What's the difference between a P.O. Box and a virtual mailbox?

Many states require street addresses and not P.O. boxes for business registrations, so a virtual address can keep your address separate from your business.

by Earth Class Mail
updated May 11, 2023 ·  17min read

What's a postal office box (P.O. Box)?

Available to individuals and businesses, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offers customers P.O. boxes, or locked mailboxes, to hold mail and packages safely at a post office location of their choice. Customers can choose from a range of sizes.

What's a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox takes all your incoming mail and digitizes it, allowing users to access PDF images from any device 24/7.

Users who sign up for a virtual mailbox select a virtual mailing address to use, whether for their small business or personal use. All mail sent to them gets processed, sorted, and scanned. Users can preview their mail on any device, see the contents inside, and decide what to do with it, such as shredding it or sending the original copy to another address.

Is a virtual P.O. Box more convenient?

We all want convenience. Nearly anything you want to do, from managing your bank account to your daily schedule, you can do with an app on your phone. Virtual mailboxes give you the ability to control your mail anywhere you have an internet connection.

In comparison, P.O. boxes don't have remote access for their users. It requires a trip to the post office each time you want to check your mail.

This could pose a problem if you're traveling or you don't live near the post office.

Uses of a P.O. Box and virtual mailbox

There are a few reasons people use a P.O. Box or a virtual mailbox, including keeping residential addresses private or having a secure way for mail delivery to avoid mail theft.

However, when renting a P.O. Box, you typically choose a post office near your home to shorten trips to check the mail.

With a virtual P.O. Box from n Earth Class Mail, LegalZoom company, you choose from 80+ addresses from around the U.S. We also offer street addresses. Many states require street addresses and not P.O. boxes for business registrations, so a virtual address can keep your address separate from your business.

Access to your mail

P.O. boxes limit users' access to their mail during postal business hours, eliminating the ability to check your mail after hours and on federal holidays. However, with a virtual mailbox, you have unlimited access. You'll be able to look and take action on your mail and important documents from any device, from anywhere.

What is a virtual P.O. Box?

Sometimes it isn't easy to keep your home and work life separate, especially when you work from home. You may need a virtual post office box, a simple and easy way for your business to get the mail without bombarding your home address. You get a cloud-based mailbox and automated mail services and can manage your mail anywhere, whenever you want, using your computer or smartphone.

You don't have to waste time visiting your post office to check your P.O. Box. Let's explain what a virtual P.O. Box is and how it works. A virtual P.O. Box is a physical P.O. Box that you can access online and manage easily without visiting the post office. It can be used for personal and business mail. A virtual P.O. Box uses digital technology to let you view and manage your mail and packages anywhere online.

No matter if your business is near your home or in another city (or even country), you can log into your virtual P.O. Box to see images of all the mail items you have received. You can easily receive and respond to postal mail items from anywhere in the world. Also, a virtual P.O. Box for businesses allows owners to keep their mailing addresses private. At the same time, your mail is as secure as if you received it in your physical mailbox. To sum up, a virtual P.O. Box is like having a physical P.O. Box, but even more convenient and easily accessible worldwide.

Are virtual P.O. boxes safe?

Virtual P.O. boxes for businesses ensure security—your mail gets stored at a secure mail processing facility with onsite personnel and surveillance systems. Each mail item is securely scanned. Then it's protected by encryption when sent to you. If you decide any mail should be discarded, it is shredded and recycled. When you want to set up a virtual P.O. Box, make sure that the chosen P.O. Box virtual service provider is authorized by the USPS to receive and store mail.

They should have a secure facility with restricted technology access. Their onsite destruction and shredding processes should be under supervision, and of course, mail items should only be opened and scanned with permission from the mail owner. In addition, the service is safe for you and your business in general. You can start using a virtual P.O. Box instantly and cancel it at any time.

How do virtual P.O. boxes work?

When you set up a virtual P.O. Box, you can read all of your mail online. When new mail arrives for you, it is scanned with an image of the exterior of the package or envelope. Then, the scan is uploaded to your account. This gives you an idea of who the mail is from, its dimensions of it, as well as weight. You can easily view and manage your mail from anywhere online. You always have access to your mail.

Additionally, you can provide your new address to anyone who sends you mail. With just a click, you can request to open and scan mail content (mail scans will be uploaded in a .pdf or .jpg format), and discard or shred unwanted mail pieces. This is how virtual P.O. boxes work in three simple steps:

  1. You choose a physical address offered by a service provider.
  2. Your mail is sent to that address and received by the virtual address service.
  3. The scans are uploaded to a cloud-based service where you can see them at any time, from any place.

How much does a virtual P.O. Box cost?

The final cost of a virtual P.O. Box depends on numerous things. The most important one is the address itself—e.g., how prestigious it is. The next one is the plan you choose. You should select the one that perfectly fits your needs, no matter if you need a virtual P.O. Box for private or business mail. Monthly fees for virtual P.O. boxes usually start from as little as $9.99. If you expect to receive more mail than that, you can easily upgrade to a higher plan. Because everything is stored in the cloud, you don't pay extra for digital storage. You can physically store an unlimited amount of mail and packages for an additional fee.

The benefits of a virtual P.O. Box

Setting up a virtual P.O. Box means managing all mail from any place at any time. It is an excellent option for a startup, a busy business owner, or anyone looking for a fast and easy mail solution. Below you will find the most important advantages of virtual P.O. boxes:

  1. You get all traditional P.O. Box's advantages, but you receive some extra perks, like a street address for your company and a virtual mailbox.
  2. You can access your mail fast, securely, and easily, no matter where you are. When you have new mail, you receive a notification with a scan of the envelope showing who sent it.
  3. Privacy—a virtual P.O. Box prevents spammers. You can easily keep your home address private in ads and correspondence.
  4. A virtual P.O. Box streamlines mail management. Notifications show you the sender, package size and weight, tracking, date of delivery, and more. Your mail can be scanned and uploaded to your account.
  5. A virtual P.O. Box may be cheaper than a regular P.O. Box in some instances.
  6. You switch to paperless—all paper mail gets digitized. First, you optimize the cost of printing and preparing paper documents. Secondly, the solution is eco-friendly. You utilize less energy and resources. And you save space.
  7. You can set more than one name on your account.
  8. It keeps your virtual business professional.
  9. The solution may also include forwarding your mail and packages.

Is a virtual P.O. Box better than a regular P.O. Box?

For many people, a P.O. Box is still the best choice for receiving mail. In fact, it's easy to manage and convenient. However, in order to collect your mail, you still have to go to the post office to pick it up. On the other hand, a virtual P.O. Box is a simple way to receive your mail, no matter where you may find yourself. You can choose which physical address you want for your virtual P.O. Box, and when you receive mail, you are sent a digital image of the envelope. You don't need to visit a post office, and you get real-time alerts when you receive mail.

Limited mail and package capabilities

As a subset of the postal office, P.O. boxes can only receive mail from USPS. That means you won't be able to receive mail and packages from FedEx, UPS, or DHL at the P.O. Box you rented.

If you order a P.O. Box that's too small, all your incoming mail might not fit, a physical constraint that can cause your mail to go undelivered.

A virtual mailbox accepts mail from all carriers. You never have to worry about all your mail fitting in your mailbox because we will scan and digitize it all for you.


A virtual P.O. Box is a great option for both individuals and business owners. When you choose a professional service provider, your virtual mailbox comes with a prestigious address and automated mail services all in one. You reap all the benefits of a typical P.O. Box plus some extra perks. Signing up for a virtual P.O. Box is quick and straightforward. The entire process only takes a few minutes and is seamless.

How to get a virtual address?

When setting up a new business, there are so many decisions to make. One of them is usually where your business will be located. Is it your home, a rented office, or somewhere else? During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses all over the world started to re-evaluate their real estate footprint, and it seems that this trend will continue. Therefore, we know that you may not want to start a new business from home using your own address. Fortunately, there is a solution for your new venture—a virtual address.

What is a virtual address?

A virtual address is a 100% real address at a real location. It's designed to be used as a reference point or marketing asset for your new business. A virtual address can also accept mail like any other address. It is called "virtual" because it's not usually the address where the business is physically operating. An added benefit is that, in some cases, you can receive postal mail and packages at a remote location.

Imagine you are working from home. What would look and feel more professional, a home address or an office address? In most cases, clients trust a professional-looking address more than someone working from home does. A virtual address is a convenient and flexible alternative for mail and courier deliveries. Business virtual addresses have started to be popular throughout the last 15-20 years when companies started realizing that P.O. boxes weren't always the most professional way to display a business's location. Virtual addresses usually come with a virtual mailbox, which means that every mail item you receive at that location gets scanned and uploaded into your account. You can access them remotely, no matter where you are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Is a virtual address safe?

When you decide to set up a virtual address, you receive a physical address location. So yes, a business virtual address is a safe option.

Is a virtual address the same as a virtual office?

These terms are similar, but not interchangeable. A virtual office is a broader term—it also includes some dedicated amenities like client meeting facilities, co-working spaces, meeting rooms, etc.

Can I use a virtual address for my LLC?

Yes. Virtual addresses can be used for the registration of your business. You can send all your business and legal documents to this secure address. You can easily use it with your clients and business partners, on your business cards, on your website, etc. A business virtual address provides you with a physical address to use for your business, as well as gives you the ability to work flexibly and remotely while still having a business presence at said address. For small companies, virtual addresses are a kind of instant enhancement of business image and credibility while interacting with third parties.

Additionally, when you set up a virtual business mailbox, you can view all your business mail online. You have direct access to your mail as a team of trained administrative professionals scans your mail to be accessed online. A virtual business address is much better than a P.O. Box as you cannot use a P.O. Box to register your business for all your correspondence and packages.

How does a virtual address work?

The entire process is really easy. All mail you receive is automatically redirected to your virtual address. Once an item comes in, you get an email notification informing you that you got mail. Then, you just log in to your virtual address account to see the scanned images of your mail and packages. In most cases, you can get your mail via:

  • Mail forwarding — your mail will be sent to your selected business address and then shipped directly to you.
  • In-person pickup.
  • Weekly curbside pickup and mail scanning at special request. The scanned mail will be sent to you virtually.

No matter which option you choose, professionally trained professionals will receive your mail, sort it, and then make sure that it ends up in your hands.

How to get a virtual address?

The very first step of getting a virtual address is selecting a plan that is right for you and then completing a change of address with the USPS and sending some necessary forms (two forms of ID) to the virtual address service provider to confirm your identity. Then, it's time to complete a notarized form that allows the service provider to legally manage mail on your behalf. The entire verification procedure is quick and simple—it only takes a couple of minutes. Once this step is completed, you can start using your cheap virtual address. If you are wondering how to arrange for your mail to get to your new virtual address, it's simple:

  • If you only want mail from specific senders to go to your virtual address, give them your new address.
  • If you are using a virtual address temporarily, you should file a temporary change of address form. The maximum use is for 12 months.
  • If you don't want to use your current address (either business or personal), you should file a permanent change of address form with your local post office.

How to get a virtual business address?

Getting a business virtual address is the same as setting up a personal virtual address. Once your business is signed up, you complete a change of address form, which allows the service provider to manage mail on the business's behalf legally.

What if I need more virtual addresses?

You can sign up for multiple addresses, it's not a problem. Once you complete your first signup, you can add another location when you log into your digital mailbox. One account is all you need to manage multiple virtual addresses. However, don't forget that you need to file a separate USPS form for each new address.

How much is a virtual address?

It all depends on the plan you choose. Usually, the virtual address service costs from $9.95 to $29.99-$35 monthly. Additional fees may appear, though, depending on the account usage. A detailed price breakdown is available on the provider's pricing page. It is always recommended that you make sure you understand the details of what your plan includes. There may be some additional options and usually, they cost extra.

Virtual addresses for businesses—pros and cons

Most clients admit that the main reason for a virtual address is that there are multiple benefits. It's a versatile model that you can easily scale up and change your plan if necessary. You are not at the mercy of long agreements—you stay flexible and agile.

Pros of a virtual address:

  1. It looks professional. A virtual address is of the utmost importance, especially if you are a small business trying to make a name for itself. Having the right image may be everything. When you set up a well-looking virtual business address, your clients can see that you invest in a proper office, even if you haven't. Getting a real street address makes you look more authentic and like someone who is genuine about the service provided. Most virtual business addresses are located in commercial buildings and business areas. Having a P.O. Box or anything other than a legitimate physical address may handicap your credibility and authority.
  2. It is secure. You can enjoy more anonymity and protection than you would have with a more traditional business address setup. You can avoid many potentially unsafe situations as your residential address isn't visible anywhere.
  3. Your documentation is finally organized. Businesses usually have to deal with a lot of paperwork and invoicing. When you have a virtual address, you can keep everything in one place.
  4. Flexibility—you can enjoy all the benefits that the virtual service provides and still maintain the credibility of a physical address.
  5. Legalities—in some states, you are not allowed to run certain types of business from your home. A virtual business address is a way to avoid such issues.
  6. Cost-efficiency—you only pay for the services you need.

Cons of a virtual business address:

  1. Pricing—usually, even choosing a cheap virtual address is a bit more expensive than using your home address. Generally speaking, virtual business addresses are not pricey, however, there may be some upsells in the process if you don't read the terms carefully. For there might be extra charges on shipping.
  2. The initial setup process may be annoying. There are some processes you have to move forward with if you want to set up a virtual mailing service.


Ready to move your business to a more digital world? Find out which Earth Class Mail plan is best for you.

How to get a virtual P.O. Box?

Pick your virtual P.O. Box address

From locations offered by your service provider. Very often, business owners ask: "Is it possible to get a virtual P.O. Box near me?" Yes, it's possible; you should ask the service provider about availability. You can also set up virtual P.O. boxes in multiple locations to create a broader market presence.

Choose a plan

According to your mail needs, and pay the fee.

Fill out a USPS Form 1583

To authorize the service provider to receive mail on your behalf and have it notarized. You should submit two forms of ID.

Apply for a change of address

Online or at a local post office. You can also redirect senders directly. You can start receiving mail at your new virtual P.O. Box. You can view and manage your from anywhere 24/7 and receive mail and packages from any carrier.

Can you manage a virtual P.O. Box online?

As mentioned earlier, P.O. Box users must physically check their box to get their mail. USPS offers Informed Delivery, a free service that gives customers an exterior preview of mail that's on its way. However, it stops there. Virtual mailbox gives customers a full range of options to manage all their mail, important documents, and packages online, from any device.

Can you register your business with a P.O. Box address?

The majority of states don't allow businesses to use a P.O. Box to register their LLC, corporation, or partnership. A business address must be a physical street address. If you don't have an office space and don't want to use your home address, we recommend using a virtual address. In summary, P.O. boxes and virtual mailboxes are more different than they are alike. Both will give customers a non-residential address to share, but similarities end there. Unfortunately, a P.O. Box address cannot be used to register LLCs or LLPs. If that's something you're looking for, a virtual mailbox is your best solution.

To learn more about offerings from Earth Class Mail, a LegalZoom company, go here.

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.