Transfer via Imap


If you want to transfer mail from one account to another account, using IMAP is sometimes the best (or only) method available.

Why do it this way?

For example, if you want to transfer all of your email from a BGC GApps account to a regular Gmail account while retaining all of your message labels, then you will need to use this method (see below for full details). Another case where this method is helpful is if you are changing email providers, such as from a conventional BGC account or a Yahoo account, to another service provider.

Client as go-between

The overall idea is to use email client software as an intermediary between the two email accounts. Typically this is done by installing the email software on a desktop or laptop computer, or using existing client software on your PC such as Outlook or Apple Mail. (Using a tablet such as an iPad, Galaxy Tab or Nexus 7 should also work, though we haven’t tried it.)


Install an email client on your PC, or locate an existing one (e.g. Mozilla Thunderbird).
Configure the source email account (i.e. the old one). See IMAP example setup for details. Gmail users should see the note below about enabling IMAP.
Use the same method to configure the destination email account (i.e. the new one) so that your email program allows you to view both accounts.
Transfer the mail, usually by opening folders and selecting and dragging messages, from the old account to the new account.


1. Follow the IMAP example setup instructions to configure your source (old) and destination (new) accounts in Thunderbird.
2. Create a new folder to hold the messages from you source account.
3. Make the new folder a local folder (i.e. will be stored on your PC, not the server) and label it clearly. Do this by selecting “Local folders” under “Create as a subfolder of”. Then click “Create Folder”.
4. Select all of the messages in the source folder (e.g. your old Inbox) by selecting the source folder and then choosing Edit > Select > All from the application menu. You can also select the source folder and use the keyboard command CTRL + A (on a PC), or Command + A (on a Mac).
5. Use the application menu to select the new folder as the copy destination: Messages > Copy To > Local Folders > [your new folder]. This copies the messages from your old account to your PC.
6. Select all of the copied messages in the new folder and use the application menu again to copy them to your destination account: Messages > Copy To > [destination account] > [destination folder].
7. Repeat steps 2–6 for all of the folders that you wish to copy from the source account to the destination account. For example, if you are copying an entire account you may wish to create local copies of Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Trash, Spam/Junk as well as any folders you created manually. Creating a local copy is the safest way to transfer messages, and is highly recommended.

8. Once you have moved all of your messages you can remove the source (old) email account from the email client. In Thunderbird go to the application menu and select: Tools > Account Settings > [source account], then select Account Actions > Remove Account > Ok. This will not delete your account from the server, it will simply remove it from the email client on your computer.

Note that while you do not have to create local folders and copy your messages there first, we recommend that you do it this way because it minimizes the chances of server interruptions causing copy problems with your messages. An additional benefit is that you will have a copy of your transferred messages on your PC for safekeeping until you are sure that your message transfer process is completed to your satisfaction.


Gmail users migrating from a Gmail account (whether to another Gmail account or another provider) will need to make sure that IMAP is enabled on the source account before proceeding with the IMAP transfer method. To do this, log in to Gmail and navigate to [cog icon] > Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP > IMAP Access > Enable IMAP.

How to migrate email from one Gmail account to another — a Lifehacker post from April, 2010 that provides details about using the IMAP transfer method on two Gmail accounts and how to preserve labels.