Getting mail while cruising is a problem all cruisers need to address (groan). It’s been more than 15 years since Jamie and I received mail in a conventional manner at a fixed address we call home. I have intended to update our guide to the best virtual mailbox services for a while. There are a number of market entrants since our 2017 summary. But more importantly, there’s a key factor—perhaps the key factor—easily overlooked when picking “the best” service for your needs. Services to consider include those in the USA, Canada and select other countries. Don’t miss the mail service FAQ at the bottom!
Choosing a Private Mailbox
There are a few main features to consider when choosing a virtual mailbox service (VMS), with some insight into how these features work.
- Location. Rarely does a VMS support residency. Most likely, users choose to consolidate in a particular state for convenience or personal reasons. In most cases, VMS does not count as proof of residency.
- Services. The baseline is simple: A VMS provides a digital scan of your mail (envelope exterior first, interior contents on request), then forwards the mail or shreds it based on your wishes.
- Cost. There is an annual fee and additional costs. Don’t overlook the add-on charges for bonus services. Many are volume-dependent. Ruthlessly cut your mail by only sharing the new address when required.
The Most Important FactorThe factor I had not considered before: What is the actual storefront for your virtual mailbox service? Outside a headquarters address, most brands and platforms are executed by a local business independent from the platform. We learned this when picking up a parcel sent to an iPostal1 box we rented in Phoenix, and arrived at a small shop called not iPostal1, but Biltmore Mailboxes Plus.
Choosing a VMS is not just picking a plan or service, it’s also trusting your personal mail to other humans. In that sense, don’t you think it might be nice to know more about them? Friends cruising the Caribbean on their St. Francis 44, Majestic, use iPostal1, one of the major virtual mailbox services. In Annapolis, the iPostal1 business (and Anytime Mailbox address) is run out of a Staples store. Staples feels like a faceless chain to some, but it knows the folks working at the mail service inside; this made it the right choice for Majestic.
We recommend due diligence on the storefront, and one of member of our coaching community took it a step further and outlined a great process. In Pinky Parson’s words:
- I Googled the address and used Street View to find out exactly where the mail would arrive what exactly the business is.
- I read Google reviews of the business. If it was a big-box store, I passed. (Just my personal preference.)
- We went to the store to meet the owners and chat with them about which VMS platform they liked working with.
- We went home and signed up for Anytime Mailbox. (The store owners we spoke with had a slight preference based on its ability to help customers with payment information.)
- We came in a couple of days later with IDs to sign the USPS form and meet the rest of the staff.
Parson’s full account of her virtual mail service search can be found on her SV Loka’s blog.
One of the great things about a virtual mail service is your mail is scanned and you can receive it as a PDF. We have never needed to have mail forwarded, so I ignored the subject in our 2017 post on mail services. But our friends on Majestic provided several recent examples of how important VMS forwarding has been for them while cruising in the Caribbean:
- Retirement papers that needed originals with signatures
- Replacement bank cards (typically not sent internationally by banks)
- Global Entry cards for travel back to the USA
Mail forwarding costs can vary meaningfully. If you anticipate this, anticipate the fees!
The Best Mail Services
Expanding and revisiting the original list, we found services you may want—or want to know the cost for—in addition to the factors mentioned. These include an address in the state of your choice (especially if it differs from the service’s headquarter state), a grace period for free mail storage, the ability to repackage when forwarding to reduce cost, and secure shredding.
Dockside Mail: We’ve used this Seattle-based service for several years now. It was started by liveaboards at Shilshole Bay Marina to meet the need they saw around them. It ticks all our boxes, offers a good value, and the humans behind it are awesome. They really understand the cruiser market.
Saint Brendan’s Isle: Another family business that gets travelers is popularly known simply as SBI. It has focused on the cruiser and RV markets for a long time.
Traveling Mailbox: Cruisers rave about its dashboard and the availability of a mobile app to manage your mailbox. One of our clients returned to land but refused to give up their TM box! It made life that much easier.
Anytime Mailbox. It has a large global footprint with addresses just about anywhere you could want.
iPostal1. It has addresses in every state, often the same storefront as Anytime Mailbox. The staff in one shop we asked told us their customers tended to like iPostal1’s dashboard best, but another preferred AM for management (see Parson’s note above).
Is it important to you to have an address in your hometown? Then start by searching online for mailbox services in that location; you may hit the mark.
These are the virtual mailbox services I’m aware of that offer Canadian addresses. Anytime Mailbox has the most extensive list of Canadian addresses. iPostal1.com offers nine locations, including Vancouver and Winnipeg. eSnail wins for being a personal operation in Vancouver. Clevver has addresses in Toronto and Montreal, and YCA / Your Canadian Address is Montreal-based.
Beyond North America
This list was effectively nonexistent a few years ago but now includes a range of service providers. Check Anytime Mailbox, possibly the most international of all, and the only service I’m aware of with Australian addresses. After AM, Clevver seems to have the most significant international footprint, with addresses in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and more. iPostal1 includes addresses for a range of countries in Europe and Asia. Unique to the UK is Ship to Shore, Boatmail and UK Postbox.
When You Need a Real Address
Jamie is well-acquainted with needing to ship to real addresses when there’s a customer ordering a new sail. Shipping agents are occasionally necessary to handle import and duty, but sometimes it’s just using a marina address (always confirm first). For example, the crew of the Privilege 445 Motu recently received a new sail at their marina location in Grenada.
If we need a physical item, we either have it sent directly to a location we will visit (such as a marina that will hold mail) or to someone who will visit us. It is remarkable how many things are no longer “important” once you wait a little while; in our modern world, we’re just very accustomed to near-instant gratification.
Of course, sometimes it is really important to get a thing. During our refit in Puerto Peñasco, we have been fortunate to have friends just an hour-and-a-half north in Arizona who hold mail and packages for us. (The picture of Jamie at the top of this post is in front of their garage.) Internationally, we’ve received packages to the boatyard in Mexico and marinas in a number of countries.
Mailbox Service FAQs
Virtual addresses do not convey residency. US nationals may wish to “relocate” to a new state for tax purposes; it’s not as simple as a virtual address. Learn more about residency here; importantly, check with the states you wish to retain (or shift) residency to. Virtual Post Mail has a good article outlining why a VMS typically isn’t enough. But for a counterpoint, the RV club Escapees can assist with domicile for Texas, Florida and South Dakota. Still, consider that you will probably need an address in your domicile state, and the VMS may be the most convenient way to have one.
VMS is irrelevant for home-schooling. The home-schooling laws you should follow are those guiding your physical location, not your virtual address. Only a few states care about what you do as a resident when you are not physically present.
Your VMS and home or hailing port do not have to match. And neither is tied to legal residency. It may feel good to have all these in one state because it’s convenient or home or soothes a part of our brain that likes consistency, though.
You may still need a real address for a few things. Get familiar with requirements for voter registration after moving aboard and before sailing away so you don’t miss the window to register to vote in an election you care about.
Banks often don’t allow a VMS. Thanks to the Patriot Act requirement for a residential address, some institutions (banks, namely, but also health insurance) take issue with a VMS. We have gotten around this by using a friend’s address to sign up for a credit card, then promptly changing address to our Dockside VMS once we had the cards in hand.