I’ve spent the weekend migrating the remainder of my online accounts that use my nearly 10 year old Gmail account to using my custom email domain. I mean after all, is there anything better to do during a pandemic like Covid-19?

tl;dr: Moving to Fastmail for custom domain email hosting for my primary email that was Gmail based after playing around with hosting myself, or email forwarding solutions.

Why move?

Perhaps Gmail is fine for you (and it served me well for many years), but over time moving away become more and more appealing to me.

One of the main reasons is it became concerning how dependent I was on Google in general. Ignoring the fact you accept Google to scrape your emails to monetize your data, if something were to happen where I lost control of my account, I would lose my ability to login/recover unrelated accounts. At first this was an acceptable risk, but with time other Google gripes started to pull me away.

Lately, I keep noticing general slowness as well as legitimate emails being flagged as spam, and even a few spam emails coming through as legitimate. I’m sure there’s probably guides out there on how to tune Gmail somewhat (maybe using another client via IMAP?) - but this was something I had not noticed in earlier years.

Added to this, being in the dominant position they are in, Google may simply change the limits for the free tier to the point where I’d need to pay to get the features I’d want anyway (unlikely, but they did similar to businesses for Google ReCaptcha). There’s also examples of Google (or YouTube) accounts getting deleted by bots for (either legitimately or falsely) breaching their ever-changing Terms of Service or obsoleting a product because it doesn’t add to the bottom line or fit within their vision.

My final gripe though, was with how I’d used my email name over the years when signing up on various websites. Until later years I didn’t get into the habit of using plus filters in the email to identify where the sender got my email from. (e.g. [email protected], where anything after + and before @ is ignored) While Google supports this, some sites don’t consider this as a valid email, so hit and miss at best.

This led me to try identify a solution that’d address this collection of small issues.

First Attempt ~2016-17 (self-managed)

A few years back I was playing around with a mailing list using GitHub student DigitalOcean credits to host a VPS running a mailserver. I tried a few different software variants until briefly settling on the only thing I could get working easily; Mailcow.

This was during my early days of working in IT, so I was inexperienced (read: naive) enough to not appreciate how difficult email actually is. Simple to blindly install following documentation, but complex to actually work flawlessly unless your idea of fun is dealing with authentication/signing problems, spamlists or troubleshooting to work out your VPS IP has been blacklisted from previous tenant misuse!

Although I could probably manage this today (and do for some work customers), just this experience quickly made me realize it’d be easier to have someone else worry about this, so stuck with my Gmail account - but the thought remained in the back of my mind.

Second Attempt 2017-2020 (email-forwarding)

At this point I had purchased my domain name and kept thinking about at least using this domain for emailing. On every reputable provider, this support was a paid service. Being the “who even pays for email” person I was, I looked into email forwarding options to at least give the appearance of having a custom email alias, when all I needed was to push all incoming emails to my Gmail account. This addresses my earlier aliasing gripe, allowing aliasing to filter and add rules based on sender/destination email.

I initially went with Mailgun for this who offer a fairly generous free tier with support for email forwarding. This ran for some time, and I was happy with their service until they changed their pricing model to the point where I may have started paying (although cents to dollars at most). This wasn’t really a big deal, just after crunching the numbers on alternatives and wanting to learn something new, I settled on running this myself again… kinda.

I stumbled about a GitHub repo about an AWS serverless stack for mail forwarding that based on my usage would sit within the AWS free tier. Following that documentation results in a stack that accepts emails sent to my custom domain using SES, storing the email to S3, which triggers a Lambda function that again sends the email to the target; my Gmail account. While I tweaked things a little bit, doing it this was gives the added benefit of backing up your emails which meant even if I lost Gmail access, I could dig it out from S3. (note: you probably would want to have some sort of lifecycle retention policies for S3/CloudWatch if you go down this path)

Both of these forwarding options work well in one direction, but a key limitation to me was there wasn’t any easy integration to then reply using my custom domain alias from the Gmail account without having to hack around with API calls to send the email, as apparently some financial institutions aren’t very keen on helping someone replying from another email address (thankfully so!)

Ultimately all this minor gripes mentioned so far led me to final solution.

Final Attempt 2020-onwards (fully managed)

After reading more and more tech blogs of people moving away from Gmail for similar reasons and being in a position to comfortably pay for this, I sat down and thought about what I’d want to actually move away for good, settling on:

  • Fair amount of storage (ideally 15-30GB, of which I’ve used 13GB in 10 years)
  • Custom email domain support and aliasing
  • Good/fast web and mobile app UI (with expected features like full-text search, and email rules)
  • Fully managed with resilient systems architecture!
  • Privacy features (from companies scraping data more so than sophisticated entities like Governments)
  • <$5/month AUD

There’s many options out there, but the commonly recurring ones I kept seeing pop up included; Protonmail, Fastmail, Zoho, Migadu and GSuite.

Protonmail seemed the most privacy focused (although online critique over whether truly accurate), Fastmail seemed the most feature focused (with some critique over changes to Australian privacy laws), Zoho seemed the most affordable (but seems to be similar flaws to my Gmail critisim, just Indian based), Migadu seemed great for hobbyists (but missing SLA’s and user friendly interfaces I’d want), and lastly didn’t even consider GSuite since I was moving to be away from Google… not to get back in bed with them.

After comparing these to my requirements, I settled on Fastmail. The $5/month USD plan (which works out to be about $5 AUD when paying for 1-3 years in advance discounted rate) currently offers 30GB storage, with great UI for both web and mobile, custom domain support with aliasing, a care for high availability, and a good privacy policy reflecting all my requirements.


So far my experience with Fastmail has been positive. It works as you’d expect and so far I have slept well knowing my data is in safe, non-snooping hands - one read through their technical blog shows just how passionate they are for email, even pioneering new protocols like JMAP to do so.

Reach out to me at [email protected] to test it 😊