"Deliver the letter, the sooner, the better" is more than a catchy song lyric — it's a plea business owners frequently make, especially when they're waiting on important letters or documents to continue normal business operations. But choosing where and how to receive mail isn't always an easy decision. The good news is that you've got options if you're a business owner.
Here, we'll discuss the differences between P.O. boxes and virtual addresses and give you all the info you need to stop saying, "Please, Mr. Postman," and get your mail delivered quickly, easily, and securely.
What's a P.O. Box?
A P.O. box, or post office box, is a physical box within a U.S. Postal Service facility that receives mail. P.O. boxes are open to both individuals and businesses and require a monthly fee to maintain.
As a business owner, you can use a P.O. box rather than your home or office address to receive your mail. If you sign up for a P.O. box, here are the steps you'll need to take:
Reserve a box. You can apply for a P.O. box online, and one will be assigned to you at your nearest post office.
Pay the fee. P.O. boxes cost anywhere from $5-25+ per month, depending on the size you need and any additional business services you want.
Go into the post office. You'll have to visit the post office in person to pick up your P.O. box keys. Be sure to bring two forms of I.D. (driver's license, passport, etc.) when you go.
Opt for Caller Service. If you find a P.O. box won't work for your needs, you can also schedule Business Mail Pickup through the USPS. You'll find it referred to as "Caller Service," and it's a premium, fee-based service that allows the USPS to collect all your mail and reserve it for you to pick up at a scheduled time. Costs vary by zip code, and you can use the service for 6-month or 12-month periods.
You will need to go in during post office hours to check and empty your P.O. box. The USPS also offers "Informed Delivery," a free service for individuals and businesses that scans images of the front or top exterior of your mail and sends a daily digest to preview what's coming.
What's a Virtual Address?
A virtual address, sometimes called a "virtual mailbox" or "virtual P.O. box," is a paid service that allows individuals or businesses to have mail sent to an address that's different from their own home/street address. Most of the time, the virtual address service will then perform other actions, including:
Collecting and opening all mail received to your virtual address
Scanning each piece of mail, front and back, and creating digital files
Sending those digital files to your email so you can open and read each piece of mail at your convenience
Forwarding on any correspondence for which you require a hard copy
Securely shredding and disposing of mail that is no longer needed
Having a virtual address is becoming increasingly popular for business owners, whether they're established or just looking to launch their business. It can even be a crucial part of the business formation process (we'll tell you how in just a moment).
P.O. Box vs. Virtual Address for Businesses
Wondering whether you need a P.O. box or a virtual address for your small business? While the two options offer some similar features, they are not the same.
P.O. Box vs. Virtual Address
Provides a repository to receive business mail
Scans and sends mail digitally
Shreds and disposes of mail securely
Provides digital files of all opened mail
Receives and holds packages (dependent on size)
Forwards hard copies of mail
Can receive mail from carriers outside USPS
You might find one option suits your needs more than the other. How do you narrow it down? Let's look at the pros and cons of each.
Upsides of Having a P.O. Box
P.O. boxes are the historical standard for many businesses that don't wish to have business mail sent directly to the owner's home or office. Other benefits of a P.O. box include:
Low-cost options in a variety of sizes to fit many needs
Some privacy protection by offering an alternative to your home address
Secure, keyed storage for physical copies of your mail
Downsides of Having a P.O. Box
While there are some reasons to have a P.O. box through the USPS, there are also some reasons you may not choose to go this way:
Can only pick up mail during stated hours
Still linked to your home address, which you must give during sign-up
No digital mail management and no disposal of hard copies
Cannot check mail while traveling
Does not offer a street address, which is needed during business formation
Can only receive mail or packages carried through the USPS
Informed Delivery offers a preview of your mail, but no way to open or check mail
Upsides of Having a Virtual Address
A P.O. box is cost-effective and can be convenient, but there are still some barriers you'll discover if you're planning to use one for your business. On the other hand, using a virtual address service mitigates some of those issues and offers solutions like:
Ease of setting up business bank accounts, securing an EIN, or looking for business funding
The ability to receive, read, and manage your mail from anywhere, increasing your flexibility
No limitations in receiving mail from other carriers
Added security in knowing all mail will be shredded and properly disposed of when no longer needed
An opportunity to have hard copies of important documents forwarded to you
Having a virtual address can also pave the way for you set up a truly virtual office, which might include a virtual business phone to make finding and communicating with your business better and easier than ever.
Downsides of Having a Virtual Address
While the benefits of a virtual address often outweigh the negatives, there are still a couple of downsides with virtual addresses, including:
Often a higher cost than receiving mail at home or the office or using a P.O. box
Limited ability to receive or store packages (depending on the service provider)
Overall, the slightly higher cost is typically not enough to counter the numerous benefits of a virtual address. And while some services have limits on receipt and delivery of packages, many offer flexible options or service tiers that provide a comprehensive mail management solution.
Frequently Asked Questions About P.O. Boxes vs. Virtual Addresses
If you're still on the fence about whether to go with a P.O. box or virtual mailbox, these answers should be able to clear things up.
Is a Virtual Address the Same as a Virtual Mailbox?
Yes, "virtual address" and "virtual mailbox" are often used interchangeably and mean the same thing. A virtual address or mailbox is a service that assigns a street address to an individual or business where they can have mail delivered, scanned, and digitally sent to them.
You might also hear it called "virtual P.O. box," but keep in mind that a P.O. box goes exclusively through the USPS. As of now, the postal service does not have a virtual or digital option for receiving mail outside of Informed Delivery, which only offers a scan of the exterior of mail set to be delivered.
Are Virtual P.O. Boxes Legal?
Virtual mailboxes and virtual addresses are legal. Virtual P.O. boxes don't really exist, at least not through the USPS. But third-party service providers can safely provide you and your business with a legal business address in your state.
This address can then legally be used not just as a mailing address but also as a registered address for business formation, securing a business bank account, filing taxes, and much more.
How Do I Set Up a Virtual Mailbox for My Business?
To set up a virtual mailbox for your business, you'll want to find a reputable and trusted virtual address service, like the one from Incfile. With our Virtual Address service, you'll check availability in your state, then register and pay online. Your address will be assigned, and then you're free to start using it right away.
Can I Use a Virtual Mailbox for My Business Bank Account?
As long as your virtual mailbox offers a valid street address in your state and you've registered that address to your business, you're free to use it to open your business bank account.
Most banks will require a business street address instead of a home address or P.O. box to open a dedicated business account. You may also need your virtual mailbox for other financial purposes, like applying for a loan or other forms of funding.
Can I Use a Virtual P.O. Box for My Business?
Yes, you can use a virtual address service for your business. It is legal, safe, and typically preferred for most businesses. While there are reasons some may choose to use a P.O. box, a virtual address is truly the most secure, flexible, and easiest way to receive and manage your business mail.
We get that there's a lot of confusion over how to have your business mail delivered, especially when the USPS has set the standard for many years. Of course, a P.O. box may still be the right choice for some business owners, but others will find the convenience and security offered by a virtual address to be a wiser choice.
If that's you, check out Incfile's Virtual Address service, see if your state is available, and get started with a legal and valid street address in your state right away.
Wendi is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, IN, with over a decade of experience writing for a variety of industries from healthcare to manufacturing to nonprofit. When she isn't working on solutions for her clients, she can be found spending time with her kids and husband, working in the garden or doing more writing (of the fiction variety).