How do snowbirds handle mail?

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Winters can be cold, long and boring that is why some people prefer to migrate to warmer areas during winters and these people are commonly called snowbirds.  But being away from home for months at a time makes it difficult to handle mail.  While you can configure some of your mail to be sent to you via email there are still some items you will have to receive through regular mail while you are away during the winter.  So how do snowbirds handle their mail while they are enjoying their winter getaway?

There are several ways snowbirds manage their mail:

  • Using mail holding or mail forwarding services
  • Ask someone they trust to receive and handle mail while they are away
  • Using Virtual MailBox services provided by third-party companies
  • Reducing the volume of mail they receive

Snowbirds can use either one or a combination of the above-mentioned methods to manage their mail.  All of these mail handling methods can be used by both long term and short term snowbirds and in this article we will let you know exactly how each of these mail handling methods works while you are away from home.

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Mail holding or mail forwarding services

Mail forwarding and mail holding services have been around for quite some time and national mail services of most countries including the US, Canada, and Australia give their users an option to hold their mail or forward the mail to a temporary address.  Both of these services are an ideal option for snowbirds who migrate within the country as well as abroad.  Here is how mail holding and mail forwarding works:

  • Mail Forwarding: As the name suggests mail forwarding service allows you to temporarily receive your mail at your new address either within the same country or abroad.  Mail forwarding service provided by United States Postal Service can be used free of cost if you are forwarding the mail within the country but international mail forwarding by USPS is going to cost you a fee depending upon where you are forwarding your mail to. While Canadian and UK postal services don’t offer free mail forwarding services either within or outside the country.  If you are migrating outside the country during winter, you will have to pay a weekly or monthly fee for international mail forwarding.  You can subscribe to a mail forwarding service for up to 6 months or a year and after a year your mail forwarding request will expire and the mail will either be sent back to the sender or shredded if you fail to update your mail forwarding to a new address after a year.
  • Mail holding: Mail holding services come in handy if you don’t want to receive mail while you are enjoying the warm south weather away from freezing winters.  With a mail holding service, your mail is going to be held by the post office while you are away and you can get the held mail when you return. United States Postal Service provides its users for a 30-day mail holding completely free of cost while Canadian and British postal services also provide mail holding service but they charge their users a weekly fee for this service.

If you want to subscribe to a mail holding service you should request the mail holding service at least 2 weeks before leaving if you are in the USA and use USPS. While for Canadian and British postal services you are required to request a mail holding service 7 days before you leave. But a mail holding service is only ideal if you are going to be gone for a month or two because you cannot check or respond to your mail until you get back home.

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Asking friends or family to handle your mail while you are away

If you have close family members or friends living close to you, now is the time to ask them to return a favor by managing your mail while you are gone during winter. But before you leave that person with the responsibility of handling your mail make sure that person is willing to take on this responsibility and they won’t be traveling themselves while you are away. Although managing someone’s mail doesn't seem like a burden at first but over time it can become difficult as the person responsible for handling your mail is going to regularly check your mail and let you know if there are any important mail items you need to respond to which in itself is a huge responsibility.

Another problem that might stop your friends or family from handling your mail is that they might not want to share their address for receiving mail due to privacy reasons. That is why it is best to set up a PO box at your local post office so that all your mail will be sent to that PO box which will be a locker in the post office. And all your friend or relative has to do is go and pick up your mail from the post office every few weeks or so.

Since mail you receive can be confidential, you must make sure you trust the person you have assigned to handle your mail.

Tip: You can use online spreadsheet software to manage your mail while you are away. All the person managing your email has to do is enter the mail you received in the spreadsheet and you can update the spreadsheet with instruction next to each mail to let the person know what to do with each mail item.

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Using Virtual Mailbox Services

A Virtual Mailbox service is kind of like mail forwarding services provided by most national postal services but you can virtually check your mail using email or via smartphone/desktop application because the virtual Mailbox service provider is going to send you a notification with a scanned image of the outside of the package. After that you can choose what you want to do with the mail you have received.  You can either get the mail forwarded to your temporary southern destination, have the mail shredded or get a cheque deposited in your bank account. You can also choose to simply get the contents of mail scanned and sent to your email address in the form of a PDF document.

While a virtual mailbox service seems like an ideal service for snowbirds there are a few drawbacks of this third party service. Some problems with virtual mailbox services include:

  1. The cost of using a virtual mailbox service is too high, especially when compared to mail forwarding and mail holding services because you will be charged for every piece of mail that you choose to scan, shred or get forwarded to your temporary address. So if you receive a lot of mail, the daily cost of performing different actions such as scanning or forwarding is going to add up and make you think if the convenience is worth it or not.
  2. Your virtual mailbox is not as fast as your actual mailbox which means you may receive the scanned mail with a delay of as much as a day sometimes. This can be a problem for people who receive important items in their mail and want to be able to check their mail as soon as it arrives.
  3. Just like asking a friend to handle your mail you will have to give up the privacy of your mail since it is going through a third-party and the virtual mailbox service provider will be able to read your mail before you do.  So if you don’t want anyone to know your confidential information it is best to use a simple mail forwarding service instead while you are not home for the winter.
  4. The cost of getting the mail forwarded to you is going to be higher when you do it through a virtual mailbox which can be frustrating because you can get your mail forwarded at a fraction of cost using regular mail forwarding.
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Reduce the amount of mail you receive

In this age of technology, you can pay bills, receive bank statements and even do taxes online without the need of receiving a lot of mail. So the best way to be able to enjoy your winter getaway to the fullest without worrying about handling mail is to reduce the amount of mail you get. And besides, by reducing the paper mail you will be doing your part towards preserving the environment since less paper waste is going to end up in landfills. You can contact your bank, credit card company, health insurance provider or any other company that frequently sends you regular statements through the mail and ask them to send you the bills or statements via “email” instead.  You can also signup for automatic bill payment service and pay your bills automatically.

Conclusion

Snowbirds have the freedom to choose a combination or either one of the methods mentioned above to handle mail while they are enjoying their sunny vacation. But the best way to handle mail while you are away is to receive as little physical mail as possible and try to receive most of your paper mail through “email” instead.