What’s my address? Finding a place for your mail during long-term travel.

5 Feb
2013
Posted in: Adventure How To, Travel
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If you’re embarking on a long-term trip and selling your home or moving out of your apartment, you’ll need to find a new destination for your mail. You might be tempted to think that you can go without mail during a long-term trip, but you still need an address, even in this age of paperless statements, to receive critical pieces of mail – especially around tax time.

First: reduce the amount of mail you receive

Reducing the amount of mail you receive will reduce the cost of your mail options (below) and/or the burden on your family or friends.

  • Choose the paperless statement option for your bank accounts and all regular and credit card bills. Set up online or automatic payments so you don’t need to worry about sending in checks from the road. Once you go auto, there’s no need to continue receiving paper statements.
  • Check out the FTC’s guide to Stopping Unsolicited Mail, Phone Calls, and Email for legit links to organizations that will help you stop unsolicited credit and insurance offers and junk mail for free.
    • At optoutprescreen.com, you can opt out of unsolicited credit and insurance offers.
    • At dmachoice.org, you can opt out of junk mail. This is a slightly time-consuming process, as you must opt out of junk mail by individual company. There is no blanket “stop sending me junk!” option.
  • Opt out of catalogs at catalogchoice.org. Like DMAchoice, you’ll also need to opt out of catalogs by individual company. It’s not necessary, but if you have the catalog you’d like to opt out of on hand, you can enter your customer number (found on the catalog’s mailing label) to speed up the opt out process.
  • If an organization doesn’t use the marketers serviced by DMAchoice or Catalog Choice, you can contact that organization directly by phone or by online contact form and request that they stop sending you paper mail. The organizations I’ve contacted have been more than willing to stop sending me paper junk…as long as they can have my email address! I’ll happily provide it, knowing that I can later unsubscribe from the emails.

Next: find a new address

When it’s time to find a new address, there are a few options: you can open a P.O. Box, use the USPS’s Premium Forwarding Service, receive mail by General Delivery, use a private mail forwarding service, or find a friend or family member who will let you co-opt their mailing address. Each option has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Once you choose an option, remember to fill out an official Change of Address form to direct your mail to your new address.

Open a P.O. Box

You don’t need to live in a specific area to open a P.O. Box at that area’s Post Office, but you will need to go to your chosen Post Office in person when opening the box to show two forms of photo identification (one listing your current physical address) and to pick up your keys. Detailed identification requirements can be found on the application form. po-box

Choose a location near where you plan to spend the most time on your trip or that you will return to often. P.O. Boxes work best if you’re planning to explore a small area in-depth. If you’re planning a cross-country, multi-state trip, a P.O. Box might not be the best solution – it could be tough to get back to Kansas once a month when you’re not in Kansas anymore. You can request mail be held at the Post Office for up to 30 days, but for no longer.

Alternately, consider opening a box in a location where a friend or family member can regularly check it for you.

Reserve a large enough box that will handle a month’s worth of mail. An 11” x 5.5” box runs between $100-$200 per year depending on the location (the same box goes for over $300 in Manhattan). You can search online to find pricing and availability by zip code. Larger boxes are available in some locations, but they are more expensive.

The disadvantage of a P.O. Box is that it must be emptied frequently. If a box isn’t emptied for more than 30 days and/or it is overflowing, you risk your mail being returned to sender, your mail being held, and/or your box being canceled. If you want to go the P.O. Box route, have a conversation with the local Postmaster, explain your situation, and see if there is any flexibility in their overflow and hold policies. Also ask that they not place local flyers and circulars in your box.

Use the USPS Premium Forwarding Service

pfs-bannerFor a weekly fee, USPS will hold your mail, package it up, and reship it to you each week for a period of 15 days to 1 year. This service can be arranged online. It costs $15.00 to enroll in the service and $15.25 for each week you have your mail forwarded. That’s going to get expensive, fast – you’re looking at more than $800 for a year of premium forwarding. Larger mail and packages are shipped “postage due,” so you could quickly rack up additional costs. And you’ll need to have an address where you can pick your mail up once a week — likely impossible during long-term travel.

So why am I mentioning this option at all? Well, it would work great for short trips when you’re expecting a critical piece of mail – like paychecks or bills that can’t be handled online.

Yes, you can still use general delivery!

You can receive mail via general delivery, just like the beatniks did back in the day. Mail addressed to you at “general delivery” will be held at the area’s main Post Office for up to 30 days. All you have to do is pick it up. People can send you mail using the following address format:

JOHN DOE
GENERAL DELIVERY
ANYTOWN, NY 12345-9999

In medium to large cities with multiple zip codes, make sure senders use the zip code for the area’s main Post Office. The ZIP+4 extension 9999 indicates general delivery. To find the main Post Office in an area, use the online search form. This option would work great for personal mail, but it isn’t a great long-term solution and can’t be used for tax forms.

Use a private mail forwarding service

Many private mail forwarding services have sprung up to help RVers and other transients deal with the mail issue. These services provide you with an address, then collect your mail as it comes in. They scan each envelope and upload the image to a website. You can then log in to their interface to view the scanned envelopes (it looks a lot like an email inbox).

If you want more details about a piece of mail, they will open and scan it for you (typically you’ll receive a certain number of scans for free, after which you’ll be charged per page or per document). You can access the scanned document through the interface and save it or print it. The service will store, recycle, or shred your documents. They’ll also forward your mail to you or electronically deposit checks (for an additional fee).

Each provider charges a base monthly fee plus additional fees depending on the services you select and the volume of mail you receive. Some providers also charge an initial setup or membership fee. It’s hard to tell exactly how much each of these options would cost per year, given the amount of fine print in each contract.

If you can get over the trust issues and if you can find this service for about the same cost as a P.O. Box, then it’s a great deal. Make sure you thoroughly research the fees and charges to get a good understanding of your potential monthly cost before signing up with a provider. Also check the BBB to ensure there haven’t been any recent complaints about the company. Companies that provide mail forwarding services include:

  • mailboxforwarding.com: Plans start at $14.95/month. There’s no setup fee, but there are many per-service fees. Offers a Michigan mailing address for free; addresses in California or Florida are available for an additional fee.
  • myrvmail.com: Plans start at $9/month, with a $25 set up fee. The basic plan totals about $200/year. A Florida mailing address is offered.
  • earthclassmail.com: Plans start at $20/month, with a $25 set up fee. Many per-service fees make this option’s yearly cost the most difficult to determine. Offers a Chicago P.O. Box address for free; mailing addresses and P.O. Boxes in many other cities are available for an additional fee.

Please note: this is simply a listing of the largest providers, not an endorsement of any of these companies.

Rope in a friend or family member

Finally, you can change your address to that of a friend or family member. Be sure you choose someone who can be trusted to set your important stuff aside for you and then not lose it. You might even have to ask this person to bulk-send you your mail occasionally. If you pick your parents, your mom is going to open your mail and call you to report on what you’re receiving. If you don’t want this to happen, have a talk about it early on.

Tax implications of address changes

If you officially change your address to a different state from the one in which you currently live, you’re going to have to pay taxes in two states that year. It’s best if you can direct your mail to a location in the state where you currently live, but this won’t always be possible.

So what did we do? Paul’s sister in Kansas City, MO let us use her home as our mailing address. The mid-country location was convenient because we were able to stop by and pick up our mail when we crossed the country and it also made bulk-mail shipping less costly. But in April, we had to pay taxes, and tax preparation fees, for two states: Missouri and Illinois.