It occurred to us as we prepared for our upcoming trip to the Abacos that we never shared what needs to be done prior to leaving (and returning) from the Bahamas as far as paperwork. So here are the things we have to formalize before we leave.
Annual DTOPS Decal
“Decals are stickers that are placed on all private aircraft and private vessels (30 feet or more in length) as proof that the User Fee for entry into the U.S. has been paid for the calendar year. Any arriving vessel or aircraft that does not have an annual decal will be required to pay the non-refundable User Fee and complete an application, which will be forwarded to the processing center. The application will be processed, and a decal will be mailed from the processing center. A decal expires on December 31st of its issue year. A new decal is issued whenever the decal is renewed.” https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/main/#
Small Vessel Registration System SVRS [Edited May 2018, as of April 2018 this system is no longer active for Florida Boaters. Check status for you. It has been replaced by the ROAM App]
ROAM (Reprting Offsite Arrival – Mobile) App
ROAM was brought in for Florida boaters in April 2018 to replace the Small Vessel Reporting System. You will still need to register for a SVRS number or have another expedited entry program such as Global Entry.
It works as follows. You down load the App. You will need to have or establish a Login.gov account. You then add the people who will be checking in. This includes the names and passport details as well as taking a photo of the passport photo page using the App. It will also ask you for your SVRS number or Global Entry number etc. You also add in details of the vessel you are coming in on. These detail are saved in the App for future use. You then enter details of this particular entry – which countries to were in and then you answer the standard questions regarding anything you may be bringing in.
You then press submit. And this is the critical part. The submission will be reviewed real time by an officer. He/She will either approve the entry or request a video interview. You must keep the App open and watch it for the response. If you do not respond to a request for a video interview you will shorty receive an email telling you that your entry was not approved and you must report in person. This real time process is not intuitive and there is not a tutorial set up yet taking you through the process. So make sure to watch the App after submission.
Passports Vs. Birth Certificates
Before 9/11 US boaters going and returning from the Bahamas could do so on an original US Birth Certificate – with a raised seal (stamp). Post 9/11 this is no longer the case and you should have your passport with you. Another option is using a US Passport Card. This is not valid for international air travel but can be used for travel by sea (and land) between the US and Canada, Mexico, The Caribbean and Bermuda.
Using Your VHF To Communicate With A Foreign Shore Base
US regulations dictate that any individual communicating with a foreign shore based station have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit. Additionally any vessel communicating with a foreign shore base must have a Ship Station License. The Operator’s permit is lifetime, whereas the Ship’s license is for ten years. To obtain your licenses you must first register on the FCC’s CORES system. You will get a FCC Registration Number (FRN) and password. Using these you can then get your operator’s and Ships radio licenses.
Bahamas Customs & Immigration
Entering Bahamian waters you must fly your national flag as usual, and a yellow quarantine flag until you clear customs and immigration. This is usually flown off the starboard side of the boat. Once cleared you must then take down the yellow flag and replace it with the Bahamian (courtesy) flag. BE AWARE the penalties for taking fish prior to clearing are severe.
When traveling to the Bahamas by boat you may anchor out prior to clearing customs. Usually when running from West Palm to West End this is not necessary. However when running from Fort Pierce to the northern Abacos or from points further south to the Berries or Exumas for example, this may be necessary for slower vessels. While I have not personally heard of any issues with boats anchoring for two nights before clearing I would not recommend it as it is hard to justify. BE AWARE that no one from the boat can go ashore if you chose to anchor prior to clearing customs.
You must clear at your first port of call in the Bahamas. So take care to make that an island that has a customs and immigration officer. You can see the list of locations here:
Also, only the person checking in is allowed to leave the boat until the process is completed. [Though last year when checking in at Lucaya after an 11 hour run we asked if Sian could take the dog ashore while Paul met with customs and they gave the OK].
We also strongly recommend that you print out a complete set of customs and immigration documents prior to leaving home, and fill them out. This will save a lot of time in the customs office. In fact we had not done that recently and had the customs lady severely roll her eyes at Paul! It looks like a lot (well it is a lot!) but they are not difficult to complete. As of the date of writing the forms required are: Bahamas Customs Clearance, Inward Report – Pleasure Vessels, Maritime Declaration of Health and Appendix, Inward Passenger and Crew Manifest – Pleasure Ship.
You can find a full set of these documents in the link below. The second link will also get you the “Application for a Permit to Engage in Foreign Fishing for Sporting Purposes.” You should also complete this even though you may not plan on fishing as you are paying for it anyway. I have also provided a link to all Bahamian government documents later in this post so you can get any other documents you need. Remember, all of these will also be available when you get to the customs office, you are just looking to expedite things (also make sure that you have either used A4 size paper or resized the text on the forms to get the signature places on the bottom of each):
And don’t forget you $300 cash entry fee, which includes your fishing license. ($150 for boats under 35 feet). This covers three people and is good for two entries within a 90 day period. Each additional person is $20. The only other cost would be if you requested out of hours processing when they may be overtime costs for the extra time.
We have heard, but not confirmed, that the customs office in West End is now taking cards in payment for the entry fee.
BE AWARE that you must declare any firearms on board and have them secured. You must also declare every single round of ammunition on board. This is critical as if you are later boarded and found to have more ammunition than declared they will assume you planned to discharge. If they board you and find that you have less ammunition than declared they will assume you have already discharged!
One more point before we leave the customs and immigration process, and that is around tipping the customs officer after he has provided the services expected of him. We will not suggest that you do it or not do it here, but we would recommend that you use on-line search tools and forums and based on your findings make your own decision.
Taking a Dog [on vacation, permanent import has a different process]
If you want to take your pet to the islands with you you must first apply to the Bahamian Department of Agriculture (Veterinary Services Unit) for a permit. This is a pretty straight forward process, just make sure to do it well before you plan on leaving. Currently the fee is $10, plus $5 is you want a fax or emailed expedited copy of the permit.
There are certain breeds that are not allowed. Also you will need your vet to give you a declaration of health for the dog as well as confirmation that the dog is up to date on all of its rabies shots. BE AWARE that they ask you to have your vet complete the health form within 24 hours of your departure! This is impossible if your home and vet is multiple days away from your crossing point. However we have not had an issue with “very recent” dating on this form.
You will find the application form, with instructions here, along with many, if not all, of the forms you require for your trip. Just use the Search Form menu item and enter Dog.
One of the most frequent question we see asked about going to the Bahamas is around the limits for bringing in food and booze. While we cannot speak to doing so when flying, there is absolutely no issue with bringing in as much food and drink as you require for your cruise. Clearly this must be for your own consumption. Just state that on the Inward Report – Pleasure Vessels form under B(2) Stores Onboard “Sufficient Food and beverages for master and crew consumption only.”
BE AWARE that your boat will obviously have spares for maintenance of your boat for the duration of the cruise. These will be on board as you arrive and depart. However if you are bringing parts for another vessel these will need to be reported. You will have to pay a stamp tax on those parts BUT, based on latest information, if they are replacement parts, you should not have to pay duty. Obviously check the latest rules on this prior to bringing in replacement parts for someone else.
Taking an Unmanned Aircraft (Drone)
If you want to use a drone in the Bahamas you will have to either have it registered with the FAA in the US and then apply for an Authorization To Fly In the Bahamas Airspace, or register it with the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority and ask for the authorization. Since it is now a rule that you must register in the US it makes sense to go ahead and go the US registration route. BTW, new in the US is that you must have your FAA registration on the outside of the drone, no longer allowed just inside somewhere.
The Bahamian authorization request process is very straight forward. You simple email Mr. Gregory Edwards, at firstname.lastname@example.org requesting the authorization. In that email you will need to provide a copy of your FAA certificate, your drone model number, your drone serial number, and proof of ownership. (For the latter Paul sent a photo of his FAA registration numbers on the drone itself since we did not have a purchase receipt).
Once Mr. Edwards processes your email you will get the authorization back.
We hope this help anyone planning a trip to the Islands! They really are a paradise!