A Quick Guide to Importing & Exporting Email Contacts

Gavin Phillips 19-04-2015

Late last year I had absolute nightmare with my email accounts after I messed up my web-host migration. The long and the short of this is that I lost a lot of emails, and a lot of the contacts associated with those emails, too. We back up our machines The Windows Backup and Restore Guide Disasters happen. Unless you're willing to lose your data, you need a good Windows backup routine. We'll show you how to prepare backups and restore them. Read More regularly, be it PC, Mac, iDevice or Android, but we’re not always so contentious about our individual pieces of software and their contextual data.


It’s always worth exporting your contacts 5 Easy Ways To Back Up Your Microsoft Outlook Data Read More and backing up emails. It’s a quick job that’ll save your bacon down the line.

Exporting Outlook Contacts

Head to File>Open & Export>Import/Export. In the dialogue box select Export to a File, followed by Comma Separated Values. The next screen allows you to scroll through your folders. Locate your Contacts folder, and enter a memorable name for your exported CSV file Quickly Edit CSV Files With Advanced Find & Replace Tools in Notepad++ Notepad++ is an extremely powerful (and free!) text editor. Its find and replace tools can do everything from a simple search and replace in a single file to a regular expression-based search and replace across... Read More .

Outlook ImportExport

You can click through the next field if you want, or alter the Custom Field settings. Fields are the name given to variables in your contacts list. If you want to export only a limited set of field parameters, press Clear Field. You can then add another set of fields. The image below gives you some useful business listings for your CSV file – you could then delete any listings in the CSV file without those matched parameters, but that’s another story.

Outlook Custom Field


Outlook also features two other export file formats How To Open Strange File Types In Windows Computers know thousands of different file formats. Sometimes, both you and Windows are clueless as to how to open a strange file. Here is how you can figure out how to open those files. Read More :

  • Offline Outlook Data File .ost: Most other email account types will export their messages and important data to a .ost file, including Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, Google Gmail, and IMAP accounts. Your vital information has been delivered too and saved on the mail server, whilst a synchronised copy is stored on your machine.

I’d never considered backing up my email archive before my webhosting debacle; now it’s once every other month, just to be sure. For those of you with limited mail server space 3 Ways To Free Up Storage Space In Your Gmail Account Google Mail currently offers 7,679 MB of free storage. For the average user, that is enough space to last a lifetime. But what if you run out of storage space nevertheless? How can you find... Read More , saving and deleting can free up some valuable bytes.

Importing Outlook Contacts

Importing contacts to Outlook is also a seamless task. Head back to File>Open & Export>Import/Export. You can import from a VCard, a .csv, a .txt, or a .pst, amongst others. Select Import from another program or file, followed by the file type of your choice. I’ll be using a .csv. The import wizard can then replace duplicates, or allow them to be replaced with the incoming contacts, or simply ignore the duplicates. Select the option correct for you.

Outlook Import CSV


Locate the contacts file you’ll be importing. The next screen asks for the destination folder. You should browse the available folders until you find Contacts. Select this, and press next. You’ll note the options to change the import fields, just as we could edit them when exporting our contacts. This time around we’ll stick with the default.

Exporting Gmail Contacts

Gmail contacts are less of an issue as they are maintained online. Still, it’s always handy to unify your contacts list between fragmented half conversations across multiple clients.

Sign into the Gmail account you’d like to export. Click the word Gmail in the top left corner, then Contacts. You’ll be whisked away to a new screen containing all your contacts from your Gmail, and potentially from your Android phonebook too, if that’s your preferred device. Select More to open the drop down menu – you should now see an option to Export your contacts.

Gmail Contacts


The dialogue box provides a number of selection options. You can export your entire contacts list How to Download Your Gmail MBOX Data and What to Do With It It's easy to download a copy of your Gmail data using Google Takeout. Here's what you can do with this backup of your emails. Read More , your starred contacts, your Google Circles contacts, or a list of your most frequently contacted. You can also build a custom contact list for export within Gmail by adding each record to a separate contact list. Do this by selecting each record, then heading to the contact options bar. You should be able to add them to a single group.

Gmail Export

Once you’re ready, select your export format. Unless your contacts are moving from one Google account to another, or you’re export to an Apple product, select the Outlook CSV format option. This uses a standardised format that you’ll be able to use with the majority of email clients. Save, and you’re done!

Importing Gmail Contacts

This process is very similar to export, except you show Gmail the file you want to import. Once inside the Gmail Contacts page, head for the same More button we pressed earlier, but this time select Import. You’ll be met with this dialogue box:


Gmail Import

Once you’ve select your file, press Import.

Exporting Thunderbird Contacts

Open the Address Book, situated on the top toolbar. Once open head to Tools>Export. This will bring up the Save As dialogue box. Thunderbird can export to .csv, .ldif, and .tab/.txt.

Thunderbird Export

I would choose either .csv, or .tab/.txt for your Thunderbird contact export, especially if migrating to Outlook. .ldif is supported by both Mozilla Thunderbird and Apple Address Books, but not Outlook. If you do come across a .ldif file type, or you do not have any software installed that can open it, a .ldif file can be converted into a .csv using freely searchable software.

Importing Thunderbird Contacts

To import contacts into Thunderbird select Import instead of export, and follow the onscreen dialogue options – you can’t really go wrong!

Voilà. Your address book should now be bursting with your loved ones and business associates.

Hope you’ll now feel confident importing and exporting contacts using Outlook, Gmail, and Thunderbird – but realistically, most import/export features are relatively universal across most email clients. Good luck!

Have we helped? What email client do you use? Let us know below!

Related topics: Contact Management, Data Backup, Email Tips, Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird.

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  1. R A Myers
    April 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Just in time! My primary laptop died. Was able to retrieve the Mozilla profiles. Now I'll be able to add the emails I've on my poor old Atom NetBook.

    Big Thank You!

    • Gavin
      April 20, 2015 at 12:59 am

      No problem, R A, glad we've helped out!

  2. ReadandShare
    April 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks for the pointers! Most of us have more than one email accounts. In my case, I have multiple gmail accounts. It's a good idea to export contacts info from our main email account and import them to a second account for backup purpose. I do this manually -- from time to time -- but would be real nice if there's a way to automate. Would also be nice if there's a way to duplicate our mail as well.