Dealing with postal mail can be a big logistical headache of a nomadic lifestyle. How much of a headache depends on how long you’ll be gone. For short-term travel it may be as simple as visiting your post office and requesting they hold your mail until you return.
For long-term travel you don’t have many options. You can either pay for a monthly mailbox service or find someone you trust to manage your mail. In either case you’ll probably need to forward (redirect) your mail to a new address. This is a common service that people use when moving to a new home and typically lasts for up to a year, giving you time to notify everyone of your new address.
Online Mail Management Services
The most convenient (and expensive) option for long-term travelers is to pay for a service that will let you manage your mail online. These services allow you to view scanned images of envelopes and decide what to do with each piece of mail. Typically your options are to open and scan, archive, forward, recycle or shred mail items. Some companies include check cashing services as well.
You can choose from a pay-as-you-go or monthly plans. A monthly plan gives you a set number of mail items (usually 100) and pay-as-you-go charges a flat rate per item. Additional fees may apply for packages, shredding, opening and scanning, archiving, forwarding and check cashing. Companies also offer more all-encompassing services for businesses that include a larger number of mail items per month.
The major downside to online mail management services is the price. It can be unnecessarily expensive if you receive little mail, and can be very expensive if you receive too much mail. It’s also risky to permanently forward mail to an online postal box from your old home address. Magazines, junk mail and other garbage will end up costing you money if you aren’t careful.
For more information about plans and pricing options refer to the these websites:
US Addresses: Earth Class Mail
EU Addresses: Swiss Post Box
UK Addresses: UKPostBox
AU Addresses: Netpost Australia
Have Someone you Trust Manage your Mail
This is the cheapest option for long-term travelers. If you have family or close friends who are organized and trustworthy, ask if they would be willing to take over your mailbox. It’s also good if you know that person won’t be moving while you’re away.
If you do not want to forward mail to your friend’s home address, you can setup a local PO box. This may be important if you need to maintain a separate address for business purposes, or if your mail manager is not comfortable with sharing his/her mailing address.
Start this process before you leave so you can make sure the arrangement works for both parties. Your mail manager should be aware of the type of mail you expect to receive. Discuss how your mail should be managed and prioritized, especially important things like bills, checks, license renewals or tax documents.
Using online software (like Google Docs) to record your incoming mail is a great way to ease the burden of communicating instructions. As mail comes in, your manager enters it into a spreadsheet which you later open and add instructions like throw away, shred, scan & email, or forward to another address.
Holding or Forwarding Mail
Before you leave, you have two choices to deal with your incoming mail. Have it forwarded to a new address, or have it held at the post office until you return. Below is a breakdown for several countries to give you an idea how these services vary.
The USPS will hold your mail up to 30 days free of charge. This service can be requested online or in person at a USPS office and must be done less than 14 before your departure.
You can forward mail to another US address by filing a change of address online or at the post office. This is also a free service. The USPS will not forward mail internationally. Changing your address with the post office will automatically notify many mailers that your address has changed and will forward other mail to your new address for up to one year.
Canada Post will hold your mail for two weeks for CAD$10. You can extend this duration for CAD$8.25 a week for an indefinite period of time. Registration and extensions can be done online, and must be requested more than 5 days before of your departure or service expiration.
Mail can be forwarded either domestically or internationally for 3, 6 or 12 months by requesting a temporary or permanent change of address. This service can be setup and monitored online or at a local post office. Fees vary depending on duration and whether you are forwarding to the same province, a different province or another country.
Mail can be held for up to two months, charges vary depending on the duration, from £11.25 to £36.95. The service takes up to five days to establish, and must be requested by filling out an application form and mailing it to the Keepsafe Royal Mail office. For more information see the website for Royal Mail.
You can redirect mail from the UK to any country for up to a year. Fees vary depending on whether the forwarding address is in the UK or another EU country and how long the forwarding service will be active. See the website for more information.
You can request to have your mail held by filling out an application form and bringing it to an Australia Post office. Fees are AUD$13.50 for the first week and AUD$4.50 for each additional week. Payment must be made in full when you begin the service, and altering or extending it later requires the person who filed the request be present at an Australia Post office.
Mail redirection is available for 1, 3, 6 or 12 month periods. International mail forwarding is available and prices vary depending on the duration and whether you are relocating to an Asia Pacific country, or elsewhere. To redirect mail you must fill out an application form and bring it to an office and allow for at least three business days until the service starts. See Australia Post's website for more information about holding and redirecting your mail.