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How to switch email addresses and keep your emails

An email address is not just a way to keep in touch with friends and family; it’s a vital part of our online lives and identities.

Your email will often be the username for online services and is used for password recovery if you forget login details. If you’ve had the account for a long time, older emails could contain all kinds of important information.

But what if you need to switch email addresses because an email provider is closing, or you're switching broadband providers?

In this guide, we’ll explain how you go about moving to a new email and what to do if you permanently lose access to an address when an email provider closes.

Will I lose my email address if I switch broadband providers?

If you use an email address from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), such as BT Email, TalkTalk Email, or Virgin Media Email, then it is likely you will lose access to it if you switch away.

It is for this reason that we recommend you never use an ISP-supplied email address. Instead, get email from a provider separate from your broadband so that you will never lose access to your inbox no matter what happens with the broadband.

Some providers will allow you to retain your email address, but you’ll have to pay for the privilege. This might seem convenient, but you’re paying for something you can get free elsewhere just to avoid the (potentially minor) hassle of switching email addresses. And if you don’t mind paying for email, you can probably get more value by signing up for one of the premium providers which offer heaps of additional features that a typical ISP email service cannot match.

Do not let an email address prevent you from switching broadband because it’s almost certain to cost you in the long run, as you’ll miss out on the savings you can get when signing up for a new broadband deal.

What happens when my old email address is shut down and deleted?

If you’ve lost access to an email address because you’ve switched broadband providers or the email service has closed down, then you will no longer be able to access the inbox or receive emails to that address. Anyone sending messages will have them returned as undeliverable.

In some cases, the email provider may offer forwarding for some time after the email has been closed down; when Tesco.net shuttered its email service in 2018 it offered a free forwarding service for several months after the closure. But this is unusual, so you should anticipate that the email address will be completely inaccessible after the switch or cancellation date and take steps to move to a new service well in advance.

How to switch email addresses

Step 1: Get a new email address

The first step is to choose a new email provider and sign up so that you can begin transferring your emails and letting people know about your new address.

Here are a few email services we recommend:

Google Mail is the best option for most people. It has a generous amount of free storage and is easy to use but also brimming with features for those who want more advanced control.

Previously known as Hotmail, Outlook has a simple and clean interface, plus useful extras that power-users can master to take full control of their email.

If you’re concerned about giving Google or Microsoft too much information, consider this privacy-focused provider instead. However, the free tier is fairly basic with only a small amount of storage, so you’ll need to keep on top of the inbox and regularly delete old emails.

Fastmail does not offer free email, but if you’re happy to pay, it’s an excellent premium provider. Like ProtonMail, it emphasises security and privacy.

  • Protect your new email from spam with aliases or disposables

    One reason you might want to change your email address is that the inbox is being filled with junk. This is always going to be an issue, but you can take steps to reduce the problem by not giving anyone your real email address. Instead, use an alias or disposable address.

    On Gmail, you can use an alias simply by adding “+aliasname” to your email address. For example, [email protected] Other services, such as Fastmail, let you create an entirely new email address with a different domain name which forwards to the main inbox. There are also forwarding services (like Spamex) that provide disposable addresses.

    By using aliases or forwards you can easily sort and filter emails to help keep the inbox organised. And if you start getting spam through a particular alias you can instantly put a stop to it by deleting or filtering the alias.

Step 2: Back up your emails

You’ll need to backup important emails, and there are a few ways to go about this.

Forward emails to the new address
If you’ve got just a few emails to keep, you can simply forward them to the new email address. Use labels or folders to organise them, so they’re easy to track down later on.

Download your email
One way to back up lots of email or even the entire contents of an email address is to use an email client such as Thunderbird and download everything to your computer.

Connect to the email account with the provider's POP (Post Office Protocol) server and your username and password, and download anything you want to keep.

With the email saved on your computer, you can access them via the client and back up to another storage device.

When using POP to download emails, they will be removed from the email server unless you tell the email client to retain a copy.

You can also use IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) to download email. However, you might need to configure the email client to download the contents of messages rather than just the subject line.

  • Transferring email folders with POP

    POP does not recognise folders, so when using POP to download the contents of an account you can only save emails stored in the main inbox. This means it may be necessary to move all your old emails to the inbox in order to download them.

    If you wish to retain the folder structure you can do the following:

    • Empty the inbox by organising all emails into folders, and deleting anything you don’t want.
    • Move one folder’s contents back to the inbox.
    • Download the inbox contents.
    • Move the newly downloaded email into a folder with the same name as the original.
    • Repeat until all folders are transferred.

Migrate the email to a new provider
Webmail providers often have a migration feature that can transfer everything to the new address.

For example, with Gmail, you can go to Settings > Accounts > Check email from other accounts to add another email address using that provider's POP server.

This is the simplest way to switch email as there’s no need to use any other software or download anything to your computer, and the webmail client will handle it all for you.

Plus, as well as transferring all the old email, this will also let you keep an eye on any new messages coming into the old account.

Step 3: update sites and services with your new email address

With your new email address up and running, it’s time to tell the world.

This is the most important part of the process but also the most tedious.

Notify friends and family with a mass message (remember to use bcc, so you don’t expose everyone’s email address).

But updating all the sites and services registered to your old email is not quite as straightforward because you are going to have to log in to each one and manually update the email address.

This job is a little easier if you use a password manager as you’ll have a record of all your accounts to work through. If not, it’s time to draw up a list. Begin with critical services such as banking, online shopping, social media, messaging, security and privacy, and any other email accounts. Then when you can’t think of any more, dig through your old inbox to see what you’ve missed. This is also a good opportunity to unsubscribe from anything you no longer need.

You will often have to go through additional verification when changing an email address, so keep a couple of browser windows open and logged in to both the old and new email accounts so you can quickly flick between them.

In some cases, it might be necessary to contact customer support to change an email address, which is unlikely to be a quick process, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time to get all your accounts set up with the new address.

Step 4: Set up forwarding and auto-response

Set up forwarding on the old account to move any emails that come in post-switch on to the new address.

It’s usually preferable to create an incoming filter on the new email address to automatically sort these messages into a specific folder rather than have them clutter up the new inbox.

Forwarding isn’t required if you used a migration feature to add the old account to the new email service, as it will continue to check for messages while the old email address remains active.

You can also set up an auto-response for the old email, which will alert people to your new address. If you don’t want to risk giving spammers or unwanted contacts the new address, use an alias or disposable forwarding address (see above) in the auto-response so you can filter out the chaff and protect the new address.

Step 5: Delete the old email account?

If you’re switching emails to get away from spam, and you’re sure that the old address is no longer needed and will not be receiving any more important messages, you can cancel the old service. Though maybe wait a couple of months, just in case.

But unless you’re paying for it, there’s no harm in leaving an old address active with a forward and auto-response. Just keep in mind that many providers will shut down an account if you don’t frequently log in.

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