Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are

How to Get Your Postal Mail When Traveling: Virtual Mailbox - via LiveWorkAnywhere

No one has embraced the all-digital lifestyle more than our band of globe-trotting freelancers and entrepreneurs. We run our businesses on laptops and wi-fi from beaches, villas, cruise ships…and airport terminals, parked cars, and rural bus stations.

We do everything via email, Trello, Slack, and other messaging and organizational apps. We hold conferences using Skype, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. Living the nomadic life means we use everything we can to stay flexible, available, and above all, free.

But the rest of the world hasn’t entirely caught up to us.

Death to Snail Mail

No matter how hard we try, there are still companies and government agencies who insist on recording a real street address and sending snail mail to that home address. Paper messages that have to travel to a fixed, physical location, and that often needs a prompt response.

The need to have a physical address to receive mail is the one remaining thorn in our ever-roaming paws, and for a long time, there wasn’t a good solution.

You can have the local post office hold your mail and accept packages, but when you’re gone for weeks or months at a time the odds are good you’ll miss something important.

You can receive postal mail by having it forwarded to a physical address anywhere in the world, but that type of postal service has a host of problems: expensive international forwarding fees, mail that doesn’t keep up with your frequent travels and multiple destinations, and the need to plan ahead for packages delivered instead of enjoying spontaneous trips.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

You can have the package delivered or postal mail sent to the actual street address of a friend or family member, then ask them to look for anything important. However, the privacy and reliability concerns are real especially when you’re not the primary box holder.

I’ve been doing this awhile, and I’ve tried practically all solutions to this mailing address conundrum. That is, I’ve explored how to get a PO box without an address.

The best solution I’ve found, far and away, is a virtual mailbox.

Short of not having any snail mail sent to a permanent address or commercial address to begin with—which is still a dream of mine, but one the world has yet to accommodate—it’s the best thing out there when it comes to staying up to date with all of your important correspondence.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

There are a few virtual mailbox services out there that can handle general delivery requirements like receive mails and package receiving services. But, not all virtual address providers are created equal. So, I do have a favorite, and I’ll let you know who it is in a second.

First, I want to explain the concept of a virtual mailbox just so we’re all on the same page.

(Page! Get it!?…OK, moving on…)

How Virtual Mailboxes Work

This modern “postal service” is pretty simple, really, like most ingenious things are.

You get a mailbox and a real street address provided by your virtual mailbox service, which you can claim as your business address or office address if you’re a business owner and want to appear more professional. When sending out your “street address,” you might want to add business hours to your postal address information for receiving packages to amp up your professional image.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

This is a real, honest-to-goodness street address where you can get your parcel delivered. The USPS acknowledges this mailing address and will actually deliver packages to the “home address” you provided along with all of your mail.

It’s just like how you receive mail via a post office box with a physical address or a private mailbox with a mailing address that you typically rent from the USPS or any number of PO box address providers.

The key difference is that the top virtual mailbox providers give you a completely unique street address, which looks more professional and inspires a great deal more trust than a package acceptance service provider or post office boxes.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

Another difference with a virtual mailbox service is what happens after the mail is delivered, though. Instead of simply holding your mail until you either come pick it up or have it forwarded to a new location, a virtual mailbox service opens and digitally scans your mail (ensuring complete privacy, of course), then uploads the digital images to an email inbox so you can read your mail from anywhere in the world.

You can also have your postal mail forwarded to a mailing address or a home address, of course, and packages delivered can be sent along wherever you happen to be, too. I find that the more we become digital, the less I need to physically forward my mail. But this is a handy option.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

A quick bulleted recap for the article skimmers:

  1. A virtual mailbox company contracts with a physical location to aggregate postal mail in one location, in multiple cities.
  2. The postal mail is received and the front cover of the mail is scanned.
  3. You then receive an email letting you know that the mail has arrived.

Some Types of Postal Mail You Might Receive (and don’t want to miss):

  • Client Checks
  • Bank Statements (go digital if you can)
  • Mortgage Statements
  • Student Loan Documents
  • Legal Documents

Virtual Mailbox Signup Process

When you sign up for a virtual mailbox service, here is the signup process in action step by step:

  1. Select an address in one of the designated pick up cities, location, or even just a nearby state. For example, I have a mailbox in New York. I live there part-time, but I don’t have to in order to have a local address. It can also help make your business look more official by having a local mailbox (versus PO Box) especially in a world renowned city even when you’re in a completely different location.
  2.  Select a plan that suits your needs and budget
  3. Give out your new address to clients and agencies
  4. Receive an email when new mail is received
  5. Decide if you want to open it (have it scanned), download, delete, recycle, or forward to a physical address.

Important: Make sure to include your MAILBOX number or the mail will not be delivered.

Virtual Mailbox Services: EarthClassMail vs. Traveling Mailbox

I have personally tried two of the leading virtual mailbox services:

  1. EarthClassMail
  2. TravelingMailbox

EarthClassMail Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

A catchy name and a service I used for years, EarthClassMail, offers

  • A physical address for your business
  • Mail scanning
  • Secure mail shredding and handling
  • Free physical mail storage for 30 days
  • Check deposits

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

Prices start at $19/month for personal and $139/month for business accounts.

See a list of virtual addresses for EarthClassMail.

TravelingMailbox

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

TravelingMailbox offers three plans that you can pay for annually or monthly.

The lowest tier includes 40 envelope scans and 35-page scans per month, which I’ve found is usually plenty for me. The mail comes in, I get a PDF of each envelope emailed to me, and I decide what I want to happen with each envelope.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

Nothing gets opened and scanned unless you select that option, so you don’t end up burning through your monthly scans on junk mail. There’s no additional cost for shredding the mail you don’t want, and forwarding mail and packages only costs $2 (plus postage fees—but by bundling your mail, Traveling Mailbox helps you save there, too).

TravelingMailbox vs. EarthClassMail via LiveWorkAnywhere If you end up receiving more envelopes and/or needing more pages scanned than your plan covers, overage charges are only $0.25 per envelope and $0.50 per scan, and if you’re paying monthly you can switch to a higher plan if you’re expecting a higher-than-usual volume of mail in a given month.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

Tip: Save the PDFs of your important mail in Dropbox, Google Drive, and/or on your computer and delete them from your Traveling Mailbox account to avoid going over your storage limit and getting hit with additional charges.

Depositing Client Checks from your Virtual Mailbox – a Quick Hack

Remarkably, I still have clients who prefer paying by check. Traveling Mailbox offers a check depositing service, where they mail your checks straight to your bank to be deposited, but they do (understandably) charge a handling fee and postage.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

To get around that, I have the back and front of my incoming checks scanned then use the PDFs to deposit checks through my bank’s mobile app.

The bank keeps a copy of the check handy in case there are any issues, and I get paid without any extra fuss.

  • Client sends me a check
  • I request a scan and open the mail
  • I use my mobile phone banking app to screen capture and deposit the check directly into my bank account
  • I save pdf of the check to my dropbox
  • Lastly, I delete the scan to save space and costs
  • Done!

Which Virtual Mail Service Should You Choose?

I’ve used both and I prefer TravelingMailbox for three reasons: it’s cheaper for most freelancers and solo travelers, it got my scanned mail to me faster, and the customer service was fantastic (surprising given that they’re the budget option, but hey—some things that seem too good really can be true!). It may not look as sexy as EarthClassMail but it does the job!

Want to Avoid Paper Altogether?

Tip: Use programs like Photoshop and Automator on Mac to turn PDFs into editable images. Use your smartphone camera to make signatures and documents digital, make edits in Photoshop, and combine docs in Automator or Photoshop.

Virtual Mailbox: Get Your Postal Mail Anywhere You Are [2022]

Slowly you can make your life free from snail mail and completely digital, but it starts with postal mail being virtually managed.

Unfettered Travel with TravelingMailbox

Physical mail used to be a barrier to flitting about the world while running a freelance business or entrepreneurial venture, but not any more. Traveling Mailbox is one of my favorite services as a remote working entrepreneur, and saves me tons of time, money, and stress. With my virtual mailbox in place—and virtual phone and fax services set up—I stay accessible across all channels without sacrificing my love of travel.

It sure is a sweet time to be alive and virtual!

Speaking of the digital nomad lifestyle, check out Best Mobile Hotspot Devices [2022] for a guide to making sure you have wifi anywhere.

Is there another service you use or recommend? Or another hack you have to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Best Mobile Hotspot Devices [2022]

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WiFi is the lifeblood of any digital nomad, but it’s often the most challenging to access. After all, how will you stay connected with your clients and deadlines if you don’t have a reliable internet connection? That said, though, finding good signal can be challenging even in more developed areas like cafes or hotels. Meanwhile, that becomes downright virtually impossible when you travel to remote villages. This is where mobile hotspot devices come in.

Best Portable Wifi Hotspot Devices for Traveling and Working Remote [2022]

For digital nomads and remote workers, stable internet access is a must. Whether you’re working on a laptop at a cozy coffee shop or trying to get some tasks done on your mobile phone during your commute, being able to connect to the world wide web is a gamechanger when it comes to productivity.

Mobile hotspot devices provide a great option to ensure a reliable internet connection. These devices create a small wireless network that you can connect to with your devices.

As a digital nomad, you may benefit from mifi device features such as a battery-saving mode and the ability to connect to multiple devices simultaneously. You can gain a more in-depth understanding of global wifi and mobile hotspots in our Ultimate Internet Guide for Digital Nomads.

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Mobile hotspot devices can connect more than your laptops to the internet. These can also work just fine with your tablet, camera, and pretty much any gadget that’s wi-fi enabled. These can support multiple connections better compared to your phone’s mobile wifi hotspot mode as well as ensure that you don’t drain your phone battery.

In certain countries where cellular coverage might pose a problem and you might be worried about getting a secure connection, you can hook up these portable wifi hotspot devices to antennas to achieve better internet connection.

When looking for a mobile hotspot for digital nomads, keep the following factors in mind:

Battery life

A vital consideration when it comes to choosing a mobile hotspot device for international travel is battery life, which can range from lasting a full day on a single charge to a measly few hours. Some devices provide extra portable batteries, while others allow you to even use the mobile hotspot as a powerbank.

Determine your expectations about your wifi connection. If you plan to use the internet all day long and need to be constantly connected to search for restaurants or museums, you might need a mobile hotspot device with a longer battery life. Meanwhile, if you don’t really need wifi connection for the entire day or only need WiFi for a handful of hours, then splurging for an extra battery might not be worth it.

Budget and data allowance

The price of the device isn’t the only consideration when it comes to portable WiFi for travel. Depending on your provider and chosen mobile hotspot plan — whether you’re opting for international roaming plans or buying a local sim card when you visit other countries — you will probably have a limited use rate monthly or even daily. On top of your general mobile plan, this will also determine how much data you can use. This would also most likely affect your data speed.

If you’re under a tight budget, you should figure out how to compromise with regard your plan’s speed or data cap. Generally, though, the longer you avail of the hotspot plan, the lower the costs.

Size and weight

Mobile hotspot devices need to be exactly that: mobile. Your device needs to be portable and easy to pack. While opting for the more compact devices is the norm these days, the decision is dependent on your needs and how you envision your days.

If you’re mostly on the move, particularly on foot or use public transport, then choosing a smaller mobile hotspot device for international travel would be better for your needs. On the other hand, if you’re one of the remote professionals who plan to use the wifi device for business or corporate trips and have remote jobs requiring you to spend most hours in a single location, then a bigger hotspot device that offers longer battery life or a portable battery would benefit you more.

Check out our list and find the best mobile hotspot that suits your needs.

Best overall mobile hotspot: Skyroam Solis X

Skyroam Solis X is a new addition to the Skyroam family of mobile hotspot devices. This Skyroam device is different from its predecessors. This sleek little gadget, which basically looks like an orange puck, offers lightning-fast wifi speeds, allowing you to stay connected anytime, anywhere. Plus, the Skyroam Solis X comes equipped with a built-in power bank to keep your devices charged while you’re on the go. Simply plug your gadget in the allotted USB port, and you’re good to go.

The Skyroam Solis X wifi Smartspot sold out within the first day of its release. In fact, there were overwhelming positive Skyroam Solis X wifi Smartspot reviews from those who were able to get their hands on one. Now that the Skyroam Solis X wifi Smartspot is back in stock, I decided to take a closer look at this Skyroam device and see if it lives up to the hype.

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The power button can be found at the top part of the device. A white stripe serves as the indicator for your remaining battery life, while three blinking indicator lights will tell you whether you have a good data connection.

One side of the Solis X is equipped with an 8MP camera, while the other side holds the USB-C port that you use to charge the mobile hotspot and connect your gadgets when you need a powerbank. While this is a great feature, one concern is that the powerbank can be very slow in charging your gadgets.

At the bottom, you can find a QR code. Scanning this will lead you to the Solis app, which you can connect to your smartphone. If that’s not enough, the Skyroam Solis X’s LED display can also be used as a flashlight or an emergency beacon.

Skyroam offers multiple plans depending on your needs, ranging from a single day pass to month-long contracts with unlimited data. Check out the pricing plans here.

The expected battery life for the Skyroam Solis X is 18 hours, but it only lasted roughly 10 hours when I used it. Considering that I tested it by connecting my two smartphones and laptop while also using it as a powerbank, this is pretty impressive.

With that in mind, one thing I found challenging with the Skyroam Solis X is the design of its charging port. The USB-C charging port for this device has a tiny ridge that makes it incompatible with many types of USB-C cables. Skyroam solves this issue, though, by including a USB-A adapter in the package.

After testing the Skyroam Solis X wifi Smartspot, I can say that it is an impressive device that offers excellent value for its price. Although it doesn’t come with a rental option, this device works in more than 130 countries covered. So, the Skyroam Solis X can be considered a worthy investment for digital nomads.

Best no-frills mobile hotspot: Skyroam Solis Lite

For those who don’t need the bells and whistles offered by Skyroam Solis X, there’s Solis Lite. Like the Solis X, this portable wifi device can also support up to 10 devices. It’s also small enough to easily fit in your pocket and weighs roughly the same as a regular smartphone. Considering that this gadget offers a rental option starting at $9 per day, this is a great alternative for those who want a no-frills Skyroam device.

It has the same look as the Skyroam Solis X, including the convenient QR code at the bottom for the mobile app and the problematic USB-C charging port that makes it challenging to use third-party cables. It also works as a powerbank, but likes the Solis X, it charges devices quite slowly at 5V/1A.

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What differentiates the Solis X from the Solis Lite is the absence of the remote-enabled camera, speaker, and microphone, which are used for the built-in smart assistant. That means the Solis Lite is simply your basic international hotspot device with no special features and focuses solely on providing internet access. Truth be told, I didn’t really miss the smart features of the Solis X and actually prefer this option for my digital nomad needs.

Best 5G mobile hotspot: NETGEAR Nighthawk M5

NETGEAR’s Nighthawk M5 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is one of the latest mobile hotspot devices to hit the market. NETGEAR is known for its high-quality router products, so I was curious to see how its portable wifi device would perform. The Nighthawk M5 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro did not disappoint. The device is easy to set up and use, and it offers fast reliable connectivity. I was also impressed by the Nighthawk’s battery life; I was able to use it for several hours before needing to recharge.

Theoretically, 5G can go as fast as 10 to 50 Gbps, but that’s a long way off. 5G mobile broadband should be 11 times faster than 4G if the signal is strong enough. However, there’s a catch: the Nighthawk M5 will only run at 5G speeds if you have a strong 5G signal. If you are in an outlying area, you may only get 3G or 4G speeds.

In real-world testing, I was able to consistently get speeds in excess of 100Mbps on both bands. The Nighthawk M5 also supports up to 32 concurrent connections, so you shouldn’t have any trouble connecting all your devices. It’s ideal for teams or small groups.

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Source: Netgear

One of the best features of the Nighthawk M5 is its battery life. NETGEAR claims that the Nighthawk M5 can last up to 13 hours on a single charge. In practice, I discovered that this varies greatly; Wifi-6 and 5G / LTE are simply power hogs. Nonetheless, a realistic time frame of 6 to 9 hours is still good value.

However, what makes the Nighthawk M5 stand out is the fact that it’s the first C-Band hotspot in the US. Let me offer a bit of context to explain why this is a great feature. While the services of the 5G networks aren’t exactly noticeably faster than 4G networks these days, this situation will change in the coming years. When this happens, you will need a C-Band gadget to be able to take advantage of the additional capacity.

Actually, the iPhone 12 and up phones, the Samsung Galaxy series starting from the S21, and Google Pixel 5 and above are already using C-Band. Before the Nighthawk M5, no mobile hotspot has ever supported this technology.

All these features come at a steep price of $699.99. This is generally more expensive than most mobile hotspot devices and plans.

Before you get one, make sure to check the model you’re buying. The US version doesn’t seem to support 5G outside North America, which means it’ll only work as a 4G hotspot abroad. According to Netgear, this hotspot device is most compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile. If you get the international version, you’ll be able to take advantage of a different group of 5G bands in most countries.

Best plug-and-play mobile hotspot: GlocalMe Mini Turbo Wi-Fi Hotspot

You can say goodbye to expensive international roaming charges and spotty public Wi-Fi with the GlocalMe Mini Turbo Wi-Fi Hotspot. This handy little device offers fast connection and dependable LTE coverage in over 140 countries, making it an indispensable travel companion for the modern digital nomad.

I had never used a touchscreen portable wifi before the GlocalMe G4 Pro Smart 4G Mobile Global Wi-Fi Hotspot. The previous mobile hotspots I used made the apps linked to the devices indispensable, which means I needed them whenever I had to check my remaining data or battery life. This made this particular mobile hotspot different. All those information are readily displayed on the 5-inch touchscreen of the GlocalMe G4 PRO as well as in its user friendly app.

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Source: GlocalMe

The touchscreen makes it easy and convenient to add data. Plus, it already has Google Maps, voice recognition translator, and TripAdvisor installed. Its straightforward interface and limited but essential options almost feel like a user-friendly apps on my smartphone, so there is an innate comfort in using it to set things up.

The GlocalMe Mini Turbo is also extremely simple to use; just insert a SIM card and connect up to 10 devices to the hotspot. With a battery life of up to 10 hours, you can be confident that you’ll always have a reliable connection, even on long trips.

Best unlocked mobile hotspot: Huawei E5576-320 Portable 4G

The Huawei E5576-320 Portable 4G is one of the low-cost options for mobile hotspot devices on the market. I was curious to see how this device would perform and how it would compare to the more expensive options, so I decided to put it to the test. I have to say, I was impressed with the Huawei E5576-320 Portable 4G.

With 150Mbps download speeds and 50Mbps uploads, this is a great mobile hotspot option that’s tiny, lightweight, and easy to transport. You can also connect up to 10 devices to this 4G mobile router, which has a standby time of 350 hours and a working time of 6 hours, thanks to its 1500mAh battery.

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The Huawei E5576 was easy to set up and use, and it provided a reliable connection even in areas with poor cell coverage. Unfortunately, this device only works in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. For countries outside this list like the US, Canada, and Mexico, you’ll need to get a separate Huawei hotspot device.

Overall, the Huawei E5576-320 Portable 4G is relatively affordable, making it a great option for budget-conscious digital nomads. Like the Skyroam Solis Lite, the Huawei E5576-320 Portable 4G is simply a no-frills low-cost mobile router. Basically, this mobile hotspot device focuses solely on connecting your gadgets to the internet, no matter where you are.

Best mobile hotspot for remote areas: Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L Wi-Fi Hotspot

Verizon’s Jetpack MiFi 8800L is one of the best mobile hotspot devices on the market. Like the previous models, this one also comes in matte black and gray and is a plastic oval that’s about the size of a deck of cards with a touchscreen front. It has two external antenna ports plus a USB-C port.

It can connect up to 15 devices at once and has a built-in battery that lasts up to 15 hours. On top of these, the Jetpack MiFi 8800L also works great for digital nomads who want to explore extremely rural areas. This is because unlike other units that can only see 3G in these remote places, Verizon’s wifi hotspot can actually still offer 4G LTE.

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Source: Verizon

If you’re worried about data overage charges, don’t be – Verizon offers unlimited data plans for Jetpack MiFi 8800L devices. So whether you’re working on the go or just want to stay connected while traveling, Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L is the perfect solution.

Best low-cost prepaid mobile hotspot: ZTE ZMax Connect MF928

As long as you have a compatible AT&T or T-Mobile prepaid service plan, you can use the ZTE ZMax Connect MF928 hotspot. Like most low-cost mobile hotspots, this device also comes in the form of a tiny black box that’s roughly the size of a playing card. Unlike the more expensive options like the Skyroam Solis X, it has no dedicated indicator for battery life or signal strength.

However, the ZTE ZMax Connect MF928 offers a special feature. It has a pair of TS9 antenna ports, which could be used to attach an external antenna to boost the signal. Its LTE covers AT&T and T-Mobile but doesn’t include Verizon and other foreign providers. Moreover, the hotspot’s internet speed tends to flounder when it reaches LTE performance. It becomes more problematic when additional you try to add more than two devices at a time, with the issue being more obvious when you’re having Zoom calls.

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I appreciate the wifi management options, though. I like the accompanying mobile app, which sends me updates on data usage and allows me to tweak the hotspot’s settings.

The ZMax Connect MF928 supports up to 10 devices at a time and can last up to 10 hours, making it ideal for international travelers and digital nomads who need to work remotely while on the road. Overall, the ZTE ZMax Connect MF928 is a great option for those who need a reliable and affordable mobile hotspot device.

How to maximize your mobile hotspot plan

Mobile hotspot plans evolve all the time. If you add a hotspot data plan to an existing “unlimited” phone plan, Verizon gives you up to 50GB of high-speed data, 40GB from AT&T, and 40GB from T-Mobile. Once you consume that, the carriers tend to “deprioritize” your data or start to throttle it randomly.

So if you’re an AT&T or Verizon subscriber, the best way to make the most of your mobile hotspot data plan is to add your hotspot line as a separate line to your pre-existing phone plan. That offers you the most data for your budget.

Reality check

Admittedly, some of the devices listed here are pretty old. That’s because mobile hotspots have not exactly progressed as quickly as other technologies. While I’m not thrilled over this lack of innovation, I’m still grateful that these mobile internet devices are available to make our lives easier. However, I’m hoping to see more wifi hotspots with the most advanced 5G technologies out in the market soon and making our digital nomad life easier and more convenient!

Conclusion

Talking about portable hotspot devices brings back memories, particularly one that started out cold and daunting. I was driving around the Ring Road in Iceland when the roads got narrower and icier. Everything was foggy, and I had no idea where I was since I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t tell where I was going. Eventually, I realized that I had been driving in circles for hours on end, and it felt like there was no way out.

Thank goodness I had my mobile hotspot device with me, which turned out to be a lifesaver. I used it to help me navigate the Ring Road. The fact that I had something with me that allowed me to still be able to communicate with my family and friends as well as help me navigate the unknown place offered me an invaluable sense of comfort and relief.

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Truth be told, I would have felt a lot less safe traversing that road in Iceland without my mobile hotspot device. It just felt better because I knew I could rely on something in case of emergencies–or in this case, led me to a spectacular town with hot springs that soothe my frayed nerves and sore muscles.

These days, it’s hard to imagine life without the internet. Whether I’m working from a cafe in Barcelona or a hotel in Bali, I need to be able to stay connected. Plus, mobile hotspot devices have been a lifesaver. On more than one occasion, I’ve been out and about without any wifi, only to find that my mobile hotspot device has come to the rescue.

I’ve also used mobile hotspot devices to stay connected when travelling through remote areas where there is no cell service. So if you’re looking for a way to stay connected while on the go–whether you’re trying to check directions, find a nearby restaurant, or just stay connected with friends and family–I highly recommend investing in a mobile hotspot device. You’ll never know when you’ll need it!

How You Can Use a SIM Card with Your Smartphone Overseas: Unlocking, Local & International SIM cards

Running a business as an international globetrotter has never been easier, there’s no question. Getting from A to B is more convenient and more affordable than any other point in human history, and the Web means we can communicate with ease no matter where in the world we end up.

While the Internet has made overseas communication a lot easier than it used to be, there are still some gaps when it comes to convenient chatting.  There’s the struggle to find decent WiFi in many parts of the world, the need for the right kind of power cord or adapters, and a few other hiccups you can run into when trying to get connected away from home. And the biggest pain in the neck by far is using the same smartphone both at home and abroad.

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Use a SIM Card with Your Smartphone Overseas

The first major problem is that not all phones work with all cell networks. If you’ve ever bought a phone from someone other than your service provider—Amazon, eBay, a guy in a parking lot, whatever—you may have already run into this difficulty. Even if you’re staying in the US, you have to make sure your phone has the right hardware to work with your network of choice, and it’s not always as simple as it should be.

Second, assuming you’ve found a phone that works with all the networks you’ll be traveling through, there are roaming costs that can quickly send your bill through the roof. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “roaming” simply means you’re using a cellular network that you don’t normally pay for. If you pay T-Mobile each month but end up making calls that go through a Verizon-only cell tower, T-Mobile has to pay Verizon for the use, and T-Mobile will pass those fairly significant charges on to you.

If you have a strictly US-based plan, you’ll be roaming anywhere else in the world you go. Even if you’re using your smartphone while connected to WiFi, you might not be safe—texting and phone calls might still end up on your cellular service plan, and they won’t be cheap.

There are a couple solutions to these international cell phone problems. Here are my two favorites—if you’ve found something you think we should know about, let me know in the comments!

T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan

AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint we could say have had a more US-centric approach to cell phone service. T-Mobile has long been owned by Deutsche Telekom, a German company that operates cellular networks and provides customers service in countries all over the globe. It makes sense, then, that T-Mobile is the most international-friendly of the major US service providers—if you’re on one of their Simple Choice plans, you already get unlimited data and texts in more than 140 countries (as long as you’re using one of T-Mobile’s networks—it’s still possible to get caught roaming, so be careful).

I was in Doha, Qatar recently and my T-Mobile plan allowed me to text friends, post to Instagram and Facebook, and do most of what I typically do with my phone without spending an extra dime. After years of unreliability when it comes to staying in touch while abroad, it was nice to be able to rely on!

using-phone-while-traveling-LiveWorkAnywhereThe clear downside is that calls made over the cell network aren’t unlimited. In fact, they aren’t included in the plan at all and cost $0.20 per minute. You might be able to get around using a VoIP app like Google Voice or Skype, but these services tend to charge for international calls, too. And if you forget to use the app to make a call or pick up an incoming call without thinking, you’ll be hit with a surprisingly large bill.

T-Mobile ONE

Starting September 6th, T-Mobile introduced its T-Mobile ONE plan. At a glance, it seems pretty similar to the Simple Choice plans in terms of international benefits—unlimited text and data in most countries, but without calls included. You can also add a plan for your tablet and/or any wearables nice and cheap, though, so this might be worth looking into if you’re not already with T-Mobile.

AT&T Passport and Sprint Global

AT&T also has a Passport plan that offers unlimited texting and reduced prices for calling and data usage. There’s also an additional monthly fee, however, and all in all it’s pricier than T-Mobile. If you’re already with AT&T and only planning on traveling for a short while this might be your best bet, but if you’re willing to shop around I think you can do better.

A friend using Sprint also just informed me that they have a very similar plan to T-Mobile.  It just launched a few months ago.  So, T-Mobile now has some competition.  But the fact that all the major carriers are recognizing international calling and communication via your smartphone and allowing you to use a SIM card with your smartphone overseas (in fact, the same card) while traveling is a giant leap forward in international communication.

 

Unlocking Your Smartphone and Getting an International SIM Card

T-Mobile’s plan is plenty for many, but there’s another way to achieve true smartphone freedom that any might find more appealing: an international SIM card for unfettered travel and spontaneity.

We won’t get too technical, but basically your phone’s SIM card allows it to”talk” to a cell network. If the network doesn’t recognize the SIM card, it won’t let you connect, or it will notify the network to charge those pricey roaming fees. You can get local SIM cards for each place you’re traveling, but you’ll need to get a local service plan, and international calls will still be expensive. An international SIM card that is designed to work with cell networks around the globe means you can use one phone to connect virtually anywhere.

Unlocking Your Smartphone

The SIM card is only one barrier when it comes to using your US-bought smartphone on international networks. You also need to make sure your phone has the right hardware to connect to a particular international network, which is pretty easy to do once you’ve selected an international SIM provider. Service providers also install software on their phones that can prevent you from using other carriers, so you’ll probably need to “unlock” your phone—mess with the software so your phone can work anywhere.

Unlocking your phone is perfectly legal and, when done correctly, perfectly safe. Digital Trends put together this awesome and updated unlocking guide that covers every major US carrier. You might have to bug your service provider a bit—they know that unlocking means you’ll be using someone else’s services—but they’ll get it done if you keep at them.  T-Mobile may take up to 6 weeks to unlock whereas Sprint will unlock instantly with a phone call – but, they will only lock for overseas and disable unlocking on US soil.  Once unlocked, you simply swap out your SIM card for the international SIM card you’ve purchased, and you should be good to go!

Getting an International SIM Card

Not all international SIM card providers are equal, of course. They all have their own coverage areas/countries and their own prices, and you should definitely research your selected provider based on where you want to travel. My personal favorite, and so far the one that has beat the competition hands-down for the places I’ve traveled, is OneSimCard.

OneSimCard sells you its international SIM cards for a flat rate of $29.95. There’s no monthly charge or connection fee, and your SIM card will work for calls and texts in more than 200 countries! You get both a US and an EU number for your phone, and incoming calls to the EU number are completely free, as are incoming text messages. Outgoing calls cost $0.25/min.—not bad when you consider you aren’t paying ANY monthly service fee—and you can also purchase them in bundles at a discount. Calls are even cheaper using OneSimCard’s VoIP app, which comes free with the SIM card.

Your international SIM card from OneSimCard will also give you access to mobile data networks in up to 180+ countries, depending on which SIM card you select (they have three available), with data rates as low as $0.02/MB. And of course, you’ll still be able to use data via any WiFi spots you find in your travels absolutely free.

For convenience and ease when you’re traveling to multiple countries, it really doesn’t get any easier than OneSimCard. When you’re back in the States you can swap out your cards again, and if you tuck your international SIM card somewhere safe—in a baggie with your passport, perhaps—it’ll be there for you the next time you’re ready for an international adventure!

Get Unlocked and Go International Today!

unlocked-your-phone-liveworkanywhereThe barriers to international travel are falling every day. Whether you’re a business of one, have a small office you need to keep in touch with, or are a key figure in a multi-billion dollar enterprise, there are plenty of ways for you to stay connected as you travel. The Internet makes document sharing, social media, and a whole lot more readily accessible from your smartphone, and now you know a few tricks when it comes to texts and calls, too.

So what are you waiting for? You’re running out of excuses—stop reading, go get your international SIM card or switch up your phone plan (hint: try T-Mobile), and start booking those tickets today. The world is waiting!

Top Digital Nomad Friendly Airports Worldwide

The Digital Nomad’s Guide to the Top Airports in the World

One of the great things about being a digital nomad and living and working anywhere is that you get to travel. Of course, this

means spending time in various airports as you go from one glorious destination to the next. So, which ones are best when it

comes to keeping in touch with your business, family, and friends?

Here are some favorites for digital nomads from around the world, as well as what to expect when you are in them:

 

Budapest Airport – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Airport offers free Wi-Fi for the first two hours you are there. And if you need to print something, you can do so by using

their passenger lounges. They even supply meeting rooms if  you happen to be there at the same time as someone else on your

team and want to find a quiet place to chat about work.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Budapest.jpg

 

O’Hare International Airport – Chicago, Illinois

Find yourself at O’Hare in Chicago and you will enjoy the first 20 minutes of Wi-Fi free, with the option to pay $6.95 for an

additional 24 hours of service through Boingo, which means that you can access Internet through any of their locations during

that time period. If you need to power up any of your devices, there are numerous charging stations located throughout terminals

1, 2, 3, and 5. Plus, download the FlySmart app and you can find all of their amenities and services rather easily.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Chicago

 

Heathrow Airport – London, England

Heathrow offers four hours of Wi-Fi free, even offering an additional four hours at no extra charge if you join their Heathrow

Rewards loyalty program. They also have pay-as-you-go computer desks scattered throughout the airport, if that helps. If you

want to print anything, you’ll have to do so before going through security though as there aren’t any public printers available

after that point.

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Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – Austin, Texas

Austin-Bergstrom gives you 90 consecutive minutes of Wi-Fi free per day through Boingo. To purchase more time, the rate for

24 hours is $7.95, or you can get Boingo Unlimited for a couple bucks more, or $9.95 per month. You might even want to stop

at Knot Anymore Massage (by gate 13) while you are there and get out all of the kinks that travel can sometimes create.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Austin

 

Suvarnabhumi Airport – Bangkok, Thailand

This airport offers two hours of free Wi-Fi daily, which gives you some time to catch up on emails or send notes to various

members of your team. You may also want to visit their Internet Café if you want to use their computer systems and not take

the time to set up your own.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Bangkok.jpg

 

Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport – Seattle, Washington

If you’re lucky enough to spend time in the Seattle airport, you will have access to free Wi-Fi, as well as under-your-seat power

outlets available at most every gate. They also offer MP3 chargers at various kiosks in the concourses. And if you want an

Internet-enabled phone, you can rent one for $0.35 per minute (there is a $5 minimum for this service).

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Seattle.jpg

 

New Delhi Indira Ghandi Airport – New Delhi, India

New Delhi airport offers Wi-Fi a number of ways. For instance, if you have a Boingo account, you can simply log in through them.

You can also purchase a paid plan at 99 INR for one hour or 199 INR for three hours or obtain a scratch card from the

Lounge/Counter located inside the terminal. And if you have to switch airports while there, they offer a complimentary shuttle bus

that runs between domestic and international airports.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_New Delhi

 

 

McCarran International Airport – Las Vegas, Nevada

McCarran allows you to check in for your flight right from your mobile phone. It also offers free Wi-Fi in all public areas of the

airport. Don’t forget to take a break from working while you are there and put a couple coins in their in-airport slot machines. Who

knows? You may just win enough to fund your next travel adventure!

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Las Vegas.jpg

 

Incheon International Airport – Seoul, South Korea

At Incheon, you can rent a mobile phone if you’d like, or send a package or letter via their in-terminal postal services. You get

free Wi-Fi as well, which makes this airport great for all types of business and communication purposes.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Seoul.jpg

 

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – San Franciso, California

Free Wi-Fi is also available at SFO, with work stations and power outlets located throughout the terminals (some near the food

court so you can replenish your energy physically as well as electronically). It’s almost like having your own office space, just

make sure you don’t leave anything behind.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_San Franciso

 

Schönefeld Airport and Tegel Airport – Berlin, Germany

Stop at either Schönefeld Airport or Tegel Airport in Berlin and you can quickly know where all of their services and amenities are

through an app, which is available through ITunes or Google Play. As far as Wi-Fi is concerned, only your first hour is free, but

that may be enough time to catch up quickly before taking your next flight.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Berlin

 

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) – New York, New York

At JFK, there are a number of ways you can get Internet access. For instance, you can pay hourly ($4.95 per hour) or daily

($7.95 per day). They also have a monthly subscription option for $9.95 if you want unlimited access to various spots around the

globe. Additionally, there are charging stations available pre- and post-security so you can power up your devices pretty much

anywhere in the airport.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_New York

 

Kuala Lumpur International Airport – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur offers three hours of free Wi-Fi in most areas of the airport. They also have multimedia phone kiosks which give

you access to the web as well. They even have pay phones if you have any calls to make, or postal services if there is something

you need to send something out via regular mail.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Kuala Lumpur.jpg

 

Barcelona-El Prat Airport – Barcelona, Spain

Travel through Barceloa-El Prat Airport and you will only get 15 minutes free Wi-Fi, whether you are in terminal 1 or terminal 2.

So, while this particular location doesn’t exactly give you a lot of no-cost time to keep in touch, it does give you some if there is an

important message that needs to be sent out or if you quickly want to check your inbox.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Barcelona

 

Mexico City International Airport – Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City International Airport offers cell phone services and postal services, but it doesn’t seem to offer any type of Internet

service. In other words, don’t expect to get too much business done if you wind up here, that is, unless you have your own

Internet connection device.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Mexico City

 

Tallinn Airport – Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Airport not only offers free Wi-Fi, they also have 14 different kiosks you can use if you prefer to keep your laptop in its

case. And if you want to conduct your business in a quieter location away from the normal hustle and bustle of the airport, you

can gain access to their business class Nordea Lounge for €30.

digitalnomadfriendlyairport_Tallinn

 

There you have it, your digital nomad guide to some of the top airports in the world. Now the only question you have to answer is

which one you’re going to go to first!

Managing your finances while living working remotely

different-currencies

I am not a huge fan of Bank of America (or any giant bank for that matter).  

BofA caused my loan to default after almost a decade of no late payments due to someone leaving who was handling my refinance.  Their internal processes were broken.  In the middle of the process, they sold my home loan to another bank.

But, I still have personal banking with them. The reason I am still with them is the same reason for which I chose them. They are everywhere. They have reciprocal agreements with many international banks as part of the Global ATM Alliance which saves me some fees while traveling.

While traveling in Nicaragua Bank of America cut off my card due to precautions from 3rd party fraud.  Fortunately, I had a backup card. Though it was my business card that I had as a backup, and my accounting was affected slightly, I would have been in big trouble had I no card at all.

BofA offered to send me a new card.  But, getting mail in Nicaragua is an experience in itself.  It may never arrive.  Also, my address was something like:  2 doors down from San Miguel store, up the hill, left into Finca las Nubes.

With online banking I was able to move money from one account into the other.  My accounting was a little off but more imporantly I wasn’t stranded.

This was 5 years ago. But the same is true now. The only reason I haven’t switched is because of the hassle and because the benefits still outweigh some of the cons.

Managing your banking while traveling internationally:

  1. choose a bank that has ATMs worldwide or reciprocal ATM agreements with several major banks
  2. always carry a backup card, or two, ideally from different banks or different credit card services
  3. make sure to have access to online banking
  4. always set a travel alert so that your card does not unexpectedly stop working… at the most inconvenient time
  5. look into travel-protected credit cards like American Express
  6. always choose a card that gives you travel points – airline miles and/or hotel points

I am watching to see which banks will become the most digital nomad friendly.  But, here are a few I might recommend (not in any particular order):  

  1. Bank of America + Online Banking + American Express
  2. Capital One + 360 Online Banking
  3. Chase + Chase Sapphire Visa
  4. Wells Fargo + Online Banking

Any suggestions?  Where do you bank?  What cards do you carry?  Have you ever had any bad banking experiences while abroad and how did you make it through?

Renting Out Your Home So You Can Travel: The Virtual LandLord

Today I received a fax with a 12 month lease and deposit for my rental in Seattle. After 2 months of being vacant and going through 30+ inquires and applications, the house is finally rented. All done from New York City.

This is a topic I’ve always wanted to write about. I’ve always wanted to have my own place to call ‘home’, a place to rest my stuff when traveling.

Here, in Seattle, I bought a house and I’ve been renting it out for the past 6 years. I had two houses, but sold one as I downgraded to 4 boxes. But after learning about the housing market, and having refinanced to an interest-only loan that was just at the end of its 3 year pre-payment penalty, I realized that I would have to sell the first house.

Libby's House in Seattle

The second one, the one in the picture, I remodeled and turned into two full living spaces with separate entrances. I’ve discovered that you need to have coverage of at least 25% in order to break even from maintenance, vacancies, and so on.

Becoming a virtual landlord isn’t easy, but it’s doable—from anywhere in the world.

Before leaving Seattle for NYC, I filmed a video tour of the house and put it on YouTube. When prospective tenants would call, I’d send essentially the same template that would include:

  • More information on house, deposit, neighborhood, etc
  • Pet deposit (if applicable)
  • Asking the prospective tenant’s current living situation, number of total tenants in consideration, when they were looking to move, and what they did for income
  • A link to the YouTube video
  • Scheduling tools for setting up a time/day for a viewing
  • A link to my Google Voice number (if I were posting from Chile, I would still have a US number and able to take/return calls (see previous post))

I purposefully hid a key before I left. After qualifying the tenant and arranging a day/time to meet (and after I’d send the video so they were able to see if they liked it before either of us would waste any more time), I would then send them to the house and tell them I had a friend place the key and that they would be by, but not until after their set time.

Finally, after several potential tenants and one guy falling through (not once but twice), I got the signed lease faxed today to my Ring Central number. Done!

There were a few hurdles along the way, such as a friend going over to open the house and accidentally locking all doors which locked out the potential tenants when they arrived for their scheduled visit. Then there was the time my sister and her new husband crashing at the house and locking the key inside —I had to make key copies made and overnight to Seattle. But other than those snafus, it all worked out. I’m able to enjoy my time in NYC with the peace of mind of my house being rented. Totally worth it.