Choosing the right way to receive the mail for your business can be tricky. A traditional post office box (PO box) and a virtual address offer different benefits and drawbacks.
In this guide, we’ll look at these addresses, the factors to consider when deciding, and their pros and cons to help you choose which is best for your needs.
What is a PO box?
A PO box, or post office box, is a storage place for mail and packages at any United States Postal Service location.
Businesses and individuals can choose from different box sizes to use. There are over 21 million PO Boxes, with 14.4 million boxes occupied.
Placing packages and mail into an extra-large PO box, USPS
What is a virtual address?
A virtual address is closely related to a virtual mailbox, an online service that lets you receive your mail digitally.
Instead of a physical address, PO box, or real street address, your mail will be forwarded to a secure location to be forwarded from there or scanned into your account. If the virtual address service you’ve chosen also comes with a virtual mailbox feature, you’ll be able to manage all of your mail online.
A virtual address is a great option when there isn’t an available PO box or your local post office is closing.
What are the factors to consider when choosing a PO box or virtual address?
Factors to think about for picking a PO box or virtual address
1. The amount of privacy you need
Both PO boxes and virtual addresses are alternative mailing addresses.
A PO box alternative is a physical mailing address to pick up your mail. In contrast, a virtual address lets you receive mail digitally without needing a physical space.
You can keep your private information and control who can access a PO box and a virtual address.
2. Your preferred level of convenience
Depending on where you are and how often you check your mail, both PO boxes and virtual addresses offer a different level of convenience.
While most post office locations allow you to physically check your PO box 24/7, the hours vary by location. So, you would have to check your local PO box service for their hours before retrieving your mail.
On the other hand, a virtual address service that has a virtual mail feature lets you check your scanned mail anytime, anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.
Depending on the service, both options may offer additional services, such as email notifications and package forwarding, to conveniently manage your mail.
3. Whether you receive packages
If your business receives packages, this factor will affect if you choose a PO box or a virtual address.
A PO box lets you receive your mail and different-sized packages without worrying about them being unattended.
Packages will be placed in your locked PO box until you receive them.
Virtual address service providers will have a package-receiving or package-forwarding service at an additional cost.
4. The cost of the services
Both services’ costs can vary greatly.
For a PO box, you pay a monthly fee depending on the size and location of the box at the post office.
For example, a small unit that can hold 10-15 letters will cost $4.50 per month. There will be other fees, such as if you need to replace a lost key.
Depending on the virtual address service provider and the specific services offered, a virtual address service costs between $10 to $50 per month for a basic service.
These services include a limited amount of mail scanning, package receiving, and mail forwarding.
Choosing between a PO box and a virtual address depends on your needs and preferences.
What are the pros and cons of using a PO Box?
Pros and cons chart of using a PO box
1. PO boxes are affordable
Using a PO box can cost less than $5 per month, depending on the box size.
One of the largest PO boxes is a 12″ X 22.5″ box for $22.50 per month that can hold multiple packages, mail, and legal documents.
Based on these prices, using a PO box is affordable.
2. You can receive and pick up packages
A physical PO box lets you or a registered agent receive mail and packages.
Even if the package is too big for your PO box, the package will still be received at the post office.
Packages will be placed in a larger storage locker in the same building, and you will receive a slip to receive the package.
3. You receive mail faster
Since most mail is shipped through USPS, it will be immediately placed in your PO box once it reaches your local post office.
This allows you to receive mail faster than if it were to be delivered to your address.
1. PO boxes aren’t always accessible
A major con to using a PO box is that there is only one box in a single location. If you’re working remotely, out of state, or abroad, you cannot check your PO box.
Additionally, whenever the post office closes, you can only access your PO box once the office is open again.
2. There’s limited space
A PO box has limited space to fit a certain number of items.
Suppose your business receives a lot of incoming mail and packages or you check the box infrequently.
In that case, this can cause issues for you and the postal office. A solution is to upgrade to a larger size or find an alternative mailing address.
The available sizes for a USPS PO box, USPS
3. Receiving mail outside of the USPS is restricted
Private mailing services, such as FedEx or UPS, are separate from USPS and may not be able to deliver to your PO box.
What are the pros and cons of using a virtual address?
Pros and cons chart of using a virtual address
1. Virtual addresses are convenient
With a virtual address that has a virtual mailbox feature, your mail can be accessed online, so there’s no need to go to the post office to check the mail.
A virtual address + a virtual mailbox account lets you do online mail management anywhere and at any time.
Additionally, employees can share access information to log in and check the mail if needed.
Check your mail, bills, and other notification online, MailMate
If you use a virtual office, then having a virtual address is key as it can help establish your location and allow you to receive packages that can then be forwarded to you.
2. Virtual addresses protect your privacy
If you are working from home or your business is operated out of your house, using a virtual address protects your identity by keeping your home address private.
Since it’s a virtual business address, any business mail will be sent to the scanning facility. This process will separate your personal and business mail.
You can manage all of your private or business mail online using folders and tags.
Some virtual address providers, such as Shoeboxed’s MailMate, use a secure network with SSL and a VPN to protect your data.
4. Helps to reduce paper clutter
Virtual business addresses help reduce paper clutter in the office since all mail will be accessed digitally.
Like any mail inbox, once your mail is scanned, you can add tags, create folders, and archive irrelevant mail.
Your mail will be scanned into your account for you to view, Mailmate
Shoeboxed’s upcoming service, MailMate, for example, is a virtual mailbox service that will scan your postal mail.
With a click of a button, you can easily search and share any important documents in your virtual po box.
1. Receiving packages is difficult
Using a virtual mailing address for packages is not recommended.
If you have control over the packages you receive, it’s best to send them to you directly.
That said, many virtual mailbox services can receive your packages and have a package-forwarding system.
This feature usually costs a small fee to forward the package to you directly.
2. You’ll be dependent upon multiple providers
With virtual addresses, you are relying on both the USPS and the virtual address provider. This makes for a greater risk of miscommunication or error, such as lost important documents such as tax returns, bills, etc.
Additionally, your business must prepare for possible delays in receiving, scanning, and processing mail.
Some virtual mail service providers may provide a timeframe for how quickly mail is processed, while others may not.
You’ll be charged extra for additional services
Using any basic plan will have limits, such as a limited amount of mail scanning and cloud storage.
There might be a small fee for additional services, such as more mail scanning, processing, forwarding, and disposal, so be sure to find the right plan that fits your business needs.
Frequently asked questions
Are virtual mailboxes legal?
Yes, virtual mailboxes are legal. They are a digital alternative to PO boxes to manage your mail and other packages online. Services such as Shoeboxed’s Mailmate operate within the framework of postal regulations for compliance with legal requirements. By utilizing encryption and privacy measures, virtual mailbox providers prioritize the security and confidentiality of your mail. So, you can confidently use a virtual mailbox service knowing that it is a legal and reliable solution for your mailing needs.
PO boxes and virtual addresses have their benefits and drawbacks. By assessing your needs and the services these alternative addresses provide, you can decide what type of address is best for you.
Tammy Dang is a staff writer for Shoeboxed covering productivity, organization, and digitization how-to guides for the home and office. Her favorite organization tip is “1-in-1-out.” And her favorite app for managing writers and deadlines is Monday.com.
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