US Virgin Islands - Formalities
Yachts must clear in with Immigration when arriving from outside the Virgin Islands, with the exception of Puerto Rico. This includes the neighbouring British Virgin Islands.
It is possible to proceed directly to a major marina and call the CBP to report your arrival. Follow the directions given to you by the CBP officer: typically they require all aboard to proceed by taxi to the CBP office.
Passengers and crew of arriving yachts are not allowed to go ashore until properly cleared. All passengers must present themselves and their documents to US Customs and Border Protection. For clearance it is necessary to present documentation of nationality for each person on board as well as the ship's papers and clearance from the last port of call.
There are serious penalties for not reporting your arrival.
There is a fee charged for overtime, weekend, or holiday clearances. The fee is $35.
See this US charter company website for additional information.
If a yacht is going on to Puerto Rico, it is advisable to obtain a USA cruising permit in St. Thomas. It is reported that there is no charge in the USVI, but on arrival in Puerto Rico a fee is charged. All yachts must clear out with Customs before going to Puerto Rico, but not with Immigration.
It is not required to clear out of the USVI before proceeding to the BVI; however, other ports in the Caribbean often require a dispatch or zarpe proving which port you departed from. It is possible to acquire this from Customs.
Immigration requirements are the same as for the US mainland. See Noonsite's USA/Immigration page for details.
All nationalities arriving by private yacht need a valid US visa, which must be obtained in advance of arrival, or be already in possession of a visa waiver entry in their passport (see paragraph below for a way to do this).
The only exceptions to visa requirements are Canadian citizens who are permanent residents in Canada, and Bermudan citizens who are permanent residents in Bermuda.
Crew members must accompany the captain when clearing in as each individual must be seen and sign the entry permit. The USVI website (noted above) might give the impression that certain nationalities do not require a visa but NOTE, this only applies if arriving on a 'registered carrier'. A private yacht is not a registered carrier.
An alternative method of entry for crew without a prior visa is to make use of the Visa Waiver Program (if they are eligable) by first taking a ferry trip from the BVI's to the USVI's. This has been confirmed as perfectly legal and will then allow crew to enter the USVI again by yacht. It is, however, essential that they are in possession of a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Once granted, an ESTA is valid for 2 years. Entry under the VWP permits visits of up to 90 days from the date of the first entry into US territory.
Last updated December 2016.
As per US regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF): the U.S. Virgin Islands does not issue firearms permit/licenses to non-residents or foreign nationals to carry concealed firearms. See the USA Customs page for complete information. Firearms must be declared in all cases – even if US citizen – and need a permit/license. For further information on firearms see this guide from the ATF.
Local Boater Option (LBO)
The US Department of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has implemented the Local Boater Option (LBO) scheme. This option is available to frequent-traveling small craft users in the Tampa, Miami, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands areas. The LBO will allow CBP to expedite the arrival reporting process to low-risk, pre-approved boaters.
Enrollment to the LBO Program is voluntary, free of charge and will facilitate your clearance procedures. All US citizen and legal residents are eligible to join. In order to participate in the LBO you must contact CBP at the nearest registration location designated by the port of entry. The registrant will be provided an appointment to present all required documentation to CBP Officials.
The following locations in the VI is available for registrants in the LBO.
Last updated December 2016.
See this website for complete information regarding vaccines and travel alerts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Health Information for Travelers to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Hospitals and medical facilities are of a high quality in the USVI, particularly at St. Thomas. The US government oversees their operations and are held to the same standard of service and staff training as elsewhere in the United States.
ZIKA VIRUS ALERT: There have been recent safety alerts from the US State Department, UK Foreign Office, and Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding travel to parts of Central and South America, Africa, southern Asia, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific islands. The USVI including St.Thomas, St.Croix, and St.John are areas of interest for the CDC. There is growing concern about the rapid spread of the ZIKA Virus and the impact of the virus on pregnant women and babies. ZIKA is transmitted by mosquitos in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and there is currently no cure or vaccine. This situation is evolving rapidly, so please refer to the CDC’s dedicated website if you are intending to cruise in one of the effected areas.
Last updated December 2016.
Cruising permits are not required. Yachts remaining in the USVI for 6 months or more must be registered with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Mooring permits are not required for any public moorings or National Park moorings and day use is free. Public moorings are not intended for overnight use and the National Park has a fee for night use.
Mooring permits are issued to an owner of a registered vessel. In order to obtain a permit for anchoring or mooring an applicant is required to apply in person, through a resident agent or through any representative duly authorized to complete application procedures in the owner's behalf. A first time applicant is required to submit with the application a current colored photograph of the vessel and an affidavit executed by the applicant fully setting forth the facts to support the applicants claim of ownership.
No fees are charged Monday to Saturday 0800-1700, after which overtime rates apply.
Overtime is also charged on public holidays (such as Presidents Day on February 15th). Overtime fee is $35.
Foreign nationals arriving without a valid US visa will be fined and/or refused entry.
National Park Mooring Fees increased January 1, 2016 to $26 per night. US citizens age 62 or older can apply for the Senior Pass which allows a 50% discount on National Park fees.
In their fight against drug traffic, the government of the US Virgin Islands has created a special strike force to patrol the waters of the US Virgins. Any yachts within territorial waters may be stopped, boarded and searched, and the presence of any illegal drugs on board can result in the yacht being confiscated.
A number of regulations have been established to protect the natural resources of the Virgin Islands National Park. The following are of direct interest to cruising sailors:
- Do not anchor on coral and avoid damaging the reef.
- Anchoring is prohibited in Salt Pond, Reef Bay, Great and Little Lameshur Bays. Use the white mooring buoys, with a blue band, in these locations.
- Do not take any live or dead marine features, such as coral, shells or fans.
- Do not tie boats to shoreline vegetation.
- Spearfishing is prohibited throughout the park. Line fishing is permitted, but there are certain restricted areas.
- A maximum of two male spiny lobsters (minimum size 9 in/23 cm) may be taken, and only by hand or handheld snare.
Mooring buoys have been installed for the use of cruising boats. Prohibited areas are marked by white cylinders with orange markings. For latest information view the National Park Service (NPS) website.
NPS has produced a Mooring Guideline brochure downloadable athttp://www.nps.gov/viis/planyourvisit/upload/MooringGuide.pdf which has Park regulations, mooring restrictions and island map.
NPS has created an interactive map for mariners that answers most common anchoring/mooring questions. Go to: http://www.nps.gov/viis/planyourvisit/virgin-islands-marine-visitor-use-information.htm
National Park Service, Tel. (340)776-6201 for St. John and (340)773-1460 for St. Croix.
There are also public moorings (blue striped buoys) set up by the The Reef Ecology Foundation of St. Thomas and St. John. Use is free but restricted to boats less than 60'. Tel (340)775-0097 for more information.
Last updated October 2015.
Dogs and cats may enter with appropriate Health and Rabies Inoculation Certificate from a Veterinarian dated two weeks prior to arrival.