Make moving less of a pain.
This is one of the drawbacks of working with a web-based email service.
I’ll describe why, and what I recommend you do.
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Moving messages to new email accounts
If your new account has a direct import function, investigate that first, as it might be the most comprehensive solution. Next best is to use a desktop email program and the IMAP protocol to download and then upload your email messages from your old account to new. It may be possible to use an online account’s POP3 remote access to transfer messages as well. Finally, contacts and folders can be difficult, with no single solution.
Say you have hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of emails in folders on a web-based service like Outlook.com, Gmail, or any of several others — either free or paid. When it comes time to change to a different service, there is no consistent way to bulk-move those messages.
Here are the approaches I would look for, in roughly the order I prefer.
Some email services have bulk-import options. For example, Gmail does something very close to what we’re looking for (you’ll find this in All Settings, Accounts and Import):
Exactly how well the transfer will work will depend on how the original account is structured. You may not get folders, and even though it mentions them, you may not get contacts.
This is the closest thing to what you’re looking for that I’m aware of. Since Gmail is on your short list, this is what I’d have you try first. It may be enough.
If Gmail isn’t where you want to go, be sure and check to see what import options other services may have.
My most pragmatic solution is that you use a desktop email program like Thunderbird. It’s a multi-step process, but it works roughly like this:
- Install Thunderbird.
- Configure Thunderbird to access your old email account using IMAP. This will leave all email in your old account while downloading a copy to your PC.
- Configure Thunderbird to access your new email account, also using IMAP. IMAP is required to make the next step work.
- In Thunderbird, copy — probably by dragging and dropping — all your email from the folders representing your old account to the folder(s) representing your new account. This will upload all the email to your new account.
This should work between any two accounts, as long as the “new” account supports IMAP. Fortunately, most do.
At this point, you can elect to continue to use Thunderbird to manage your email, or you can switch to your new provider’s web interface. If you choose the latter, I recommend leaving Thunderbird configured and ready to act as your email backup solution.
If the old service supports “POP3” access and the new service supports remote retrieval via POP3, you can at least move the contents of the inbox this way.
Gmail has a “Check mail from other accounts” as an option. You’ll find it in All Settings, Accounts and Import.
This differs from Import (mentioned above), as it’s designed to be an ongoing retrieval of email from another account — much like you might use a desktop email program — rather than a one-time import. That doesn’t mean you still can’t use it to transfer messages from one account to another; it’s particularly handy if the account you’re moving to doesn’t have an Import function.
Just configure the new account to Check mail from the old account, and messages should be copied over. For a one-time transfer, you can then disable the feature — or leave it enabled so that any messages arriving at the old account will continue to be transferred to the new.
Honestly, this isn’t much of a solution, but I include it for completeness.
You could forward messages from your old account, one by one, to your new account’s email address.
Not only is this a lot of time and work, but it also alters the emails slightly, adding a “Forwarded” header, for example.
The flies in the ointment1
Sadly, aside from Gmail’s import function, nowhere above did I mention folders or contacts.
Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any way to move or preserve folders of emails across services, with one possible exception: if you use IMAP, it’s possible folders can be preserved and downloaded when using an email client like Thunderbird. Otherwise, all of the transfer operations above are focused solely on the Inbox. Hence, using a desktop email client and IMAP is generally my go-to solution.
Your contacts list is another pain point. There’s no standard way across all these services to share or migrate your address book or contact list. The approach I would take here is to look for an export function for your old email account’s contacts, export in “CSV” format, and then look for an “import contacts” function either in your desktop email program or your new online account.
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