Forwarding mail overseas has always been tough for long-term travelers. Shipping stuff to foreign countries can be a major pain. But I’ve found a solution…
When I picked up and left the United States back in November 2010 to travel the world, I didn’t leave much behind. No apartment, no storage unit, nada. I sent a few things back home to my family and sold or gave away everything else. It was all very liberating.
But I didn’t want to burden friends & family with taking care of my mail. I own a small online based business, and still need the ability to receive checks and other important correspondence via snail-mail. I was worried about how I would manage it all from the road.
Online Mail Forwarding
I finally found the perfect solution. It’s an online mail forwarding service called Earth Class Mail. They act as my own personal mailroom.
With Earth Class Mail, I get an actual street address from a choice of several different major US cities. All my mail & packages are sent to this “address”, then forwarded to the company’s headquarters in New York.
Next they scan the outside of all my letters & packages. I receive an email update when new physical mail arrives with the ability to view the scanned images in my online account.
From there I can choose to do several things with my mail:
- Open and scan the contents to view online
- Forward mail or packages to another address
- Shred or recycle junk mail
- Deposit physical checks into my bank account
- Hold mail at the facility until further notice
The whole process is super slick and easy to use. It’s made my life much simpler while working as a digital nomad and living out of my backpack.
Shipping Stuff Overseas
For an example, while I was traveling through Costa Rica I ordered some camera & camping equipment online from the United States. Many online retailers now require you to ship to a physical street address.
That requirement was not a problem for me with my virtual street address in Miami.
I began receiving email notifications when my products arrived at the Earth Class Mail warehouse. The scanned images in my online account showed me what arrived.
When everything is accounted for, I then select all the packages I want to ship to Panama (so they are waiting for me when I arrive). The company groups the shipment into as few packages as possible saving me money on shipping fees.
They even give you an estimate of shipping charges based on size, weight, and destination of your shipment. It’s pretty accurate too.
Where To Send Packages?
The next problem is finding a place to ship everything. I usually pick a major city that I plan to visit, shipping it about 2 weeks in advance (depending on the country). While it’s often possible to ship your things to a foreign city’s post office or a hotel, I prefer to do something different…
Post offices are large, confusing places. In the past I’ve had packages arrive only to get lost. One post office in the US told me they had received my package, but because I didn’t pick it up in time (no one told me about a deadline), it was sent back to Mexico!
I got a call a few days later saying that they made a mistake and it actually hadn’t been sent back, they just lost it…
While it was eventually found, that’s too much uncertainty & incompetence for me. That’s an example from an American post office. Foreign post offices can sometimes be much worse!
Shipping to a hotel is an option, but I rarely stay in hotels. Backpacking hostels will occasionally hold packages for you too, but in my experience you never really know how professional and competent a hostel is going to be until you see it for yourself.
This is my new favorite method. I’ve had good luck shipping to Mailboxes ETC. They have locations in major cities around the world. They’re a lot smaller than a major post office (and privately owned which is always a plus). Just find a location online and call in advance to let them know you’re sending something to get picked up.
FedEx, UPS, DHL
It’s also possible to send packages to the local office of these popular shipping companies, where you can then pick it up when you arrive. You’ll need to ship it via their particular service though. I’d call ahead to let them know what you want to do, and ask how long they’ll hold your package for you.
Another option is to find someone living in your destination city who is part of the Couchsurfing Community. I have nothing but great things to say about the people I’ve met via this website. You can try asking a few of them if they mind receiving & holding a package until you arrive in town.
Your success with this method may vary, but I’ve done it in the past with no problems. It certainly helps if you’re an active member of the community with many positive references to prove that you’re not an international drug/baby/exotic animal smuggler. ★
Company: Earth Class Mail
Cost: $50 – $100 per month
Useful Notes: Part of the setup process requires a notarized form, which if you currently live outside the US can be done at a local US embassy.