California state taxes for non-resident?

Hi guys, I have lurked here for a while, but figured I’d start posting finally.
I have searched the forum for the answer to my question, and have not found an answer.
My question:

I live on Guam. If I work for a company based in California, that withholds CA taxes from my paychecks, am I due a refund of CA state taxes, being that I only commute to there to join the (US-flagged) ships, and have no residency or home there?

Yes, I will check with a knowledgeable accountant who has experience with mariners’ tax situations, but I’d really like to know if anyone here has some insight into this.
Thanks in advance!

Does the ship you are on work travel out of state or just in California. If it stays in California you are likely SOL.

The ships routinely travel set routes to other states and US territories, and also East Asian ports.

While you routinely travel out of state do you also routinely stay instate? While not a tax lawyer your question revolves around this:
49 U.S.C. 11504 - Sec. 11504 - Withholding State and local income tax by certain carriers :: 1994 US Code :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia

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Generally speaking, states and employers are forbidden by federal law from withholding state and local taxes from a Seaman’s wages, except in the state of residence.

Look the law up, provide it to your employer, and demand that they refund to you the money they illegally withheld.

There are certain situations when a state can tax the income of local harbor boat seamen.

California is absolutely awful when it comes to chasing out of state seamen for state taxes.

In the past few years, I worked for a company in Washington (no state tax) that used national payroll company ADP to process payroll. All of a sudden, they started withholding state tax in various states. It turned out that ADP was asking a company office clerk what state that employees were working in and she was telling them where the boat was that week. This created a mess. I eventually got my money back, but I won’t be surprised if some of these states eventually start chasing me to file state tax returns and pay state taxes.

It may be a lot of work for you to straighten this out, but it will be worth it not to pay high California taxes or have to file California tax returns.

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You are correct however if you work predominantly within a State (or don’t leave it) you can be subject to their taxes. When my son worked on NCL’s Pride of America he had deducted Hawaii State income tax deducted because the ship never left Hawaii.

I can see where Hawaii would take that position. However, the ship left state waters (more than 3 miles offshore) routinely, so I do not think Hawaii is correct. I recall reading a New York case a few years ago, it held that New York taxes were collectible because the boat never, or rarely left state waters.

If the union was any good, it would have an attorney research, and hopefully resolve, this issue for its members.

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might want to look at this:
Transportation Employee Fair Taxation Act of 1999 - Amends Federal shipping law to subject an individual to income tax liability in the State where such individual resides with respect to income derived by the individual while: (1) engaged as a pilot on a vessel performing duties in more than one State; or (2) performing regularly-assigned duties as a master, officer, or crewman on a vessel operating on the navigable waters of more than one State.


The State of California are a bunch of blood sucking leeches.
If I were you I’d keep a log of time spent in State waters so as to affect a refund of confistatory (sp) taxes paid. Then demand that refund from your employer. (Read where athletes were taxed for time spent in California playing. You are no different!).
I have left California after 120+ years of family in the State. It is was with sadness but it is not a place where my parents, grandparents nor I were raised.
Looking back there are NO REGRETS!!!


Guam_Haole, I had the same problem recently. My time in Matson ships was finally noticed by CA, and I received notice that I owed them. If you were notified by CA, their contact info is found on whatever letter you received. I contacted them, and spoke to a human who investigated residence, driver license, and voting records while I was on hold. It didn’t take but a few minutes. After verifying my bona fides, I was cleared and given the rep’s ID number (e.g. #112) for future reference.

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I’m with M.M. & P.
I ship off the board.

If you are/will be working for Matson, you should be in the clear. Matson has MMP and MEBA for their mates and engineers. SUP, MFOW, and SIU for unlicensed.

I just did battle with the state of California for the same thing.
They tried to come at me for back taxes from like 2011…just before the statute of limitations ran out oddly enough.
My employer 1099’d me (I was commercial fishing back then…) and they sent multiple letters over many months trying to collect. It did take several months and as many phone conversations that I had to ask to be escalated to a supervisor and still they gave me the run around…
For me…what it came down to was, yes…I did work and earn money as a commercial fisherman in the state of California back then but A) I’m now, and was then, a seaman with a MMC (they can’t take taxes from me as per CFR) and, B) I was a resident of the state of Washington at the time as is evidenced by my WA DL.
If your experience is anything like mine, call the franchise tax board and offer to email them a copy of your MMC…if it has a CA address on it however…you might be screwed.

That’s good information, thank you!