Registered agents, virtual offices, virtual business addresses, and virtual mailboxes are different services and are used for different things. Specifically:
- A registered agent receives service of process and other official government documents on behalf of a company.
- A virtual office is a physical office space used by a company but managed by a third party.
- A virtual business address is a physical office building that a company can designate as its official business address without having to actually use the space.
- A virtual mailing service or virtual mailbox is similar to a P.O. box but meant for use by businesses rather than individuals.
In this guide, we explain more about what these services can do for your company.
What Is a Registered Agent?
A registered agent is an individual or business entity that accepts official government documents such as service of process and tax documents on behalf of a company. In some states, a registered agent is called a statutory agent, or agent for service of process, or resident agent.
Under the laws of most states, every business must designate a registered agent. This can be anyone who meets the state’s criteria, such as yourself, a friend or colleague, or a third-party service like ZenBusiness.
Our review of the best registered agent services can help explain some of your options for choosing a registered agent service.
For more on registered agents, see our guide on What Does a Registered Agent Do.
Registered Agent Services Are Not Virtual Offices
Registered agent services perform the following tasks:
- Receive official government documents such as tax forms and service of process.
- Send reminders for complying with state business rules and regulations, and file documents like annual reports.
- Promptly forward notices and documents to you so you can act on them in a timely manner.
- Keeps copies of important business documents in case the originals are lost, destroyed, or stolen.
What Is a Virtual Office?
A virtual office is a physical office space that you use for your company but that a third party manages. Virtual offices can provide a live receptionist, receive and forward regular business mail (as opposed to the official government documents received by a registered agent), and provide a lobby directory listing.
Companies can also use virtual offices as a place to meet clients or partners instead of meeting them in their homes.
What Is a Virtual Business Address?
Like a virtual office, a virtual business address is a physical address. However, you can use a virtual business address as your official business address without having to occupy the space.
In addition to processing mail like a virtual mailing service (see below), you can use a virtual business address in your Articles of Incorporation when you register your company with the state at the formation stage. You can also use it to file corporate taxes.
Finally, like a virtual office, a virtual business address helps your company appear more legitimate by providing a physical space found on a map. It also provides privacy if you have a home-based business because you can use it instead of your home address.
What Is a Virtual Mailing Service?
You can use a virtual mailing service, which is also known as a virtual mailbox, to receive personal or business mail. A virtual mailbox can digitize your mail or forward mail or packages to you, but it isn’t meant to act as your company’s official business address. You can read your digitized mail from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Registered Agent and Virtual Mailing Service Recommendations
If you’re in the market for a registered agent service, our review of the best registered agent services can help. These services include:
- ZenBusiness ($99/year) is the best registered agent service for small businesses because of its affordability and high-quality features.
- Incfile ($119/year) is one of our honorable mentions because of the free premium services available in its entry-level packages.
- Rocket Lawyer ($149.99/year) is best if you need ongoing legal services because in addition to a full year of registered agent service, they offer access to legal documents, support from lawyers, and more.
- Northwest ($125/year) is one of our honorable mentions because of its affordability and quick, easy checkout process.
- Harbor Compliance ($99/year) and offers multi-year discounts on their fee, and is one of the best nonprofit formation companies.
- Incorp ($99/year) also offers multi-year discounts.
- LegalZoom ($299/year) is the most well-known service because of how long they have been in business and how many customers they’ve had.
In terms of virtual mailing services, Earth Class Mail (starting at $69/month) offers an excellent virtual office and mail service that provides digital mail forwarding. It can help you establish a physical US Mailing address.
Registered Agent vs. Virtual Offices Frequently Asked Questions
Can a virtual office be used as a registered agent?
A virtual office should not be used as a registered agent because the two services are used for different purposes. A registered agent receives official government documents like service of process, while a virtual office serves as an actual office space that is managed by a third party and is intended to receive regular mail (among other things).
Can I use a registered agent address as my business address?
In general, no. A registered agent only has to receive official government documents related to your business. It is not meant to receive regular mail or act as your business address. However, if you serve as your own registered agent, your business address and registered agent address would be the same.
Can I use a virtual business address as my business address?
You can use a virtual business address as your official business address when you form your company. You can also use it to file taxes.