A wandering life is a wonderful thing … except when it comes to taxes, residencies, and mortgages!
A yachting life often is perceived as one of glitz and glamour by those on the outside, while those on the inside know all too well that along with the sunshine and sandy beaches comes hard work and a plethora of obstacles to negotiate — obstacles thrust upon you by a type of nomadic lifestyle found in few other industries.
We asked some of our clients here at Marine Accounts to tell us what they’ve found to be the biggest challenges of yachting, especially regarding interactions with the “normal” world while constantly on the move, quite often without one specific place to call a permanent home. The conversations revealed a few recurring themes, such as mental health, taxes, residency, and mortgages.
Here are some of the highlights.
Where do I actually live?
It could easily be said the opportunity to travel the world is the most obvious draw to a yachting career. One client, Jamie Weldon, put it this way: “It’s not just that I get to wake up to some of the most beautiful views in the world as a part of my job, it also gives me a chance to scope places out for my next holiday. Most people pick somewhere from Google which looks nice. I know the places I enjoyed whilst working and that’s where I head back to.”
There is, however, a downside to living life on the move. During our discussions with crew, we found common concerns around tax residency status, with many unsure where they should be paying their taxes — or if they should be paying them at all when they don’t really have a home. Dock chat on this topic may be common, but with so many people approaching their tax situations in very different ways, it’s easy to get confused.
In very simple terms, you should always declare your income wherever in the world you are a resident for tax purposes. Each individual jurisdiction or country will apply their own tests to your circumstances; if you don’t meet their tests, then you’re not a resident.
While there are many crew who believe they are not a resident anywhere, in reality there are very few who find themselves in this position. Also, liabilities do not just occur at home but can arise from a yacht spending too much time in foreign ports or acquiring a residence in a new country. Since the introduction of the Automatic Exchange of Information in 2014, tax authorities have had the right to approach your bank for details of your income and tax residency, meaning there really is nowhere to hide.
If you’re unsure as to your position, it’s always recommended to consult with an expert to be absolutely certain that you’re doing the right thing, as the sanctions can be severe.
What do I do after yachting?
A stint in yachting can be a great way to set yourself up for your future. With many roles offering great wages and some being lucky enough to access tax exemptions, it’s common for many crew to spend their 20s at sea, then take their nest egg ashore. Jonny Waugh put it this way: “I know I’m going to lose some of my freedom over the next few years and I’ll be working long hours with high demands, but when I’m done, I know I’ll have some money in the bank and hopefully a house. I’m already looking at mortgages.”
Others we spoke with echoed Jonny’s thoughts. There are few other industries in which you will find yourself having little to no living expenses while employed. With travel, accommodation, and food covered by your employer, you’re presented with a fantastic opportunity to set yourself up financially very early on in your working life.
Many crew will look at property as an investment, however, the lack of a permanent home can sometimes be an obstacle to obtaining a mortgage. If you approach most mortgage brokers as an individual who doesn’t live anywhere in particular and perhaps doesn’t pay taxes, you may find yourself rebuffed.
That said, specialists are available to help you navigate the process, and with a little effort to find the right broker, you can certainly put yourself on the property ladder.
As with any job, a career in yachting has its ups and downs, and it isn’t for everyone. The average crew member stays in the industry for roughly seven years, and you likely know someone who is in their “last season” for the second, third or fourth time. But if you have made good use of your wages while working at sea, the move shoreside should be plain sailing. Many continue in the maritime industry; others decide it’s time for a career in a completely different field. A strong financial foundation will give you the time and freedom to make the choice that is right for you.
CALUM SMITH HOLDS A DEGREE IN ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE. HE HAS BEEN PROVIDING TAX AND RESIDENCY ADVICE AT MARINE ACCOUNTS SINCE 2017.