Monday, July 9, 2012

“Your Papers, Please”

After the Bahamas, almost every island is a sovereign nation with its own policies on customs and immigration.  At each port of entry it is incumbent on the ship’s master to check-in and if required, check-out.  Among cruisers there is much discussion as to procedures, costs, and treatment by the various officials.  As a U.S. citizen, we cannot be too critical of the treatment we receive because one must remain cognizant of the treatment of foreign travelers within the U.S.

Below is a chart I put together concerning our experience with the different countries.   The “Cost Per Day” calculation is not a clean comparison between the various island nations, but it does provide an approximation.

Cost (USD)
Time Period
Cost Per Day
United States
$27.50 + $13.00
1 - year
For U.S. citizens customs sticker + Local Boater Option for each crew member.  Call an 800 number when returning to U.S.
Up to 180 days
Time issued seems to vary by check-in location and official.  In Nassau, reportedly, officials will board your boat.  Cruising permit includes fishing license.
Turks & Caicos
$50 check-in
$50 check-out
Total = $100
7 days
$14.29 (our cost $16.43 w/OT)
There is a $15 overtime charge for check-in/check-out on weekends.  A 90 day cruising permit is $300.   Customs official visited marina.
Dominican Republic
$43 boat fee + $10 per person check-in, $20 Marine Guerra (Coast Guard) fee each check out. Total = $103
 30 day tourist card
Every guidebook reported officials asking for “tips” at harbor entries, i.e., Luperon, Puerto Plata anchorages.  The marinas (Ocean World & Puerto Bahia) control the bribes and assist with clearance.  The coast guard, along with M-2 (Intelligence) and Department of Drugs may board and inspect on arrival and departure.
Puerto Rico
$27.50 + $13.00 Shipping
For U.S. citizens customs sticker + Local Boater Option for each crew member.  Call 800 number after arrival.
St. Croix, USVI
$27.50 + $13.00 Shipping
For U.S. citizens customs sticker + Local Boater Option for each crew member.  Called 340-773-1011 after arrival, but was told the PR check-in sufficed.  We were advised to visit customs and get a departure clearance for BVI.
St. Martin
$7 anchoring fee
Doesn’t appear to be a time limit
You can check in on either the French or Dutch side.  The Dutch side has fees based on the size of vessel ($15 per week for up to 65’).  Seems the Dutch are trying to limit the number of long term vessels.  Check in and out at marina office at computer kiosk then employee will stamp paperwork (the French check in and out procedure).   Didn’t ask for previous departure clearance.
St. Barth’s
Anchoring fee, but we used a mooring
Doesn’t appear to be a time limit
Not Sure
French procedure in marina office.  There may be a negligible departure fee, but our bill was complicated by language difficulties.
$16 Port entry fee, $10 fee for two persons,  $26 departure fee: Total $52
Indeterminate time limit, but we were there 10 days
Use to file entrance and departure information (the British procedure).  Then visit customs, immigrations and port authority at locations specified in cruising guide.  Office located at Nelson’s Dockyard was very accommodating.  Officials checked previous departure clearance.
The French procedure in internet café (second floor, right of ferry dock), Les Saintes Multiservices (LSM).  Pay for mooring at same location.
St. Pierre, Martinique
6 months, then import duty
The French procedure at visitors’ center, however the computer was broken.
Fort De-France, Martinique
6 months, then import duty
The French procedure at Sea Services Marine Chandlery.
Grande Anse D’Arlet, Martinique
6 months, then import duty
The French procedure at Le P’Ti Bateau restaurant, however restaurant hours vary.
St. Lucia
15 EC ($5.55) Entry Fee; 40 EC ($15.00) Port Fees; 25 EC ($9.50) Cruising Permit
42 days
Used for entry then reported to an office at Rodney Bay Marina.  Must have departure clearance from previous country.  The 25 EC cruising permit is only required if making intermediate stops.  Due to weather we required an extra day on departure clearance and there was no charge.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
35 EC ($13) per person entry fee + .15 EC document fee (3). Total $26
30 days
Used then checked in at Bequia customs office.  Must have previous departure clearance.  Was asked for proof that that I control the LLC the boat is registered under.
16.20 EC ($6.00)  Port Charges; 75 EC ($28) Cruising Permit
30 days
Customs and immigration onsite at Port Louis Marina.  Requested previous country’s departure clearance.
From the chart, note that on a cost per day basis the Turks & Caicos are the most expensive to visit.  This fact was not lost on the marina management at Southside Marina in Caicos.  They stated that they were working with government officials to ease the fees.  At $300.00 per boat ($150.00 below 35’), the Bahamas extracts the most upfront money from cruisers, and that causes some grumbling.  But, 300 bucks allows you to visit over 500 islands and you are pretty much left alone by authorities after you pay the fee.

Samana Bay, Dominican Republic

The most angst over customs and immigration is felt by cruisers wishing to visit the Dominican Republic.   Guidebooks, cruiser web sites, and other cruisers all warn about pilfering officials that come on your boat, lift items during the “inspection” and demand bribes.  This dissuaded us from visiting Luperon, instead opting for marinas that somewhat monitor the officials.  Additionally, the DR does not understand the concept of cruising and anchoring in quiet coves.  Their expectation is that you check-in and out at every stop including the ones without customs and immigration facilities.  Even with marina staff monitoring the situation, we felt somewhat intimidated by the number of officials visiting our boat and the seemingly arbitrary fee structure.

For ease of completing the requested forms, the system offered at British Virgin Islands (we did not visit this trip), Antigua, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was the best.  The cruiser goes on line, completes the form and the writes down the confirmation number provided.  When you visit the customs and immigration office they use the number to print and process the forms.  However, not all of the islands advertised are fully on board with the system.  At Union Island the official required me to sit in his sweaty little office and complete a form using carbon paper.   

Fort De-France

The French Islands have it figured out.  Mom and pop cruiser are not a threat.  Extracting pitiful little fees from cruisers does not pay the salaries of the officials waiting around.  Put a computer kiosk at a local business that cruisers will visit anyway and ask them to sign themselves in and out.  My guess is that the compliance rate is high and that cruisers use the money they would have spent on fees to buy a croissant and latte.  In St. Lucia where I found 8 customs officials watching a soccer game, I walked away muttering, “fraud, waste and abuse, fraud, waste and abuse.” 

As mentioned above, while the U.S. system is not stellar for non-U.S. cruisers, it is great for the U.S. flag vessels and U.S. citizens.  U.S. citizens can complete the one time Local Boater Option procedure.  This requires that you complete a form on line than present yourself to a U.S. Customs Office for verification of your passport along with some other form of picture I.D.  They then issue you a LBO number you use along with your sticker number when you call in.  The sticker is issued once a year and is affixed to the boat.  Unfortunately, the sticker must be mailed which can be a challenge for the cruiser.  Even with those constraints, the LBO and U.S. Customs sticker is the way to go when checking-in to the U.S. or its territories – don’t leave home without it.     

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