Forwarding mail in California: Everything you need to know

April 24, 2023
Sarah Ahmad

There are many reasons your business may need to forward its mail: Maybe you've recently moved to a new address, or your business is a small or one-person operation, and you need a way to receive your mail while you travel or work remotely. 

If you run a California-based business, you may be wondering about your mail forwarding options. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about mail forwarding in The Golden State. You’ll also learn about an alternative to conventional mail forwarding that's easier to use and offers unique benefits.

How USPS Mail Forwarding works in California

The United States Post Office offers two related services for moving or temporarily relocating: Standard Forward Mail and Change of Address.

With Forward Mail, your mail is rerouted, or “forwarded,” from one location to another. This happens for each mail item as it's received by the Post Office.

Depending on your circumstances and needs, California businesses have two mail forwarding service options:

  1. Submit a permanent change-of-address request to USPS to have your mail rerouted to a new address for a maximum of one year.
  2. Submit a temporary change-of-address request to USPS to have your mail forwarded for any length of time from 15 days to a year.

Most mail is forwarded for free, including First-Class mail and periodicals and mail items shipped with Premium shipping services, such as Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, and First-Class Packages.

Certain other mail items, such as Media Mail and USPS Retail Ground mail, are forwarded, but you are responsible for covering the cost of shipping to the rerouted location. USPS Marketing Mail items are not forwarded at all.

Setting up mail forwarding through USPS

To change your mailing address and set up mail forwarding through the USPS in California, you can either fill out the Official USPS Change-of-Address form online or present PS Form 3575 in person at your local Post Office location.

In doing so, you’ll designate whether your move from your old address to your new one is temporary or permanent. You'll also provide other requisite information, including forwarding address and duration.

USPS will ask to verify your identity by showing your driver’s license or another form of ID. (Note that if you file online, you’ll also be charged a $1.10 identity verification fee via your credit card on file.)

Please note that the Post Office recommends submitting your change-of-address request at least two weeks ahead of time. 

How long does mail forwarding last?

The USPS keeps permanent address change orders on file for 18 months. However, mail forwarding is in effect for 12 months. Temporary forwarding service is typically available for up to six months.

However, for businesses, unforeseen circumstances might lead to a change of plans. Maybe you need to receive mail at your temporary location longer — or for less time — than originally planned? In cases like these, you have options to extend or cancel your mail forwarding. (See the “Can I extend mail forwarding services?” section below.)

What mail cannot be forwarded with USPS?

Mail that can't be forwarded with USPS includes:

  • Newspapers
  • Catalogs
  • Media mail
  • Bulk mail
  • Presorted standard mail
  • Any mail pieces shipped by UPS, FedEx, DHL, or other couriers

What mail can be forwarded with USPS?

  • Priority Mail, First-Class Mail (including postcards), First-Class Package Service for Retail and Commercial: Forwarded for free as long as postage has been fully prepaid by the sender
  • Periodicals: Forwarded for free for up to 60 days when postage has been prepaid
  • USPS Marketing Mail, Parcel Select Lightweight, USPS Retail Ground, Package Services, and Parcel Select: Payment based on parcel weight

Can I extend mail forwarding services?

Yes, there is an option to extend a permanent change-of-address order to add up to 18 months of forwarding. Extended Mail Forwarding can be purchased either online or at any Post Office for a charge of $19.95 for each six-month increment.

Temporary change-of-address arrangements can be extended to 12 months by filing a second form for $29.95.

California mail forwarding fees

The fees discussed above are applicable throughout the United States, including California.

Drawbacks of using USPS for mail forwarding

While USPS mail forwarding can be useful, it does have some downsides, including the following:

  • Limited timeframe: Whether you need permanent or temporary mail forwarding, it’s only available for a finite period of time. While there are some options to pay to extend, you will eventually max out the limit. When this happens, your mail will no longer be forwarded.
  • Need for manual updates: In addition to manually filing your change-of-address forms, you’ll also need to make any updates if they occur. Need your mail forwarding stopped early or extended? Paperwork will be involved.
  • Slow delivery: United States Postal Service delays have vexed small businesses since COVID. Mail forwarding adds yet an extra step, thereby amplifying potential delays.
  • Delays or errors: Mail forwarding introduces one more potential touchpoint where mail and packages may be lost.

Why mail forwarding is better with a virtual mailbox

Virtual addresses and mailboxes are appealing alternatives to mail forwarding. Virtual mailboxes offer secure physical addresses at real locations. These services receive, sort, store, and scan your mail and packages — digitizing them so you can view and take action on them from anywhere.

Depending on the mail forwarding service you choose, you can get more features and functionality,, including the following:

Digital mail management

Virtual mailboxes are more efficient than mail forwarding, giving you instant access to digital copies of your mail at any time. The digitization process helps save on physical storage space, and makes it easier to keep track of business-critical mail items. 

Reliable providers like Stable extract key information from digitized mail items, giving you a way to quickly search by a sender or recipient's name or other information present on your mail.

Without a virtual mailbox, businesses need to store physical mail on site and secure access to it to prevent theft. However, with a virtual mailbox, it’s simple to manage access and shred documents from a secure online account.

Notifications and tracking

Keeping up with mail can be overwhelming — especially for small businesses. The best virtual mailbox services don’t just receive, sort, scan, and store mail; they also have additional notification and tracking abilities that let you know the exact state of your mail pieces in real time.

Bulk forwarding

The USPS’s mail forwarding option sends mail along piece by piece as it arrives. This can be a laborious and time-consuming process. Some virtual mailbox services, such as Stable, let you combine mail and packages to reduce shipping costs.

Cheaper shipping costs

With USPS mail forwarding, you’re not only subject to USPS costs and fees; a lot of time and money is wasted shuttling unimportant mail from one location to the next.

Virtual mailboxes minimize waste expenses by allowing you to only forward important mail to yourself — shredding junk mail with the click of a button. Some reputable providers, like Stable, also negotiate discounted rates with carriers to pass even greater shipping savings onto customers.  

Flexibility and convenience

As mentioned earlier, the USPS is plagued with staffing and infrastructure problems, which can interfere with your business getting its mail on time — or at all. Virtual mailboxes render many of the issues associated with USPS obsolete.

You can manage your mail online, and leading providers operate at lightning speed: With Stable, most incoming mail is available to you on the same day.

Similarly, virtual mailboxes are also more secure as they give you more control over package deliveries. For example, if you’re not at your provided new location, any packages delivered by USPS are vulnerable to theft.

Receive packages from any carrier

USPS mail will not forward mail or packages from outside carriers like UPS, FedEx, and DHL. If you’re running a small business and waiting on deliveries, this can be annoying at best and crippling to your operation at worst.

This is a non-issue with a virtual mailbox service, which promptly forwards all packages.

Forward your mail seamlessly with a virtual mailbox from Stable

Virtual mailbox services are much more than a superior alternative to mail forwarding or a P.O. Box in California or wherever your business is located. They’re also an invaluable solution for today’s busy small businesses, digital nomads, remote businesses, distributed teams, startups, and any  company that wants to save time spent on managing mail operations — especially if you choose an industry-leaving virtual mailbox service like Stable.

Packed with features like personalized change of address guidance, permanent virtual addresses, and registered agent services in all 50 states, Stable is one of the best digital mail forwarding services and mail management solutions for streamlining mail operations and enhancing efficiency, productivity, and collaboration.

Get started with Stable today to save time and money by using a virtual mailbox to forward mail and much more in California or any other state in the U.S.

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