Managing your financial life while cruising is a lot easier than it was 15 years ago. Here's how we handle the few paper checks and bills we receive.

Handling Checks When Cruising

Managing your money is so much easier now than when Dave and I took our first extended overseas trip. Now, virtually all of our income is direct deposited and our bills are automatically paid or go on a credit card. Credit cards are set to be automatically paid in full every month.

But every so often, either a check gets mailed to us or we have to pay an unexpected bill by check. Used to be for the incoming checks, we’d get it when we got our mail – a month or two after it was sent to us – and then we had to mail it to our bank, which usually meant finding a cruiser going back to the US and sending mail with them to (hopefully) deposit in the US Mail. Getting a bill and paying it was just as bad. Some cruisers had friends or relatives “back home” handling their mail and banking, but there were problems with that, too.

Now, with a mail handling service that offers scanning and a bank with great online services, it’s actually pretty simple for us to both deposit checks and mail one.

We use St. Brendan’s Isle mail handling service, and they offer a scanning service – all the envelopes are scanned upon arrival at their facility and then I get a “you have mail” email that evening. When I see the envelope, I can request that the contents be scanned (there’s a fee for this, of course).

So if I think there’s a check or a bill in an envelope, I request the contents to be scanned.

We have accounts at a couple of different banks (good in case one has a security breach and cancels all its ATM cards . . .), but the one with the best online services is our Capital One 360 account. It offers mobile check deposits and will mail a check for free. (I’m not affiliated with Capital One in any way other than having an account.) Many other banks offer mobile check deposits; I’ve only seen a few that offer a “mail a check” service outside of setting it up as part of a bill payment system, which is usually more cumbersome and may have fees attached.

IMPORTANT: Don’t do banking on an unsecured WiFi connection. They are not secure and you may find your accounts hacked either by the person who set up the “free” WiFi spot or by a hacker who is listening in. As a traveler, you need super-robust internet security on your phone, tablet and/or laptop. A cellular data connection is much more secure than WiFi.

For depositing checks:

  • SBI automatically scan both sides (this is very important for me to be able to deposit the check via internet).
  • I print out the both sides of the check (we have a printer aboard), cut the check out, and endorse the “back” side.
  • I then use my smart phone and the Capital One 360 app to deposit the check. Be sure to hang onto your scans until the deposit hits your account.

To pay a bill:

If there’s a bill that we can’t go online and pay by credit card or Paypal, I use the “mail a check” service. Actually, I just discovered this a few days ago and I have to say I’m thrilled with it. If you have a Capital One account, look under the “Make a Payment” tab and then find “Mail a Check.” I assume that other banks that offer this service have a similar setup.

You’ll see a form to enter the person’s name and address, the amount of the check and any memo that should appear on the check (such as invoice number). You do not have to fill in the account number field. Then you’ll go to a confirmation screen, pick the date to send the check and you’re done. Capital One even pays the postage!

Capital One says to allow a week for the check to arrive at the destination. After that, check your account periodically to make sure the check is cashed (click on the link for the payee’s name and a screen will come up and tell you when – or if – the check was cashed) or you can email the recipient to make sure the check was received. For those people or companies without email, Skype works well to call from another country at an affordable rate (usually less than 3 cents a minute) . . . much better than international rates if you get put on hold, although you do have to have an internet connection.

To make IRS payments:

If you need to make an IRS estimated tax payment or an additional payment due to a miscalculation or to make up for an underpayment, you can do so from your checking account with no added fees at this IRS website. Be sure to get a confirmation – it can take a minute or more for the transaction to go through and when I’ve been in a place with slow internet, I’ve sometimes had the transaction fail and had to re-do it.

Managing your financial life while cruising is a lot easier than it was 15 years ago. How we handle the few paper checks and bills we get.

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  • Jan Bogart
    Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

    Paid $70 ten years ago to fed ex one page to the states. Also needed a lawyer to get it notorized!

  • Laine Common
    Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

    I worry about not having internet access for a while since we do all our banking online. The bills and deposits are all automatic, but I like to keep a close eye on it…

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

      It’s a lot easier to get online than it was 15 years ago, too. We simply check as often as we can, but no, it’s not every day. Took Dave a bit of adjusting to feel comfortable with that.

  • Robert Corrington
    Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

    Hi Carolyn,
    Your statement above “Don’t do banking on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection…” is incorrect. As a software engineer for 25 years, I can tell you it’s the bank’s website in conjunction with your web browser provide ample security.

    Think of the Wi-Fi connection as a public road. Anyone standing on the side of this road can watch cars and trucks go by, peek into the windows, and get a glimpse of what’s inside. So, as I browse unsecured websites like, evil doers can ‘sniff’ the internet traffic between my computer and the website and see all of the articles, images, and videos you download to your computer. For example, they can see the title of the article I’m reading is ‘Handling Checks When Cruising.’

    When you browse a secure website, like your bank, the website and your web browser encrypt the information that travels between the two. An evil doer standing on the side of the road can still see the cars and trucks go by, peek into the windows, and get a glimpse of what’s inside. But instead of seeing the actual contents, they see gobbledygook. For example, rather than seeing the actual title of the article I’m reading, they’ll see something like ‘EnCt2f62fe7b3f8c8f8d72b4e4df612bf62fe3737fb8fd422PRpG1d1AG’

    Information sent between my computer and the website are encrypted (aka, scrambled). Evil doers can see the scrambled information, but they cannot unscramble it any more than you cannot unscramble an egg.

    Everyday millions of people use open Wi-Fi connections to send and receive email from, buy things on, and bank online. While the Wi-Fi connections themselves are open and completely unsecure, the websites we use are well protected. So, feel free to bank online knowing the banks (any many other secure websites) are working hard to ensure your information is kept safe from evil doers.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 17 July 2016 Reply

      Thanks for that info. I’d always been told not to do anything “confidential” on public wifi, so nice to know it’s not the problem I thought it was.

  • Rick Garvin
    Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

    Great article! Carolyn, which printer do you have onboard? I’m in the market for one.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

      I have an HP printer/copier/scanner — an older model that’s not made any more. I’ve had really good luck with HP products lasting on the boat, and find it really helpful to have the scanner and copier functions instead of having to find a copy shop when I need copies of documents.

    • Lori Rackliffe
      Posted at 24 July 2016 Reply

      We live aboard full time and have an Epson XP 410 purchased a couple of years ago. Reasonable price and it prints and scans well. Wi-fi enabled too although we don’t use that feature.

  • Mark Stillwell
    Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

    I’m surprised your bank doesn’t offer an online pay by check option. Ours has offered one for several years. As with your Capital One account, just fill out a form and off it goes.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

      Nope . . . out of three accounts we have, Capital One is the only one that offers it, but I know other banks do too.

    • Mark Stillwell
      Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

      Our brokerage account also has this option from our money market account. Neither charge a fee.

  • Ken Landis
    Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

    Good information. FYI, Capital 360 is not the only bank that does this. Most financial institutions now offer RDC (Remote Deposit Capture) which allows you to deposit a check by taking a picture of both the front and back of the check. The money is deposited immediately into your account. Same thing for writing checks, use your banks bill paying service which is usually free to have a check issued to anyone anywhere.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 18 July 2016 Reply

      Yes, most — but not all (for example, our small-town bank in Illinois) — banks offer the deposit by photo. Out of our three banks, Cap One was the only one that offered a one-time “mail a check” that didn’t require any set up. The other one that offers a bill pay service take several days to set it up and just don’t make it practical for a one-off payment. Different banks and credit unions offer different things — we’ve learned that small town Midwestern banks don’t always offer a lot online as many of the customers do all their banking in person. That’s why we now have one of our accounts with a bank that’s “online first” not as an afterthought.

  • C.C. MacNair
    Posted at 21 July 2016 Reply

    Love you’re site have used a lot of your ideas. I work all over the US and solved banking and bill paying a long time ago. I use two banks Lebanon Fedrial Credit Unioun and USAA. Eather one of those sites will allow me to pay bills or deposit a check on line. To deposit I just log on to the banks web site, access my account, take a picture of my check with my iPhone front and back then deposit . Simple.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas. You guys keep having fun.

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