Expat Travel Technology: How do I get my mail?

As we know there are many challenges to moving abroad. One of those is what to do with your postal mail. Should you have it forwarded to your new home in your far flung land? Maybe your 90-year-old mother will take care of it for you. Maybe that shifty-eyed cousin? For the most part, thanks to technology, you can eliminate most of your postal mail completely. Half of it is stuff you didn't want when you were living in your home country anyway. Now that you've moved you really have no need for that junk mail. First tip: Sign up for online statements and online billing whenever you can. If you can navigate email and the Internet, there really is no need to receive the majority of your current mail.

So now you've eliminated the bulk of your mail. What to do with the rest? In our case we receive the remainder of our postal mail through an online scan and mail forwarding service. We started this about 6 months before we left with a company called Earth Class Mail (ECM). ECM receives your mail at a PO Box, then does an initial high resolution color scan of the front and back of the piece of mail. This scan is then emailed for you to take action. Scan what's inside, Recycle, Shred or forward via FedEx to another location. The service is great for sorting mail. You have copies of all your mail in PDF form that you can save to your computer or it can be archived on ECM's site.

We're self employed as many expatriates are. We still received paper checks from clients and vendors, which is another issue. I wish everyone just did ACH/direct deposit, but they don't. One of the many tools that ECM offers is "Deposit Check". After scanning your mail you may deposit a check with a click of a button into a Wells Fargo account. I had to establish a new account with Wells Fargo to make this happen but it beat having to worry about sending checks to family for them to deposit on my behalf. For a small per check fee I can deposit online in just one step.

To be honest the set up process with Wells Fargo was long and painful. It took nearly two months for the account creation and testing. I believe this was due to it being a relatively new service at the time of my set up, but be prepared. Wells did cover the cost of my checks (which I may not use since I live in Uruguay, but still) and waived account fees for the first couple months.

I love ECM. I love receiving mail online. If I return to the States I will continue this service. It just simplifies things too much for me to give it up. They also license the technology throughout Europe with Swiss Post (addresses available throughout Europe). It's great if you're a road warrior traveling for business 4 of every 5 days of the business week or just don't want to deal with all the junk. With Earth Class Mail, junk mail is almost all gone and if I do get it,  I hit the recycle button. I'm kind of a hippie too and this is a fairly green way to deal with your mail. You'll have a much higher percentage of your mail recycled and a much lower percentage of garbage mail making it to your virtual door.

With ECM, you still have a physical mailing address to select.  There are many PO Box locations to choose from as well as several street locations.  If you want to be virtually in Manhattan...bam!  You're there.  (Or at least your mail is there). If you're only receiving personal mail, a PO Box will location will probably work for you. Since we receive business mail, it complicates matters when vendors will accept nothing but a street address. We pay a small additional fee to have a street address in Seattle (instead of a PO Box). This still wasn't ideal for us, though, and we decided to have an additional address set up with a UPS store in Minneapolis. Twice per month our UPS Store automatically forwards all of our personal and business mail that is not already directed to our ECM location in Seattle. ECM receives it and upon our instruction they open the Priority Package from UPS and "induct" all of the individual pieces of mail as though they had been sent directly. Many probably won't require this extra step but ECM just didn't have an address in Minny so we felt if was necessary for us to maintain our presence there. They have addresses in most major cities and  are adding more all the time.

There are several other ways to get your mail. You can DHL or FedEx regularly to your new foreign locale. Or in the case of Uruguay, you can try a service like Miami-Box. Have your Amazon and other packages shipped right to the street address of Miami-Box and they in turn will bring to down to Uruguay and deliver right to your door very quickly. There are high fees and duty to worry about, as well as certain items that can't be shipped but it's a service that's worth taking a look at.  We also employ the minions that read our blog to courier items down to us.  Not a bad practice!  If you have family or friends coming down, have them take a trip to Target or Costco to grab some of your favorite items.  But I digress... 

Earth Class Mail : Receive PDF files of all your mail online. Sort, save, recycle. Very simple, very easy.