Join Date: Jul 2002
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Bill-paying while cruising....
Stacey, this is a fun topic as it’s quite a puzzle and the solutions can be a bit unique for each of us. It’s also a huge topic to cover well on a BB. Here are some things you might consider based on us being outside the U.S. for a majority of the last 4 years, on what is our third cruising life:
1. Establish at least one ‘does it all’ account with a mutual fund or brokerage house. We’ve used T Rowe Price for almost 20 years now, a very good firm. We do no active trading, but instead use their Asset Manager Account because we have access to and can do everything via the Web, have a VISA card directly tagged to our primary funds source, can write checks (e.g. to send back home), and it allows two-way electronic transfers (e.g. Uncle Sam’s IRS refund ‘in’, ongoing monthly charges like our Global AT&T phone card, mail handling service and monthly storage room charges going ‘out’). Another common service used by cruisers is Merrill-Lynch’s Cash Mgt. Acct. (CMA) – we have used this but find TRP much more suitable to our tastes as a business and we even have a personally assigned professional to sort out any problems for us. TRP charges no fees for any fund purchases/sales, and so all employees are salaried, not commission incented. And finally, they accept collect calls from AMA account holders all over the world; we’ve used this service many times. (Sorry to go on about one vendor; the important thing is to have one globally-accessed account that offers you every financial feature you will need but that costs you very little. We pay a $50 fee annually for all the above).
2. Arrange for all ‘remnant’ bills and ongoing bills to be auto-paid if possible from some U.S. source (credit union, brokerage account, etc. (You don’t say if you’ll be leaving real property behind, which adds add’l burdens re: bills and mail).
3. Where auto-payment isn’t possible (e.g. we carry a free Optima AmEx card because it gives us the best insurance coverage when renting a car), arrange for on-line electronic payment. We carry a back-up VISA card (in case of wallet/purse theft) with the same on-line payment option, altho’ both these companies readily accept collect calls.
4. I suggest you make a ‘Mail & Account Info’ Word file on which you capture the details of each account or ongoing financial relationship you’ll have while off cruising; I’ve referred to ours many times. E.g. most 800#s lose their utility once you leave the U.S. (there are some exceptions in some countries) so this list is where I place all the non-800 #s we’ll need for each vendor, bank, credit union, insurance company, etc. You would be surprised how hard it can sometimes be to get a non-800 # (our health insurance company and Verizon are too classic examples). Getting these is important prework before shoving off, as is email addresses.
5. We keep several business card folders (from Staples or Office Depot) at hand and add onto business cards we’ve collected any email or URL info that applies. This is a handy way to have available a variety of contact info; our biz card folders are 1) home vendors & services (Drs, Tax Ofc, storage facility etc.), 2) boat-related vendors (mfgrs, distributors, retailers) and 3) boater cards from other boaters.
6. Some folks fall back on family members/friends handling the mail. We’ve done this and also used two commercial firms during our 3 cruising ‘lives’; for us, using St. Brendan’s Isle has been the best solution, altho’ we only use their basic service.
7. We have found web access everywhere in the Caribbean and of course here in Europe; even broadband in the Azores and Bermuda were common. You can therefore rely on this as a normal ‘tool’, which can make some complicated matters very simple. E.g. imagine working with a U.S. Embassy somewhere to get all your tax forms, the instruction book, etc. and then picture the ease of receiving a Turbo Tax CD via airmail and doing/filing your taxes on-line.
8. Every country seems to have it’s own views on taxing (or not) inbound goods – don’t assume what you read in the cruising guides to apply universally. Benefiting by info from other cruisers re: getting things shipped in can be very helpful. E.g. we’ve found the combination of the Royal Mail, Customs, and most USPS airmail products to be deadly slow (and expensive) while we’ve been in London. DHL & Fedex is very costly everywhere we’ve used it. However, friends pointed out that USPS Global Priority is cheap, bypasses Customs and arrives in 7 days like clockwork. This has been a huge help when what’s being shipped will fit inside one of the GP envelopes…but of course this will change when we head to Scandinavia.
There’s much more, as I’m writing this on the fly before heading off to do laundry. Feel free to email me if you have questions about any of the above.