[HOWTO] Inbound Faxes Without a Fax Machine

Category: Fax

A reader asks: 'Once in a while I need to receive an inbound fax, but I don't have a fax machine. Going to Staples, a friend's houe, or the local print shop to pick up a fax is a nuisance, and nothing is private there. Is there some way to get incoming faxes on my computer, but still have a real phone number that people can use to send faxes to me? Oh, and free is nice...' The answer is YES -- and here's how to get your own free fax number...

Get a FREE Inbound Fax Number and Receive Faxes for Free

Ever since the invention of email, fax machines have been a messy, wasteful nuisance. In some cases, old-school faxing is still required for medical, legal or financial documents. But some offices stubbornly cling to this obsolete technology for exchanging documents, in spite of digital alternatives that are free. (If you deal with someone like that, send them my article 7 Reasons to Trash Your Fax Machine.)

Yes, you can get inbound faxes delivered to you electronically, for free, without a fax machine in your home or office. There are several ways to get a free fax number that will forward incoming faxes to you via email or web, and the senders will never know you don't have a real fax machine. Fax machines are so 1985... free online faxing (both inbound and outbound) is the way the cool kids do it now. :-)

FaxBetter offers a free toll-free fax number to anyone. No credit card is required to sign up. Faxes are received in your email inbox as a PDF attachment. That's pretty standard, but what separates FaxBetter is that all faxes received are OCRed. This means the actual text from the fax is extracted by Optical Character Recognition software and is then embedded into the body of the email, thus making the email searchable in your email program (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.). The free service has some limitations: 50 incoming pages per month, and enough online storage space for around 1,000 pages. You also must receive a fax every 7 days to keep your free toll free fax number. But you can still retrieve your incoming faxes on the FaxBetter website. You could send yourself a fax once a week to keep the free service alive, but that's kind of a nuisance. A paid FaxBetter account ($5.95/month) gives you a number that never expires, and also the ability to send outbound faxes in Word, Excel, JPG, PDF, HTML, or text format.

Free inbound faxing

FaxBurner gives you a free fax number that forwards incoming faxes to your email. It can also direct inbound faxes to your iPhone, iPad or Android mobile device. Yes, your inbound fax number is free. But there are some limits. You can receive up to 25 inbound pages, and more importantly, your fax number goes POOF! after 24 hours. You can upgrade to a premium plan to keep your number, or just request a new free fax number whenever you need one. Because of that, I'd recommend this service only for people who need to receive a fax on rare occasions. On the upside, FaxBurner's free service lets you send a fax as well (up to 5 pages) using email or their mobile apps.

If you're looking for a free OUTBOUND faxing service that's free and requires no fax machine, check out my companion article Send a Free Fax for the scoop on free Internet faxing.

eFax is another well known online fax service. They offer a free 14-day trial account which allows you to send or receive up to 150 pages. A mobile app is also available. You can choose a fax number in your local area code, or go with a toll-free number in the 800, 888, or 877 area code. A credit card is required to sign up, and you'll need to cancel within 14 days to avoid any charges.

Finally, I should mention that Windows has a Fax and Scan app that lets you to send and receive faxes. You can use it to send documents directly from Word or other Windows programs. Incoming faxes are displayed on screen, and can be filed or printed. The downside is that your computer must have a dial-up fax modem, and your computer must be connected to a phone line. You also have to make sure the Fax and Scan app is running when your inbound fax arrives. So obviously it's less than ideal.

Almost Free, But Maybe Better

My favorite inbound fax service is Faxaway. This company has been in business since 1995 and despite their "Web 0.9" website, the service is rock solid. Sign up for a Faxaway account and it will allow you to receive faxes and voicemails via your email account. The only catch is that it's not quite free, but it is really cheap. There is a small account maintenance charge of $1 monthly, which you pre-pay in $10 increments. But here's why I think that's a bargain: Unlike the other free inbound faxing services listed here, there's no limit to the number of inbound faxes you can receive, and your Faxaway number will never expire.

Like the other services, Faxaway gives you a real fax number that you can give to anyone who wants to send a fax to you. When that fax number receives an inbound fax, Faxaway answers the call, saves the fax as a TIF image, and forwards it on to your email address. I don't care if they do it with computers, pigeons or monkeys -- it just works every time. The only downsides are no OCR capability, and you probably won't get a local fax number. Mine is in a Seattle area code, and I'm in New York, but that's never been a problem for me. I've had a Faxaway account for many years, and have always enjoyed the service without any interruptions.

I live out of my inbox, so it's nice to be able to search and refer back to faxes I received a while ago. Oh, and I get to choose whether or not they are printed. If you've ever come home and found 100 junk faxes piled on the floor beneath your fax machine, unplug that beast and make the switch to email-based incoming faxes.

In addition to Faxaway, eFax and the others mentioned in this article, there are other fax-to-email services, some of which offer free trials. I can't personally recommend any of those because I have not used them. If you've found one that you like, feel free to post a comment below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Inbound Faxes Without a Fax Machine"

Posted by:

18 Jun 2020

I have been using online fax services for many years. I probably don't need my paid service anymore (myfax) since I probably got or sent maybe 2 faxes last year. There are still some companies (banks, medical providers) which don't trust email but will trust a fax!

Years ago, I had a dedicated phone line for my fax machine which cost me more per month for the phone line than the online fax service. And I have been able to keep the same fax number for 20 years.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
18 Jun 2020

If you have a land-line but no fax-modem, a simple RJ45-USB modem like my old TrendNET TFM-561U will let you send and receive faxes without even opening your desktop box.
Atound $17 on Amazon.com.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2020

I use NextivaFax. They port your fax number and cost is only about$60 per year.

Posted by:

Don Casebier
18 Jun 2020

I have an Epson 4730 series printer-fax. does great at sending. have never tried receiving so do not know if it will do it without me being present. good machine. In expensive but I use LD products or Double Ink which works well in printer.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2020

Could you please update this article adding privacy of service evaluations?

Posted by:

James Black
19 Jun 2020

I don't do much faxing, but when I do I like MIGHTYFAX for both sending and automatic receiving. All you need is the program on your computer and be connected to a phone line. I think that you pay for the program now, but was distributed free many years ago. Does everything that I need it to do.

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