E-commerce is a global phenomenon. Today, no geographic boundaries can stop business owners from reaching international customers. Each day, e-commerce improves and lots of opportunities open up for small businesses. Amazon, for example, has opened a lot of doors for international sellers, helping them reach further milestones and create more sales.
Still, just like any other business, e-commerce has hurdles. The most common dilemma for a web-based business owner is not having a physical business address. In the United States, federal guidelines require businesses to acquire and maintain a physical address, even if it’s a web-based business, to avoid potential legal consequences. For small business owners and international sellers, getting a physical US address may be a pain. Nevertheless, there are still a few options to obtain an American address.
How to Get a Virtual Address in the USA
1. Use the address of a relative or next of kin: If you’re lucky enough to have a relative or a next of kin living in the US, you can simply put their address as your physical address, as long as you have their permission.
2. Use the address of a friend: Just like the first option, you can always ask a friend living in the US to “borrow” their address.
3. Registered agent address: The role of the registered agent is that of someone who accepts and receives tax and legal documents on your behalf, especially if you don’t have a physical address in the US. This agent scans and emails these documents to you, and, if necessary, ships them to you. Although it seems similar to a mail-forwarding service, a registered agent is a statutory agent designated to accept official state documents and legal documents. A registered agent typically costs around $100-300 annually.
4. Mail Forwarding Service – This is by far the easiest way to get an American address. There are thousands of websites offering this kind of service. As the name implies, a mail forwarding service company receives your mail and then forwards it directly to you – via email or courier. This service is commonly used by people moving outside the US, travellers, and international shoppers who wish to shop at US marketplaces such as Amazon. A mail forwarding service typically costs about $10-$60 per month.
5. PO Box – A PO Box, as defined by Wikipedia, is a uniquely addressable lockable box located on the premises of a post office. It is commonly used by people who like to protect their privacy, people who frequently travel or move constantly. Using a PO Box as your business address may be a terrible idea, simply because the state requires businesses to have a physical mailing address. In addition, it could affect your business’ credibility as people generally like to do business with a company that has enough resources such as a physical address. PO box rentals cost as little as $10 up to $660 – depending on the rental term and size of the box.
6. Personal mailbox by the UPS Store – This is like a mail forwarding service and PO Box combined – only it gives you a real street address and not a PO Box number. Moreover, you can choose from any UPS Store location. The price depends on the location, tenure and size of the box. A small box typically costs $90 for 3 months.
7. Virtual Mailbox Address – A virtual mailbox is a digital mailbox that you access through your computer, phone or tablet. Also, just like a mail-forwarding service, it also receives and forwards packages for you. It’s a real US address, just like the ones for companies that rent real office suites. This could be the best option for businesses wanting to have a real US address. Prices start at $10 per month.
Why having a physical address is important to e-commerce
1. To easily set up a USA company: Because one of the most common requirements in incorporating a company in the US is a physical business address.
2. To open a USA Bank Account: As part of the US Patriot Act and Anti-money laundering program, banks require every account holder to have a physical address which shall be: (i) For an individual, a residential or business street address; (ii) For an individual who does not have a residential or business street address, an Army Post Office (APO) or Fleet Post Office (FPO) box number, or the residential or business street address of next of kin or of another contact individual.
3. To receive Amazon orders: Because some products on Amazon are not available to be shipped worldwide, some international shoppers don’t mind paying for forwarding services.
4. To give your website credibility: Having an address on your website simply gives it trust and credibility.
5. To receive business or client mail: In most cases, a business needs an address for returns, corporate invitations, corporate letters and whatnot.
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