Virtual Mail Basics

Virtual Mailbox vs. P.O. Box: Which One is Right for You?

Did you know that as of 2023, there are more than 14.1 million active P.O. Boxes currently in use throughout the United States?

That’s a lot of mailboxes! And their popularity is not without merit. 

P.O. Boxes are a great option for people who travel regularly or move often, and can even be used to protect your privacy when running a small business out of your home. 

But P.O. boxes also have some pretty big limitations too, leaving some people looking for a better option. 

Virtual mailboxes are a modern, online-based alternative to the traditional P.O. Box, providing many of the benefits you’ve come to expect from a P.O. box, with a few key differences that could be make or break depending on your needs.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between a P.O. box and a virtual mailbox, and lay out the pros and cons of each to help you make the right decision for yourself or for your business. 

What is a P.O. Box?

A P.O. Box (Postal Office Box) is a rentable mailbox offered by the United States Postal Service that allows individuals and businesses to receive mail at a Post Office location instead of or in addition to their physical street address. 

P.O. Boxes are typically located in the entry or lobby of the Post Office so that you can access your mailbox without entering the main office. These entryway areas are normally open to the public 24/7 for uninterrupted access to your mail, but not always.

P.O boxes come in 5 different sizes ranging from extra small to extra large with availability depended on the location. Each mailbox is secured with a physical key or a passcode to ensure that only you have access to your mail. 

What are the advantages of a P.O. Box?

There are several advantages of renting a P.O. Box over using a regular street address including:

  1. Renting a P.O. Box can help you keep your personal address private. Many people rent a P.O. Box for this specific reason, directing mail to their P.O. Box to protect their privacy.
  2. P.O. Boxes are offered by the United States Postal Service directly, instead of a private company.
  3. P.O. Boxes are secured with keys or a passcode,  providing additional security for your mail.

What are the disadvantages of a P.O. Box?

  1. P.O. Box addresses replace the street address line with the P.O. Box number, making them easy to identify as P.O. Boxes. If you’re planning on using your address for a business, a P.O. Box can sometimes have a negative impact on your credibility depending on the situation.
  2. A P.O. Box is not a physical address. For this reason, you cannot use a PO Box as your driver’s license address, credit card billing address, or any other official government documents. You also cannot register a business with a P.O. Box as a business is required to maintain a physical address in the state of incorporation.
  3. P.O. Boxes cannot be used by businesses without a brick and mortar location to create or verify a Google Business listings or Bing Places listings. 
  4. The USPS is the only postal service that ships to P.O. Boxes and some businesses will not ship to a P.O. Box
  5. While P.O. Boxes provide an additional layer of privacy, they do not provide complete anonymity.
  6. If you move frequently, a P.O. Box provides almost no benefit, as you will still need to update your address each time you move.
  7. While most P.O. Boxes are situated in the Post Office so they can be accessed 24/7, that is not always the case. 

What is a virtual mailbox?

A virtual mailbox is a type of mailbox service that provides its users with a mailing address and secure online access to any mail delivered there. 

Unlike P.O. Boxes, virtual mailboxes meet the criteria of “physical street address”, so they are able to provide many of the same benefits of a traditional P.O. Box, but without the usual delivery limitations.

Because mail is distributed online, customers are not limited to the location of their address, and can easily register for an address in a different state. 

What are the advantages of a virtual mailbox?

Whether you’re starting a new business, a frequent traveler who requires a stable mailing address, or even maintaining a US address from overseas, a virtual mailing address provides the benefits of a real postal address without all the shortcomings of a P.O. Box. Some advantages of a virtual mailing address over a traditional P.O. Box include:

  1. Accessibility: Mail delivered to a virtual mailbox is scanned and uploaded as a digital image to the cloud, so you can view your mail from anywhere, anytime, on any device with an internet connection. 
  2. Convenience: With a virtual mailing address, you don’t have to drive over to your P.O. Box every day to check your mail. Instead, you’ll get a notification in your email or on your mobile device letting you know you have new mail, which you can view instantly online.
  3. Professionalism: Using a P.O. Box as a primary business address is a common mistake made by many home-based businesses that can adversely affect how your company is viewed by potential customers and vendors. A virtual mailing address serves as both an intermediary and professional representation of your business, and can be used to accept business mail without revealing the actual location of your private residence or office space.
  4. Mail Forwarding: Most virtual mailbox providers offer mail forwarding services at an additional cost, so you can have your mail and packages delivered to a fully staffed street address instead of having your mail sit out by the street while you’re away. This can be especially useful for frequent travelers or people who move often.
  5. Additional perks: Some virtual mailing addresses provide scanning, and mail and package consolidation. These services can save you time and money.
  6. Privacy: A virtual mailbox can provide an additional layer of privacy, as your home address is not publicly visible.
  7. Flexibility: Unlike a USPS PO box, you can receive mail from any courier, including FedEx, UPS, and DHL. Plus, you get a physical street address – which is required by many banks and official government correspondence.

P.O. Box vs. Virtual Mailbox Comparison Chart

It’s important to remember that both virtual mailbox services and P.O. Boxes have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and individuals should carefully compare the services and costs before choosing a mailbox service.

P.O. BoxVirtual Mailbox
Can you view your mail online?Sort of. USPS has an optional notification service called informed delivery, which allows you to view the outside of the envelope online. This service is not yet available in all zip codes.Yes. Virtual mailboxes allow you to view your mail online, either through a web based portal, mobile application, or other online methods. 
Can you pick up your mail in person?Yes. In fact, with a PO Box, you will need to visit the post office where your mailbox is located to collect your mail. It’s also important to note that while most P.O. boxes provide 24/7 access to your mail, hours do vary by Post Office location. Some virtual mailboxes, especially those located at mail centers, will allow you to pick up your mail in person during business hours, but not all. If not, you can simply forward any mail you need a physical copy of to your current location. 
Can you use it to register a business?No. All 50 states require that a company’s registered agent address be a physical mailing address in the state where the company is registered. A PO Box is not considered a physical mailing address.Yes. Since a virtual address is considered a physical street address, you can use it to register a business. 
Can I get one if I live in another country? No. You must have a physical address in the US to get a P.O. Box. However, nonresidents can rent mailboxes with similar features from private providers who often have different requirements.Yes. The USPS does allow nonresidents to receive mail in a virtual mailbox, as long as they complete USPS form 1583 and provide the necessary proof of identity, making it the easiest way to get a U.S. based mailing address
How do I pay for it and what are the terms.3 months, 6 months, or 12 months. A 3-month payment term requires enrolling in automatic renewals with no opt-out. However, if you choose a 6- or 12-month period, you can opt out of automatic renewals.Both monthly and annual plans are typically offered. A better choice if you need a mailbox for less than 3 months.
Can I get one in a different state?Yes, you can. However, you are still required to visit the Post Office where your box is located to retrieve your mail.Yes, a virtual mailbox makes it easy to get an address in another state. You can view the contents of your mail online and request items be forwarded to your physical location if needed.
Can I receive items that require a signature?Yes. The post office will leave a delivery notice in your PO box that you can use to pick up any mail which requires a signature. Yes, most virtual mailboxes will allow you to receive items that require a signature, as they are typically located in a fully staffed location.
How much does it cost?The price of a PO box varies depending on the size of your mailbox and the location of the postal facility. You can find a P.O. Box in near your zip code for pricing and availability.

However, you are eligible for a free P.O. Box if the postal office does not offer delivery to your physical address.
Virtual mailing address pricing varies from provider to provider, with many charging additional fees depending on the number of recipients, the amount of mail you need scanned, shredding services, etc.

At Virtual Mail Now, there are no hidden fees or extra charges. View our pricing page for more information.
Address formatA P.O. Box address replaces the physical address line with a P.O. Box number, which is all the USPS needs to locate your mailbox.Addressee Name
P.O. Box 12345
City, State, 00000-0000P.O. Box 12345City, State (abbreviation) 98765–1234
Virtual mailing addresses come in a variety of formats, but in most cases, the mailbox number is appended to the street address.
Addressee Name
123 Main St. #000
City, State, 00000-0000
What forms need to be completed?To get a P.O. Box, you’ll need to complete PS Form 1093. You’ll be required to present two valid forms of identification (one photo and one non-photo) to obtain your keys or combination at the Post Office where your box is located. To get a virtual mailbox, you’ll need to complete PS Form 1583. The form requires that you provide 2 forms of identification, one of which must contain a photograph. To learn more, check out our article: How to complete a 1583
P.O. Box vs. Virtual Mailbox Comparison Chart

Frequently asked questions

Can you get a PO box without a physical address?

No. In order to get a PO Box, you will need to have a physical address as well as two forms of identification, one of which must be a photo ID

Can I use a P.O. Box to register a business?

No. Federal banking regulations require banks to obtain identification and a physical address in order to be eligible for a bank account. A P.O. Box is a mailing address only and therefore cannot be used to open a bank account.

Can I open a bank account with a P.O. Box?

No. Federal banking regulations require banks to obtain identification and a physical address in order to be eligible for a bank account. A P.O. Box is a mailing address only and therefore cannot be used to open a bank account.

Can I use a virtual mailbox for official government paperwork?

Yes. Most virtual mailboxes qualify as a physical address. Therefore, you can use a virtual mailbox for official correspondence and for filing important documents like your Articles of Organization, tax related paperwork, or even your EIN paperwork.

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