U.S.-documented yachts(which by law must be ownedand 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 (see “Useful Numbers,” 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 identification for all aboard. Passports are now 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 35 feet in length; $300 for boats over 35 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 four persons and include the Fishing Permit required (sportfishing and lobstering only) if you want to fish. No travel or other fees are charged by Customs and/or Immigration Officers.
NOTE: New Sportfishing Regulations became effective in January, 2007 (printed in our last editions). They were amended late in that year and the information as provided by the Department of Marine Resources is available HERE.
A $20 per person ($23 from Grand Bahama) departure tax will be charged for each additional person aboard over the original four 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 well worth stopping at one of these three places for quick Entry and an overnight, even if our ultimate destination lies farther east.
Returning to the U.S.: Within twenty-four hours of your call to Customs upon your return to the U.S., a visit to an Immigration Office is still necessary for all persons on board, even for U.S. Citizens. Your call to Customs is to be made immediately on your arrival; the visit to Immigration is to be made within 24 hours of that. More on this — and the Local Boater Option Program — HERE.
It is not necessary for pleasure vessels to stop at a specified marina and call Customs on returning to the U.S. from foreign ports. You can simply call them toll-free at 1-800-432-1216 after first mooring, which can be any marina or even your home pier. But you must have actually arrived and tied up, not merely have land in sight! U.S. Customs requires that you purchase a $27.50 user-fee decal before you leave the States; they'll ask for its number when you check in on return, at which time they'll also want the vessel name and documentation or registration number plus the name, date of birth, social security number, address and phone number of the master as well as the number of persons on board and their nationalities. The Customers & Border Patrol web site is cbp.gov. The Customs Officer will ask for information regarding ports visited and the value of any purchases made while in the Bahamas. And, you should be prepared to add birth dates for all aboard, in case you are asked. Remember — as it was when you arrived in the Bahamas, it is when you return to the States — only the master may disembark until clearance is granted. This will be with a “clearance number,” which you should record in your log book.
Our Department of Homeland Security's demand for the appearance at an Immigration caused quite a stir when it went into effect several years ago and while there have been a few attempts in Congress to make your return home easier, things have not progressed very far. But there is one fairly new method of pre-registering for your return before your travel ... available only in southeast Florida. (More information on that HERE). Basically, by making an appointment to appear at a Customs Office in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Riviera Beach for preregistration; you are assigned a number and may use that to check in by telephone on your return.
The DHS has arranged for government personnel to be on hand at a few Florida east coast marinas on holiday weekends from time to time, but the requirement remains in effect unless otherwise announced — holiday weekend or not! We encourage you to pay attention to news reports, especially in the boating press.
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.