An overview of how to prepare for a successful entry into the Bahamas by boat and return to the US. [Note: this is what we know and understand as of November 2022. Things are constantly changing (e.g. as they did with COVID), while this will point you at the areas you have to cover please make sure to do your own checking for the current situation as you prepare for your trip].
Annual DTOPS Decal
You will need to buy a DTOPS sticker from Homeland Security. You put this on your boat near a boarding point where it can easily be seen. We get notification in October each year that our renewal is due and get it immediately rather than waiting. Below is the description from the DHS web site.
“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/#
ROAM (Reporting Offsite Arrival – Mobile) App
ROAM was brought in for Florida boaters in April 2018 to replace the Small Vessel Reporting System. It is now widely available for entry into the United States. 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 download the App. You will need to have 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 entering on. These detail are saved in the App for future use. You then enter details of this particular entry – which countries you had visited 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. The officer 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 monitor the App after submission.
Passports Vs. Birth Certificates
Before 9/11 US boaters going to and returning from the Bahamas could do so on an original US Birth Certificate – with a raised seal (stamp). After 9/11 this is no longer the case and you must 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 ensign as usual, and a yellow quarantine flag until you clear customs and immigration. The quarantine flag 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 we have not personally heard of any issues with boats anchoring for two nights before clearing, we 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, it is stated that only the person checking in is allowed to leave the boat until the process is completed. [Though previously 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 have heard that often everyone must go ashore to clear immigration, but that has not been our experience.
While you can print out and hand complete complete set of customs and immigration documents prior to leaving home, we strongly suggest that you use the new Click To Clear web site. This allows you to complete all of the forms on line and pay the relevant entry fee. When you arrive in the Bahamas they can bring up your completed forms and expedite the process. This will save a lot of time in the customs office.
Visit the link below for information.
There is a $300 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 there may be overtime costs for the extra time.
Over the past couple of years all of the entry offices moved to accepting credit cards for fee payments – if you have not used the Click To Clear system!
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. 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 [this is for a vacation visit, 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.
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.
Additionally an individual in Nassau set up a service whereby he takes your application over his web site, walks it across the road and submits it and then emails your approval (or rejection). This take some of the mailing times and risk out of the process. A link to his web site is below.
One of the most frequent question we see asked about going to the Bahamas is around the limits for bringing in food and alcohol. 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.
When registering in 2022 I received an email back asking for the following information:
- The intended purpose for the use of your drone while in the Bahamas (recreational or commercial)
- Arrival and departure dates
- Location of drone operations (Island)
- An attached copy of your country’s Drone Registration Certificate/License or equivalent (if applicable) if your drone weighs more than 249g
- Scanned Copy of Passport photo page
- Complete Mailing Address
After sending this in I received a letter authorizing my drone. Just be aware that the authorization only last for 30 days so complete this as close to departure date as possible. You can extend this, but make sure to do it before the original 30 days expires.
We hope this help anyone planning a trip to the Islands! They really are a paradise!