Guidance

National Insurance if you work at sea

Find out about National Insurance if you're a mariner or seafarer, so you can pay the right amount and get a refund if you overpay.

Introduction

If you’re a mariner or seafarer the payment of your National Insurance contributions depends on a number of factors, including but not restricted to:

  • where you’re legally resident or domiciled
  • where your employer or the person who pays your wages is based
  • where your vessel is registered
  • where the owner/managing owner of the vessel is based
  • where you work
  • whether you work inside or outside UK waters
  • the type of work you do
  • agreements between the UK and other countries

Although you may be considered as non-resident/not ordinarily resident within the UK for Income Tax, you may still be regarded as resident within the UK for National Insurance purposes.

Check your employment contract to see where your employer or the company that pays your wages, is based.

If you don’t know where your vessel is registered and this isn’t shown on your discharge book, you can check with your employer or master.

If you need to:

  • check your National Insurance position
  • check that you’re paying the correct amount
  • pay voluntary contributions
  • check the status of your employer
  • claim a refund

you can complete the mariner’s National Insurance questionnaire or contact the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Mariners Unit.

UK resident

National Insurance should be deducted from your pay by your employer if you work:

  • for or are paid by a company based in the UK
  • on a vessel registered in the UK for an employer based in the European Economic Area (EEA) or in a country that has a reciprocal agreement with the UK
  • in the designated sector of the UK continental shelf on a vessel engaged in any activity in connection with the exploration and exploitation of natural resources

If you’re not paid through PAYE

A foreign employer will not usually deduct National Insurance contributions.

However, some foreign employers operate a PAYE scheme for the benefit of their employees and you can apply for a refund if:

  • your employer is based outside the EEA in a country that doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement with the UK, or the terms of a reciprocal agreement with the UK doesn’t affect the National Insurance liability position
  • your work is outside UK waters
  • you work on a vessel registered outside the EEA in a country that doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement with the UK, or the terms of a reciprocal agreement with the UK doesn’t affect the National Insurance liability position

If you’re liable to pay National Insurance, but your employer doesn’t operate a PAYE scheme or make National Insurance contributions you can make payments direct to HMRC by contacting the HMRC Mariners Unit.

You can also make payments directly to HMRC if:

  • you work on a vessel registered outside the UK, and
  • your employer is based outside the UK, but the owner/managing owner of the vessel is based within the UK
  • you entered into your contract in the UK

Contact the HMRC Mariners Unit if you have any queries.

Irregular payments

If you’re paid at irregular intervals (for example, you get a lump sum at the end of a voyage), you’ll have to pay National Insurance contributions based on the number of weeks the voyage lasts. This includes all periods of paid leave at the end of the voyage.

You’ll also be liable to pay National Insurance contributions on payments that may not be included in your general wages at the end of the pay period. These payments include:

  • payments of bonuses
  • commission
  • allowances
  • late payments
  • leave pay

Voluntary contributions

If you’re not liable to pay National Insurance contributions, you may be able to make voluntary contributions towards certain benefits, including your State Pension.

Check whether you’re eligible to make voluntary contributions by completing the mariner’s questionnaire or contacting the HMRC Mariners Unit.

Social security in the EEA

If you’re a UK resident employed or paid by a company in the EEA and you work on an EEA registered vessel, your employer will make social security payments in the country where the vessel is registered.

If you’re paid by someone in the UK, you’ll pay UK National Insurance contributions regardless of the ownership or where the vessel is registered. Payments made on behalf of a UK resident in an EEA country will count towards benefit and pension claims in the UK.

Example

A UK resident is employed by a Spanish company to work on a Belgian registered ship. The Spanish employer makes social security payments to the Belgian government, which then count towards his UK benefit and State Pension entitlements.

EEA resident

If your employer is in the EEA they will usually make social security contributions in the country where the ship you’re working on is registered.

If you’re paid by someone in the country where you are resident, you may have to pay social security contributions in that country.

If you work on a vessel engaged in any activity in connection with the exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the designated sector of the UK continental shelf, you’ll pay National Insurance contributions in the UK.

Resident of a country with a reciprocal agreement with the UK

Some countries have reciprocal agreements with the UK about tax and social security. Depending on the agreement, you may have to pay UK National Insurance contributions when working on a vessel registered in the UK.

Working on the UK continental shelf

If you work on a vessel engaged in any activity in connection with the exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the designated sector of the UK continental shelf, you’re treated as working in the UK for National Insurance purposes.

Residents of other countries

Your employer will pay National Insurance contributions in the UK on your behalf if you:

To check your National Insurance liability, complete the mariner’s questionnaire.

Refunds and underpayments

If you think that you’ve underpaid National Insurance contributions or you want to claim a refund for an amount you’ve overpaid, complete the mariner’s questionnaire.

Published 8 December 2014
Last updated 7 February 2017 + show all updates
  1. This guide has been updated to give additional information on this subject.
  2. First published.