Considering the ubiquitous nature of digital communication, it's surprising the post office has a presence in this day and age. However, we live in a world ruled by bureaucracy, so chances are there will be forests worth of paper flowing through the system for the foreseeable future.
The bottom line: Unless you're living off the grid completely, you probably still get postal mail. And while that's not always a problem, it can become one in certain circumstances.
If you're a freelancer, remote worker, expatriate, or digital nomad, you might find yourself looking into virtual mail or virtual address service. And while these products are related, they're not exactly the same, so depending on your specific situation, either one or the other might make more sense.
So let's dive deeper into the finer points of virtual mail addresses and virtual mailboxes to help you decide which one is right for you.
Virtual mail address
Despite being called “virtual," a virtual mail address actually does exist. Usually used for business purposes, it's a real address that accepts physical mail, but the difference is that your business does not operate from there.
Virtual mail addresses are most often used by people who work from home or companies that do not maintain a physical location. If you operate a business in the United States, you need a business address, and there are myriad reasons you wouldn't want to use your home address or a P.O. Box. You can't legally use a P.O. Box as a business address in some states, so a virtual mail address is a good option.
A virtual mail address might be right for you if:
- You need to register a business
- You don't expect to receive a lot of (or any) mail
- You need a professional business address
- Your business is entering new markets, and you need a local address
Small business owners use virtual mail addresses because it helps them maintain privacy in their personal life. Additionally, some communities and municipalities have laws against operating a business from home. Keeping your professional interests separate is always a good idea, as it reduces risk and liability and keeps those parts of your life neat and tidy.
If you expect to receive mail regularly, a virtual mail address might not be the best or most economical option. Before choosing this option, be sure the service lines up with your ongoing needs and budget. A virtual business address from Earth Class Mail, a LegalZoom company, will scan or forward your incoming mail as needed. You can be confident of receiving your mail promptly no matter where you are in the world.
What is a virtual mailbox?
Virtual mailboxes include virtual mail addresses, but they also offer a few more options and added flexibility. For anybody who expects to receive mail more frequently, a virtual mailbox is an excellent choice over a virtual address alone.
A virtual mailbox would be a good fit for you if:
- You travel a lot. If you're on the road all the time, whether for work or leisure, getting mail is often a challenge. Imposing on friends or colleagues to pick up and forward your mail isn't always ideal, and the lag time in mail forwarding services might be a big inconvenience.
- You live in an RV. When you're roaming free in the world, getting mail is a complicated undertaking. A virtual mailbox receives your mail, opens and scans the contents, and emails the files as PDFs. In most cases, you'll receive your mail within 24-48 hours of it arriving at the facility. An Earth Class Mail virtual mailbox also offers various add-on services, including check deposits, helping you maintain cash flow no matter where you are in the world.
- You need an address in a specific location. Some virtual address services don't give you the option of choosing your locale when you sign up. In other words, you get what you get within the range of what they offer. You might have some choices, but if they don't align with your needs, you might be better off with a virtual mailbox instead.
Virtual mailboxes are also excellent for helping you stay on top of important documents. Since your mail is scanned into PDF format, each piece of mail is sortable, searchable, and conveniently paperless. Earth Class Mail keeps your original documents for 30 days, after which they are securely shredded. Packages are forwarded to a location of your choice or held for pickup at your discretion.
If you need greater flexibility, you can design a virtual mailbox plan to suit your needs. Some of the options you can consider include:
- Sync with Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, or your cloud of choice
- Occasional or recurring check deposit with your preferred accounting software
- Add additional addresses and users when needed
- A business address that complies with federal and state incorporation standards
- Choose a street address or P.O. Box
- Domestic and international shipping and forwarding
- Expedited scanning
- Oversized or heavy package handling and storage
Some of these options are associated with additional fees, but you can design a plan around your needs for maximum efficiency and value.
Why choose a virtual mailbox over a virtual address?
In a nutshell, a virtual mail address is more geared toward commercial entities. However, that's not to say that a virtual mailbox is not suitable for businesses—just the opposite, in fact. A virtual mailbox from Earth Class Mail comes with a virtual address and gives you all the advantages it brings; plus, you'll have access to so many more options and customizations to suit your needs.
So let's look at some of the pros and cons of using Earth Class Mail virtual mailbox and virtual address options as a baseline.
- Economy. If your business receives a lot of paper mail, a virtual mail address might not be the most economical choice. A virtual address does not include incoming mail handling, so if you do receive a lot of mail, the extra costs can add up. For example, an Earth Class Mail virtual address account charges $1 per piece of incoming mail and another $4 for content scanning.
- Volume. On the other hand, a virtual mailbox includes 50 pieces of mail in the basic plan, and there is no charge for scanning the first ten items. If you only expect to receive official documents and statements, you probably won't pay any overage fees at all.
- Scalability. A virtual mailbox plan is also scalable. Let's say you are using your account for your business; you can expand your capacity or add users instantly, as needed.
- Choices. With a virtual mail address alone, you might not be able to get an address in your preferred city. While this might not matter to some, impressions do count for a lot in business, so having more options might be advantageous.
Ultimately, the main difference is whether or not you need to receive mail regularly. If you do, a virtual mailbox is probably the best choice. If postal mail is a non-issue or is not a significant concern, then a virtual mail address might be sufficient.
To learn more about Earth Class Mail's offerings, go here.
LZ Virtual Mail solutions