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Customs and Immigration:These regulations are important enough on both sides of the Stream to warrant their own Page on this Web site.

U.S.-documented yachts (which by law must be owned and captained by U.S. citizens) do not have to formally clear their departure upon leaving a U.S. port. Most state-registered (numbered) vessels don't have to either, the most prominent exception being U.S.-registered boats owned by foreign nationals  which DO have to go through the paperwork of a formal,  in-person, clearance both on departure and return.  (Foreign-registered yachts with U.S. Cruising Licenses do not need to clear out.) Don't take a chance and short-cut this one; there's a potential $5,000 fine if you fail to clear properly! Call your nearest U.S. Customs office (listed on page 5) for info on requisite papers and procedures.

When you arrive at your first Bahamian port of entry, you WILL have to formally Enter (process paperwork through Bahamian Customs and Immigration) and pick up a Temporary Cruising Permit before you can cruise any farther. The paperwork is fairly simple, and most marinas will have the necessary forms ready for you to fill out when you arrive. Or, you can save time on arrival by getting the blank paperwork through Bahamas Tourism's U.S. office and filling it out ahead of time. Just call 954-236-9292, and ask them to mail the paperwork to you.
You'll also need your ship’s papers (in good order, of course) and proper ID for all aboard. Passports are required for U.S. citizens. Your driver’s license is NOT valid for proof of citizenship, but is good to have along as photo ID. Citizens of all countries should have passports.
CRUISING PERMITS: The Cruising Permit fees remain as determined a few years ago. The fee is $150 for boats up to 30 feet in length; $300 for boats over 30 feet. They are valid for two entries during any 90 day period.
The Temporary Cruising Permit costs (both $150 and $300) cover the departure tax for three persons and include  the Fishing Permit required (sportfishing and lobstering only) if you want to fish. Spear guns are not allowed, but a pole spear is okay if you wish to use one. Ask that your fishing permit be endorsed for its use when you get it at Customs. No travel or other fees are charged by Customs and/or Immigration Officers.
NOTE: New Sportfishing Regulations became effective in January, 2007 and were amended late in that year.  Current information as provided by the Ministry of Tourism is on page 14.
A $25 per person ($28 from Grand Bahama) departure tax will be charged for each additional person aboard over the original three persons included in the Cruising Permit fee. Remember, no one but the master may disembark until all paperwork is done.
The wait for Customs & Immigration clearance can still be quite lengthy. In our opinion, West End, Bimini or Cat Cay — by virtue of their proximity to the U.S. and inherent closeness of Customs and Immigration to the marinas — are by far the quickest and easiest to negotiate of all commonly used ports of entry. When departing from West Palm Beach, Miami or the Keys, we find it's often worth stopping at one of these three places for quick Entry and an overnight, even if our ultimate destination lies farther east.

FLAG ETIQUETTE: You should hoist the yellow Q signal flag on entering Bahamian waters, and leave it up until you’ve cleared Customs, when it should be replaced by a Bahamian courtesy flag, usually on the starboard side. When returning, be sure to raise the Q flag at least five miles offshore of the US.

Insurance:During hurricane season, some areas of the Bahamas may not be covered by regular insurance policies. We suggest that you check with your carriers to see if there are any limitations on yours.

Pets:Pets can be taken to the Bahamas as long as they stay aboard the boat. Taking Rover ashore, even for a walk, requires compliance with stiff quarantine regulations and a special import permit (currently $10 per pet) that must be applied for in advance. If you're in a hurry, you can include a fax number with your application along with a U.S. Postal Money Order in the amount of $15.00, and they'll fax you a copy of your permit which you can use while the original gets to you by mail. (Personal checks are not accepted.) For an application or for more information on supplying vaccination certificate and so on, contact Director of Agriculture, P.O. Box N-3704, Nassau, Bahamas. Phone 242-325-7502 or -7509 or -7413. Fax number is 242-325-1242. In our opinion, taking pets to the Bahamas is seldom worth the trouble unless you’re planning an extended stay.

Ground transportation:Vehicles, including bicycles, may be subject to re-licensing and possible import duties if taken ashore. Bringing your own transportation can be quite expensive, but many Bahamas ports of call are compact enough that walking is truly a viable option. And then, you can rent wheels of one kind or another almost everywhere, and your U.S. driver's license is valid for this. Just remember, in the Bahamas they drive on the left!

Money:The Bahamian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar so you'll find greenbacks accepted 'most everywhere. You will, however, occasionally get Bahamian money in change, even if you've paid with U.S. Be aware, so you can use it or exchange it before you leave.

Credit cards and personal checks are accepted at most businesses though not all. It's best to inquire ahead of time to be sure. Note also: many establishments will add a 5% or so surcharge on credit card purchases.

Firearms:Reasonable personal non-automatic firearms will be admitted as long as they are declared on entry and secured under lock and key while in the islands. Ammunition may be inventoried both coming and going. Automatic firearms are banned, and violations of the strict Bahamian gun-control laws will get you into a Bahamian jail almost without exception.

Drugs:Unless prescribed by a doctor, drugs are an absolute no-no. And prescription drugs must be in labeled containers. If your medicine is a controlled substance, you may be required to prove its legitimacy. Failure to do so could result in forfeiture of your boat!

Manners and customs:Remember, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a foreign country, an independent nation with laws, rules and regulations that are often quite different from ours. Most important: You leave the U.S. Constitution back at the dock in the States along with American law. For a serious offense you can be tried, convicted, and imprisoned in as little as three days.

There are noticeable differences from what we are used to at home. Some Bahamians are quite laid back, while others are more formal. Some places like American tourists better than others, and some Bahamians are more tolerant of American ways than others. Some islanders may take a little time to warm up, but it’s just their naturally reserved manner, often exacerbated and perhaps even justified by several generations of visiting “Ugly Americans.” Beach clothes may not always be appropriate off the boat or off the beach. A cover-up may be a good thing to have along.

But throughout the Bahamas you'll find that things generally move at a pace that can make the easygoing Florida Keys seem downright frantic. Whether this is a blessing or curse depends on you, but there's nothing like a few days in the Bahamas to lower your blood pressure!. (Continue...)

Cruising the Bahamas

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