How to transfer ALL your e-mail to Gmail (even if it’s in folders)

I recently helped my mother with switching over to Gmail. She has always used the webmail service from our webhost with an e-mail adress at (she runs a dutch PR consultancy) but the webmail service had been buggy lately. Setting up Gmail to receive e-mail from another account with POP3 access is easy but I was getting worried when I noticed the mail that she had put in folders wasn’t coming through. When I went googling for a clue I found the Gmail answer to this problem:

You’re only receiving mail from the inbox of your other account and not from any folders. Each webmail provider determines which messages to make available for POP download and sends a list of the messages to Gmail. Since Gmail can’t retrieve any messages that aren’t on the list, we suggest contacting your other provider to learn about alternatives.

I didn’t really feel like doing it this way, it meant waiting for our hosting provider to respond and everything. Plus I wasn’t convinced that Gmail would automatically label the messages with the folder name. So I had to come up with another solution.

Gmail allows you to access your e-mail through IMAP which means that you can access your mail with a standard desktop e-mail client like Mozilla Thunderbird. Every change you make in Thunderbird (such as deleting a message) will reflect in your Gmail as well (in contrast to making changes with POP3 access). Our hosting company provides IMAP access as well. What I did was the following:

I turned on IMAP access in Gmail and configured Thunderbird so I could access my mother Gmail (read all about it). Then I created another account in Thunderbird to access her mailbox at our hosting provider (the one the still held some mail in folders). After doing this I could easily create folders for Gmail in Thunderbird (Gmail converts them to labels automatically) that match the folders at our hosting provider. After that I could simply drag and drop all the mail from the hosting provider to Gmail (hold [CTRL] while dragging and dropping to copy instead of move). Voila!

This way all the e-mail that was archived in folders at our hosting provider now appears under matching labels in Gmail.

26 thoughts on “How to transfer ALL your e-mail to Gmail (even if it’s in folders)

  1. @Ronak Zegt
    Thanks for sharing Beyond Inbox here. My H.O.D got redeployed and I had to move 7 official folders from his personal mail address to our department’s. Beyond Inbox made it a breeze. Thanks for sharing this link.

  2. I had the same problem, as I was leaving a job and losing access to its email, which had IMAP access but not POP. I wanted to save many of my emails (not all) and move them into Gmail.

    Using Thunderbird, I moved all the emails I wanted to keep into Local Folders (which go into a roaming Thunderbird profile). I then copied the Local Folders part of that roaming profile onto a portable hard drive, which I took home. I set up Gmail via Thunderbird, copied the folders I had saved into the Local Folders part of that profile on my home machine, and then I had access to move them about to my heart’s content.

    The beauty of this solution is that Thunderbird is free!

  3. I was thrilled to chance on your web page but was dismayed by my inability to understand anything at all.

    I am a grandmother. I have been with for the past 16 years . Over time I have collected hundred of emails from my kids to my grand kids etc.

    Recently I created a gmail account and want to import all my numerous folders and sent folder to my gmail account. I managed to configure the incoming emails but have not a clue how to import the folders.

    Please help.

    Azra Buttar

  4. I’m not at all an expert on this (typical user/looser), but search for a solution somehow in this field, but differently, it seems:
    I work with thunderbird, read and store my mails on my local machine. In this way I in fact created a work-archive of docs and mails on many subjects covering many (6) years.
    When travelling I use the tablet mail-programme, which allows me to access my new mails, but not to access mails of the local “archive” (present and past).
    The solution I search for would be a cloud mail storage to where I could upload my whole thunderbird profile (including all mails present and past), preferably with automatic sync.
    Any suggestions? My thunderbird archive etc is about 6-7 gig big…

  5. Well this works a treat.
    Assume Account1 to Account2
    1. Create email accounts in Thunderbird (does not matter which one is first, in my case, I created account2 before I created account 1)
    2. Wait for Thunderbird to finish with downloading all of the email (That is why you are better creating the account1 first and open and close Thunderbird a few times to ensure everything has been downloaded)
    3. Highlight all of the folders you want to copy in account1 and copy to account2, remember to drop in the folder icon, the one on top of the email folder, do not drop in the Gmail folder, otherwise you will have IMAP/folder in Gmail account.

  6. I realize that you have to get Thunderbird run for many times to download all of your messages, what I have done is keep clicking on Get messages button to force it reads all of the messages.

    At this point everything is on autopilot. Thunderbird will continue to check your email every minute and download new messages bit by bit. Here is one of the quirks of POP downloading, each batch will be roughly 400-600 messages in size. You’ll never see a massive download of all your email at one time. Be prepared, if you have a big account, to leave it running for awhile. In the case of our test account it took 37 batches to download all 17,000+ emails dating back almost a decade.

    I found out it is the same with IMAP

  7. Love the article. One of the few that addresses this problem.

    However, if you’re looking to move your email into Google Apps rather than a personal Gmail account (like many people I’ve seen asking), there are even better options. Google has its online email import tool, but it causes lots of people problems before they even get started. However, they also have their Microsoft Exchange migration tool (GAMME), which, it turns out, allows you to migrate from a regular IMAP server, not just Exchange.

    Google GAMME, then give Google Apps support a call (it’s free- included in your subscription). They’ll walk you through the whole thing in a few minutes, and it will run unattended until it’s done. It’s a great tool.

  8. Excellent article. 4 years later and I still found this info very helpful in moving mail from an old webmail account to Google. Thanks very much!

  9. I came across this article for the very reason it was written, Trying to find a way to move my Comcast messages. I am not sure if this was written for Mac users but just wanted to mention that this same principle works using the native mail app on OSX. I have tested it and it work perfectly. A really simple solution for a problem many of us have. Thanks for the info, some of us might be smacking ourselves i the head saying, “Why didn’t I think of that” LOL :-). Thank you again for the article, as the user above stated 4 years later and working great.

  10. I am moving to a state and area that does not offer Comcast service. I need to transfer all my email including folders from my Comcast email account to my gmail account. How do I do that?

  11. Sadly, this didn’t work for me. Thunderbird would just choke and freeze after a few hours (we are talking about 40000 message here…)

    1. There’s nothing automatic about it, really, it’s more of a drag and drop operation. As if you’re transferring files on your computer.

  12. Yahoo no longer accepts popforward from anything other than yahoo, google, aol (?!?) or outlook account. My personal business domain for years used yahoo as a landing page for our company. Clients could email our company and were none the wiser that our .com email actually emailed to a yahoo site. As of 3/31/17 it will be unavailable to use for email popforward. This is forcing us to popforward to google. We have YEARS worth of correspondence we need. (almost 15) How to I keep these emails (which are all beautifully sorted in folders) if I choose to move to Google?

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