How I switched from Gmail to Outlook.com (and how you can too)

So long, Gmail, it was nice knowing you. After nearly a decade, I've finally moved my personal email away from Google's service. If you're considering doing the same, here's a step-by-step guide to help you set things up the right way.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

As I wrote in my last post, after nearly a decade, I've finally given up on Gmail. Last weekend, I moved several thousand messages to a new account at Outlook.com, leaving my once busy @gmail.com address as a plain-vanilla forwarder going to a more modern service, one that works effortlessly with all my devices.


A little background first.

My primary work email address is associated with my business domain and is hosted on an Exchange Server run by Intermedia. (I list the reasons why I made that choice in this post.)

I keep my personal mail separate from my work correspondence. Over the years I've accumulated a  collection of addresses on a variety of free email services: Hotmail and its successors; Yahoo (barely used); and, of course, Gmail. With this consolidation, all of those widely scattered addresses are now going to a single inbox, with an address hosted on a domain I own.

This post explains how I did it, and how you can do the same. Note that the steps I list here will work with any service, not just Outlook.com, although you'll have to dig around to find the corresponding settings for other services.

Step 1: Set up your new primary email address.

You can use a generic Outlook.com address if you want simplicity. I'm a firm believer in the value of owning one's own email address, though, even for personal mail. If you depend on an email address that someone else controls, you run the risk that the owner of that domain will suspend your account for a real or imagined infraction of their terms of service. If that account is on a free service run by a large corporation, good luck getting anyone's help in restoring your account.

The domain I use for personal email is registered with the Microsoft Custom Domains Admin Center, and I've set up my personal account as well as accounts for various family members there. To access mail from that account, I just go to Outlook.com and sign in with my personal email address. (If you want to do the same, follow the instructions in this post: Why I use Outlook.com for my custom email accounts (and how you can too.)

Step 2: Forward your Gmail account to the new address.

You'll find the forwarding options under the Settings menu in Gmail. After you log in to your Gmail inbox, click the gear icon in the upper right corner and then click Settings. On the Settings page, click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP heading to display the page shown here.


If you haven't set up a forwarding address yet, click Add a forwarding address and then enter the address you set up in Step 1. Gmail will send a confirmation message to that address with a link you need to click before forwarding is enabled.

Note that you have the option to keep forwarded messages in your Gmail inbox. I've chosen to delete Gmail's copy. As a result, the only messages that remain in Gmail are those that are classified as spam and filtered to the Junk folder.

(Note: It's possible to enable either POP or IMAP access on the Gmail account and then "pull" the messages from your primary account. I don't recommend this approach, because it introduces extra complexity and delays the receipt of mail sent to your secondary accounts. The only time to use this option is if you're consolidating messages from a POP or IMAP account where you are not the administrator and thus can't set up forwarding.)

Step 3: Set up Outlook.com to allow you to send messages from your Gmail account.

You can skip this step, but I recommend doing this for those occasions where you need to reply to a message using the address it was sent to. as email sending in Outlook.com.

To enable this feature, sign in to Outlook.com, click the gear icon in the upper right corner, and choose More mail settings from the menu. Under the Managing Your Account heading, click Your email accounts and then, from the bottom of the page, click Add a send-only account.


Enter your Gmail address and password and Outlook.com will set up the server addresses automatically. (To see the values it enters, click Advanced options.)

Note: If you've enabled two-factor authentication for your Gmail account, this setup step won't work properly with your regular Gmail password. You'll need to either disable the extra security or, better yet, generate an application-specific password. You'll find this option at the Google Accounts Security page.

Step 4: Remove any rules you've set up for your Gmail account.

If you've set up Gmail filters to automatically process messages by adding labels, you should remove those rules to avoid interfering with forwarding. You'll find them in Gmail Settings, under the Filters heading. (If you're the cautious type and you're trying forwarding as an experiment, you can either skip this step or export the filters to an XML file so you can restore them later.)

Step 5 (optional): Move your old Gmail messages into your new Outlook folder.

This step is a bit more difficult than it should be. If you use Outlook, you can set up your Gmail and Outlook.com folders side by side, but you can't drag messages between them. For that task, I used the decidedly unmodern Windows Live Mail, part of the Windows Essentials package.

Install the Windows Live Mail program and set up two accounts: your new primary account and the Gmail account you're migrating from. Wait for all your messages to download from each one (this can take a while if you have a lot of mail) and then drag messages out of the Gmail folder hierarchy and into the Outlook.com folders.

And you're done. Your @gmail.com address is still active and accepting incoming messages, and you can use that account to sign in for any Google services you still use. But your mail now comes to a single inbox.

Any questions?

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