Ah yes, the question of mail. Since we announced our upcoming move to Costa Rica, I’ve had several people ask various questions about what we’re going to do with our mail.
There are a lot of options, but here are the steps we’ve taken to prepare for dealing with mail while living abroad.
First: Eliminate As Much Mail As Possible
The first thing we did was to eliminate as much of our incoming mail as possible. We setup all of our bank and credit card accounts to send e-mail statements only. We canceled magazine subscriptions, tried to remove ourselves from other mailing lists, and setup all our bills for on-line payment. It seems impossible to eliminate junk mail completely, but we definitely don’t get as much as we used to. I recommend this step even if you’re not moving overseas!
Second: Get a New Address
Next, we got a new address – a PO Box and a physical address. I’ll talk about how I set this up in a minute. Since we are selling our house, we had to have a US address somewhere for business reasons. However, we’re being very cautious about who we give this address to.
We don’t want junk mail sent there so we’re we don’t put the address on mailing lists, or order products to be shipped to it, etc. And to those we do give it to, we ask that they turn off paper mailings and send everything on-line, where possible. We will still probably setup a forwarder through the post office when we move because we can’t find an option on the post office website that let’s you “cancel” an address. But maybe I just haven’t seen it yet.
Third: Find Someone to Process Your Mail
When we were in Panama, I had all our mail forwarded to my sister, who logged each piece of mail in a Google Docs spreadsheet for me. I then marked in the spreadsheet what to do with each piece (trash it, shred it, deposit it, file it, etc.). This worked great! But now we’re moving permanently, and I wouldn’t want to put that burden on her long term, nor use her home as my business address. So we found some other options.
First, we tried EarthClassMail.com. It looked like an awesome service! Not only do they receive all your mail at a custom address (this is the PO Box and physical address I mentioned earlier), they’ll also scan your mail for you so you can read it on-line. You can also have specific pieces of mail forwarded to another address, trashed, or shredded, and they do automatic deposits of your checks. All on-line. Pretty nice, eh?
I signed up for this service (which required having to snail mail in some legal documents). However, shortly after I signed up, they raised all their prices significantly. Now, in addition to the increased monthly fees, it costs $1.50 for every mail piece I want scanned, and $2 for every check I want deposited. I was disappointed that they didn’t grandfather in their former customers at the previous pricing. If I didn’t need checks deposited, it still might be worth it. But since I’m going to want almost all mail scanned, and the checks I deposit aren’t very large, for me, the cost is no longer worth it, and I’m going to cancel my account.
So, instead, I’m looking into having my bookkeeping service handle my mail. For less than Earth Class Mail, they’re willing to receive all my mail, scan it for me, and deposit any checks once a month. And because they do my bookkeeping too, they’ll also enter my checks in the accounting system. One more plus – they’re in Nevada, so my business can have a Nevada address if I want it, which could save me on state taxes!
Digital Fax as an Alternative
I also have a digital fax line through TrustFax.com which I use on occasion. Instead of mailing me a document, people can fax to my toll-free number and I get the document in an e-mail message with an attached pdf file. This works well for those who don’t have a scanner or who prefer faxing. It works out the same for me – I get an e-mail – and I can send faxes, too (without a fax machine or a phone line).
So, will we receive any paper mail in Costa Rica?
I don’t know. Since we don’t know where we’re staying, or for how long, or how often we’ll be moving around, it’s just hard to say at this point. We’ll certainly have an address, but not all addresses can get mail delivered directly to them. Many small towns require that you take a trip to the post office to pick up your mail, so we may need to setup a PO box there to deal with rent or utility bills, and receive packages.
There are also third party shipping companies that don’t use the regular Costa Rica mail service, or you can always use FedEx. We’ll look more into that once we get there and see what others in the area have found most reliable.
I wouldn’t really mind eliminating physical mail entirely. E-mail seems to be able to replace it for everything I need these days except for tangible products I order, or packages from grandma (which would be missed). If there’s something I need to sign, I can do that on the computer as well. I just paste my signature onto the document and send it back.
Plus, I’m saving trees! Trees which help make Costa Rica the beautiful country that I will soon be enjoying.