Handling Finances and
Mail while Cruising

Brian & Mary Alice O'Neill
Shibui Chronicles: Circumnavigation of the World
November 1992 - June 1997

We are often asked how we handled our finances and mail when cruising? Tough answer, since what works for us may not work for your situation. That said, we will attempt to provide some guidelines and food for thought.   


Who wants to be burdened with sorting out financial problems half-way around the world? 
It is time consuming, expensive and often when you think things are taken care of - they aren't.  Besides, you are out there to enjoy the sunshine, snorkeling and meeting the people.  You don't want to spend time on this stateside stuff. Case in point: two years after we departed on our cruise we had to change our mailing address   We wrote to the banks, credit card companies, securities, tax collectors and the myriad of high tech organizations to notify them of the change.  We wrote and wrote - in some cases it took over a year for them to make the change.  We found that letters just do not get the action of a phone call.  Fortunately we had our financial affairs automated, so the bills got paid. We found automatic payments for house payments, property taxes, and insurance worked.  Creditors like to do business this way and rarely make mistakes.  Same way with income deposited directly to your account. Debit cards ie. Visa, Mastercard work world-wide, but only in the cities. You won't find a bank much less an ATM  in many parts of the world.  However, the good news- in these places you won't be spending much,  so no big deal.  Its still a good idea to carry a supply of traveler's checks and some cash stashed away onboard - just in case. We found the American Express card to be especially helpful as we could write a personal check up to $2,500 at any of their offices.  Also, The American Express offices will receive and hold mail for you.   

Getting Mail: 

You will most likely need to employ a mail service or make arrangements with a family member or friend to handle this function.  Make certain that it is someone you trust.  We have used both a family member and mail service,  There are advantages and disadvantages to both arrangements. It is difficult using a mail service to get the personal service you need. We did not want junk mail, catalogs (except West Marine) sent.  Therefore, it was necessary for the mail service to sort and make decisions as to what was important to us.  Not an easy job for someone who does not know you.  There are some small businesses that specialize in handling mail and financial affairs for cruising sailors.  Many of the sailing magazines such as Latitude 38, 48 North, and Santana  carry ads for businesses providing these services.  Our advice is to investigate carefully and see if they will really meet your needs.  Will they sort mail, handle finances, track down and forward boat parts and generally follow instructions?  Do they have the necessary communications network such as 24 hour message service, email and FAX? We were fortunate in having a family member handle our mail.  We had him open all business mail and check for anything that might require his, or  our, immediate attention.  It was a time consuming job and we owe him big time. We usually planned ahead as to where we would receive our mail and  had it sent 3 weeks before our arrival.  Usually to an American Express Office. It is possible to receive mail at the Port Captain, a yacht club, or general delivery at the post office.  All of these methods can be used, but be careful.  General Delivery at the Post Office requires that you be able to speak the language well enough to get your mail.  Many Port Captains and yacht clubs keep mail for yachts in transit.  However, the mail gets thumbed through many times a day and mail gets lost or misplace.  We have used these methods successfully,  but reluctantly.  Having mail sent by FEDEX or DHL is expensive but traceable.  It is usually best to check with the local agents first to determine if there will be problems with customs or other official headaches.  I hope this will give you some food for thought as you begin planning your voyage and nailing down all the details that are so important once you cut the dock lines.  If you have any questions let us know and we will get back to you. 

Happy Sailing  
Brian & Mary Alice O'Neill  
Yacht Shibui  


Cruise to Shibui Circumnavigation 

The Continuing Voyages of "Shibui" 

Choosing a Cruising Sailboat