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What is International Mail Forwarding and How Does it Work?

Taking an extended trip or moving out of the U.S. is made easier with the aid of a good mail forwarding service. An outgrowth of today’s mobile society gone global, the demand for international forwarding of mail and packages has grown. We are used to having all communications at our fingertips, but when we need hard documents and three-dimensional packages, there can be obstacles to staying connected back home.

The best way to ensure that you never miss an important communication or package is to arrange for international mail forwarding before you leave the U.S. If you are on the fence about the value of the service, consider some key factors when making a choice.

Relocating Out of the U.S. – A Permanent or Temporary Move

Whether you are going for an extended work or vacation visit, or plan to relocate permanently overseas, ensure that your identity and finances are secure and won’t be compromised by stray documents.

Mail forwarders offer a subscription type of service. Set up a minimum arrangement based on your estimated length of travel, and make sure you can easily extend it if needed. If your move is permanent, you may want a long-term service agreement for ongoing communications you expect to receive.

Mail Forwarding -- The Options and Services

International rules and customs laws vary, but the first rule is to have a U.S.-based address that is yours alone, from which you can legally forward your mail. If you have permanently left the U.S., or if you have given up your residence for an extended trip, a forwarder will provide an official address for you in the U.S.

Any commercial mail receiving agency is required to file a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Form 15831 on your behalf. Be sure to retain a copy for your own records. The service provider should help you to set up forwarding on a predetermined schedule. They should also provide document scanning options and send you clear photos of packages and labels, so that you can choose to reject anything you don’t wish forwarded. If you reject documents and letters, remember to arrange for shredding those documents, if appropriate.

Choose the amount of time you want items to be kept in storage before shredding or returning. When you finally receive the forwarded mail and packages, you will have a clear, photographic and email record from which to identify and inventory everything you receive, matching items to the information previously sent. 

A mail forwarder will consolidate items into one larger shipment according to your instructions. The result will be great savings in postage and shipping costs, and faster receipt of mail overseas.

How to Choose a Provider

Your mail is more than just a link to family, friends, or businesses in the U.S. It may contain confidential, private, even sensitive information. Follow a few tips in evaluating an international forwarding company, to protect your personal information.

  • New companies appear regularly, so look at the provider’s history to find an experienced one. No matter what type of business, reputation is everything. Search for feedback from other users online, or ask for referrals from associates who have made a similar move.
  • The ability to guarantee safe, speedy processing depends on the depth of a company’s connections to delivery networks around the world, and the strength of their relationships with them.

The service should offer total online functionality, giving you the ability to manage your account and receive daily email messages with status and inventory updates, wherever you are. Be sure you have the option to change your schedule and frequency of delivery if needed.


Once you have decided on a basic plan, you may want to layer on some added levels of service that can make life easier as you transition to living in a new country (or returning to your home country from the U.S.). 

  • Depending on your needs, you can establish more than one U.S. address through your mail forwarder, allowing you to receive mail from specific sources using different addresses of origin.
  • Mail consolidation can be done digitally. Mail is received and sorted, then converted to digital formats, merged, and stored safely online where it is instantly accessible to you.
  • Many forwarders offer shipping for purchases from retail stores (both online and brick-and-mortar) in the U.S., who often do not ship to foreign countries.

Questions to Ask Your Mail Forwarder

  • Do you pay customs duty in the receiving country? Do I pay? How do I go about calculating costs and paying customs?
  • Are your fees based on U.S. exchange rates at the time I start my subscription?
  • Do your fees change with fluctuations in currency exchange rates?
  • What add-on fees do you charge if I receive more packages or letters per month than my basic plan allows?
  • Do you offer repackaging before shipping, and what are the additional fees, if any?


Costs start with a monthly subscription fee. Be sure to review the list of services included with the basic fee, and compare those services to your own set of priorities. Check for information on the cost of additional services, and be sure you know what you are getting when you make a choice. Some vendors will use add-on fees for:

  • Shipping additional documents and packages over a set maximum;
  • Separate or expedited shipping of selected items;
  • Exchange rate change – your rates should be based on established U.S. costs and should not fluctuate with currency rates.

Make sure you are not charged extra for scanning services per page, or for photos on a per piece rate.

Using careful screening and some pre-planning, you can quickly set up your new service online for a minimal monthly cost, removing at least one source of stress in adjusting to the many exciting changes of a move overseas.


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