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How To Switch Webmail Providers Without Losing All Your Email

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Do you use a webmail service you’re unhappy with because it’s where all your email is? There’s good news – you can easily switch, without losing your old email and contacts and without missing email sent to your old address.

This guide will help you switch to a shiny new webmail service. The exact ways to switch between email services will differ depending on which webmail provider you’re using. We’ll be focusing on three of the most popular services here: Gmail, Outlook.com (Hotmail), and Yahoo! Mail.

Import Old Emails & Contacts

Many webmail providers have import functions that automatically import existing emails and contacts from your old email account. This puts all your emails in one place and makes them searchable in a single inbox.

To access Gmail’s Import feature, sign into your new Gmail account, select the Accounts and Import tab on Gmail’s settings screen and click the Import mail and contacts link. Gmail can import mail and contacts from Yahoo!, Hotmail, and AOL accounts in addition to other email accounts that support the standard POP3 protocol. This process may take several hours – or even several days, depending on how many emails your own account contains – before it completes, but Gmail will gradually copy your old email account’s emails to your new account.

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For Outlook.com and Hotmail accounts, use the TrueSwitch wizard to import email from other accounts. Microsoft partnered with TrueSwitch for this feature.

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Yahoo! Mail doesn’t have an import function – although the paid Yahoo! Mail Plus does seem to. If you’re switching to Yahoo! Mail or another webmail system that doesn’t include an import feature, check out the Email Fetching section below.

Email Fetching & Send As

You’ll probably continue to receive some emails at your old email address after you switch. You don’t have to miss out on these, nor do you have to occasionally visit your old inbox to look for them. Instead, set up either email fetching or forwarding (see below for information on forwarding). With email fetching or forwarding, new emails send to your old email address will automatically appear in your new email inbox. Your old email account must be configured for POP3 access – some mail providers don’t offer this. For example, Yahoo! Mail charges for POP3 access, which is part of Yahoo! Mail Plus.

To set up Gmail’s mail fetching feature, click the Add a POP3 mail account you own link on the Accounts and Import tab.

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In Outlook.com, click the Sending/receiving email from other accounts link and click Add an email account.

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In Yahoo! Mail, select the Mail Accounts section in Options and click the Add button. You’ll be prompted to add your old email account.

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This Yahoo! feature can actually import existing emails from your old email account, provided that email is accessible over POP3. For example, if you wanted to switch from Gmail to Yahoo! Mail and import all your old email into Yahoo! Mail, you’d need to log into your old Gmail account, select the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab on Gmail’s settings screen, and select Enable POP for all mail. When you add your Gmail account to Yahoo! Mail’s Mail Accounts screen, Yahoo! Mail should begin to download all your old emails over POP.

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Note that you may have to log into your old email account regularly or some webmail providers will delete your old account and stop accepting emails.

Send Mail As

Following the steps above will also set up a “send mail as” feature in most webmail providers. While composing a new email message, you’ll be able to select an email address to send it from using the From box.

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If you’re using email forwarding instead of mail fetching (see below), you may want to enable this feature manually. You’ll generally find it on the same screen as the mail-fetching feature above.

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Email Forwarding

Depending on your email service, you may want to (or you may be forced to) use email forwarding instead of email fetching. When you use email fetching, your new webmail service will occasionally connect to your old email account and download new emails in its inbox. When you use email forwarding, your old email service will automatically forward incoming emails to your new account as they come in – you’ll receive emails sooner with mail forwarding. This requires support for mail forwarding in your old email service, but requires no special support in your new webmail service.

If you’re switching from a Gmail account, you’ll find the Add a forwarding address button under the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab on Gmail’s Settings screen.

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If your old account uses Outlook.com, which will eventually be rolled out to all Hotmail users, use the Email forwarding link on Outlook’s More mail settings screen.

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Yahoo! Mail charges for this feature – you’ll need Yahoo! Mail Plus to forward email.


Many other webmail providers should function similarly. They all want to make it easy for you to switch from your old email service to their webmail service.

If you’re interested in this subject, you should also check out the following articles, which guide you through combining all your email addresses into a single Gmail or Outlook.com inbox:

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/27/12

Comments (10)

  1. Beverly Margolis, Ph.D.

    Why anyone would not want their email on Gmail is beyond my ability to comprehend.. I started using it while still in beta and shouted HALLELUJAH! the day they started letting users delete email they did not want to archive.

    Here’s the thing…their spam filter is nothing short of incredible. Some spam gets through, but for the most part, most do not. I’ve not been told how to expand my “organ” in years (women don’t have that thing!). Plus, aside from being totally free, there is no need to pay for an external spam filter although I have to fork out for the only non-Gmail inbox I own. I can still pull up my first Gmails some what? five years ago? Or has it been longer.

    I’ve got, currently, three Gmail accounts and instead of having to switch from one to the other by clicking on my picture in the upper right hand corner of the screen, I just grab the icon in the title bar and drag it to the desktop. Now I can go from one to the other just by clicking on the shortcut icon on the desktop OR just copy the URL in the title bar and create a shortcut on the desktop. Dragging, however, is faster.

    With an incredible amount of FREE storage (five years and still going) what’s not to like. Why don’t I just use Outlook? Because I HATE OUTLOOK! Yes, I’m lazy, but most of the calendar stuff, etc. I’ve got on my Android phone. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a Google freak; if Google puts it out, I want it because it is going to work (as the old PaperMate commercial went) the first time, EVERY time. I have NEVER had Gmail to fail for me. I can’t say that about many other items on the market.

    -30-

  2. Carls

    Couple of nits: 1 dates are often messed up and 2 threade messages present lots of time-consuming decisions.

  3. r, Ph.D., BCJ , BHK, S.S.P.

    uhhh?…never used Gmail & now I probably never will.

  4. cam2644

    No mention of Zoho Mail?
    It has served me well for a few years now. No worries about tracking etc and as good as anyone in dealing with spam. Easy access to Docs,Calendar etc.Worth a look at.

  5. ozjohn

    Doesn’t anybody use Incredimail anymore ? Great desktop email client especially if used with gmail notifier !

  6. Ray Fletcher

    I want to import my gmail address book to my roadrunner email address book, there’s a whole bunch of choices of file format to create to convert the gmail address book to, I’m thinking the first choice which is; ms outlook (.csv), the other choices are; ms outlook express (.csv), palm desktop (.csv), netscape 7 (.csv), webedge 3 (.csv), webedge 2 (.csv). Which format do I use for gmail? And how is this accomplished? I appreciate any help you can give, Ray fletcher

  7. Mike Klubok

    This is a good how to for switching webmail providers. I have a question that is a variation on a theme. If anyone can help it would be much appreciated. I have multiple Gmail accounts. I have enabled one of them to check and retrieve email from my other Gmail accounts. Unfortunately not all of them get retrieved. Most are. Any thoughts as to why this is occurring. I have checked my email filters and it does not appear to be an issue here.

  8. GaGator

    Thanks for the article. I opened an Outlook acct to segregate biz comms from Google’s all-seeing eye.

    I notice that Goog is terminating the iGoogle home page next year. (Why is that, mommy?) I will miss this service and wonder if anyone has an alternative with similar config options and widgets. Yahoo’s doesn’t come close. Thanks again.

  9. Harvey

    Nice primer to the process. A table with import/forwarding features of each provider would be a good addition. And if the provider is generic (e.g. ISP) a link to a IMAP method could be useful.

    Note: If using POP to import from old mail accounts, only the inbox will be copied over. Use IMAP where you can.
    And for total security, use Thunderbird to do local backups. If using Yahoo, the Zimbra desktop can extract your Sent/other folders.

    Not tried TrueSwitch myself yet though..

  10. fallout330

    I felt the same way GaGater, why is Google getting rid of iGoogle. The integrated interface is very useful.

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