The United States Postal Service (USPS) does not offer a virtual mailbox like a typical online virtual mailbox service that has become popular over the years for businesses with remote workers, digital nomads, and heavy travelers. You can cobble together a service through the USPS that we will show you below that is similar to a private company offering virtual mailbox services, but you won't get all the features. The USPS can be an affordable alternative to a virtual mailbox service if you are willing to give up some features.
Let's first dig into a virtual mailbox, then we'll look at the services offered by the USPS to see how it compares to a virtual address. Finally, we will look at how you can build a similar service using just the USPS to cut out the middle man. See our full breakdown of a PO Box vs a Virtual Mailbox.
What is a Virtual Mailbox?
A virtual mailbox is a service that will accept mail on your behalf, scan in the letter or package, make that image available to you online, then if you choose will take action on the letter for you. A couple of services that virtual mailbox service will provide are the following:
- Open and Scan: Open and scan is probably the most important service that a mailbox company can provide. Essentially the company will open your mail for you, scan in each page in PDF format, then notify you of the contents either by emailing you a PDF or emailing you a link to an online portal for more secure viewing
- Shredding: Shredding services will securely dispose of all your mail for you. Usually there is a button on your online portal allowing you to just shred a document either due to its sensitive nature, or because its irrelevant
- Mail Forwarding: Most virtual mailbox companies will allow you to select pieces of mail on the portal, or just set a weekly shipment date, for your mail to be forwarded to a location of your choosing. For example, if you want hard copies of your contracts mailed to your lawyer, you can add your lawyer as a recipient select all your contracts and hit send. Alternatively if you just want to keep your business address private, but want hard copies of everything you could just set a weekly forwarding so everything eventually comes to you
- Check Deposit: A great benefit to an online virtual mailbox is that the checks sent to you can be deposited on your behalf. This is a great way to save time and make sure you never miss a check deposit
- Mutiple Carriers: You will be able to receive packages from UPS, Fedex, DHL and others with a virtual mailbox solution. This contracts to a PO Box which has limited delivery options from other carriers
What is a PO Box?
A PO Box is a physical location within a US Post Office that is a locked, secure area for you to receive mail. You are able to purchase a PO Box is 3 month increments, and the post office worker will provide you a key to collect your mail. A Post Office can provide fast delivery from your mail as its distributed straight from the source. You must go into a postal location to collect your mail.
Does USPS Offer a Virtual Mailbox?
No. The best you can do with the USPS is receive mail in a PO Box that you have to walk into each time to collect your mail. As you read above a virtual mailbox offers additional services that the USPS workers just will not do for you.
Why should you sign up for a PO Box?
If they dont forward, shred, open and scan, what is the point of a PO Box. Well if you live close to one, it can be very convenient. A PO Box can be fairly cheap at costs as low as $6 per month, and its most likely more secure than having mail dropped at your house.
How do I hack a PO Box to work like a Virtual Mailbox?
Ah, this is the question. You can get a small PO Box and combine that with a free service from the USPS called Informed Delivery. With these two services you can have a place to collect your mail, as well as an email of the exterior of most of the mail you receive. So you will ultimately know who you are receiving mail from without going down to the post office. There are two issues with this method:
- Delivery Times: There is not a clear time to receive your mail after an informed delivery notification. For example, if you receive an email that you have new mail you don't know if it will be the same day, 24 hours, 48 hours, or longer for your mail to get to your PO Box. This delay in informed delivery scanning is because a lot of the time the informed delivery scan can happen at the first major USPS location, or one close to you. So its great you can get that notification but it doesn't help you when you want to pick up your mail.
- No Open and Scan: Its important to note that you will only receive the outside of the mail emailed to you. So you know who sent you mail, but you will never have a clue whats in the envelope until you get into the post office.
Combining not knowing when to go to the post office, and not knowing what is in your mail makes this 'hack" pretty weak, but it's the best you can do with the post offices current offerings.
The best thing to do is to sign up for an account on Thatch, but you can also check our guide on the best alternatives to a PO Box