How A Full-Time Nomad Gets Mail
In today’s America you absolutely must have a mailing address to receive your mail. There are a large number of things that require it, for example, it’s impossible to become a resident of any state or get insurance without a mailing address in that state. But if you live on wheels and have no permanent home whatsoever, how can you do that?
For many people the answer is easy, they just ask their family or friends to get their mail and hold it for them and then forward it to them as they travel. Their family or friends address becomes their address. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have family and friends willing to do that and it’s been my experience that many people will start out doing it for you–but it soon becomes a burden to them and they decide to stop.
So for the majority of us who need to take care of it ourselves, today I’m going to tell you how.
Mail Forwarding Service
The next step after you chose a State of Residence is to get a Driver’s License, but before you can do that, you need to get auto insurance, but first you must have a mailing address. Fortunately, there are services that offer to receive your mail for you for a reasonable fee. Logically, they are called Mail Forwarders because they receive your mail, process it for you, and then forward it onto you wherever you are. The USPS allows them to become an agent that handles and even opens your mail, but first you must fill out and sign a form giving them permission. Once you do, from then on you use the address they give you as your mailing address and all your mail goes to them.
When they get your mail they offer several options of what they’ll do with it:
- Package it all together and mail it to a pre-arranged address at pre-arranged times. For example, if you are spending the summer in an RV Park in Alaska, they will receive and hold all your mail, put it into a box and ship it to you every Monday (or whatever time-frame you give them).
- Another option is they will get it in and hold it until you send them an address to ship it to. So if you are moving a lot they just hold it and when you finally get to a place where you can receive it, you phone or email them and give them an address and then they send it to you. You do that as often or as seldom as works for you.
- You can ask them to contact you whenever you get new mail and either open the mail and read it to you over the phone, or scan it and email it to you. There is usually a small additional fee for those services since they take extra time.
- One service that I know of scans every piece of mail that comes in and puts it online in an account you can open and look at. After you look at it you click on a box to tell them what to do with it such as throw it away, scan it, hold it or forward it. It looks like a very good service, but they are in Florida so it won’t work for me. Find them here https://www.sbimailservice.com/mail_scan_pro.htm
- Ask them to process the mail for you in some way. For example my mail forwarder will take a check to a local bank and deposit it for me. In South Dakota some mail forwarders will even process some of your DMV paper-work for you.
- Unlike the Post Office, they will receive packages from shipping companies like UPS, Fedex or DHL and then ship it on to you wherever you are.
As you can see, you get a pretty broad variety of services from a mail forwarder and they are essential for Nomads. They take what would otherwise be an insurmountable problem and make it easy. Best of all, unlike friends and family they won’t get tired of helping you or lose or mishandle your mail.
There is a broad range of price for the services, about the cheapest I’ve heard of is $60 a year for the basic services and up to $150 on the high end. $100-$120 a year is pretty typical of what you should expect to pay and sometimes additional small fees for smaller, time-consuming extra services like scanning and emailing your mail.
When they ship you a package, they have to pay something to the USPS or some other company to ship that package. Usually it’s not much, but over a year it adds up. What most mail forwarders do is require a deposit, usually either $25 or $50 and they take the postage out of that deposit. Before that money runs out, they contact you and ask for a new deposit. How long it lasts depends on how much, and what kind, of mail you get. It also depends on how fast you want it. If you get a package in and ask your mail forwarder to over-night it to you via FedEx, that might be the whole $50 right there. But if she can send it media-rate it might be just a couple dollars.
Each of the big three states have several mail forwarders to choose from with South Dakota having the most. But I think every state has them. To find them just do a google search on some combination of the four words, “mail-forwarding-services-state” without dashes, just spaces and the name of the state you’re interested in. Let’s look at some well-known ones from each of the big three states.
Texas is famous for the Escapees RV Club and their mail forwarding services. They have an outstanding reputation for their service and for helping you to become a resident of Texas. By the time you’ve joined the Club and pay for your fees they are more expensive than most but if you were going to join anyway then they aren’t too bad. The Escapees now offer Mail Forwarding services in South Dakota and Florida as well as Texas so they offer a good variety of choices. But there are other mail forwarders in Texas, here are two:
South Dakota offers many very good mail forwarders, here are a few of them:
Florida has many mail forwarders aimed at both boat dwellers and RVers. Here are a few:
My Choice of JBmailroom.com in Pahrump, NV as my Home Base
Like I said in my post about choosing a state for residency I became a Nevada resident eight years ago because it had everything I needed in a state, but mostly because it was in such a great location. It’s right along my yearly travels and it’s very close to where I spend my winters
Establishing a home base is as important as choosing a state of residence because many nomads and full-timers pass through it every year so they establish long-term connections and relationships like:
- A primary care doctor.
- A veterinarian for their pets.
- A mechanic they trust for their rig.
- They can vote while they are there.
- I also leave my cargo trailer in storage there (for only $17 a month).
- My Mail Forwarder is there so I can get things shipped to me to work on projects.
- Many people return to the same place year-after-year so they form friendships they look forward to seeing again every year.
If you’re going to spend that much time there every year, it’s important that it provide you with everything you need. I specifically chose Pahrump, NV as my Home Base because it’s perfect in most ways:
- It’s a large enough town to offer all the services I need, including medical doctors and a hospital in the Network of my HMO Health Insurance provider. But it’s not a big town like Las Vegas or Reno where I would be very uncomfortable spending any time.
- It has very good free dispersed camping very near to town, I usually camp four miles from the front door of the Walmart.
- Because it has a Super Walmart, Smith’s grocery store (which is owned by Kroeger) and a Home Depot, my cost of living there is very low.
- It has excellent Verizon internet service.
- I really like the town for intangible reasons such as beauty and “feel.”
- The only thing I don’t like about it is the weather. Because it is at higher elevation in the Mojave Desert it’s unusually cold and windy, even for the desert. I get around that by going there earlier in the Fall when it’s still warm and later in the Spring when it’s warming up.
Once I had decided on Nevada as a state and Pahrump as my Home Base, I chose jbmailroom as my mail forwarder because it was located there.
Choosing it has been one of the best things I’ve done as a nomad, because it’s service has been outstanding! I’ve come to know the owner, Marianne more as a friend than a business partner. Everything I’ve wanted and needed from a mail forwarder she has done and often gone above and beyond the call of duty and taken excellent care of me! For example, she has deposited checks for me at the local Bank of America branch and when I was getting unemployment checks from California she opened each one and looked to see if a certain box was checked that meant I had to take a certain action. I’ve never once been disappointed with her service!
I’m sure there are many others who are just as good as she is, but I am equally sure that there are none better! Her prices are very good (she charges $120 a year) especially when considering the high quality work she does. I really liked that she operates out of her home in town which meant that her residential address would become my residential address (more about that in my next post).
How Do You Get Your Mail from the Forwarder While You are on the Road?
At first this really baffled me but the longer I’ve traveled it’s stopped being a problem at all. There are actually many places along the way that will receive your mail for you, it’s just a matter of finding them. I usually have some idea where I will be in the next week or two and I just look for a larger tourist town on my travel route that is big enough to have someone to receive and hold my mail for me. Once I find a town, I google it looking for the address and phone number of the local Post Office or any mail handlers in the area. This is what I’m looking for:
General Delivery at the Post Office: Nearly every town has a Post Office branch that will receive your General Delivery mail for you. They usually want you to let them know in advance its coming and will only let you get it for 30 days. But that varies a lot by location. In some towns they act like you are the scum of the earth and will do everything they can to discourage you from using General Delivery, and in other places they are glad to be helpful and are great. There is no way to know which you’ll find until you go in and find out. In larger towns with multiple branches, usually only one will accept General Delivery so find out before you use it. I suggest you always contact the branch before using it and find out exactly what they want written on the package.
UPS Store: I can almost always expect to find a UPS store at most medium sized towns and a quick Google search will tell me where the closest one is. I always try to call first and confirm I can have mail sent to them. Very often they will not allow you to send USPS mail to them unless you have a P.O. Box with them. Since I don’t have a box there, I contact Marianne, my mail forwarder, and have her send my mail via UPS or FedEx.
Mom-n-Pop Mail Delivery Store: One problem with the UPS store is they are fairly expensive. I’ve never seen one charge less than $5 per individual package, and I’ve seen some charge $10 or more per package. If your Amazon order comes in two or three boxes, that will add up fast! Fortunately, most small towns have local stores that compete with The UPS Store and offer better service for less money. Just do a search on “mail forwarders,” “mail handlers,” “mail services,” or “post office box” and you’ll know if there is one or not.
Charities that focus on the homeless: In larger towns there is usually an organization that specificity works with the homeless and one of the services they often provide is mail handling. They are an excellent choice to get your mail–just give them a small donation as a thank you.
RV Parks will receive your mail for you but they are expensive. If you time it right so your mail will get there when you are there, it can work out well. Say the RV Park cost $20 for the night and you get to dump your tanks and fill your water tank; that alone is easily worth $10 or more. But you can also take showers which is at least $5 each and some truck stops charge $12 for a shower. While you are there you can watch their TV and use their WIFI as well as their laundry facility. Since you are plugged into their power, you might as well fully charge your batteries or even do an equalizing charge on them. If you arrange to get two packages while you are there, that would be $10 at the UPS store so it just adds to your total savings. All-in-all, you got a lot of services for your $20 night’s stay!
Friends and Family: I have friends that live along my regular travel route and they don’t mind if I email them and tell them I’d like to order a package and have it delivered to them, would they mind holding it for me until I got there? None have ever objected, they were just glad to help a friend!
I spend so much of my time in small out of the way places (that have no decent shopping within maybe hundreds of miles) that I’ve made Amazon.com my primary shopping source. The selection is astounding, their price are usually very good and the reviews really help make my best choice. Other than groceries or things Walmart carries I do most of my shopping there. But very often the nearest Walmart is a LONG ways away, but Amazon.com is literally as close as the nearest place that will receive a package for me.
One thing I love about them is that store all my addresses in my Cart. Over the years, I have built up a LOT of addresses in it and I often find myself going to the same places on a regular basis, so they are already in my cart, waiting for me. To give you an idea of how many and what kind of places I get packages sent from, here is a screen shots of my Amazon Address Book:
I’m making Videos on my good friends James’ YouTube Channel. See them here:
I like the new YouTube channel! :)) I am enjoying this series – very timely for me. TX requires annual registration and inspection. As you know, this last trip back there was very hard on me so I’d like to get away from having to do that every year. However, my BFF and Trustee also handles my mail for me. Hmmm, maybe your other posts will help me decide because I’d also enjoy not imposing on her so much. It’s a lot of great information but it’s also a lot for me to decipher. Thanks so much for doing this Bob.
Thank Debra, I’ll talk to you about it today in camp.
I’ve been using general delivery for years at USPS. The only problem I had was near D.C. when I said I had a general delivery package and the clerk (newbie) said he did know what I was talking about, another clerk piped in and got the package no problem. I’ve never gotten an attitude? The zip code for general delivery use is on the front of the PO building and can be found online by town/city and in books (usually in the front lobby) at the PO. Like you said they’ll hold for 30 days so you can schedule a mail drop to where you’re going to and it will get there before you. Also if it’s first class or Priority they’ll forward to another PO no cost in case your plan changes, just call original PO.
Thanks Bill, I’m glad to hear you’ve had such good luck with General Delivery!
I get SO little mail these days that I wish I could get by without a forwarder. But they’re my domicile address. So I’ll be shifting to one of their cheaper plans when it’s time to renew next month.
I really need to plan ahead to get mail or packages since I rarely stay in one place very long. “Let’s see, it will take about two to four days… Is there a weekend or holiday in there?… If I put in the forward request now, where should I have it sent?…” Sigh.
Al, you have it so rough!!!!! How can you stand your glorious life full of constant freedom, travel and joy!! I’ll pray for you!
Besides, we both know you never BUY anything, there is nothing in your van!!!
I know. It’s hell. 😉
Very informative article and the comments are helpful as well
I can’t contact jbmailroom. Is the link still good? What is their phone number?
Fabulous, detailed article! Thanks for detailing all your tips and tricks. I especially like all the info on receiving Amazon packages since I’ve struggled with this a bit.
You’re being too kind Nina, we both know you know more than I do–and even say it better. But, I’m trying!
I used an Amazon Locker for receing a package twice. Pretty cool. And free.
That’s good to know.
I am blessed with friends that are entirely reliable and have done what they could to get me through more than two years with no income. (As with most people, I wish my family was that cool.) Those friends are a major factor in my plan to keep my address here. Most people are not so blessed or need to domicile in a low-tax state with the other advantages in your last post, so a good forwarding service will be very important.
Calvin, that is by far the best solution, you’re fortunate to have it available.
I’ve been happy with Traveling Mailbox as my mail scanner/forwarder service. They have street addresses in 13 states to choose from, including Nevada. They’ll deposit checks to your bank account, too. http://bit.ly/257cDdi
Has anyone used Amazon Locker for package delivery? Looks like they deliver to some 7-11 and Circle K stores, etc. Not available everywhere, but where they are, that could be a convenient option.
GreenTiger, I’ve never heard of it but I’m not surprised. I think Amazon and Google are competing to see who can take over the world first. They are both so smart they might do it!
I did twice. It was very easy. Downside is the time window for picking it up is short. However they will return it and with 100% refund.
I’m using scanmailboxes in Austin, TX for my forwarding. They scan and handle the mail as you described above, and they are very good at it. Thought you might like to know an option in TX.
I can understand needing a place to send packages, but in this digital age needing to get mail seems unnecessary.
There are people who enjoy the ancient lost art of handwritten letters. And once in a while there are legal documents and new debit cards.
CAE, you might be right, but nobody agrees with you. I’d lose my pension and be audited by the IRS if I didn’t get my mail. Lots of things need a physical signature from a large group of people, no other good way to do that without mail.
Very good article Bob. I have used Marianne myself a couple of years ago, and she is the nicest person, and so reliable.
My plan is to set up residency in Las Vegas, there’s a mail forwarding service there. Plus a VA hospital that I can use. Plus, and this is a BIG plus, two REIs 😉
I figure when I need to go to “town” (Vegas), I can camp in the Lake Mead area, then come to medical appointments or go on an REI run.
Then light on out of there and back to the wilds.
Lynn, the only drawback to that is you’ll have to get an emission inspection on your vehicle and the horrible traffic and crime. Pahrump, on the other hand has none of those things and is only an hour away from Vegas–it also has much better camping within 4 miles of town. My guess is your vehicle insurance will be higher too, but its just a guess.
But I’m predjudiced, I avoid Vegas like the plague.
This series of articles is very timely for me, as I plan to become a full time RVer next summer. I am in the process of making all these decisions about residency, etc. These 2 articles have been very informative. I had tentatively decided to use SD as my domicile state. But as you discussed, I have been thinking about the fact that for most of the year I would not be in close proximity to SD and have no plans to go there. So if there was a requirement to appear in the state, it would be a special trip. Now I am re-thinking this.
I will do some more research on NV and maybe AZ as far as auto/rv tag & insurance costs.
For health insurance, I will be eligible for medicare. I know very little about how it works, if one can visit any provider in the country. Or is it like other insurance that you have to obtain care within a certain geographical area. Looking forward to your article on the health insurance topic.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!
Debra, I’m not an expert on Medicare, but I’m 99% certain it is nationwide, good in all 50 states. But, confirm that yourself.
Health insurance is the main problem with South Dakota and you won’t have it and there is much really good about SD!
FWIW, I’m certainly_not_savvy about all the options re Medicare and the insurance that one may or may not want to add to it, finding the whole landscape of a bit overwhelming, but am currently forcing myself to learn more. Anyway, I thought this brief article was helpful. Found a reference to this RVer Insurance Exchange on the Escapees site. I’ve not had any contact with them yet.
ice cream, raz
I’ve always wondered about this… Some of the things I have to supply an address for will note: no PO Boxes allowed, permanent residences only…
So what you’re recommending is alegal solution to that situation?
Thanks for ALL the great information! Hopfully I’ll be on the road in the next couple of years…
Lauri, no, we haven’t talked about physical residence yet, that is coming up. This is a totally legal way to receive your mail only, physical residence is another question altogther. They were too complicated to put together in one.
Great post as usual. I don’t know if anyone else is having this problem, but I can’t seem to read any of the responses. When I click on the comments link, it turns to zero.
Hope to be at summer RTR.
All the comments just popped up. The issue was obviously on my end.
Glad to hear that Omar.
I’m having the same issue with the latest post. Sometimes I have a box that pops up asking for a username and password and sometimes I don’t. Either way, when I click on comments it goes to zero. Did you do something specific at your end to fix it?
The issue has resolved itself without my having done anything on my end. Has happened a few times; strange.
Thank you Bob for your wonderful articles; I’ve been following for some time in preparation for my eventual ‘departure’.
Thank you dharma (love that name)!
Omar & Bob,
I’ve been having the same problem all week. Yesterday it seemed OK – today it is back. ???
Marcia, we’re having technical problems, my webmaster is working on it.
So much invaluable info, again.
I have also had problems with usps. While working outside of San Diego, had to chase around to different branches to see who had my pkg. only the one branch,(out of three in San Clemente) would receive a pkg.
Allan, most people have good luck with them, but a few don’t. Glad you finally got it figured out.
What I have learned so far in this series. (Both videos and the posts.)
Avoid a commercial vehicle in Nevada if possible because it can’t be made into a personal vehicle.
The domicile residence address should be in a less populated county and town that does not require yearly emissions inspections on your vehicle.
The affordable care act is a great thing so have your residence in a state where the “powers that be” know that. (I’ll stop at that on that subject, sadly it becomes political quickly.)
And the Lady who runs the mail forwarding business in Pahrump is a very nice person and does a great job! (The dictionary does not know the word “Pahrump”, but it can be taught…)
And finally generally speaking only one Post Office in a city does general delivery. (I actually knew that but it needs to be emphasized.)
Really practical, informative series Bob!
John, if nothing else, I’m a very practical guy! My only quibble would be with this:
That’s true but in every state in the country be sure you can get insurance for a commercial vehicle before you buy it!!!
I really like the way you’re presenting this information. Having a video with a companion blog post. First I watch the video a couple of time (and parts I’m not sure about several more times) and then I come over here to your blog and read about it (spending more time on the part I was unsure about). You’re a genius!
Hal, actually just the opposite, I’m actually a little slow!! But when I finally master something, I do have a talent for explaining it to others. I’m glad it’s helping you!!
I just stumbled upon a scenario regarding vehicle inspections. Specifically New York State. If your sticker expires out of state you can either get inspected in the state you’re in or go without. Then get a 10 day pass just before you return and get your NY inspection then. Sure to relieve the stress of driving back there every 12 months. The article used a college student as an example. This was good news for me since I’m not ready to make the residency plunge.
Bob, thanks for breaking this down for us. I think it’s gotta be different for everyone.
Thanks Steve, that’s good to know. There are so many issue with so many states, it get really complicated really fast. But you are doing it right, doing your own research and making the best decision for you.
I’m going to be camping in an SUV with an attached tent I have a Cargo Carrier on the top I have been reading everything I can find religiously. Your articles are tremendously helpful thank you. But the guy that just said that you could have New York cars inspected in another state really saved the day for me. When I get on the road in a couple of months I would like to come out and meet you all but I really don’t know where you are. But I guess I’ll find more good people just like you.
Marilyn, email me at any time and I’ll tell you where I am and maybe where others are. You don’t have to be alone. Bob
Oops, you can always get my email on the blog, but here it is anyway, email@example.com You are always welcome in my camp. Bob
I’ve been trying to sort it out. I’m throwing the flag.
I know you stated in one of your posts you’ve changed to AZ from NV as home base. Did I read that correctly? If so what mail forwarder do you suggest in AZ? (I’m strongly I mean STRONGLY considering moving soon)
Want to also include thanks to you and the rest of the tribe that are making these posts and videos possible. It is filling my mind with hope there is a simpler life out there. My mind and body is tired of the “rat race”
No, I am still a NV resident and have my same NV mail forwarder. I do recommend this mail forwrder in AZ though:
Thanks for the info. Don’t know why I thought you had “moved”. Hoping to get to meet up with the Tribe in Quartzsite this go around.
Se you there! Bob
Do you know if there are any mail forwarders for Colorado or Wisconsin? We have been searching for quite a while for one. There was one we almost went with, then come across many reviews that were not good. If you know of some any help would be great. Thank you
I’m sorry, I don’t know of any. But you can always go with the UPS Store. They are expensive and they won’t give you the personal touch of a real mail forwarder, but they will get the basic job done.
i recently came across http://www.mailforwarding.com – they have a ton of good info on mail and package forwarding companies and rates. maybe you could add it to your article? guess there’s a website for everything these days 😉