If the first few months of 2020 have taught us anything about the way we work, it’s that the flexibility to work remotely is not just a perk or something “nice to have”. It’s a necessity. Over the past few months, we’ve all been forced to work remotely or not work at all, and four out of five U.S. workers now say they would turn down a job that doesn’t offer flexible working. Some of us dread our return to the office, while others dream of packing our bags and taking off.
Yet these visions of working from far-flung locales also stir up a uniquely 21st-century question: what do we do about mail? Many organizations have gone paperless, but many still have not, a fact that alienates anyone working remotely or traveling abroad for an extended period of time. When bills, checks, and important documents are arriving back at home, how do you stay financially responsible while you’re on the road?
Fortunately, a wave of “virtual mailboxes” have sprung up in recent years offering a solution. Virtual mailboxes act like a post office in your pocket: they accept your mail, send you a photo of everything you receive, and let you decide what to do with it. Want them to open the envelope and show you what’s inside? No problem. Forward it on to your current address abroad? Piece of cake.
Virtual mailboxes have gained a lot of popularity in recent years, so here are a few things to consider when choosing one to suit your needs.
Every virtual mailbox offers a slightly different set of services, so the first thing you’ll want to do is decide which ones you need. The core functionality of a virtual mailbox is what you’d expect—receiving letters and scanning their contents for you to view remotely—but there are a number of other services they may also provide. Here are just a few:
- Package Forwarding: Some virtual mailboxes only deal with letters, but most of them will allow you to receive packages, too, to be forwarded on to the address of your choice.
- Package Consolidation: If you’re receiving multiple packages per month, it often makes sense to have your virtual mailbox consolidate them into a single shipment, to save on postage.
- Check Deposits: With your permission, your digital mailbox will deposit the checks you receive on your behalf. If you also run a remote business, check depositing can be an especially big deal.
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Just as the services they provide differs, the fee structure each virtual mailbox charges varies, too. However, most of them charge some combination of these four fees:
- Scanning Fee: A fixed price per scanned piece of mail. This is generally around $1 per page, though some virtual mailboxes offer it for as low as $0.10.
- Mail Forwarding Fee: If you choose to have a piece of mail forwarded to you, you’ll generally pay $1-2 plus postage for letters, and $5-10 plus postage for packages.
- Storage Fee: Most virtual mailboxes only charge storage fees after a generous grace period (think 30+ days for letters, 10+ days for packages), and even then storage fees are generally quite low, around $1-5 per pound per month.
- Monthly Fee: Monthly fees can vary widely depending on the number of ancillary services your virtual mailbox provides, with some offering pay-as-you-go (no monthly fee) plans, and others charging anywhere from $10/month for basic services up to $50+/month for a more robust package of business-ready services.
As you can see, different virtual mailboxes are better-suited for different use cases. For example, if you’re planning to receive a lot of mail, you’ll want to choose a provider with low scanning and forwarding fees. If you’ll only receive the odd letter here and there, look for one with no monthly fee so you only pay per piece of mail that arrives.
Choosing A Virtual Mailbox
Deciding on a virtual mailbox may seem like a difficult choice, but there are plenty of great providers out there. I personally like Planet Express, both for their excellent customer service and their low storage fees. They only charge one cent per pound per day for storage, which means you can keep small packages in their warehouse for months on end and pay less than a dollar for the privilege.
Whatever you do, make sure to do your homework before you make the choice. An hour of research today can save you months of headache down the road. If you can define exactly what you want out of the service, choosing the right provider will be easy. The best virtual mailbox for you is the one that best meets your specific needs.
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