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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Paper Doll Redirects the Mail (Part 2): Temporary Changes of Address

Last week, we discussed how to permanently change your address so you can access all your important mail. For some temporary changes of location (special work projects, sabbaticals, etc.), a USPS Change of Address form will suffice. However, for world travelers, backpackers, RV aficionados and cruisers, there are better options for mail delivery and forwarding.


If you're planning to stay with friends, you can have mail sent Care Of whomever you're visiting. However, in some countries, post offices will only deliver paper mail to residences; packages must be picked up at postal offices.

Mail and packages can be directed to a hotel, resort or youth hostel where you have fixed reservations and plan to stay for a while. However, I would only suggest this as an option for emergencies. Hospitality staffers have high turnover, and there's a good chance your mail might get lost in the shuffle.

If you plan a meandering, date-non-specific trip, you'll need something more official.


Practically every nation has a system in place for holding mail for individuals lacking permanent mailing addresses, enabling travelers to pick up mail at a time convenient for their itineraries. In most of the world, this system is called Poste Restante. It's also called General Delivery in the United States and Lista de Correos in South America.

Back in the days before email and cell phones, this was a popular way of receiving mail when you couldn't (because of local service issues) have mail delivered to your place of residence, or if you didn't know in advance exactly where you'd be staying.

Senders address letters or packages -- of which, more later. After arrival at the destination city, recipients must go the post office with their passports (for proof of identification) to collect whatever mail is waiting. Many international post offices even have special counters ( la concierge service) for Poste Restante.

There may be a charge for Poste Restante, though unless a nation is rife with systemic corruption (in which case perhaps you might wish to stay home?) the fee tends to be only about fifty cents per mailed item. In the era of email and cell phones, you'd probably only want to use Poste Restante for packages or vital documents, or in countries where larger delivery carriers, like FedEx and UPS, are absent or will have difficulty finding you.

Address Poste Restante mail in the following format (with words capitalized as indicated):

LASTNAME, Firstname
Poste Restante
Central Post Office

Of course, you'll want to contact a post office in your destination city to verify if they hold mail, where the central post office is located and if there are any additional concerns regarding formatting.

If you will be staying somewhere that Arabic, Asian, or Cyrillic lettering predominates, ask a native speaker to write the address on paper, then scan it and send a PDF to anyone who might be sending you mail. The sender can then print a copy and affix it to the envelope or package alongside the English version (which is necessary to get it out of North America).

If you're using General Delivery in the United States, the format is:

Firstname Lastname
City, State ZIP-9999

Whatever the city, use 9999 for the ZIP+4 addendum. The main post office for each community is supposed to hold mail for up to 30 days. If you don't pick it up, it will be returned to sender, so don't get any nifty sci-fi ideas about sending mail to your infant grandchild and putting a notation in your will to have him pick up a package thirty years hence. Leave that to Nicolas Cage.


Novels from the late 40's and 50's referenced international travelers visiting American Express offices to pick up mail. That wasn't just a work of fiction.

Any traveler can receive mail at American Express Travel Service offices worldwide -- it's free if you hold an American Express-branded card, but if you're willing to pay a small fee, non-cardholders can use the service, too. Note, it's only for paper mail, and not packages, which means you'll probably only want to use it if you have something that cannot be emailed, like a replacement credit card or late arriving visa (not the credit card -- the kind that goes with your passport).

For American Express cardholders, if a letter doesn't arrive before you're ready to leave, you may request that they forward it to another American Express Travel Service office of your choosing, at no cost.

Not all Travel Service offices participate in the Client Letter Service. Plan ahead by locating American Express Travel Service offices along your itinerary, and call to verify that they are part of the Client Letter Service.


While the above options work fairly well for the peripatetic, other mobile types need to receive all of their mail on a regular basis. RV traveling and cruising is popular with retirees and free spirits (like OnlineOrganizing founder Ramona Creel), and in the last few decades, mail forwarding services have popped up specifically to assist these travelers.

The process is generally similar across all providers, though each has its own bells and whistles:

1) Select a service provider and activate your account.

2) Authorize the service to receive and handle your mail by filling out and notarizing Form 1583 -- Application for Delivery of Mail By An Agent. Fax multiple forms of identification, as well, to guard against identity theft and mail fraud.

3) Direct all mail to the new address you'll be assigned-- this includes First Class mail, like letters and bills, as well as magazines and other subscriptions. Provide this address to retailers, from Amazon to Zappos, whenever you make an online or phone purchase.

4) All mail will go to the service's central sorting location. (Some services have one main street address; others have multiple locations nationwide.)

5) The forwarding service will sort your mail and scan the envelopes and outer packages on a daily basis, uploading the information to your account.

6) At your convenience, log into your account to view and manage your mail. With the better services, you'll be able to view general information, like the sender, parcel type, weight and dimensions and an item description.

7) Based on your preferences, navigate the online account management to direct the service to act on each letter, magazine or package. Choose to have the mail sent to you, held or discarded. If you've received multiple packages (purchases, birthday presents, etc.), direct them to be consolidated into one larger package for shipping.

8) Different services have different shipping schedules and pricing structures, so determine how often you want to receive your mail and select accordingly. When you are ready to receive all of your mail (including packages), the mail forwarding service will put your shipment together with all of the necessary documentation to get it to you.

Mail forwarding services have multiple advantages. You can:
  • Eliminate junk mail.
  • Bundle just the mail you need.
  • Repackage your purchases and mail into larger containers, decreasing the overall cost of shipping (vs. individual shipping costs for multiple items)
  • Shop via mail order, even from companies that don't ship outside of North America.
  • Some companies will provide letter and magazine storage. This is usually free for a short period (30-45 days), after which a small fee, often $1 per pound or box, is assessed.
Caveat emptor! There are services that provide only shipping, without the ability to view your mail online. Paper Doll strongly urges against using such companies. Similarly, avoid companies that don't accept credit card payment. Payment by check isn't merely inconvenient when you're traveling; you'll also lose the consumer protections so many credit cards provide. Consider skipping companies that grant only P.O. Boxes, rather than street addresses; otherwise, the service won't be able to receive inbound packages via UPS, FedEx and other carriers.

Again, not every mail forwarding company offers every feature. Carefully review each for the availability of:
  • Insurance
  • Real street addresses (vs. post office boxes)
  • Online management
  • Scanning of documents/envelopes
  • Repackaging/Package consolidation
  • Junk mail disposal
  • Mail shredding
  • Credit card acceptance
  • Clear, easy-to-understand monthly/contract rates with no "gotchas" (Make sure you know in advance if there's a sign-up fee, repackaging fee, etc.)
A few of the better-known mail forwarding services are indicated below. (Please note, this is for informational purposes only and are not recommendations.)

US Global Mail has three levels of service -- Personal, Personal Pro and Business class --  ranging from a low of $11.25/month for a two-year contract to a $50/month business plan without a contract, paid month-to-month. US Global Mail allows you to use a shipping calculator to determine which of four international carriers you prefer for forwarding mail and packages to your location.

US Global Mail has an excellent slide show tour for viewing exactly how you can navigate your online account management.

Earth Class Mail recently accented its business-oriented features. (Thus, while services are expansive, they might be overkill for a backpacking college graduate or new retiree.) Earth Class Mail's general mail and parcel forwarding is $19.95/month, plus fees for special services, and you get an address in Beaverton, Oregon. If you have simple needs, this service allows your mail to be forwarded without online management.

Earth Class Mail's virtual mailroom provides online management. In addition to general services (sorting, scanning, shredding, and shipping), you may forward to multiple addresses, in case you prefer a document you received to be sent to your attorney, CPA or colleague. You can select an official address (PO Boxes or street addresses) in any of 19 cities.

Full time recreational vehicle (RV) travelers may want to peruse the following:
Escapees RV Club
Family Motor Coach Association
MY RV Mail

In addition to mail forwarding services at various rate levels, 24-year-old St. Brendan's Isle provides additional specialized services for cruisers, full-time RVers, business executives, traveling nurses and Merchant Marines. Unlike most services, which bill monthly to a credit card, St. Brendan's Isle starts with a $100 deposit, from which monthly charges are deducted.

USA Box is designed specifically for international travelers who want their mail and packages shipped abroad with ease. Rates are dependent upon the nation to which mail will be forwarded.

Whether you're traveling for work, study, fun or are just on the lam from "The Man", there's a mail forwarding service for your needs.

posted on: 3/6/2012 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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