be private.

If it’s important mail for which I want to keep a copy, I download the mail as a pdf on a secure connection. After that, I shred the hard copy of the mail if it has any personal info in it, or recycle it if it’s something like a catalog. Some mail, like replacement debit cards, I hold on for awhile and then ship several items together either to my address overseas or to an address in the US where I can pick it up next time I’m there. You can store mail at ECM up to 30 days without charge, after that there’s a fee for them to continue storing it.

Sometimes we get a check in the mail. Really, “checks in the mail” do happen. For a small fee, Earth Class Mail sends it to our bank for deposit. Quite convenient.

Full Disclosure

I’ve been using Earth Class Mail for four years now. Their base plan is $49/month. Some might think that’s expensive. I guess you pay for what you get. I think $49/month for a bizillion cable or satellite television channels that you never watch is expensive. Likewise, I think $49/month for an i-(have-to-have-a-picture-of-an-apple-on-it)-Phone mobile service is expensive.

I’m happy to pay for seamless, convenient, timely, private, and secure mail service. And, for reasons of security and privacy, this is not such a bad idea for managing your mail whether or not you travel or live abroad.

The disclosure part: if you click on the links in this post and sign up for Earth Class Mail, I’ll receive a small commission which helps support the website.

Do you manage your mail with a mail service? If you use Earth Class Mail, what has your experience been like? If you use another mail service, especially one outside of the United States, what has that been like? Let us know about this or any other thoughts you have about this post in the comments section below.