Of No Fixed Abode

Ahhh the dream of sailing off in to the sunset is so appealing to me. Your yacht home located right on the water, commanding views that land dwellers pay millions of dollars for. And when you get tired of one spot, you simply weigh the anchor and head off somewhere new.

But being so mobile creates problems of its own. For starters – what is your address?

In this day and age, it is common to get most of your mail (aka bills) in your email in-box as opposed to the traditional letterbox at the end of the driveway. So is not having a mailing address really still such an issue?

Well yes…

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There are still plenty of institutions that require some kind of physical address before they will open an account for you/give you credit/let you in to the country/allow you to vote, that kind of thing.

The reality is that society expects people to have an address and if you don’t have one then you are considered as a homeless person.

I used to work for a Member of Parliament, assisting our constituents with their issues relating to Government Departments. Many problems arose when they didn’t give that particular Department the information they required to tick all the boxes on their forms. If you don’t complete something on the form – like an address, then your application for a work permit/benefit/tax refund/drivers license/passport/insurance claim would simply be rejected.

So if you don’t have an address – what should you do?

Simply tell them what they want to know… If you think that by saying “on a yacht anchored in Sandy Bay for the next week” isn’t going to cut the mustard, then you are going to have to have a reasonable alternative.

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American Sailors have a choice of different services to choose from. St Brendan’s Isle is one that I have heard good reviews of. This is a mail forwarding service where they can receive and scan your mail through to your email address, and also provide a physical address for people to use. There are various different plans you can choose from. This comes at a cost of course. But I believe it is reasonable for the service they provide.

Here in New Zealand, you can pay for your mail to be forwarded to a PO Box and you pay an annual fee to have the PO Box. But you then still need to get someone to collect your mail from there, and a PO Box still won’t work for those organisations that require a physical street address. As far as I am aware, we don’t have a company like St Brendan’s Isle here in New Zealand, but please tell me if you know of one and I will check them out!

If you still have a house that perhaps you are renting out or leaving with someone to take care of, then you can still use that address, but could you trust your tenants to collect & keep your mail? So you will still have to leave someone in charge of collecting the mail and sending anything on to you.

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The other alternative is asking a relative or friend if you can use their address. This might be more convenient for them as they won’t have to go chasing around all over town collecting your mail from PO Boxes or from tenants and then sending it on to you. It will also give you the required ‘physical address’ that you need for all those forms.

You will want to ensure that the person you give this task to is trustworthy and someone who you are happy to share things like your bank details with. You might like to use the same trusted person that you have on your emergency contact list.

Do you want them to collect all the mail and send it on to you unopened? Or would you prefer that they open things and then scan through to you on email? If you are expecting there to be lots of things to send, then you might like to check that they have a scanner at home or work that is capable of easily scanning and sending things through to you.

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Then you might like to think of all the many different places, organisations, businesses who have your existing address. Make a list of everyone you can think of, the branch address and phone number and add your customer reference number/license number/policy number etc. If you have a personal contact within the organisation – like a bank manager then add their details to your list as well.

Here are some to consider:

  • Doctor
  • Dentist
  • Bank
  • Credit cards
  • Insurance – house, boat, life, health
  • Drivers License
  • Rates bill if you are keeping your property
  • Airline frequent flyer programmes
  • Yacht club membership
  • The electoral roll
  • Inland Revenue – the Tax department
  • Accountant
  • Lawyer
  • Update your details on the EPIRB register

There are other organisations where you might want to close your account down before you leave:

  • Phone
  • Power
  • Shop credit cards
  • Magazine subscriptions

When you are ready to leave, you can then contact all those organisations to let them know that you are heading away sailing. If you aren’t closing your account then you might like to ask them to start sending your statements/invoices/reminders to your email address instead of posting them out. Give them the name of the person back home who is going to be looking after your mail, and if you give them the authority to act on your behalf. New Zealand has ridiculously strict privacy laws which make it very difficult for anyone other than yourself obtain any information about anything, which can be good if you are trying to keep things secret – but really frustrating if you are just trying to help someone else out.

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Receiving Mail

So aside from letters and things that can be scanned, how about things like spare parts that you need to be delivered to you around the world?

Here in New Zealand there is a service called Parcel Collect. You can sign up online and then chose a post office location nearby and choose that as the delivery address. Then you can shop online until your heart is content and you’ll get an email to say when the item has arrived. You then have 10 days to go and pick it up.

Another option is Post Restante. This is a global thing where you simply send an item to a post office – note the words “Post Restante” on the envelope, the name of the person and the address of the Post Office and they will hold it until you go to pick it up. Here in NZ you have to pay if you leave it there for them to hold for more than a week. More details here. You can find more information on how to address letters to be delivered as Post Restante for other countries here.

Australian based people have a similar option called My Post – which enables parcels to be sent to a convenient location for you to collect.

Another cool option is called YouShop and it is for when you are buying things online from an international company but they don’t ship to NZ. This feature allows you to get your products sent to a local address in USA, UK or Europe and then they send it on to your address in New Zealand.

Be aware of any potential duty and tax charges on the things you are bringing in. The NZ Customs website has got a calculator you can use to check this out. If the tax/duty works out to be less than $60 then you don’t have to pay.  You can also ask for the words “Yacht in Transit” to be put on the parcel to try and avoid these charges, which apparently works well in some countries, but I can’t find out any official documentation online to say how this works in practice here in NZ.

If you have got friends coming to visit and you are desperate for some things from home ask them to bring you a care package with them in their luggage for you.

Shop locally – if you can. While it can sometimes be a bit more expensive, at least you are supporting the local community, you have got an actual shop assistant to talk to and give advice with your purchase, you can return it easily if it isn’t right or breaks, you can usually get it instantly and avoid having to wait for it to be freighted over. Some countries also allow you to claim back and tax and duty when you leave the country, like Australia does. So do some research and keep hold of those receipts.

If you can’t buy locally and you aren’t in a country with the cool NZ Post services mentioned above then have a chat to the local marina or yacht club. Usually they are happy to accept parcels on behalf of visiting cruisers.

So there you have it! If you have got any other tips for handling having an address and receiving mail and parcels, please let me know in the comments below.

7 thoughts on “Of No Fixed Abode

  1. In the USA, in addition to having an address, a person must pick a state in which to reside. Most pick Florida because they have no state income tax. And as you mention, St. Brendan’s Isle (SBI) is located in FL.

    We use SBI and were hassled by a couple of financial companies because it is not considered a physical address. We simply choose not to do business with these companies. The government agencies are a challenge. They just do not understand that in today’s society, people can function very well as homeless (addressless).

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  2. Our solution to this issue was a bit of a hybrid, owing to the seasonal nature of our cruising (7 months aboard, 5 months in an RV in Maine).
    We use the rental agreement for our RV park site to prove our physical address. We’ve used a PO Box for mail for years, so we’ve kept that, turned everything we could to electronic delivery (email), and then engaged the help of a friend to collect mail from the box, toss the junk mail, sort the remainder into two piles (“keep” or “forward”), and then when we will be in one spot for a few days we email them an address, which they write on a postage-paid envelope we left with them before we left.
    So far, it’s worked pretty well!

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  3. Great post, Viki. Several years ago, I changed all my recurring monthly bills (mobile, utilities at home, insurances, etc.) to come to my email in anticipation of sailing off. I’m still searching for the “right boat” (looked at four last week), but I’ll be ready when I do. Seems now the only mail that comes through the post is junk! Oh, if you ever need anything from the U.S. just let me know.

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