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Electronic Customs & Immigrations Clearance Systems For Yachts

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One of the joys of cruising the Bahamas and Caribbean is a chance to visit nearly two dozen island nations and dependent territories, each with its own flavor. To do so, though, means clearing in and out of Customs and Immigrations several times. In the ‘good old days’, this meant paper-based, multi-copy, sequentially-numbered forms that all required tedious completion by hand and in person, then checked separately by both Customs and Immigration agencies each with its own software systems. No longer. Now, there are electronic methods that captains can use. The ability to enter all necessary clearance data online and ahead of arrival not only speeds up the process but prevents the time-consuming and potentially mistake-making task of each agency keying in the data. The only downside is having enough of an Internet connection to use a computer-based form online. Two widely known electronic clearance systems in the Caribbean are SailClear and eSeaClear. There are other similar systems too, including the Bahamas new Sea-Z Pass.

Canouan St Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority
Canouan St Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority

SailClear: This electronic platform provides a digital clearance process, plus the single account enables users to manage their travel itinerary and history in one easy to use application. While the process is largely electronic, the captain does receive a paper copy for his or her official clearance record, which is signed and stamped by the authorities.

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SailClear is used in 15 countries:

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  • Anguilla,
  • Barbados,
  • Bermuda,
  • the British Virgin Islands,
  • Cayman Islands,
  • Curacao,
  • Dominica,
  • the Dominican Republic,
  • Grenada,
  • Montserrat,
  • the Netherland Antilles,
  • St. Kitts and Nevis,
  • St. Lucia,
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
  • and the Turks and Caicos.

The system’s officials anticipate more locations will be added in the coming months.

“Ensure that the vessel and crew records are up to date and accurate before creating the notification,” says Aaron Smith, IT manager for the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC), in St. Lucia, who shares his tips for using the SailClear system. “After creating the notification, take note of the Notification ID or the name of the vessel as this will be an easy identifier for Customs in retrieving your record upon arrival. Check and verify the entry requirements before starting the notification process, particularly as it relates to the health and COVID-19 entry requirements. In certain locations, the option for preclearance may be a choice that you can request at the end of your notification process. Even after you have submitted a notification you are still able to edit, change, or cancel the record without penalty.” sailclear.com 

Turks and Caicos sailing. Credit Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board
Turks and Caicos sailing. Credit Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board

eSeaClear: This online web portal enables a vessel’s captain to complete the information needed for inbound, and outbound, clearance before arriving from international waters. The information is stored as a Notification of Arrival, not a ‘pre-clearance’ facility. There’s still a need to report to Customs and Immigration upon arrival to complete the process: Customs and Immigration will check the information that was entered in eSeaClear against physical ships papers and passports. eSeaClear has been used in Antigua over the last 9 years, processing over 50,000 vessel clearances and 250,000 person clearances. Officials are in the process of expanding the system’s footprint in the region. 

The main changes to the eSeaClear system recently have been due to COVID-19 procedures. 

“To support local COVID-19 efforts in Antigua, we have links on the eSeaClear homepage to the most current government Notice to Mariners statement. Also, where maybe procedures on-the-ground are not quite ready for the procedures posted by the government, we have created a Blog that identifies any variances between policy and reality, even though most gaps will be short-lived,” says Bob Potter, chief executive officer of eSeaClear, Inc. 

A part of the eSeaClear Notification process now involves a declaration that nobody onboard is experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or has been in contact recently with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. In addition to the declaration in eSeaClear, visitors will also have to complete an individual health questionnaire regarding COVID-19. This form is available via a link on eSeaClear so that it can be completed before arrival. www.eseaclear.com 

St Martin. Credit St Martin Tourism Office
St Martin. Credit St Martin Tourism Office

Bahamas Sea-Z Marina Online Portal. Last year, the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM), headquartered in Nassau, developed this easy way for boaters to enter the islands in an online method. Currently, Yacht Charter Fees, Cruising Permits and Charter Licenses can be processed through the site. There will soon be procedures for other licenses and fees too. The portal link is on the ABM’s website www.bahamasmarinas.com and on the websites of the association’s 37 marina members. However, the ABM’s website also offers a wealth of information, including COVID-19 protocols. Direct access is: seazpass.omnibahamas.com. The site and service are open to all nationalities of recreational boaters visiting The Bahamas.

“This is a major advance for the boating community in The Bahamas. It streamlines the procedures that once involved paper documents and lengthy processing times. It is also a boon to the country by providing an improved method of service to our visitors, efficient revenue collection and valuable data on boating traffic to our country,” says Capt. Peter Maury, ABM president. 

Pirates Bay - Charlotteville - Tobago. Credit Tobago Tourism Agency
Pirates Bay – Charlotteville – Tobago. Credit Tobago Tourism Agency

CBP ROAM App. Since 2019 the U.S. Virgin Islands has become more easily accessible by the local U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials embracing the CBP Reporting Offsite Arrival Mobile (ROAM) app. The ROAM app makes it more convenient for private pleasure boaters to satisfy the reporting requirements when returning to the U.S. territory. 

“Where traditionally a yacht’s captain would report the arrival of his/her vessel to the nearest customs facility at the relevant port of entry by visiting the closest CBP field office to meet an immigration officer in person, now with the CBP ROAM app this face-to face-requirement is removed. All that’s needed is to download the app in advance and click the arrival button!” says Oriel Blake, executive director of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, based in St. Thomas. www.cbp.gov/travel/pleasure-boats-private-flyers/pleasure-boat-overview/roam 

Antigua yachts docked. Credit Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority
Antigua yachts docked. Credit Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

French Caribbean Islands (St. Martin, St. Barths, Martinique and Guadeloupe). Electronic clearance isn’t online yet, but it’s close, says Ariane Graf of Guadeloupe Yacht Concierge, located at Marina Bas du Fort, in Pointe a Pitre. For example in Guadeloupe, the captain or a crew member still needs to go ashore to one of the 7 official entry spots (Deshaies, Marina Riviere-Sens, Terre de Haut-Les Saintes, Saint-Louis-Marie-Galante, Marina de Saint-Francois, Marina Bas-du-Fort and Carenage in Pointe-à-Pitre) and type in required information on a PC in the office. When complete, the information is printed and handed to officials. The officials will check the ship’s papers, crew list, and crew passports. For short stays, clearing in and out can be accomplished in the same form. www.marinaguadeloupe.com/en/the-marina-bas-du-fort/immigration

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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