Expats waited with longing for their mail before the internet came along and revolutionized the way we communicate. Thanks to email, forums, chat rooms, and online communities most of us are able to communicate with our friends and family 'back home' for free, any time day or night.
But what to do when we actually have to ship a package; when a real signature must be sent on documents, or when we want to send something other than paper such as gifts and other objects? And what about our friends and family who also have to deal with higher costs when they want to send us mail and packages?
Now there are numerous ways to overcome these difficulties. It's just a matter of selecting the choice (or combination) that works best for you:
APO / FPO Addresses
APO and FPO addresses are available only to military and foreign service personnel and their families. APO stands for Army Post Office and FPO stands for Fleet Post Office. Reference.com has an excellent page that explains and answers questions about how shipping mail and packages to overseas armed forces personnel works here, AssociatedContent.com offers another detailed explanation here, and eHow.com provides step by step instructions here: here. The following are companies that offer APO/FPO shipping services:ShipItApo.com   •   ApoBox.com   •   Oconus.com   •   Suggest Another
PO Boxes and Private Bags
PO (Post Office) mailboxes are offered not only by the government postal services, but by many private mailbox companies as well. For a monthly or annual fee, you can have a permanent address no matter where you live overseas. Having a PO box address is helpful if you have someone 'back home' who can check it regularly and pick up your mail for you. It offers your friends and family the option of paying to mail you something at national rather than international rates.
Some of the disadvantages are that some companies won't ship mail or packages to PO boxes, others charge extra to hold packages that don't fit into the box until you can arrange for pick-up, you can't use a PO box address for some documentation and applications, and even with a PO box someone has to either gather your mail and ship it to you on a regular basis or sort, open and read it for you.
United States Postal Service
Canadian Postal Service
UK Royal Mail
Australian Postal Service
New Zealand Postal Service
Irish Postal Service
Indian Postal Service
As we said above, couriers are a more expensive alternative to 'snail mail' but they do have their advantages. All overseas couriers offer the option to insure the contents of your package, they have highly reliable tracking and tracing systems in place making it very difficult for a package to get lost, most are set up to deliver in nearly every country in South America, some handle customs clearance for you, and finally - they're fast! Some courier services also offer you a PO box address at their site so people sending you mail don't have to pay overseas courier rates.
Couriers that can be found in most South American countries:Fedex   •   UPS   •   DHL   •   Suggest Another
Mail Forwarding and Scanning
Sometimes also called Virtual Offices, many companies specialize in forwarding mail to expatriates (individuals, families, and companies). For a monthly or annual fee they offer you a physical address at which to receive mail in your homeland. They collect your mail and forward it periodically to you.
Many of these companies, according to your instructions, also sort out and destroy junk mail and provide check deposit services. One very interesting option is mail scanning. The company opens your mail, scans it, uploads it to a secure FTP website, and it's available to you within hours. You can see your mail online, then instruct them further (forward it, throw it out, etc.) This saves shipping time and costs, and the environment!
Because their services and fee structures vary and some offer services only to certain countries, it's a good idea to carefully read about each one before making a choice.
Earth Class Mail
Government postal services
Every country in South America has a government postal service. In some countries they are highly unreliable, slow and inefficient. But let's be positive. Some South American postal services are actually excellent and others are working to improve. Luckily, all of them have websites now so, if you speak Spanish or Portuguese, you can check them out online. It helps to know what services you can use locally and which won't be a good option before you decide upon any additional courier, paperless or international options.Argentina   •   Bolivia   •   Brazil   •   Chile   •   Colombia   •   Ecuador
Paraguay   •   Peru   •   Uruguay   •   Venezuela
Virtual Mail - Immediate, No Paper, No Scanning!
For U.S. citizens there is a whole new exciting option. Zumbox.com has set up a virtual address online that mirrors every single street address in the United States of America. This works for U.S. citizens overseas who keep their U.S. street addresses while they're overseas. It is a completely paperless system designed to eliminate the destruction of our forests.
Check out Zumbox.com to see how this is can revolutionize the way we send our paper mail. It can also be used if you have a USPS (United States Postal Service) PO box! Disadvantage: USA only, and works only for documents, not for packages. It's still an amazing step to take in reducing our direct negative effects on the environment.
Like Zumbox, Volly (from Pitney Bowes) takes mail digital! It's a secure online application that lets people receive, view and manage their mail, including coupons and catalogs. Plus, customers can also pay their bills electronically.
Currently Volly is enlisting businesses, but the consumer launch will happen later this year. If you're interested, you can beta test the Volly mail service by signing up here.