You may be concerned about how a physical address differs from a mailing address for many reasons.
For example, you may have received your general mail at a PO box address. But on trying to register your business, you may have discovered that PO boxes aren’t allowed as your business address. So you probably have been told to use a physical address instead.
So what’s the difference?
Physical address vs. mailing address
The difference between a physical address and a mailing address is that while a physical address is your geographical location, your mailing address is where you get your mail.
Your physical address or physical mailbox can be your home or office address. It is a generally-recognized street address and can be used to register your business.
A mailing address isn’t legally recognized for business registration, such as LLCs.
Sometimes, your mailing address can be the same as your physical address — for instance, when you receive your mail at home — but it’s not always so. For example, you could decide to receive your packages somewhere other than your home for safety and privacy reasons.
Typically, you can have several addresses as a business owner because different kinds of addresses serve different purposes.
Whether you’re trying to register your business or choose where you receive official documents, having the correct address is crucial.
A quick tip: a physical address describes a geographical location. It is also called a street address. On the other hand, a mailing address is also known as a postal address governed by US Postal Service standards for mail delivery.
What is a physical address? An overview
A physical address is a real street address that can serve business or personal use. For example, with a physical address, you can register your company and receive personal and business mail from any carrier, including FedEx and UPS. (A PO box mailing address will not be able to receive mail from a carrier other than USPS directly.)
In essence, a physical address designates the physical location of a house, business, restaurant, church, etc.
A physical address usually falls within the boundary of an administrative area — a county, city, state, etc., whose laws apply to the entity with that address. So, for instance, the tax and zoning laws of Queens County must apply to your company located within that area.
When is a physical address necessary?
Physical addresses generally don’t have restrictions. You can use a physical street address for virtually anything, including receiving mail from UPS and FedEx, which Post office mailing addresses cannot.
A physical address is most often required for business purposes, including when you want to:
- Register (incorporate) your business
- Apply for business credit
- Receive packages from any other carrier apart from USPS.
How are physical addresses designated?
A physical address is typically designated by a taxing agency. Most times, this agency is the county tax assessor’s office. Structures can be sold or traded in an area once the parcel has been assigned an address.
The United States Census Bureau uses different methods to describe the geographical location (address) of physical land features, such as buildings, roads, rivers, etc. One of these methods is the TIGER.
TIGER stands for Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing, and it’s one of the widely used formats for creating physical addresses in the US.
What is a mailing address?
A mailing address is an official address where you receive your mail. Most Americans’ physical address is the same as their mailing addresses.
For instance, you have a physical mailing address when you receive mail at your home address.
But for business purposes, this may be different. For example, it could be far from your home or office address.
A PO box is a mailing address that only receives postal mail. The USPS will offer you a postal address designated as digits rather than a street location. The numbers revolve around ZIP codes. Unfortunately, you cannot use PO box mailing addresses for business registration.
Although you may use a PO box address, times will come when you need to receive something other than postal mail. For instance, it can be a parcel from Amazon.
Unfortunately, private carriers like FedEx and Amazon do not deliver packages at a PO Box. This is a major restriction.
However, companies now offer unrestricted mailing addresses to solve this challenge.
By obtaining a mailing address from a third-party provider, you’d have an address where you can receive unrestricted mail.
Why would you need a mailing address other than your physical address?
The pandemic taught us many lessons, one of which is that you don’t have to be in an office to do business.
Depending on the kind of services you offer, you might not need to gather with your team in an office space. Instead, you can all interact remotely from home. This means you would be avoiding the cost of renting a physical office space, buying furniture, and setting up equipment.
However, as a home-based entrepreneur, you might be tempted to use your home address as your mailing address on your website. Should you receive business mail at home? Why this is allowed, it doesn’t speak well for your company.
When clients and investors notice you work from your bedroom, they may consider you less professional and reputable than other companies whose mailing addresses are in a prime business area.
Furthermore, when business mail becomes more voluminous, it may be challenging to separate them from your personal mail if they all arrive at the same address.
Rather than using your home address on your website, you can use a mailing address instead. You will receive your entire business mail at another specified location where you can pick them up at your convenience.
Also, you might not want to reveal your home address publicly. That can be risky as you open yourself and your family up to many dangers. People use private mailboxes to prevent discreet packages from falling into a family member’s hands.
But this begs the question; what address should you use when it’s time to register your company as an LLC or Corp? The answer: a virtual office!
Virtual office address vs. mailing address
Using an actual street address gives your business a more professional image. However, since it’s not advisable to use your home’s physical address to register your business, neither can you use a PO box, you can use a virtual address instead.
A virtual office or virtual business address is a real street address in a recognized location that frees you of the overhead cost of running an actual office space. For example, when you purchase a virtual office from a third-party provider, you’ll be given a virtual business address, which is a real street address, without you having to station yourself in that location.
Since it’s a physical street address, you can use a virtual address to register a business. It will also serve as your physical mailing address where you receive business mail.
The third-party provider can also offer you a conference room on-demand in that location because it’s a physical building.
However, you only pay for the official address and office-related services (such as telephone answering), but you’re not paying for the office space. You’ll therefore save a significant amount of money on your startup cost.
As a home-based entrepreneur, you can use a virtual office as your mailing address. You can pick up your mail at the location or have them forwarded to your home. In this case, your company’s physical address is also your mailing address. Where you receive your mail is the same address where your company is located. The only thing is your company isn’t really there; it’s virtual. You work from home.
What is a mailing address and permanent address?
We have extensively explained what a mailing address is and how it defers from a physical address. But you probably have come across a permanent address as well. So, how is this different from all the others?
Your permanent address is a physical street address with your name on it. This is usually where you’ve lived from birth. It’s your origin address, and it’s fixed until officially changed.
When you move to a new location, you can change your permanent address by completing a Change of Address Form with the USPS.
Of course, your permanent address could be your mailing address if you still live where you were born. You can have all your personal and business mail sent there. Like a physical address, a permanent address has no restrictions and can receive mail from all carriers, including DHL and Amazon.
Whether you’re using a virtual or permanent address as your business address, you’d be required to write down the name and address of your registered agent.
So, what is a registered agent, and why does it matter?
What does a registered agent do for your business?
Every US state will require the name and address of a registered agent when you apply for business registration.
A registered agent is the third party (a person or company) who receives legal correspondence on your company’s behalf.
Such mail typically includes federal and state legal documents and service of process (like a summons or subpoena). Your registered agent’s name and address are required in your Articles of Organization because the government doesn’t want you to miss essential legal mail.
Registered addresses can be the business owner’s physical or mailing address. You are allowed to make yourself your own registered agent and receive legal correspondence at home or work. In that case, your registered address is the same as your business address.
But does it make sense to name yourself your own registered agent?
Instances when your registered agent must be a third-party
Below are reasons why you must name someone else as your registered agent:
- It’s best to name someone other than yourself as your registered agent to save yourself the embarrassment of having a lawsuit against your business seen by your family.
- You don’t want the embarrassment of getting served a summon in the presence of your customers or employees.
- You have a virtual address in a different state other than where you live. (Virtual business addresses can be owned in multiple states as a way to expand your reach. However, you’d need registered addresses for each state where you incorporate your business.)
Perhaps, you’re not worried about registering your business. However, if you’re more concerned about where to receive your parcels, there are alternatives you can use instead of a physical address.
Alternatives to a physical address
Here are better ways to receive your mail instead of using your home address:
1. PO Box address
The Post Office box address allows you to receive mail only from the United States Postal Service. Although you cannot use a PO box for your business registration, you can use it as a business mailing address instead of disclosing your home address to the public.
Note that you can only receive postal mail at a post office.
2. Pack and ship mailbox
Also called a centralized mailbox, an independent mailbox where your package is received and processed. Every neighborhood has centralized mailboxes. So if you move to a new area, you can use the pack and ship mailbox there as your personal or business address for receiving packages.
The only issue is that you’re tied to them. So if the pack and ship mailbox center goes out of business, you’d be forced to do a change of address.
3. Virtual office
We’ve already discussed what a virtual office is. It can help you save costs while offering you a more professional image even as you work from home. In addition, you’ll have other office-related services like message taking and call answering.
4. Virtual mailbox
Some people regard the virtual office and virtual mailbox as the same, but they’re different. The virtual mailbox is more or less the Internet version of a mailing address. You get to receive your mail at a remote location, plus you can view the parcels on your device wherever you are.
The virtual mailbox service provider receives your mail and sends you a scanned package snapshot. You then determine whether to have it forwarded to your location, kept, or shredded if it’s junk mail. People who travel a lot can use the virtual mailbox services since they aren’t always home to receive their mail. The virtual mailbox doesn’t work as an office but as a mail forwarding service.
Reasons why your mailing address may be different from your physical address
As already mentioned, your physical address can be the same as your mailing address. But there are times when your mailing address might not be the same as your physical address. Here are some reasons why.
1. You live in a weather-challenged area
If you live in an area with regular heavy snowfall, it becomes difficult for USPS or any other carrier to reach your home (physical address). Therefore, you may be required to get a PO box address at the local post office to deliver your package there. You can pick them up at your convenience. Other residents within such a neighborhood will have the local post office as their mailing addresses.
2. You live in an area with a unique ZIP code
The United States has 41,692 ZIP codes. However, not all of them follow the standard sequential rule. Some are special. How?
A special or unique zip code is assigned to government agencies, large-scale corporations, universities, and high-volume receivers.
The USPS will drop all mail at that particular address, and the organization will then distribute the mail to each individual.
3. You live in a new street address
The USPS announced in 2013 that it would no longer do door-delivery to new street addresses. Instead, residents living in such new streets would have to receive their USPS mail in a centralized area, like the cluster or community mailboxes.
If you live in such a location, your residence address will differ from your mailbox. So if you want an online store to deliver mail to your doorstep, you have to give them your house address rather than your mailing address.
4. Military addresses
A military address is a unique postal address associated with the army, air force, or navy. Notably, the USPS handles military mail like domestic mail.
The USPS delivers such mail to military post offices, distributing them to the individual recipients. It’s just another form of unique ZIP code. A military address must include the unit designation and APO/FPO (Air/Army Post Office™ or Fleet Post Office Location.
Do mail forwarding services the same as PO boxes?
Mail forwarding is not the same as Post Office boxes. While a PO Box address is a number, a mail forwarding service provider offers you a real street address.
Since some individuals cannot receive deliveries directly, some companies now offer mail forwarding services.
A mail forwarding service is when a third-party vendor receives your mail for you and forwards it to your location.
Suppose you’re on a trip, so you cannot receive your mail at your physical house address. Instead, you can sign up for a mail forwarding service. The company can receive your mail, store it, and forward it to you when you return home or arrive at your destination.
But that’s not all.
Mail forwarding services are fundamentally designed as a solution to online stores that do not ship to certain countries.
Suppose you live in Kenya, but the online store you’re shopping at doesn’t ship to Africa. Do you forego the product no matter how discounted or dear it is to you? Not so fast!
You can register on a mail forwarding platform. The service provider will give you a US shipping address, which is a physical address. For example, it could be the company’s warehouse.
You can have your products shipped to that address, and the mail forwarding company will send them to you wherever you are.
Furthermore, you can use a mail forwarding service as your business address; it offers you a more professional image since it’s a real street address.
Billing address vs. shipping address vs. physical address
Another confusion people often face is differentiating among billing, shipping, and physical addresses.
A shipping address is an address where the order will be sent, while the billing address is the one connected to the customer’s payment method. Your billing address may also be your permanent address since it’s associated with your financial details.
Typically, your billing address will be your physical address (your home). However, if the shipment is delivered to your doorstep, this can be the same as your shipping address. If not, perhaps when using a mail forwarding or virtual mailbox service, your shipping address will differ from your billing location.
Which address should you use?
Knowing what address to provide when asked depends on the purpose. Some people don’t have to think twice because their physical address is the same as their mailing address. So when shopping online or filling out a form, they can just give out their physical address.
Some considerations need to be made for people whose mailing address is different from their physical address.
For instance, you should give out your mailing address if the purpose is to receive a package. But if it’s to locate the geographical location of your home or office, your physical address would be the right option.
Nevertheless, misconceptions may arise when the party requesting the address is not specific about their intentions. They may not be aware that a physical address is not always the same as a mailing address so they may request “an address.” In that case, you’d likely provide the wrong one if you have more than one address.
How can you get a mailing address?
Physical addresses aren’t challenging to get. In short, you already have a physical address by living in a house. But if you need a mailing address, there are ways to go about it.
We have mentioned that a mailing address can be different things. A mailing address can be a rented virtual office, a mail forwarding service, or a Post Office box.
While these addresses all receive mail, they serve different purposes. So you must know what you need the mailing address for before purchasing one from a vendor.
If you’re a home-based entrepreneur and need a mailing address for your business, it’s advisable to purchase a virtual office address. Then, while boosting your professional image, you’ll have access to other office-related services.
If you need a mailing address to receive parcels you cannot receive at home, you can do with a mail forwarding service. This is great when shopping online. The address given will be able to receive parcels from any carrier.
Finally, a PO box would serve if you only receive mail from the USPS.
Physical address vs. mailing address: which is better?
One isn’t better than the other. It’s all about your situation and needs.
As a small business owner who operates remotely, a virtual office address would be the best option since it offers you a real street address. You can also use a virtual address to be physically present in other locations other than your primary service area.
If you don’t own a business but shop online, a mailing address will be just about right.
Finally, a postal mail address (PO box) would be an excellent choice if you only expect to receive mail from the USPS.