We have a big subject to cover in this article, and I am not going to be able to cover it in detail. But I have seen so many questions on these subjects and so many other fellow Philippine expats “lost at sea” on these issues I felt I really need to take a shot.
First of all, US mail in general is a big issue for many readers here, especially those who haven’t yet made the move. When you first start thinking about the issues involved, they can seem like a mountain to climb. But with a little work, my first solution step is to turn the mountain into more of a molehill:
When my wife and I were living in Colorado, making final preparations for our permanent move to the Philippines, I took an informal survey over about two months and found we were receiving about 15 or 20 pieces of First Class mail per month. If that seems low to you, remember, at least 70% of the paper in your mailbox every month is bulk advertising type mail. The US Postal Service will take care of that for you … they don’t forward it. So just the act of moving itself will eliminate at least two thirds of you mail, then and there.
First Class mail, such as bills, checks, bank statements and such will be forwarded, for free, for one full year by the USPS. And yes, in spite of a lot of misinformation you may hear, this absolutely includes foreign addresses. So if you file a Change of Address form with your servicing post office, you will get (hopefully) all your First Class mail … eventually.
My advice though is, ruthless cull what’s coming in now. You really want to forward, if possible, none at all. Is that an unobtainable goal? Possibly, but my wife and I got ours down to virtually none at all before we moved, and that was 7 years ago … today you can get yours down even closer to zero with a little effort.
Personal mail from family members/friends:
Easy. Just say NO. Even grandma can learn to use email … better yet, perhaps, Facebook or similar social services. They don’t know how? Well, that’s easy, help them learn. Birthday cards and such? Even easier. Show them the multitude of on-line services which offer online greeting cards, “virtual birthday cakes” and so on. And if grandma is in the habit of sending a $50 bill along with the card for your birthday, you should get her off this financially dangerous practice now, even if you never actually make the move to the Philippines. Help her open a free PayPal account. She can send cash to you, free, anywhere in the world with just a couple mouse clicks … and it’s way safer than sending cash through the mail … even the US Mail.
First of all, most of those bills are going to go away when you move. But things like credit cards, mortgage payments, utility bills and such ought NOT to be coming to your mailbox in this day and age any longer. anyway. Most banks and businesses WANT you to go paperless with your bills anyway, so dig around their websites or call their 800 number and find out the options. Simplify your life, even long before your Philippine move, and save a tree.
If you are still getting paper checks in your home mail box, shame on you .. or on the business who sends them to you. Paying bills by check is expensive and fraught with risk. Virtually every bank in the US that I have found can be paid via the ACH (Automated Clearing House) system. Example. a number of my online income sources use the ACH, so when I receive my monthly earnings they are just automatically deposited into my bank account via ACH. Likewise my government annuity checks and my tax refund. I just put the routing number and the account number on my forms when I submit them and when I check my US credit union (I don’t use US banks, you shouldn’t either, more on that another day) the deposit is there … safe, secure and absolutely free.
If I were still drawing a payment from a government agency, I’d be required to accept payment this way, anyhow (Direct Deposits), so “Why fight city hall”
If an individual needed to pay me a one-time payment … as when I sell a website, why there’s no problem either. I just require when we start negotiating that they will pay me via PayPal, when the deal closes, they forward me what they owe via my PayPal account. I can retrieve actual cash money from my PayPal account with a debit card here in the Philippines, or I can instruct PayPal to deposit money into my credit union account any time I want them to with one simple website transaction. I don’t make money from sources here in the Philippines, but if I did, I can ask the person paying me to send the money to my PayPal account in Philippine Pesos, PayPal offers me the option of keeping a separate Pesos account or having the money converted to US Dollars at the current rate, on the spot. (good luck doing that through the mail)
I don’t happen to have any stocks and bonds right now but if I did, all the major brokers typically only use online bill pay, direct deposits and electronic monthly statements anyway. I know of a number of expats here in the Philippines who make money (some of it substantial) by “day trading” stocks or ForEX (Foreign Exchange Currency Trading). It’s all done online anyway. so they can “ply their trade” just as easy from the Philippines as they could from Melbourne Florida or Melbourne, Victoria or Melbourne in South Derbyshire. There is no reason at all to be tied to paper mail.
But Dave, what if I owe someone in the USA money and they don’t have PayPal or don’t want to work with me online? Well, that’s very simple too. I just go to my credit union’s online banking service and enter their address and, for free, my credit union will cut an old-fashioned paper check and mail it to any address in the US. And after the check clears, my online banking account allows me to pull up a scanned copy of that check in case there’s ever an issue where I need to produce proof that the person I paid received their money.
But What When All Else fails:
Well if you absolutely positively have to get a piece of paper from the USA to your own hot little hands here in the Philippines, guess what? The person sending the mail can go to the US Post Office and mail it to your actual Philippine address. Sending a letter from the US to the Philippines costs $1.10 USD, last time I checked.
Mail here in the Philippines can be slow and at times problematical, but it certainly does function. You can read everything you want to know about sending international mail to the Philippines (including which towns and cites in the Philippines can receive US mail by clicking here.
If you happen to be a retired US military person, as I am, you have another great avenue of communication. Due to the volunteer efforts of some really great folks at the RAO’s (Retiree Affairs Offices) in the Philippines, limited US mail service is available to special Military Mail System (APO/FPO) address to and from the Philippines. See this for way more info.
And If I Didn’t Answer Your Questions Here?
I think I mentioned at the beginning of this article that it was a big subject. I’m already well over 1300 words … way more than most of you will sit still for. So I promise to fire off another article, RSN (Real Soon Now) covering mail receiving, mail forwarding and great services who scan your mail into electronic form back there in the USA and email the file to you so you can print your own paper copy … or how you can have your correspondent back in the USA fax a copy from you and have you fax back your signature. Remember, it’s more fun here in the Philippines.