If you’re planning to spend your retirement overseas you may want to hire a mail forwarding service in your home country to receive your mail and forward it to you at your overseas home. There are a number of considerations.
- You may want to keep your mail coming to a single USA address, especially if you are not sure if your overseas living experiment will be successful or if you are not sure where you will finally settle.
- Some institutions and agencies will not open or continue an account for you if you have an overseas address.
- You may not want sensitive financial information coming to the Philippines through the Philippine Postal Service. If you’re fortunate enough to have substantial assets, it’s best to keep that information to yourself. Internet-only access is another solution but one that is not always available. For example, how can you receive your new plastic ATM or credit card?
- Some seek to change their residency from a high-tax state to one with no income tax.
We have been using usabox.com for seven years. We are very happy with them. They provide you with a Miami street address. You notify all correspondents of your new address and your mail starts flowing there. Usabox.com assigns a bar code to each piece of incoming mail. They scan the outside of each letter. At your request, they will send you an email notifying you of each new piece of mail arriving in your box. You log on to the usabox.com website and review the items in your box. You can see the scan of the front face of each envelope you have received. That really helps figure out if something is junk or important. You mark each to be retained in your box, to be discarded or to be forwarded to you anywhere in the world. Under the plan I selected, the charge is $10.00 per month plus shipping. If I want my mail forwarded to me in the Philippines, they ship it to me via FedEx overnight and I get the shipment in about three days. The service from FedEx has been better than DHL. It costs me about $28.50 per shipment of one pound. Each additional pound is $5.95. These rates are very good for FedEx/DHL international express shipments. Sometimes I’ll include a book or some other item I especially want. I’ll order from amazon.com, have the item shipped to my usabox.com address and they will express mail it to me with my next shipment. I only have my mail sent to me every several months, so the monthly cost is reasonable.
Usabox.com has recently introduced scanning as an additional option for items in your mailbox. For $9.95 they will open a letter, scan it and email the scan as a PDF document. This is a very useful option. Many time you really don’t need the physical mail, you just need the information within it. For example, I disputed a credit card charge. My bank sent me a form which had to be filled out and returned within thirty days. Rather than paying $28.50 to have it sent to me via FedEx, I had it scanned for $9.95.
FedEx outside our gate. Notice wired-on headlight, rusted out forks and impromptu front fender – but still they did make the delivery.
When you select a mail forwarding service, do your best to find out how long it has been in business and how many customers it has. It would be a nightmare to get all your mail going to a remailer and then have them go out of business. When this happens, the US Postal Service may then return all your mail to the original sender as undeliverable. Getting a new address and getting all your mail changed over to it will not be fun. This is not a theoretical problem. I was considering a Texas-based mail forwarding service but decided to go with www.usabox.com. Later I learned that the Texas service had gone out of business. We’re going to stick with usabox.com. It’s a well-organized, well-managed business and it meets our needs.
When shipping to the Philippines, we suggest you ask your shipper to avoid DHL. USABox had been using DHL as the shipper. The problem is that DHL would unnecessarily route our shipment through Philippine customs in Manila, even though it was only documents. That meant that we ended up paying a bunch of customs fees totaling P548.60 extra on a supposedly pre-paid shipment. The Iloilo DHL office opened our package to confirm that the contents were documents. They were, but it made no difference. They insisted on payment. Further, it was a bit disconcerting to have our mail, including investment account statements and bank statements rifled through in front of other customers. When we contested these fees DHL threatened to declare our shipment to be “abandoned”. Since our forwarded mail included our 2008 tax documents, we had no choice but to pay the DHL fees.
Since then we’ve asked USAbox.com to use FedEx and have not had further problems. Just be aware that you must not include anything of value with your mail. If you do FedEx will insist on a customs declaration and your whole shipment will be handled by Philippine customs. Once I included a free replacement USB cable sent to me by Barnes and Noble. It ended up costing about $20 in extra customs fees.
If you do include items of value, ask that USABox.com ship via U.S. Postal Service International Priority or Airmail. Mail (not FedEx, not DHL) seems to be processed through local not Manila customs and the expenses are much less.
U.S. Telephone Service
When you live in the Philippines, or elsewhere overseas, you may wish to maintain a telephone number in the U.S. For example, because I use my U.S. credit card overseas they sometimes call me with a “fraud inquiry” to find out if I authorized a particular charge. There are many other circumstances where you may wish to have a permanent U.S. phone number so that people can reach you by phone or fax no matter where you may be in the world.
There are a number of options for maintaining a U.S. phone number. Vonage, Skype and other VOIP vendors offer such numbers. I have had a Skype U.S. number, but now use Maxemail (www.maxemail.com) because it’s cheap and reliable. I found the Skype answering system to be unreliable and besides, more expensive. Especially annoying was that it would constantly “lose” our personalized message and so play a generic one. Callers are reassured if they hear a personalized message in your own voice. Getting a computer-generated generic message can raise more questions.
With Maxemail, you can choose a number in a specific city (that costs more) or you can accept whatever number they assign you. With the proliferation of cell phones, having a number in the area code where you live has become pretty irrelevant. I use the “Lite” versions of Maxemail which costs $24.95 per year.
Once you have your account with Maxemail, you can record a personal message in your voice which will be played when someone calls your number. Callers will be given the option of leaving a voice message or sending a fax. The messages they leave are saved and immediately sent to your e-mail address. There will be an e-mail in your inbox with an attached audio recording of the telephone voice message. You can choose which audio format works best for you. I use Windows Media Player.
If you receive a fax, it will be converted into a PDF file and sent to your e-mail address. You can also send faxes (at a small extra charge) using the Maxemail service. Supported file types include: .doc, .xls, .txt, .pdf, .tif, .html, .htm, .gif, .jpg and others. I almost always use PDF.
We don’t have any interest in Maxemail, except that it works well for us.
Google Voice. Technology moves on. Before you move to the Philippines, establish a Google Voice account. That will give you some of the benefits of Maxemail.com for free. You’ll be able to have a have a U.S. phone number. Friends and family can call you in the Philippines via Google Voice, but will be charged low U.S. long distance rates. For example, we have an area code 518 Google Voice number. Callers from the U.S. pay for a call to that area code. Callers can leave voice mail. You can call Philippine phone numbers for eleven U.S. cents per minute, a good rate. It’s weird that you can call a Philippine phone using Google Voice for less than using a Philippine cellphone.
Google Voice calls from the Philippines to the U.S. are currently FREE so we hardly use Skype to make such calls. You don’t have to have a Google Voice account to make these free calls to the U.S. If you use the Chrome web browser, you can download a Google phone/chat plug in that allows you to make the free calls. The Chrome web browser is excellent. probably the most secure browser available and certainly better than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer which has been plagued with security problems.
Signing up for Google Voice from the Philippines is tricky. You have to provide a U.S. phone number. A Philippine phone number will not work. Google will then call this number to confirm your account. If you don’t have such a number and/or can’t answer Google’s call, set-up will fail. We urge you to set up Google Voice while you are still in the U.S. Having a Skype In or MagicJack U.S. number is a workaround.
Magic Jack. Magic Jack is a hardware and software phone solution favored by many expats. It too gives you a U.S. phone number and cheap calling overseas. One big advantage is that Magic Jack allows you to pug in and use a regular land line phone as opposed to making and receiving calls through your computer. We have not used Magic Jack but is a solution well worth exploring.