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Import Apple Mail to Thunderbird

Importing mail from Apple’s isn’t built into to Thunderbird. That’s a major oversight I think, however the work-around isn’t that bad. There are a dozen steps or so, but really, it’s not hard.

This works for folders that are considered ‘On My Mac’ in Apple’s aka ‘Local Folders’ or inboxes, outboxes, sent boxes whatever. Remember, that if you have IMAP mail, or your mail is all stored on a server somewhere, this is all not necessary. Set up Thunderbird and it’ll import all that stuff on the server. This tutorial imports email from local folders that are saved on your actual hard drive.

First things first, back up your mail! This is very important because loosing anything sucks. Second, get Thunderbird and get you account all set up.

All set up? Wonderful! Now there are two things to consider. Are you importing the inbox? Or a folder? Each way is similar, just slightly different. If importing the inbox, sent, or other main boxes, you won’t have to create folders. Just basically follow the instructions below. If you need help, let me know.

Lets import a folder. For the example my folder is called George

1) Create new local folder in Thunderbird called George
2) Quit Thunderbird
3) Go to Home -> Library -> Mail -> Mailboxes -> George
4) Right Click on the file named George.mbox and choose ‘Show Package Contents’
5) Find the file named just mbox, copy it to the desktop and re-name it George

6) Open a new finder window
7) Go To Home -> Library -> Thunderbird -> Profiles -> [your profile] -> Mail -> Local Folders
8) Find the file called George (no extension) and overwrite it with the George file from step #5

9) Start Thunderbrid.
10) Done

When you click on the George folder all the emails will appear. They’ll all be marked read so you’ll have to sort though that. However, they’ll all have their attachments still there which is nice!

I think that covers it. Let me know if you have questions or issues. 🙂

Note: This worked fantastic for me on 10.3.9 and Thunderbird 1.0.x. Should work in 10.4.x also.

49 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    As I understand it, this won’t work with the latest version of Mail for Tiger, because it no longer uses the mbox format. Each individual email is stored separately on the disk.

  2. Thomas says:

    You're right. What a crock.

  3. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the tip!

  4. Check this out:

    I have not used it but wish I had before bringing all my backup mail hoping to open it with Thunderbird on my business trip :S

  5. Eric says:

    How does one go about doing this these days with Mail 2.0.7?


  6. Thomas says:

    Check out Mozilla’s forms. I bet there is an answer there.

  7. Larry says:

    Recently migrated to Thunderbird using the program on this link:

    Use this to convert emxl to the mbox format that it talks about in the instructions above. The only thing I would change is the creation of folders before the fact. It is not necessary to create and overwrite the folders like it says in the instructions. Just rename the mbox file and pop it in the Local Folders and Thunderbird will recognize it and give it’s own folder automatically when it restarts.

  8. Thomas says:

    Great tip Larry!

  9. Stefania says:

    I want to migrate from apple mail v2.1 to a flash drive with U3 technology that I have installed Thunderbird Mail v1.5 for U3 on windows platform. Will theses tips on converting the emlx files to mbox files on an apple platform will work?

    I’ve looked everywhere for support for the U3 tech and can’t find any.

  10. cathy says:

    I am having a problem with the emails just disappearing after import them. I used the converter mentioned above. The box appears in the local folder. But when I apply filters or move emails they vanish.

    (note: but if I open the file in thunderbird/profiles/mail/local I can see the emails…)

    Ideas? Suggestions?

  11. Duncan says:

    Christian, Larry etc.: the link to emlxtomboxconverter seems to be broken, and I can’t find this program on Apple’s site. Any ideas where it’s gone, or if there is some new way to import Mail mailboxes into Thunderbird?

  12. Ether says:

    It’s at “”

  13. Alan says:

    Hi. I am trying to figure how, or if it is possible, to import Apple Mail mailboxes into a WINDOWS version of Thunderbird (or any other windows email program, for that matter.) Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Gratefully yours,


  14. Thomas says:

    Alan, I’d suggest installing Thunderbird or Entourage and converting them to that first on the Mac. Then those files will probably be more PC compatible than files.

  15. Alan says:

    Thanks Thomas. Your suggestion makes sense. Unfortunately, I am now back in a land (South Asia) where there are almost no Apple machines, so I’ll have to wait a while before I can do the initial transfer to Thunderbird that you suggest. But when I discover an Apple machine to work with, I’ll give your idea a try.

  16. Thomas says:

    Alan, I’d also suggest checking out or Apple’s support forums.

  17. markie says:

    I was able to use the cosmicsoft converter posted right above your question, to convert the backed up mail files to mbox, and then follow the directions in the main post. Worked really well, which was a relief since I had backedup my entire MacBook drive and then formatted it cause I had to send the machine back to my former employer. Thunderbird is the closest option to, but I hadn’t backed up my boxes, so I was stuck with the individual EMLX files. Man that was getting frustrating. Thanks to everyone who posted information, btw..

  18. Czarrar says:

    Another way to convert file is detailed at the mozilla thunderbird faq site:

    Basically, you select all the messages. say file save as and save as raw messages. this will save all the selected files in the mbox format.

  19. Thomas says:

    Thanks Czarrar! Nice to see updated info from Mozilla.

  20. Liam O'Brien says:

    This link is down: . I would really like to get a copy of this converter. Can someone send me a copy? or tell me where I can get it.I am having problems with using SSL with Apple Mail (2.1.1) and want to switch to Thunderbird. I am using OSX10.4.11

  21. schmunzelmonster says:
    Ether published that further up in this thread, it didnt appear as link for some reason. worked fine, I checked.

  22. carlos says:

    Hi, thanks for info ! Worked great !!!!!

    Best regards from Spain


  23. dc says:

    Here is one try in Python to make a small converter script that generates Thunderbird folder structures and mbox files from Apple 2 and 3 emlx formats…

    If you have ideas and suggestions how to extend this and make it a bulletproof script, let me know.


  24. Cirrus says:

    I just had to migrate an mbox from Mail 2 to Thunderbird 2. The Google search led me here, but I found that there is a much simpler solution around:

    ImportExportTools for Thunderbird 1.0-3.0a2pre,

    also available in English.

    Works like a charm.

  25. manitou says:

    and how do you get that last link in english?
    ImportExportTools for Thunderbird 1.0-3.0a2pre,

  26. Joe Strout says:

    Holy cows — this has been a problem for over three years (judging from the comments here), and Thunderbird STILL doesn’t import Apple Mail directly?

    That’s ridiculous. What do they think their potential users (on the Mac) are going to be converting FROM? I bet 90% or more of them are using Apple Mail. All my friends and colleagues use Macs, and all of them use Apple Mail, except for me (and I just switched two days ago when Mail finally freaked out on me).

    I wonder how many users TB is losing because they try it, immediately discover that they “can’t” convert their existing mail archives, and then drag TB to the trash?

  27. gruuuu says:

    Joe, in which way did Apple Mail freak out on you?

    I did all the conversion and still find that apple mail is most useful, especially in searching, which is terribly slow in tbird – but I’d appreciate to know what I’m potentially risking.


  28. Mike says:


    Quit Thunderbird
    Go to Mail
    Select All messages in some folder
    File>Save As>Raw Message Source
    Save it to the desktop
    Drag this file into Library/Thunderbird/Local Folders/
    Open Thunderbird

    Adding the .MBOX suffix was the missing step for me. Woo hoo!

  29. JR says:

    Does it have to go into LOCAL folders? Can you drag it into one of your named account folders? I mean when TB is open I have 3 accounts showing for my ISP then below them is the “Local folders” . Can it go into the account name where most of mail from someone used to go to in Mac Mail? a side question, I wish all the IN BOXES in TB were in ONE place instead of an IN BOX underneath every single account name, so I have to keep arrow facing down to see IN box to go to it faster. Maybe it’s in some settings, which is too hard to go thru and understand, so thanks ahead for help!

  30. JR says:

    P.s. re above quick fix- you said path is: Library/Thunderbird/Local Folders/
    but on my Mac 10.4.11 and TB the location for LOCAL folders is:

    ~(my home folder)/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/xxxx.default(this folder name has alot of numbers and letters before the “.default”, so not sure why this ex shows something like: 34v5bsf4.default)/Mail/Local folders
    …so I don’t know how your Local folder was in that faster-to-find area-ha..
    …also re my second question in previous post, in my same path above where MY LOCAL FOLDERS is listed are the following folders, so how can I tell which of these is for which account name as they show this:,,
    ..and after finding out which of the above go with which accounts, maybe then I could just drag that newly made .mbox(from mac mail folder) into one of those folders on TB instead of LOCAL folder, right or not?
    Tks everyone for trying to understand what I’m having hard time of putting into words and helping me out!

  31. Mike says:

    I’m not sure, try moving it into your
    ~(my home folder)/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles/34v5bsf4.default/Mail/Local folders/

  32. Thomas says:

    Another think you can try is creating the folder in Thunderbird, then it’ll create the folder on your computer so you know where to put stuff.

  33. Lodewijk says:

    Thanks for this description.
    It does the job for Thunderbird mail folders copied from another machine as well.

    I was in fact very much surprised when I could not import mail from another Thunderbird mail folder into the program by function in the program itself.
    A pity, because things like that make Thunderbird a little bit too nerdy for the common user.

  34. zefixllua says:


    please be aware that the latest version of Thunderbird 3.0 offers the possibility to import mailboxes as a builtin functionality (go to tools->import).

  35. CurtJ says:

    Zefixllua is indeed correct. Thunderbird 3 will import your mailboxes, but be aware that it is only the OSX version (currently) that supports this functionality.

    Useful for ‘switchers’ like me, who are salvaging what they can from OSX and moving over to Windows 7, having the luxury of both operating systems to take advantage of this.

    If you do have both systems, once you have imported you messages into OSX Thunderbird, download and install the Thunderbird add-on ImportExportTools as described above, and use it to export your messages from OSX Thunderbird to somewhere that can be accessed by Windows Thunderbird (running the same add-on). You can then import them to your Windows Thunderbird and retain the folder structure too.

    I did notice that it asked for confirmation of each subfolder when importing – slightly bothersome as I imported about 40 folders, so I had to sit through the import. It also added a random (3 digit) number on the end of each folder name which I had to trawl through. And, a low percentage of messages had been reset to unread status, but that doesn’t take long to fix. Otherwise, all is well.

    Good luck.

  36. Shyama says:

    I have got latest version of both T-bird and Mail for Leopard and am having problems converting. I moved my mail from Outlook on a PC to TB PC and thought moving from TB PC 2 TB Mac would be easy but it was a nightmare even after reading about so many work-arounds some weird little glitch inside TB would not allow me to import my 350 k emials. Finally using “Eudora Mailbox Cleaner” (free app) I was able to import from TB PC to Apple Mail without losing any emails for 350,000 emails and hundreds of folders (most of these emails belong to archives of lists that I belong to and I keep as references). I was impressed with it.

    Now I thought that I have all my mail on Apple Mail it will be a breeze to export them to T-bird Mac 3.0 using the built in Mail importer. Wrong. TB does not import “On my Mac” folders which is where all my files are. So it is completely useless. It doesn’t ask you where to look in Apple Mail and makes (wrong) assumptions as to what mail you want imported.

    I will spend a few more hours on it, if I can’t solve the problem I am trashing TB as a piece of junk. It could not import files from TB PC or from Apple Mail. I wanted to try both TB and Apple Mail to evaluate them before making a final choice but finding how difficult it is to work with TB regarding import/export is an evaluation in itself so far TB sucks.

  37. Abed says:

    I would now like to know WHY this worked on my Ubuntu system. Is it just the case that Thunderbird will only correctly open the mail box files in the local folders directory? I just don’t understand why I couldn’t open this from any other directory, and why I had to overwrite the folder, etc.

    Thanks for the tip.

  38. Sandy says:

    Since I stumbled across this trying to import from Apple Mail to Thunderbird and it helped me figure out the best way on Lion, I thought I’d share my results:

    Make sure Thunderbird is closed

    In Apple Mail:
    Click on the folder(s) that you want to import to Thunderbird
    Click Mailbox/Export Mailbox
    Select a temporary destination (e.g. “old mail files” on your desktop)

    (note…on Lion, the Library isn’t visible so open a new finder window and hold down the option key while you select “Go” and “Library” will magically appear)
    Go to Library –> Thunderbird –> Profiles –> nsz3ebin.default (at least it is on my computer) –> Mail –> (or whatever the desired account is) –> Inbox.sbd (if you don’t have an Inbox.sbd folder, open Thunderbird and create a new folder in your inbox (File/New/Folder) and then close Thunderbird)

    For each mailbox folder that you are trying to import, drag the mbox from the Apple Mail export folder (e.g. “old mail files” on your desktop) to the Inbox.sbd folder and rename it to the folder that you are trying to import.

    Open Thunderbird and your folder should show up

    Repeat the drag for each mailbox.

    If you have subfolders, you will have to do those individually at the same level as the main folders and then drag them into the correct folders in Thunderbird. I had to go back t Apple Mail and export all my subfolders one at a time.

  39. simone says:

    you’re a GENIUS!

  40. LisaLouWho says:

    I tried this and it worked by putting the folder there but there are no contents showing up. Also, I was unable to rename in the finder window. I feel like I am close but still now working. Can anyone help?

  41. fred troiano says:

    As you can see from my address , that is who receives my email which is then sent to apple mail.
    I never use embarqmail, I use apple to receive and send. Now I wish to have specific mail sent to me at Thunderbird and respond from same, but not to Apple. How can I make that happen.
    Fred Troiano

  42. Jim Borden says:

    awesome-works perfectly!!!! Love MAC’s but there mail subfolder system sucks compared to Thunderbird.

  43. Zack says:

    This still works in Snow Leopard. Thank you!

  44. scramjat says:

    Still works in Mavericks!

  1. 4/20/2007

    […] Then I selected “Tools / Import” from the menus, selected the “Mail” radio button, clicked “Next”…and discovered that Thunderbird doesn’t know how to import mail from Oh great. A little Googltime later, I had import instructions from TwisterMC (be sure to check the comments for info needed if you’re running the latest MacOS X), had my copy of emlxconvert, and started converting mail folders…of which I have about a googol. […]

  2. 5/15/2007

    […] How to mport Apple Mail to Thunderbird […]

  3. 11/30/2007

    […] Apple Mail > Mac Thunderbird […]

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